On a SCG pitch that is expected to take turn, Australia have refrained from naming their playing XI for the final Test in the Border-Gavaskar series starting in Sydney on Thursday but reports have surfaced indicating that both Mitchell Marsh and Aaron Finch are set to be dropped.
Australia had earlier added Queensland’s leg-spinning all-rounder Marnus Labuschagne to their squad for the must-win fourth Test in the aftermath of the 131-run defeat in Melbourne.
Paine said Australia was looking to strike a balance between picking a team capable of winning the fourth Test while at the same time, accommodating players in the positions they would normally play in, once the bans for Steve Smith and David Warner had expired.
“It’s just team balance really,” Paine told reporters on the day before the fourth and final Test that Australia need to win to level the series.
“There’s ongoing discussion the last day or two but we’ll have a final look at the wicket (this afternoon) and we’ll have our last chat then. We’re not too far away. As I said all along, we’ll be looking to pick the best XI that we think is the best combination to win this Test and the wicket will play a part in that.”
Australia’s limited overs captain Aaron Finch has been struggling for runs and while it was thought he might be in a place in the middle order if he were to keep his place in the XI, it now seems he will miss out in Sydney.
According to a report on cricket.com.au, which quotes News Limited, Finch has been axed from Australia’s Test XI for Queensland all-rounder Labuschagne, while Peter Handscomb is set to replace Marsh to combat India’s spinners
Usman Khawaja would open the batting for Australia in that case, as he has done in the past.
“Uzzie’s opening record in Test cricket is very good,” Paine said. “He’s been on record a few times saying he’s not too fussed where he bats.
“If that’s the way we go, Usman will go out and give his all as he always does. I think the way he’s handled the last month or so has been exemplary, it’s a real credit to him.”
Another possible change is a return for Peter Handscomb in the middle order after having been dropped for the third Test in Melbourne in favour of Mitchell Marsh, with Australia wary of India playing two spinners. Labuschangne, who made his debut against Pakistan in UAE earlier this year, could also replace Marsh in the middle order if the Sydney wicket provides more assistance to slow bowlers.
“If we think India were to play two spinners Pete could be a really important player for us,” Paine said.
“We know how good a player of spin he is. That’s one of the discussions we’ll be having today, if we think India will go that way and if they are, are we prepared to bring him back in.
“I’m sure if he does (play), he’s an excellent player of spin and contributes a lot to the group in the field and around the team.
Australia squad: Tim Paine (c, wk), Josh Hazlewood (vc), Mitch Marsh (vc), Pat Cummins, Aaron Finch, Peter Handscomb, Marcus Harris, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Shaun Marsh, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc
India’s 13-man squad for SCG Test: Virat Kohli (C), Ajinkya Rahane (VC), KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara, Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant, Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, R Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Umesh Yadav