Stoinis v Maxwell: a Victoria duel
One of the quirks of international cricket can be the pitting of two players from the same state for the same role even though the pair may take on quite different posts in domestic ranks. Throw in an argument within the same state over who should bat where and the identity of Australia's new No. 6 batsman becomes even more fascinating.
Ahead of the pivotal third Border-Gavaskar Test in Ranchi, Australia's selectors seem to be pondering one of the Victorians Marcus Stoinis or Glenn Maxwell for the No. 6 batting position in place of the injured Mitchell Marsh and ahead of the wicketkeeper Matthew Wade - another Bushranger. While Maxwell has the advantage of being part of the touring squad for the entire trip so far, Stoinis seems a smoother replacement for Marsh given his all-round skills and strong seam bowling.
Maxwell was not even in the Victorian Shield side at the start of the summer, having been dropped seemingly as a result of his unsuccessful attempt to move north to New South Wales during pre-season. When he did return, runs were not so easy to come by, though one innings of 81 illustrated his qualities. A tally of 129 runs at 25.80, batting largely at Nos. 6 and 7, underwhelms.
Stoinis, meanwhile, has been the Bushrangers' preferred choice at No. 3 for several seasons and has done so with some distinction - until this season. In seven matches he has tallied a mere 197 at 17.90, making his highest score of 46 in his most recent match against Western Australia in Alice Springs. Much has been made of Stoinis' improved bowling in the past 12 months, but as a batsman only his breakout 146 in an ODI against New Zealand at Eden Park last month has provided a reminder of the composure and power that led Victoria to pick him at first drop in the first place.
Wade, Victoria's captain, has watched Stoinis closely over several seasons. "He has developed beautifully," Wade said. "He has batted at No. 3 for Victoria over a three or four-year period now and averaged quite high in first class cricket. I think he's only got improvement, I said that to him before he got picked in the one day team in New Zealand and we saw what he did there.
"He's not a finished product that's for sure. He'll come in and play a really strong role for us if we need him but he'll improve playing each game at international level. No one expects people to come in and start dominating international cricket from ball one, but he'll improve from game to game that he gets at international level."
In terms of roles, Wade acknowledged that Stoinis' use in the top order had been devised partly to help his chances of international selection. "I think he's a very strong batter. Obviously batting No. 3 in Shield cricket has placed him in a really good spot to play an allround role for Australia," Wade said. "He can bat anywhere in the order.
'But the last couple of years we've seen improvements from his bowling. [Playing for] Australia A he really, really took the pace off. He knocked off a couple of their big players in that series so I think the last couple of years that's probably what the selectors have seen a bit more in him. They always knew he was a really strong batter, but his bowling has improved out of sight the last few years."
Stoinis and Wade, of course, have been two of the batsmen coming in earlier in the Bushrangers' order than Maxwell, a point he raised earlier in the season and was subsequently fined as a result. At the time, Steven Smith said Maxwell's comment that it was "painful" to be batting below Wade in the Bushrangers order had been highly disrespectful.
"I think probably batting below the wicketkeeper is also a bit painful as well," Maxwell had said. "I think the wicketkeeper should be batting at seven unless you're trying to squeeze an extra bowler into your line-up."
That same week, the coach Darren Lehmann had retorted to questions about Maxwell's possible Test selection with the words: "Are you going to pick a bloke who hasn't made a hundred in two years?"
Given all that history, it was perhaps not so surprising that Wade was unsure how Maxwell would bat if given the nod to rejoin the Test team in Ranchi.
"In Test cricket, you've got to show defence first, obviously," he said. "But I've got no idea how Glenn's going to come out and play if he gets the opportunity, that's probably a question you would have to ask him. But in Test cricket, your game is built around defence at times, but I'm not sure how he'll play if he comes out."
As it stands, the selectors seem left to choose between Maxwell, and an alternative in Stoinis who hasn't made a Sheffield Shield half-century this season. The apparently least likely option is to recall Usman Khawaja, a player with far more recent runs behind him.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig