Allrounder key in UAE - Lehmann
Australia's coach Darren Lehmann has said an allrounder capable of bowling a significant number of overs will definitely be part of Australia's side during the upcoming Tests against Pakistan in the UAE. Mitchell Marsh appears likely to be that man after Shane Watson was ruled out of the tour with a calf injury, although the offspinning allrounder Glenn Maxwell is another option.
Lehmann also said that fast bowler Mitchell Johnson would not be in doubt for the Tests and was also likely to play the three preceding ODIs, despite being pulled out of the Champions League Twenty20 due to a rib problem. Australia's one-day and Twenty20 squads were due to fly out for the series on Sunday night ahead of the first game, a one-off T20 next Sunday in Dubai.
The limited-overs games will be followed by a four-day tour match in Sharjah ahead of the two Tests in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and the warm-up match looms as important for several reasons. Firstly, it will give the selectors a clear indication of the fitness of captain Michael Clarke, who is battling a hamstring injury, but may also provide Marsh with a chance to prove his worth in the longer format ahead of a likely Test debut.
"I think it puts competition on everyone," Lehmann said of Marsh, ahead of the team's departure on Sunday. "Shane [Watson] knows he needs to be an allrounder. We've spoken to him about that. We just want him fully fit when he comes back and plays.
"It's a big summer coming up and with the heat over there the allrounder would have to bowl a lot more than probably four or five overs. He would probably get by as just a batter maybe but we need him as a fully fit allrounder."
Lehmann said Australia would "definitely play an allrounder" in the UAE and although Marsh is the odds-on favourite, the offspinner Maxwell is also in the Test squad. When Australia's touring party was named, the chairman of selectors Rod Marsh said Maxwell was lucky to have been picked but that he provided the "x-factor" in the group.
The selectors have also indicated that they would be unlikely to pick both Maxwell and Nathan Lyon in the same side, given both turn the ball the same way. A more probable scenario is for Lyon and left-armer Steve O'Keefe to play alongside each other, although Lehmann said he was hoping for more fourth-innings wickets from Lyon as the frontline spinner.
"It's a hard time because the last day of a game you expect him to win the game," Lehmann said. "He's bowled well in the first innings of Test matches but when it's come to the crunch he hasn't delivered as he would have liked or we would like.
"He knows that, he's worked really hard on that. It's about putting good balls in the right spot more often. If he improves that aspect of his game his record would be outstanding."
The spinners and the allrounder will have a heavy bowling workload in the heat of the UAE, which will be necessary to allow Johnson and his fast-bowling colleagues to operate in shorter spells. Lehmann said Johnson would miss the T20 match to allow him more time to recover from his rib injury but he is expected to be available for the three ODIs.
"We're lucky he's done a fair bit of bowling before [the injury] so it won't be an issue," Lehmann said.
There is less certainty around the fitness of Clarke, who will travel to the UAE early to continue his recovery, despite already being ruled out of the ODI series. Lehmann said the tour match against Pakistan A would be "telling" in determining whether Clarke would play in the Tests or whether Brad Haddin would become Australia's 45th Test captain.