Batters breakdown in race for Test spot
COMPETITION for places in Australia's Test match top order has rarely been more intense … because most of the contenders can barely score a run.
Intense is the operative word.
Anxiety levels are rising by the innings for a group of fringe-dwellers who are finding the harder they try to snatch a place in the first Test against Pakistan the further it drifts away.
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Usman Khawaja, despite two white ball interstate centuries, is set to miss the first Test after failing in two Sheffield Shield matches with limited footwork again the issue.
Ball-tampering villain Cameron Bancroft has unresolved technical issues, Matt Renshaw is highly rated but has struggled for more than a season, Joe Burns has a 50 to his name but needs more to vault to the head of the queue for one of two vacant batting spots.
Marcus Harris has shown some form but a Test average of 24 after nine matches left him with no credit points and a reputation for failing against class bowling.
Two Sheffield Shield matches this summer have confirmed to Australia's selectors what they already knew … that Steve Smith is Australia's batting king, Marnus Labuschagne is the country's most improved batsman and the rest are plodding.
With one Shield match to be played before the side is named the selection room door has not been hammered off its hinges so 21-year-old Will Pucovski, despite failing on Monday, is firming for a Test debut for this is the perfect season to blood new talent.
Travis Head, the vice-captain dropped in England, would love to get his spot back but his first priority is to fix the forward defensive shot he felt start to decay in the Ashes.
This may explain the slow scoring rate in the half century he scored against Victoria in the first Shield round and the 25-ball duck he made against Queensland at the Gabba on Friday.
"I played really well in the first couple of Tests (in England) but then I went away from game,'' Head said.
"For 18 months I was really good around my forward defence.''
Head's last Test innings was 12 as Australia chased quick runs en route to the victory which sealed the retention of the Ashes at Old Trafford.
"In the second innings we were ahead of the game. My natural game is to be positive - that is the directive - and I wanted to take it to them.''
"I lost my wicket. It probably cost me in the next Test but that's ok. I can live with that because I went down the way I wanted it.''