Marsh, Doolan to tip out Hughes
Australia are set to go with hunches over hundreds against South Africa, anointing Alex Doolan for his Test debut at No. 3 while also shaping up to recall Shaun Marsh despite his minimal preparation for the task at hand.
The national selector John Inverarity was seen offering a consoling word and pat on the back to Phillip Hughes in the nets as the tourists' final training session wound down, while the captain Michael Clarke had also hinted strongly at Doolan's inclusion.
"You guys can work out for yourselves whether Alex is going to play or not," Clarke said. "I can't tell you where he's going to bat. I haven't got the 11 players yet from the selectors, so I don't think it'd be fair for me to talk about individual players - who's in, who's out."
While Hughes has by far the best first-class record of the fringe batsmen and plenty of experience in South Africa, he only made the trip when Marsh was indisposed due to a calf problem. He would have remained in Western Australia if not for a calf strain to Shane Watson, but that injury allowed Marsh to return.
The tour selectors Darren Lehmann and Inverarity have been unable to resist Marsh's flowing form in the nets, even if he is still dealing with jetlag that Clarke admitted had taken numerous players far longer to get over than they had initially expected. Doolan has also swayed team observers by the purity of his stroke production and capacity to hit good balls to the boundary, the strong impression of his easy style not sufficiently undermined by a lack of substantial runs in recent months.
Marsh and Doolan have only two first-class hundreds between them this summer, though the latter's was an admittedly commanding fourth innings performance against a strong New South Wales to help Tasmania chase down a vexing target. Hughes meanwhile has made three Sheffield Shield centuries this summer, but there is a strong belief that Marsh and Doolan will be able to step up and counter-attack against South Africa's vaunted pace attack.
The selectors have long taken the view that there is more to choosing teams than simply picking the top players on the national aggregates. It is a belief they have clung to even after watching the opener Chris Rogers replicate his methodical run-making in Tests after doing so for years in first-class matches without recognition, largely as a result of an apparently ungainly style.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here