Australia in Sri Lanka 2011 August 28, 2011

Khawaja v Marsh poses selection headache

The two-hour bus trip from Colombo to Galle may not be long enough to accommodate all that Michael Clarke must ponder - particularly the Khawaja v Marsh selection tussle, and his own batting form
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As he sat back in the team bus from Colombo to Galle, the Australian captain Michael Clarke had plenty of selection questions to contemplate. The shape of his bowling attack will likely be defined by the state of the pitch for the first Test, but it is a little more difficult to weigh up the merits of his two candidates for No. 6 batsman.

On the strength of a strikingly composed 101 retired in the Colombo tour match, Usman Khawaja has made arguably the more convincing case. Though he opened the batting, Khawaja stayed long enough to see the wicket wear and the spinners wheel away, showing he had developed a more convincing method against spin than the one that saw him defeated by Graeme Swann on debut in the fifth Ashes Test at the SCG in January.

Yet Shaun Marsh's hold on the No. 6 berth has appeared much the stronger in the weeks leading up to the match. He was not taken on the Australia A tour of Zimbabwe, where Khawaja failed to make a score of note in four innings, because he was deemed almost an automatic selection for the tour of Sri Lanka. Marsh has also seen far more of the Sri Lankan Test attack than Khawaja, and has the game to dominate an attack, whereas Khawaja is more likely to accumulate with a game best suited for the top four. Should the merit of one silken innings in a tour match overrule earlier conclusions?

"I don't know, I'm not sure. [Khawaja is] another one who grabbed a hold of his opportunity and that's all you can do," Clarke said. "Obviously he hasn't made too many runs leading into this three-day game in the Australia A set-up, in county cricket and the back-end of NSW.

"He's another one who has put his hand up and said `give me a chance'. I also thought SOS [Marsh] did well in that first one-dayer he played, when he made 70 and creamed them. He played the spin really well. We've got to have a real good think about the position.

"Usman's opened the batting here and he played his Test at number three for Punter [Ricky Ponting], but in saying that what more can you do? It doesn't matter where you bat, you get an opportunity and try and make a big score and that's exactly what he's done. It's going to be an interesting couple of days."

Once he has finished thinking that over, Clarke can devote a unit of time to his own batting, which has appeared nicely grooved so far on tour. That groove is a new one, for it is 10 Test matches and more than a year since Clarke last passed three-figures for his country. It is a streak that has coincided with his move from No. 5 to No. 4 in the batting order, a change that is minor in number but major in intent.

At No. 5 Clarke was reacting to the agenda set by either his top order colleagues or the opposition's bowlers. A place further up and he is setting that agenda himself. It is a task he is yet to adapt to.

"My preparation's been good. I'm hitting the ball well," Clarke said. "It means nothing to be honest going into the first Test apart from getting the confidence in my mind that I know I'm batting well. Starting your innings in these conditions is as hard as anywhere in the world.

"Generally batting four I'd imagine I'll be coming in facing spin early with a couple of bat pads, a slip and things like that so I've got to stick to my plan. That's what I've tried to do in the one-dayers and this game here - back the way I've been training, back the way I feel I play my best against spin and it's worked so far. Things could change for the first Test.

"I really want my momentum to go on and I'm really keen to make sure I'm building it. I couldn't ask for better preparation but it doesn't guarantee you too much unfortunately, I wish it did."

As for the barren run of Tests without a century, Clarke is concerned less with numbers than he is with making sure that his batting has the presence required of an Australian captain. His predecessor Ricky Ponting stood as a most outstanding example of that presence, until the burdens of captaincy dragged his batting down.

"I don't really think too much about that. I know I haven't really performed as well as I'd like to. I had a poor summer against England," Clarke said. "I know I need to be leading from the front, put it that way, especially now that I'm captain.

"My form hasn't been as good as I would like in Test cricket. I've always said Test cricket is the ultimate to me, the pinnacle, and I want to be at my best. I couldn't ask for better preparation but now I've got to do it when it counts."

The bus trip from Colombo to Galle takes around two hours. It may not be a long enough journey to accommodate all that Clarke must ponder.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Blazedragon on August 30, 2011, 19:19 GMT

    Ponting bashed around Malinga in the 2nd ODI.

  • 5wombats on August 30, 2011, 15:05 GMT

    @jonesy2; "marsh is better than matthew hayden, so why wouldnt he play test cricket"? - is that meant to be taken seriously?

  • Ahsan_Shere on August 30, 2011, 13:33 GMT

    Exactly the same XI & also the batting order which I suggested; Any Selection panel jobs for me in CA???

  • Winsome on August 30, 2011, 13:17 GMT

    C'mon Hyclass, aggregate stats don't tell the story with Marsh as you well know, as he's been injured so much in the past couple of years. It's his temperament that is the issue. He just doesn't look like a player with much self-belief at international level and at his age, that is something that is not going to improve. Personally, I'd like to see Khawaja and Hughes opening and Watson at 4 (as Punter will cling on with white knuckles to the no 3 spot). Watson just isn't a player who can bat long and you need that at opening.

  • Ahsan_Shere on August 30, 2011, 12:08 GMT

    Although I want Marsh to play because he's my favorite because of his technique but at the same time I think he don't deserve a place in the Test team since Australia have better performers (run-getters) & that is what matters the most & not the technique.

  • hyclass on August 30, 2011, 2:18 GMT

    Marsh again?Give it up!Since the start of the 2008-2009 season,3 years ago,the 1st class season totals for Marsh are as follows:167 runs, 477 runs, 414 runs.1058 runs in 3 years.His biggest seasons were only 676 & 663,most recently,4 years ago.David Hussey has season highs in Australia,of 878,911,970,1008.Between Dec 08 & May 09,in 10 games,Hughes scored 1637 runs with 8 centuries,2 in one Test,on 3 continents,at 96.Currently,his last 7 innings total 633 runs at 90 with 3 centuries.Marsh was picked for this tour,because he had experience in the IPL. He made 4 and 0 in his two T20I, supposedly his strong suit. That brought his T20 average for Australia to 11.4 at a S/R of 98. He then announced he would play Mendis and the spinners better after practice in the nets. The result? He was dropped at slip off Mendis for 8.Then caught behind of Prasanna for 70. In between were two edges through slip off pace. His first class 12 was no better.His 2, failed against pace,being dropped AND bowled.

  • straight_drive4 on August 30, 2011, 0:18 GMT

    ahsan you are spot on with your team

  • AusieBangaleeShameem on August 30, 2011, 0:13 GMT

    Khawaja and Marsh both should play. Can't find any good reason why Phil Hughes is there to be considered as opener ahead of Khawaja. Marsh should be batting at number 6 --- Done! Good luck to Aussie team!!

  • morethan20-20 on August 29, 2011, 17:29 GMT

    Webba84. thankyou for reading my comment....with regard punter..he has not shown any test match form in how long ?? and against quality pace bowling his "going hard at the ball" isnt that tidy. Much respect is owed to punter and history does show that players can play on deep into their 30's and early 40's BUT we all saw his attitude and the ugly incident in melbourne, did you notice how siddle jumped into the act when it wasnt his problem....what does this suggest about punters influence. Also, since K Roach hit him he hasn't adjusted his game....Ricky is human and his reflexes will slow but he is supposed to use his brain/experience and adapt his game, not continue to pull to prove himself. Its time for Punter to give to Aust. cricket in a different way...play shield and let the TEST team rebuild.

  • Ahsan_Shere on August 29, 2011, 15:20 GMT

    My playing XI (in batting order) 1.Watson, 2.Hughes, 3. Ponting, 4. Clarke, 5.Hussey, 6.Usman, 7.Haddin, 8.Harris, 9.Johnson, 10.Lyon/Beer (doesn't matter both are hopeless), 11.Copeland

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