Khawaja in for MCG Test, Smith out of BBL
Australia's selectors deferred the looming hard call on their batting order by adding Usman Khawaja to the squad for the Boxing Day Test, as it emerged that the captain Steven Smith will need to be managed carefully over the remainder of the summer due to hip and knee niggles.
Picked to bat at No. 3 against New Zealand, Khawaja made sparkling hundreds in Brisbane and Perth before injuring his hamstring.In his absence, Shaun Marsh was recalled and promptly compiled a critical 49 in Adelaide before clouting the West Indies for 182 in Hobart.
Marsh was thought to be the man to make way when Khawaja returned to full fitness, but his runs have left the selectors pondering how to deal with an unexpected batting logjam. Joe Burns, anointed as David Warner's new opening partner following the retirement of Chris Rogers, has enjoyed a solid summer but has trailed off slightly in his past two matches. Smith stated his satisfaction with Marsh's performance and also his preference to keep him in the middle order if possible.
"I'm sure it gives the selectors a few headaches but I think that's a great thing," Smith said. "I thought Shaun played beautifully throughout this Test match. Him and [Adam] Voges certainly changed the course of the game. It was 3 for 120 and the game was in the balance. Those guys put on a terrific partnership and set the game up for us.
"I've said that for a while now, I think he is best suited at five. He's played some very good cricket at five. He did last summer as well. I was really impressed with the way he batted last week, he did well in tough conditions and tough circumstances, and again backing it up again this week with a big hundred. He's batting really well."
Marsh will join Burns, Voges, Peter Nevill, Nathan Lyon and Nathan Coulter-Nile in being available for the opening two rounds of the Twenty20 Big Bash League, but Smith will not be joining them. Knee trouble he has been carrying since the back end of the Ashes tour of England flared up during the Hobart Test, and he also complained of a hip flexor problem to the team physio David Beakley.
Smith has duly been ruled out of duty for the Sydney Sixers, along with Josh Hazlewood, Peter Siddle, James Pattinson (all rested) and David Warner (unsigned) in taking time out from the T20 tournament. In describing the niggles and how they affect him, Smith said they were easier to manage while playing Test cricket than shorter formats, so it is within the realm of possibility that he may need to sit out an ODI or two against India in the new year.
"I'm experiencing a little bit of knee pain that I experienced before the first Test in Brisbane," Smith said. "I landed on it yesterday and it sort of aggravated it a little bit, as well as a little bit of hip flexor soreness in my right leg as well. So I'm going to sit out the first two Big Bash games unfortunately. I think it's just precautionary.
"I don't think I'll be able to go at 100%, which is what you need to do in T20 cricket. I don't want to do any further damage. I probably can't run quite 100%, which I think in Test cricket you can hide that a little bit. Hopefully they improve over the next couple of weeks and I'll be back to normal."
One issue that seems far less pertinent for Australia after their innings trouncing of the West Indies in Hobart is the matter of bowling workloads. Given a match that ran for less than half its scheduled duration, Hazlewood, Pattinson and Siddle can expect to be able to turn out in each of the Melbourne and Sydney Tests through the holiday period.
"It was a clinical performance," Smith said. "The game was in the balance and we were able to put on a big partnership that changed the course of the match. I thought the bowlers bowled terrifically. In the first innings Nathan Lyon really stepped up again and in the second innings it was nice to see James Pattinson back to his best and bowling fast.
"He bowled extremely well. He wanted to go out and do it today, and enjoy it and I thought he bowled beautifully. I had a little word to him this morning actually and just said go out and enjoy it and have some fun and do what you do well - and that's bowl fast. I think the ball came out a lot better today. He got the ball in the right areas and reaped the rewards from it."
In addition to recalling Khawaja, the selectors also included Steve O'Keefe in a 14-man squad for the SCG Test.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig