Australia’s 12-run win over India on Tuesday night brought a topsy-turvy six-game white ball chapter to a close, and focus has now swiftly turned to the start of the Test series in Adelaide next Thursday.
But Australia’s line-up for the opening clash – a day-night battle with the pink ball – has a mammoth question mark at the top of the XI as coach Justin Langer wrestles with an injury crisis.
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David Warner’s significant groin injury leaves him extremely unlikely to feature, while youngster Will Pucovski’s latest in a long line of concussions also places him under a heavy injury cloud.
Now legendary Australian cricketer Allan Border has offered his opinion on who could feature if the duo are ruled out – including a bold ‘left field’ option.
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Border told Fox Sports News: “You could move Marnus Labuschagne up to the top of the order. He’s shown that he can handle the new ball; batting at number three you have to do a bit of that at times.
“Marcus Harris has been in some good touch, he could be one of those young bolters that could come in and do the job for you.
“And right out of left field, I think maybe even Shaun Marsh could be one of those stop gap guys given the experience we need at the top of the order.”
Warner, 34, tore his adductor muscle while fielding in the second fifty-over clash against India a week ago on Sunday. With a history of groin tightness, Warner is highly unlikely to recover for the series opener but is expected to return for the Boxing Day clash.
Meanwhile Pucovski, 22, appeared a lock to make his long-awaited Test debut given his superb Sheffield Shield form for Victoria (495 runs in three innings with two tons including a superb 255*).
But in Australia A’s three-day tour match against an Indian side, he was forced to retire hurt on Tuesday afternoon after being concussed by a vicious Kartik Tyagi bouncer. Worryingly, it is the youngster’s ninth concussion and leaves him in significant doubt.
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Pucovski cops helmet blow
Another concern for the Australians is the woeful form of Joe Burns, presumptive opener for the Adelaide Test. Burns managed just four runs in the first innings for Australia A before falling for a first-over duck in the second. That means Burns has scored 61 runs in his last seven first-class matches at an average of 8.70.
Labuschagne, meanwhile, showed good form during the Sheffield Shield, averaging 59.60 from five innings including a fine 167. He’s set to start third on the Test line-up but would loom as a safe option to open the batting if needed.
Burns chops on for a duck!
And Border is spot on when he says Harris has been “in some good touch”. The former Australia opener made a double century alongside Pucovski in the Sheffield Shield in October, and showed promise with 35 and 25* against India A. His average for the summer so far sits at an impressive 103.75.
His form has been enough for Australian Test great Mark Waugh to say on Fox Cricket that Harris should be above Joe Burns in the pecking order, while Shane Warne declared Harris should bat alongside Burns in the first Test if Pucovski is ruled out.
Pucovski fails against India
Marsh had a superb domestic campaign for Western Australia. Across six matches he averaged 97.00 – fourth-highest in the competition, with three tons and an 88.
At 37, he’s not a long-term option, but he brings plenty of experience – including against India in the Test arena.
He featured against India in four Tests in the 2018/19 summer. In that series, he reached fifty just once from seven attempts as Australia slumped to a historic 2-1 defeat to the visitors.
Assuming Warner and Pucovski both are ruled out for the Adelaide Test, the battle for the opening roles could come down to Australia A’s final warm-up game against India at the SCG beginning on Friday.
If Joe Burns can put together a big knock, his place seems assured. The same goes for Harris.
But if either – or both – struggle, Langer may turn to the unusual – and to a 37-year-old.