Australia may field as many as four debutants -aaron finch travis head, marnus labuschagne and Michael Neser- in their first Test since the Newlands ball-tampering scandal, the most in a single match since the World Series Cricket split four decades ago.
Two days out from the opening Test against Pakistan in Dubai, Finch and Head are certain to play, while the Queensland pair of Labuschagne and Neser are looking increasingly likely to join them.
It would be a particularly swift rise for Labuschagne, once again due to Renshaw’s misadventures. He was only included in the first-class portion of the recent Australia A tour of India when Renshaw strained a hamstring, and a pair of handy scores in the last match before the squad was picked vaulted Labuschagne above the likes of Peter Handscomb and glenn maxwell
Last week, Renshaw’s concussion when Struck On The Helmet at short leg meant Labuschagne batted in his place in Australia’s only warm-up fixture for this series, leaving the opener short of the preparatory batting time in the middle, Much Valued by the new coach justin langer
Labuschagne’s inclusion would necessitate a reshuffle of the batting order, with Finch opening alongside Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh at No. 3, vice-captain Mitchell Marsh at No. 4 and Head followed by Labuschagne at Nos. 5 and 6. This would also create a right-left mix well down towards the tail, with captain tim paine and spearhead Mitchell Starc at Nos. 7 and 8.
“If we can continue to do what we’ve been doing over the last couple of weeks here with that middle-order group and especially the way we played in the tour match, there’s no reason why we can’t do that in the two Test matches in the next couple of weeks and really put a stamp on it,” Head said. “We’re here to win games of cricket. We’re here to perform. It’s really exciting for the core bunch of guys in that middle order to really step up and do the job.
“I think the message is always pretty simple. You want to go out and perform and win games of cricket for Australia. I know from the one-day team and that’s traditionally how it’s always been for the Australian cricket team. It’s always tough for spots and those guys are unlucky to miss out and have been in really good form, but In The Tour Match we were 4 for 500 . The guys are in form, it’s always tough to get into the Australian cricket team and the fight for spots is always up.
Head, who struggled notably against spin in the past, including against the left-arm spinner Jon Holland in a pair of Sheffield Shield finals, said that a strong defence would enable the tourists to spend enough time at the crease to overcome the radical differences to Australian conditions.
“It’s challenging over here. We’ve had a lot of experience now. Obviously IPL, Australia-A tours, the Australian tour just gone in India. The guys played exceptionally well,” Head said. “Watching that, the way guys went in and played to the conditions and took it on, probably seemed a different kind of style to really grind it out. We’ve seen that again in the tour match.
“I think we’ve developed over a little bit and we can continue to get better. The same thing personally as well. I’ve really worked hard on my forward defence. I’ve spoken a lot about that over the last couple of months. It’s been really consistent in my game and it has meant that I’ve been able to spend time out in the middle. Once you get a feel for the conditions, especially over here once it starts turning, if you get a feel for that and spend lots of time out in the middle, you need to go on with it and bat long periods of time. I’ll try and continue to do that and so will everyone else.”
Neser, meanwhile, impressed in the tour game as a foil for Starc, and is duelling with the well-travelled Peter Siddle for the second pacer’s spot. Siddle, Starc and Nathan Lyon are the only members of the squad who took part in Australia’s last series in the UAE, a 2-0 defeat to Pakistan in 2014.