February 19, 2017

Australia face three selection questions

Who should open - Renshaw or Shaun Marsh? Should Glenn Maxwell be picked? And what about Matthew Wade?
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Keeping in the subcontinent is a challenging experience. Is Matthew Wade up for it? © AFP

Steven Smith's Australian side faces the daunting task of trying to defeat a buoyant Indian team, ably led by Virat Kohli.

To put the task into context, Kohli is undefeated as captain in 13 Tests at home. The closest any team has come to victory over a Kohli-led side was South Africa's 108-run loss in the opening Test of their 2015-16 series in India.

That was the first in India's 13-match sequence, and a succession of even greater Indian triumphs has followed, over increasingly hapless opponents. Australia will need to be mentally tough and maintain a high skill level to halt this trend.

Smith's team has prepared diligently, albeit mostly on specially concocted pitches in Dubai. This raises the question of whether the Australians were better off in the relative comfort of the nets, or if it would have been wiser to challenge themselves in the highly competitive atmosphere of the Sheffield Shield.

Australia will hope to use Josh Hazlewood (left) and Mitchell Starc in short, sharp bursts © Cricket Australia/Getty Images

In general, nothing beats confidence acquired from making runs or taking wickets in a competitive atmosphere. The Australians might have gained some insights from practising on spinning pitches in Dubai, but until they are tested out in the middle in the heat of battle, those discoveries are only theories.

In addition to whether they can make enough runs to challenge India or keep the home side's rampant batsmen in check, Australia have three main headaches.

Should they prefer the inexperienced but promising Matt Renshaw over the talented but injury-prone Shaun Marsh in the opening position? Given the adjustments Renshaw has made in each successive Test he has played, and his catching ability at first slip, he should get first crack as opener.

If Renshaw is selected, Marsh will then bat in the middle order and Australia have to decide whether Usman Khawaja is to bolster the batting, or whether they utilise an allrounder at six. If they opt for an allrounder, should it be Mitchell Marsh, to complement the pace attack, or if the preference is for more spin-bowling options, do they gamble on Glenn Maxwell? Choosing Maxwell is a risk. He's like a stick of dynamite - explosive but also capable of detonating prematurely.

Glenn Maxwell can be an unpredictable element in the Australian side © Getty Images

Australia's other concern is Matthew Wade's wicketkeeping. He's another risky choice because he's a flawed gloveman. To choose Wade is to take a gamble that the runs he could potentially score will exceed those he might concede. The odds aren't favourable in India, as opponents can't afford to reprieve batsmen of the calibre of Kohli and company. Wade will have his technique regularly tested in the most demanding position for a keeper - standing up to the stumps.

Then there's the matter of Australia's batting order. It appears that Smith has made the wise decision to promote himself to No. 3, so that India won't have a trio of left-handers to attack at the start of an innings. This would be too much of a luxury for R Ashwin, who has a distinct fondness for bowling to left-handers.

This move also has the advantage of separating Australia's two best players of spin - Smith and Peter Handscomb - while also maintaining a left-right combination through the middle order. That batting line-up gives Australia their best chance of success and makes Kohli's job just a little more challenging.

Smith will face his own captaincy challenge as he wrestles with getting the balance right between when to use pace and when to opt for spin. In Australia he seems more comfortable using pace bowlers rather than spinners.

The penetrative pair of Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood will benefit if they are used in short, sharp spells. It will also help Australia's cause if both are reasonably fresh when the highly dangerous Kohli first arrives at the crease. If Smith underuses Nathan Lyon, it will mean longer spells for the two pace spearheads.

A confident Australian squad has arrived in India after a solid, prolonged preparation in the nets. Maintaining that confidence through a gruelling Test series is a challenge that is rarely met by teams touring India.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is a cricket commentator for Channel Nine, and a columnist

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Michael on February 23, 2017, 2:06 GMT

    Renshaw can only benefit from the experience, if he isn't mentally strong enough to deal with a bad patch or a run of low scores then he shouldn't be playing the game. But if, if he was to succeed you may have unearthed a great.

  • Beatrice on February 23, 2017, 1:53 GMT

    I see Shaun Marsh and Khawaja as very similar in the way that they carve up ordinary bowling attacks, but when the going gets tough, they get out (you can include Mitch Marsh in that category too). Give Renshaw a go, he's got the right attitude for Test cricket, plenty of talent and holds catches. That's not to say he will excel, but he's worth the investment. History (and logic) suggest India are not going to prepare pitches that are in any way helpful to seam bowlers so Aus have got to pick two spinners, if not 2 plus Maxwell. Only the best pacers of any generation have success in India, and I'd suggest only Starc is close to having that kind of status. Smith needs to back his spinners more than he does at home though if they're to have a chance of getting on top of India's batsmen at any stage in this series.

