Selection puzzle remains on Test eve

Bowling attack and 'keeper no clearer as Aussie skipper Steve Smith says a number of different combinations remain an option

The puzzle that is Australia's XI for Monday's second Test against Bangladesh remains unsolved after captain Steve Smith revealed the tourists are still considering axing the squad's only specialist wicketkeeper Matthew Wade.

Smith confirmed on Test eve Australia may yet hand the gloves to part-time 'keeper Peter Handscomb, while also making no guarantees over the position of first-drop Usman Khawaja. Australia are set to wait until Monday morning to name their XI for the second Test.

Handscomb didn't complete any wicketkeeping drills during Australia's training session on Saturday, two days out from the final match of the series, but Smith said he’d “catch a few balls indoors” on Sunday after heavy rain put paid to an extended run in the outdoor nets. Handscomb has not 'kept a full first-class game in more than 18 months.


The prospect of left-armer Stephen O'Keefe joining incumbent tweakers Nathan Lyon and Ashton Agar in a three-pronged spin-attack remains a distinct possibility, according to Smith, which could pave the way for batting allrounder Hilton Cartwright's return to the side. 

Selectors must make at least one change to the XI that lost by 20 runs to Bangladesh in Dhaka, with fast bowler Josh Hazlewood flying home with a side injury and O'Keefe replacing him in the 14-man squad.

Handscomb keeps during an indoor session // Getty
Handscomb keeps during an indoor session // Getty

Smith insisted the side needs "a little bit more" from Wade with the bat after lean returns since his Test recall last summer (255 runs at 21.25 in nine Tests), and backed Handscomb's ability behind the stumps.

"We are still talking about it, it is obviously an option," Smith said of the possibility of Handscomb 'keeping in Chittagong.

"We have got 'Petey' here who can ‘keep, and that will give us the option to play another spinner or another batter, whatever we want to do.

"He didn’t have a catch today (at training on Saturday). But we’ll think about it and if we need him to take that role then he will have a catch at training (on Sunday) and he’ll be good to go. 

"He’s been working on his ‘keeping before we came away and I think he’s taking the gloves for Victoria in the one-dayers (the JLT domestic one-day series) when he gets home. 

"So, he certainly has 'kept and we’ve seen him ‘keep before and he’s done a good job. If we go that way we are confident that he will do a good job."

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The revelation represents a major change in thinking from Australia, after Smith said before departing for Bangladesh that Handscomb would "probably not" be considered to play as a wicketkeeper.

The Victorian has previously stressed that he sees himself primarily as a batsman, though he filled in for an injured Wade in two one-day internationals in New Zealand earlier this year, while he also replaced Wade behind the stumps when he fell ill during last summer's SCG Test.

Handscomb last played as a wicketkeeper in a four-day game in December 2015, pouching five catches against South Australia at the MCG.

While his output with the bat statistically hasn't been affected in the 14 Sheffield Shield matches he's played as Victoria's selected 'keeper (he averages 39.28 with the bat in matches he's had the gloves, compared to his career mark of 40.55), Smith suggested it's unlikely Handscomb would be given the Test job full-time.

"I think in Test cricket, it is probably difficult to do over a long period of time batting where he does at around five or six," he said.

"One-day cricket is probably easier for him if he is going to bat up the order."

Steve Smith inspects the Chittagong pitches // Getty
Steve Smith inspects the Chittagong pitches // Getty

Smith is under no illusions over the magnitude of the decision to drop Wade should selectors go that route, a call that would place major doubt over his spot for this summer's Ashes.

"It certainly would be a tough call," he said. "I think when we are looking at 'Matty' we just need a little bit more from him with the bat in particular. 

"He knows that he has to do a little bit better with the bat. And he’s had those conversations."

Smith was shown two pitches by Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium groundstaff on Saturday and it remains unclear which one will be used.

But whichever one is chosen is unlikely to take as much turn early on as Dhaka, according to Smith, who believes the Lyon-Agar-O'Keefe spin combination alongside lone quick Pat Cummins could be effective in Chittagong.

"I think if we go in with the three-spinning option, they are three different spinners," he said. 

"We saw last week with the three spinners that Bangladesh had, the off-spinner and the two left-armers, they bowled very different. 

"It is good to just change it up so you don’t give them rhythm against a certain bowler so it gives us that option."

Hilton Cartwright bowls at training // Getty
Hilton Cartwright bowls at training // Getty

Should Australia pick all three spinners and Handscomb is given the gloves, the ability of Cartwright, who made his Test debut at the SCG in January, to bat in the top-seven and send down useful medium pace could see him replace Wade.

Another possibility would be for seamer Jackson Bird to come in instead of Cartwright and bumping capable allrounder Agar up to No.7.

Cartwright's bowling returns in domestic cricket have been solid (18 wickets at 44.16 in 22 first-class outings) and Smith said the powerfully-built Western Australian is always improving with the ball.

"He’s been bowling well in the nets," Smith said. 

"It feels like the ball’s a bit heavier out of his hand, which is nice. I think he’s bowling well and he could do a reasonable job if called upon."

Australia in Bangladesh 2017

Australia squad: Steve Smith (c), David Warner (vc), Ashton Agar, Jackson Bird, Hilton Cartwright, Pat Cummins, Peter Handscomb, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Glenn Maxwell, Steve O'Keefe, Matthew Renshaw, Mitchell Swepson, Matthew Wade.

Bangladesh squad: Mushfiqur Rahim (c), Tamim Iqbal, Soumya Sarkar, Imrul Kayes, Shakib Al Hasan, Mehidy Hasan Miraz, Sabbir Rahman, Nasir Hossain, Liton Das, Taskin Ahmed, Shafiul Islam, Mustafizur Rahman, Taijul Islam, Mominul Haque.

27-31 August First Test, Dhaka, Bangladesh won by 20 runs

4-8 September Second Test, Chittagong