Sri Lanka v Australia, 2nd Test, Pallekele September 7, 2011

Marsh to press Hughes, Khawaja for spots

Shaun Marsh, who will make his Test debut in Pallekele, can press Phil Hughes and Usman Khawaja for a place in the Australia XI, with captain Michael Clarke saying there were "no guarantees" for batting berths once Ricky Ponting returns.

Hughes and Khawaja were preferred to Marsh for the first Test in Galle. Neither could produce a standout score - though both showed signs of promise on a poor pitch - keeping the Australian batting order in a state of some flux despite the 125-run victory.

Clarke said Ponting was guaranteed to resume at No. 3 once he returns from Australia following the birth of his second child, but beyond that there is less certainty.

"This is a great problem to have," Clarke said. "Hopefully all three of them do well and we go scissors, paper, rock. It's pressure, [but it is] good pressure. It's what the team needs. There's not one bloke in our team that can look at the first game and feel 100% the job's done and I don't need to improve from the last game.

"I think every one of us needs to perform better, especially our batters. We need to make more runs. If we bat first then a good score on the board in the first innings is crucial. Our first batting innings is crucial, so every one of us puts our hand up, and if you make a start go on and get a good score."

As a newly-anointed selector, Clarke said his philosophy was to allow players to settle in, but also to ensure they were being pushed for their spots. A strong debut by Marsh would create that kind of pressure.

"We've got a group of players in Test and one-day cricket that we think is our core group," Clarke said. "It's got a combination of experienced players and some youth. I think it's really important once you select certain players that you do give them a chance. It's hard to walk straight in and perform.

"I believe these guys do deserve an opportunity, no doubt, but in saying that the player is responsible as well. The player needs to grab it with both hands. The great players that I've been lucky to play with, it doesn't really matter how they got their opportunity - whether someone got injured, someone got suspended, someone got rested - generally the guy that came in made the most of that opportunity.

"What we're trying to do with Australian cricket now is to continue to keep our domestic competition as strong as we possibly can, so there is pressure on the international players - there's someone back home that will take your spot. Shaun is dying for his opportunity, now he gets his chance."

Marsh has only made six first-class centuries since making his start as a teenager with Western Australia. However Clarke was adamant that Marsh's natural flair for shots had been increasingly allied to knowledge of the hard graft required to succeed.

"The key for Shaun is to give himself a chance," Clarke said. "Once he gets in he's got every shot in the book and he can destroy an opposition team because he's got the talent to take the game away from them. For the team's sake I'd love to see Shaun spend a bit of time in the middle.

"I just think it's really special to see someone who has worked really hard since he's been involved in the Australian one-day team. The way he's improved his training, the discipline he's shown, how he's lost a lot of weight and become fit and strong, it's a great reward for him. I hope he just enjoys it, doesn't worry too much and enjoys the moment. If he does that I've got a funny feeling he's going to make a big score."

Australia's bowling attack excelled in helpful conditions in the first Test, but will likely face a greater challenge to restrict and dismiss Sri Lanka's batsmen on a Pallekele pitch that shows none of the dusty tendencies of the Galle strip. Helping the visitors is the fact that none of the bowlers were over-extended as the hosts' first innings folded for 105.

"I think the extra day off probably helped both teams, but it has definitely helped us, it's allowed our quicks to have another couple of days off," Clarke said. "A lot of the guys did their bowling yesterday so I don't know if they will go there today so they can freshen up going into the Test.

"On these wickets generally it's [likely to be] long days. To take 20 wickets means long, long days in the field. I know we rolled them for 105 the other day but I would be very surprised if that happens again in this series. We have to be prepared because to bowl Sri Lanka out will take a lot of time."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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