Watson, Marsh may play in the same XI
Shane Watson and Mitchell Marsh might end up playing in the same Test XI this summer after Marsh's emergence as a valuable member of the top six in the UAE. Following their humiliating 2-0 loss to Pakistan, the Australians flew out of Dubai on Tuesday and they now have a month to sort out their batting line-up ahead of their next Test against India at the Gabba.
The inclusion of Glenn Maxwell at the expense of Alex Doolan for the second Test in Abu Dhabi raised the question of whether Doolan's tenure at No. 3 is permanently over. He took over the position from the injured Watson for the tour of South Africa in February and began with 89 on debut in Centurion.
When Watson returned from his calf injury for the final Test in Cape Town, he slotted in down the order at No. 6, which appeared destined to become his permanent place in the team. However, Doolan's axing after four Tests without adding another half-century to his debut effort has potentially opened up the first-drop spot for the India series.
The positive work of Marsh in his first Test series - he scored 87 and 47 in Abu Dhabi and was Australia's third-leading run scorer for the series - has raised the possibility that he could stay at No. 6 for the home Tests and Watson might return at No. 3. Watson missed the Pakistan matches due to ankle and calf injuries but is returning through this week's T20s against South Africa.
"They can play in the same Test team," coach Darren Lehmann said of Watson and Marsh. "We want the best team to play, whoever that may be. I see Watto made some runs the other day, which is good he's back. He's playing the three T20s and hopefully he starts well.
"[Marsh] has certainly done a lot of good things in this side in the one-day format and the Tests. We just want to keep him growing."
The No. 3 position has been a source of concern for Australia since Ricky Ponting moved down to No. 4 during the 2011 tour of Sri Lanka, when Shaun Marsh scored a hundred on debut at first drop. Since Shaun Marsh was dropped, Phillip Hughes, Usman Khawaja, Rob Quiney, Ed Cowan and Watson have all rotated through the position.
Watson is the only man to have reached triple figures at No. 3 for Australia since Marsh, scoring Ashes centuries there at The Oval and the WACA last year. In 19 innings at No.3, Watson has scored 749 runs at 41.61 and reinstalling him there would satisfy his desire to face the newer ball and fast bowlers.
Although wholesale changes to Australia's line-up appear unlikely before the Gabba Test, opener Chris Rogers will be searching for runs in the Sheffield Shield for Victoria over the next month to ease any queries about his position. Rogers made 38, 43, 5 and 2 in the UAE and Phillip Hughes is waiting in the wings for another opportunity at Test level.
However, Rogers was the leading run-scorer from either side during last year's back-to-back Ashes campaigns and could provide valuable experience again when the team head back to England next year to defend the Ashes.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale