Paine explains Khawaja omission for fourth Test
Australia's skipper details the thinking from selectors behind the batting order change and hints towards Mitch Starc over Peter Siddle
Sam Ferris in Manchester
4 September 2019, 07:26 AM AEST
A lack of runs and the return of the world's best Test batsman are the reasons behind Usman Khawaja's omission for the fourth Test, according to Australia captain Tim Paine.
Khawaja has scored 122 runs in six innings this Ashes campaign and with Smith reclaiming his place in the side having recovered from the concussion he suffered at Lord's, a batsman had to go, and it was the Queenslander who has made way.
"Usman's obviously a key player in our side batting at No.3 and he hasn't scored the runs he or we would like," Paine said on match eve.
"With Steve Smith coming back it was a tough decision to make on Usman but we think he's still got a lot of cricket left in him.
"He's had a very good Test record over his career and we expect that he will bounce back pretty strongly."
Paine added: "It's a good thing for us that we've got a player of Usman's quality on the sidelines.
"It means we're getting our team to where we want to be and we want our selectors making hard decisions."
Khawaja has scored eight hundreds and averages 40.66 in 44 Tests, but those numbers drop significantly in England.
On UK soil, the 32-year-old averages 19.66 in 12 innings, with just one half-century – 54, scored in first Test in England at Lord's in July 2013.
Retaining his place over Khawaja is opener Marcus Harris, who made his Ashes debut at Headingley and scored 8 and 19 in the thrilling one-wicket loss.
While Khawaja has more experience than Harris, Paine is confident the Victorian can thrive at Test level.
"Marcus came in and played one Test, I think it would have been hard to then leave him out straight away.
"He played OK, would have liked a few more runs as well but we think 'Harry' (Harris) has had a decent start to his Test match career, we think he's got a lot of talent and we think he's going to convert that into a lot of Test runs."
With Khawaja out, Paine confirmed Marnus Labuschagne will shift up the order to fill the vacancy at No.3 and allow Smith to reoccupy his favoured position at second-drop.
Labuschagne barely put a foot wrong filling the shoes of Smith, firstly as his concussion replacement at Lord's, where he scored 59 on the final day, and then in Leeds with twin half-centuries.
"I think Marnus has played really well, he's got a really good technique, he's got a great temperament, I think he's suited quite well to No.3. He'll slot in there tomorrow."
With the batting order set, all that is left for Australia's selectors to settle on is the makeup of the bowling attack.
Left-armer Mitch Starc and veteran Peter Siddle appear to be vying for the final fast bowling spot alongside Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood.
Both Starc and Siddle played in the last Ashes Test at Old Trafford in 2013, which ended in a rain-effected draw with Australia in a dominant position.
The pair also played in last week's tour match in Derby, where Starc claimed 7-85 from 26.4 overs, while Siddle captured 3-32 from 16.
Coach Justin Langer and captain Paine said the Manchester pitch will determine which fast bowler gets the nod, but the skipper said the wicket looks like it could suit the New South Welshman.
"It (the pitch) looks pretty dry, hopefully it's got a bit of pace in it," Paine said.
"Starcy bowled superbly last week down at Derby. He's been working really hard on getting his length right and we were really impressed with what he did down there.
"He held his pace back a little bit, got the ball in the right areas and swung it when he needed to.
"And we know what he can do to tail-end batters when he really cranks it up. The boys have been calling him 'the mop' for a few years now.
"That's a thing he does really well and even when you've got a couple of set batters and you've got a big, tall left-armer that can bowl 150kph it can shake things up a bit.
"He's a great option for us. We think this wicket might suit him and if we make that call we're sure he'll do a great job as he has over his whole career."
2019 Qantas Ashes Tour of England
Australia squad: Tim Paine (c), Cameron Bancroft, Pat Cummins, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, David Warner.
England squad: Joe Root (c), Moeen Ali, Jimmy Anderson, Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Joe Denly, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes (vc), Olly Stone, Chris Woakes.
First Test: Australia won by 251 runs at Edgbaston
Second Test: Match drawn at Lord's
Third Test: England won by one wicket at Headingley
Fourth Test: September 4-8, Old Trafford
Fifth Test: September 12-16, The Oval