Australia are pondering a radical change to their batting line-up for the Old Trafford Test, considering the inclusion of Mitchell Marsh at the expense of Matthew Wade to increase their complement of right-handers.
The around-the-wicket line from Stuart Broad and Jofra Archer in particular has been a source of considerable angst for the tourists, while the most productive Australian batsmen by far have been Steven Smith and his stand-in Marnus Labuschagne.
In order to fit both Smith and Labuschagne into the team there will likely be a change at the top of the order, but the selection chairman Trevor Hohns has hinted that Wade may be omitted to allow Marsh to play as a third right-hander in the top six – the allrounder made 74 batting at No. 3 in Derby.
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“He played very well that innings he made a hundred,” Hohns said of Wade. “Unfortunately things have not quite gone his way since then. That will certainly be an area we are having a look at.
“It has been difficult up top for both teams, the opening bowlers with that new ball, conditions that seem to have prevailed, it has been very, very difficult for any player who has batted in the top three. We are mindful of that. We are also mindful of the England bowlers have bowled very well to our guys, particularly our left-handers, so we will certainly look at that as well.”
Labuschagne is certain of retaining his place thanks to a trio of half-centuries after substituting for Smith at Lord’s and Headingley. Where he bats will be another conversation, though it appears most likely he will move up to No. 3 behind David Warner and Usman Khawaja.
“Absolutely, there’s no doubt about that. He’s been terrific with the opportunity he was given in Lord’s, unfortunate opportunity of course,” Hohns said of Labuschagne seizing his moment. “He’s certainly made every post a winner and made the most of every opportunity he has been given. Adding that to the fact he can bowl some handy legspin as well, he’s a prime contender.
“Very hard for me to say just where [Labuschagne will bat] but he’s an option everywhere, as we have seen. He can bat at three, he can bat at four, he can bat in the middle and he can bowl handy legspinners, so he’s a good option for us.”
Mitchell Starc’s impressive outing at Derby, where he combined an improved level of control with his customary speed and knack for hitting the stumps, underlined that he will be a genuine contender for Old Trafford. This is not only because it promises to be the fastest surface of the series, but also because releasing Starc would allow Australia the luxury of having two fresh fast bowlers available for the final Test of the series at the Oval.
“He’s certainly given us a good option there. We’ll have a look at the pitch of course and we have heard that it is renowned for being possibly the quickest in the country. That will all be taken into account,” Hohns said. “Right from the start of the tour it was made very clear what was expected of our bowlers and where we wanted them to bowl.
“Mitchell has taken all that on board and he was worked very very hard to improve his game in that area. We all know he is an aggressor, so we can’t expect him to change the way he bowls too much. But he is doing everything he possibly can to bowl in the right areas and the right channels.
“With our bowling unit in particular, we have tried to manage our bowlers, so we will certainly be taking that in to account. In the past we have generally used the same ones but I think a lot of the Test matches in the past were spaced out a little more. In this instance right now we are very thankful to have five, six of our top fast bowlers all fit at the same time. We haven’t had that for a long time. It’s quite a luxury actually.”