  • awahid1982050 on February 21, 2017, 22:58 GMT

    I'm sitting on the fence with Renshaw's selection. Throwing him in the thick of things against India with virtually no experience could be disastrous. But then again look how well Haseeb Hameed, who is 1 year younger than him, did, and how much confidence and experience he would've gained from such a tough tour.

  • Mashuq on February 21, 2017, 21:18 GMT

    Don't be misled by the selection of 3 quicks and 4 spinners in the squad. Given the need for quality pace bowlers they could only pick those 3 since the other two are not yet match ready as they are returning from injuries Also by sticking with Lyon they do not know who their additional spinners are so they played safe and picked another 3 spinners more in hope than with any confidence. Since they are likely to be flogged anyway they must pick a fifth bowler to ensure each gets his share of the pasting. Hence the team should be: Warner, Khawaja, Smith, Marsh, Handscombe, Wade, Marsh, O'Keefe, Starc, Hazlewood and Bird. This cuts down on the cost of Wade's mistakes behind the stumps since only SOK will bowl spin. Moreover, Renshaw was given an opportunity during the practice game which he failed to take, so UK will be given his shot at the top of the order to see if he can perform as expected. Should this team not lose, expect the only change to be a different spinner for each test!

  • Guruprasad on February 21, 2017, 18:16 GMT

    Prior to 2007-08 test series down under, Ian Chappell strongly advocated Sehwag's inclusion in the playing XI. His main point: Do what the opposition likes to face the least. Now, Maxwell is that batsman whom Indian bowlers would like to face the least (although no bowler may admit this openly). Maxwell is no Sehwag, and he also tends to have rush of blood, but nevertheless he remains a quick scorer who can influence games in a short burst of time. It is upto Smith and Lehmann to take the call. The other aspect to remember is: go with your best bowlers rather than always picking 2 spinners. Donald, Fanie DeVillers, Pollock, McGrath, Gillespee, Wasim, Waqar have had success on Indian pitches over the last two decades. @SANJ747, sure we will continue to discuss over the series. I too lived in Madras! @SANRAG2011, agree with your thoughts on Maxwell. On a parochial note, I hope Kohli (6 tons vs Aus) eventually overtakes Sir Jack Hobbs in scoring most test tons (12) against Aus.

  • RAVINARAYANAN on February 21, 2017, 15:08 GMT

    Ian chappell as his batting forthright in his comments about Aussies weak link in batting despite the technical prowess of Smith playing adaptively against Indian spin bowling and Warner's explosive batting at the start. Renshaw is fresh and energetic in slip cordon is worth trying than the old warhorse Shaun Marsh(who scored a century in the Tour match just ended) as his vulnerability against the guiles of Ashwin & Jadeja. Usman Khawaja also a suspect against genuine spinners like Ashwin. Matthew Wade's behind the wickets is deplorable and as Ian chappel's comments sometimes Wade's missing stumping/ edges may prove costly for Aussies. Their speedsters Starc & Hazzlewood bowling in tandem is a treat to watch and Lyon's spin may help to some extent. But the likes of Virat Kohli who relishes his batting and peaking at the right time may give headache to the Aussies. No doubt there are 3 New Test centres in this Series which may give some solace to the Aussies.

  • jbdhar2967559 on February 21, 2017, 14:09 GMT

    @CRICINFOUSER ON FEBRUARY 21, 2017, 8:11 GMT: "if we remove those 200 runs India ... the match would have ended as a draw"

    If you remove those 200 runs, India would have got that much time to play the second innings to build up another 200 runs. You will agree that a team needs some time to compile those 200 runs and if you remove them, you are saving that much time in the first innings

    By your logic, I cannot come to the conclusion that the match would have been drawn assuming everything else would have been same as it were. Can you explain please

  • pratee0062952 on February 21, 2017, 9:47 GMT

    1.Warner,2.Maxwell(In asian conditions you need batsman like sehwag),3.Smith,4.SMarsh,5.Handscomb,6.MMarsh,7.Wade,8.Starc,9.Hazlewood,10.O'keefe, 11.Lyon

  • samuel on February 21, 2017, 8:33 GMT

    1.Warner 2.Renshaw 3.Shaun 4.Smith 5.Khwaja 6.Handscomb 7.Wade 8.Starc 9.Hazlewood 10.O'keefe 11.Lyon

  • Cricinfouser on February 21, 2017, 8:11 GMT

    The biggest weapon Australia have right now is their fast bowling attack. Giving the example of the India-Bangladesh test,India scored 687 in the first innings out of which exactly 200 runs came from the lower middle order trio of Ashwin-Saha-Jadeja and if I'm not wrong Bangladesh scored 380 something.So if we remove those 200 runs India would have been at 487 giving them only a lead of about 100 runs and eventually they would have batted longer and the match would have ended as a draw.

    Now when Australia play India this won't be the case because of Starcs ability to destroy the tail.And i strongly believe they can score about 350-400 easily although they have to fight hard for a win.Anything happens this series will be an interesting one to watch and you never know Australia may surprise us after all a team can only win by practicing and by training hard.

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