What will be Australia’s top six at the Gabba

Date: October 23, 2015 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

VogesYou have to go back a considerable way to find a time when Australia’s Test batting line-up has been in such a state of flux.

With the Bangladesh tour having been postponed due to security concerns the selectors head into the summer with only two players truly confirmed in their positions in the top-six – captain Steve Smith and his deputy David Warner.

Although even with that pair there are question marks with Smith contemplating a move from three to four in the order and Warner heading into the opening Test against the Black Caps at Brisbane with minimal match time having broken his thumb late in the Ashes tour.

Most of those in the frame to fill the other four spots in the top-six in the Gabba XI will be in action against New Zealand over the next four days.

The visitors’ first outing of the tour is today against a PM’s XI at Manuka Oval where they will come up against a side that includes Joe Burns, Usman Khawaja and the uncapped Cameron Bancroft.

On Saturday the Black Caps will be back at Manuka for a two-day match versus a Cricket Australia XI which will feature Khawaja, Burns and Bancroft along with Adam Voges and the Marsh brothers, Shaun and Mitch. Four of those six appear destined to be in Brisbane on 5 November.

When the now retired Chris Rogers was struck in the helmet in the nets ahead of the opening Test in the Caribbean in June and subsequently ruled out for both matches it was Shaun Marsh who filled the void at the top of the order.

In his four innings opening alongside Warner he made scores of 19, 13no, 11 and 69.

With Rogers back in the fold in England, Marsh did not play until the fourth Test at Nottingham where innings of 0 and 2 in the middle order resulted in him being dropped for the final Test.

On his day he can be a world-beater but alas for the selectors those days have traditionally been interspersed with too many failures – his 27 Test innings have produced two centuries, four fifties, seven ducks and four other scores under five. His form in the Matador Cup has been very solid with scores of 186 and 109 amongst his 390 runs at 65.0.

He is also coming off his best domestic first-class summer having compiled 706 runs at 64.2 with three centuries for WA in last season’s Sheffield Shield competition.

A solid showing against the Kiwis will likely confirm a spot, most likely back at the top of the order. However, at 32 years of age, a poor return will prove terminal.

The other main prospect for the opener’s slot is Bancroft. Chosen for the Bangladesh tour at just 22, he has already been earmarked by the selectors as a potential long-term Test batsman.

Having debuted for the Warriors in October 2013, he shone last summer with 896 Shield runs at 47.1 with a maiden first-class double century – 211 versus Victoria – among his three triple figure scores. On the mid-year Australia A tour to India he made scores of 150 and 21no at Chennai.

In his first Matador Cup match this season he plundered 176 from the South Australian attack and has followed up with scores of 64, 48 and 42. He has a sound technique and is blessed with wonderful concentration and he would be a good foil for Warner.

While Shaun Marsh can be used anywhere in the top-six – he has batted at numbers one to five in his Test career to date – Bancroft will either open or miss out. With Marsh in front with respect to the vacant opener’s position Bancroft will likely have to wait a bit longer.

Burns is one of the unluckier stories in recent times. He debuted in the Boxing Day Test against India last summer where he made 13 and 9 at number six. Next up at the SCG he compiled 58 and 66 yet when the team was announced for the West Indies tour his name was nowhere to be seen.

He made his ODI debut at the backend of the Ashes tour starting with scores of 69, 44 and 22 before closing out with three sub-ten innings.

Unlike a lot of modern day batsmen who are brought up on a hefty diet of limited-overs fixtures, Burns has shown the ability to be patient in the red ball arena and be judicious in his shot making. After a lean start, his last three Matador Cup innings were 77, 55 and 54.

With Smith almost certain to drop back to number four, Burns is a strong candidate alongside Khawaja at first drop.

An innocuous training drill saw Khawaja sustain a knee injury that required a full reconstruction just before Christmas. He was back in action in the triangular A series in India in late-July, scoring 100 and 76 against the Indians and 73 versus South Africa A.

He has played three Matador Cup matches for returns of 22, 55 and 11. At 28, he should be in his prime as a batsman.

Since debuting at Test ranks against England at the SCG in January 2011 he has played nine Tests, the last at Chester-le-Street in August 2013. Spin bowling has been his main downfall at Test level with Graeme Swann dismissing five times in his 15 completed innings while Joe Root and Imran Tahir have also claimed his scalp.

Given the dearth of spin talent in the Kiwis’ squad reselection at this point may prove profitable for Khawaja. Should he get the nod ahead of Burns at first drop it would likely see Australia field a left-handed top-three.

Voges is likely to be retained in the side at number five although he will need runs in the upcoming tour match as his Matador Cup performances have not been stellar. A final innings of 81 against Queensland was his only score above 30 although handily he did take 3-20 in that game following his 1-16 versus Tasmania.

His Test career started in a blaze of glory at Rouseau in June when he peeled a man-of-the-match winning, unbeaten 130 off the Windies attack.

His form was leaner during the Ashes although he did make 51no and 76 in two of his last four innings to boast an average of 46 after seven Tests.

At 36, his experience – with the bat and as a sounding board in the field for Smith – should see him retain his place for one last summer as Australia looks to rebuild its batting stocks. He will be hoping to get close to the golden run he had in Australia last summer where he made six centuries and five fifties en route to 1358 Sheffield Shield runs at a phenomenal 104.5.

Mitch Marsh is the only all-rounder chosen for the two warm-up games against the Black Caps in the national capital so if the selectors wish to go with one he will be it.

His performance with the bat in the Ashes was very modest with his five innings realising just 48 runs to give him a seven-match career average of 28.2. His efforts with the ball in England were a lot more impressive, capturing eight wickets at 18.6 from his three Tests.

The selectors have shown a liking for an all-rounder in recent times whether that be Marsh, James Faulkner, Shane Watson or Glenn Maxwell.

At first-class level, Marsh averages 31.8 with the bat and 26.7 with the ball – numbers that show, at 24 years of age, he is on the right track but there is still a power of work to be done.

Following the two matches at Canberra there will be one round of Shield matches prior to the opening Test with those three games – to be concluded on 31 October – all due to be played under lights with pink balls as a precursor to the historic third Test at Adelaide Oval.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 22 October 2015, soliciting 82 comments