Australia sprang a surprise by axing vice-captain Mitch Marsh yesterday for the first Test against India, as Usman Khawaja’s return was confirmed despite the shock of his brother’s arrest.
Batsmen Travis Head and Peter Handscomb were preferred to the all-rounder, piling more pressure on the bowlers in what are forecast to be scorching conditions, while Marcus Harris will make his debut as opener.
Captain Tim Paine said the omission of Marsh, one of Australia’s two vice-skippers along with Josh Hazlewood, was due to a lack of consistency and he would benefit from returning to Sheffield Shield cricket to find form again.
Handscomb edged him out after two half-centuries last week and a century for Victoria the week before that.
“Mitch Marsh has not been as consistent as he would like and we would like,” said Paine at his pre-match press conference, after the all-rounder endured lean tours of South Africa and the United Arab Emirates, where they played Pakistan.
“We know the talent that Mitch has and we know that most likely at some stage in this series we will need him. We are taking the opportunity at the moment to go back and play a Shield game and get some cricket under his belt.” In-form debutant Harris will open in a new-look top order alongside Aaron Finch.
Paine described Harris as “an aggressive little player” who deserved his chance.
“He can play his shots but he’s also really improved his defence. He’s come a long way as a batsman.”
Khawaja, whose brother was arrested on Tuesday for allegedly framing a love-rival with a fake terror plot, will come in at first drop.
The Pakistan-born Australian, who is returning after ankle surgery, was not seen in the nets yesterday after his family crisis, although he is known to only take on a light workload the day before a Test.
“We’re keeping an eye on Uzzie, obviously it was a little bit of shock for him yesterday,” coach Justin Langer told SEN radio.
“That said, he’s got good support around him. He’ll be as cool and calm as usual out on the middle.”
His brother Arsalan was released on bail after appearing in a Sydney court on charges of forgery and attempting to pervert justice.
Shaun Marsh will bat at four with Handscomb at five and Head at six.
The dumping of Mitch Marsh will add an extra burden for Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and spinner Nathan Lyon, who will have to take on more overs in temperatures forecast to top 30 Celsius.
“We obviously have a lot of confidence in Nathan Lyon bowling a lot of overs if we need to,” said Paine, adding that Head could also bowl some off-spin on a pitch that is expected to deteriorate as the match wears on.
“And probably the fact that all our three quicks go in real fresh. We have confidence in them, particularly at the start of the series. They are ready to go and have had great preparations.”
Australia: Marcus Harris, Aaron Finch, Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Travis Head, Peter Handscomb, Tim Paine (capt), Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Starc.
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