Case for hare and tortoise as Australia's Nos. 6 and 7

At sixes and sevens: Who will fill Australia's two lower-order spots? (2:41)

Australia's numbers 6 and 7 have had an abysmal record in recent times. So, who will the selectors turn to for the Ashes? (2:41)

In his elegant assessment of David Hookes, apogee of Australian middle-order aggression, Christian Ryan reported that the selector Greg Chappell once told the batsman: "We need you to show us you can make a hundred in four or five hours, not just in two hours."

As Chappell, Mark Waugh and the selection chairman Trevor Hohns watched round two of the Sheffield Shield unfold in Hobart, Sydney and Melbourne, that very conundrum cannot have been far from their thoughts. In trying to determine who will fill the Nos. 6 and 7 positions for the start of this summer's Ashes series, the panel must not only think in terms of runs, but of crease occupation, combination and collaboration.

Should they choose to go with a dasher at No. 6, Australia can consider a less frenetic option at 7. Likewise, if the man chosen to round out the batting complement is of a more considered type, then the ability to counterpunch will fall more squarely on the wicketkeeper who comes in to bat after him.

According to Waugh on radio earlier this week, albeit speaking about Matt Renshaw at the top of the order: "If someone's scoring really quick at the other end and dominating, you go unnoticed and you can tick the scoreboard away at the other end. The pressure comes when you're losing wickets and the scoreboard's not ticking over, [and] you need to be able to score runs yourself."

It was Hohns who was at the MCG on Saturday to witness a classical middle-order counter-attack from South Australia's No. 5 Jake Lehmann, the talented 25-year-old son of the national coach Darren. Arriving at 3 for 18, after Victoria's early success with the new ball, Lehmann wasted very little time with a flurry of early boundaries, careering to 25 from 14 deliveries.

If he slowed after that, it was with a level of controlled power that kept the Bushrangers from re-asserting their dominance, conscious of the fact that the Redbacks captain Travis Head, usually a frenetic scorer himself, had dropped anchor at the other end. Together their partnership of 164 provided an ideal example of hare and tortoise, not being separated until Lehmann had made a sixth first-class century in a tick over the aforementioned two-hour mark, the innings speckled by 15 boundaries and lasting 152 minutes in all.

Whether or not Lehmann - boasting an average near 42 that stacks up well against most of his contemporaries - is in genuine contention for a place in the Ashes team only Hohns can say, but he was close enough to selection discussions last summer for his father to reveal that he leaves the room whenever the family name comes up. "I don't sit in on anything when they [the selectors] talk about Jake, and I don't know what they're saying about Jake," Lehmann said in November last year. "I'm not involved, and I'd be that nervous anyway I probably wouldn't be coach, I'd probably just go to the bar."

Head's contribution, not so fluent as Lehmann's but no less important to SA's progress, showed the range he has developed since being anointed state captain at the age of 21. In that time he has edged his first-class average up towards 34, significantly inferior to Lehmann, Hilton Cartwright and Kurtis Patterson among others, but over a larger sample size. His frequent appearances for national limited-overs duty have, equally, placed him "in the system" and made him familiar to Australian players and selectors alike.

The best middle-order options should be capable of both defence and attack, to shore up the innings after early losses in the manner of Head, or to counter-attack boldly after the fashion of Lehmann. A query Hohns may well have raised about both was in the manner of their dismissals: the Bushrangers' captain Peter Handscomb elected to try a short-pitched approach with both players well set, and rather than letting the scoreboard slow both Lehmann and Head ended up being pouched by men placed in the deep to await an impatient swat at a bouncer - Aaron Finch's low snare of Lehmann's upper cut to third man was excellent.

Given another score of note between now and the end of the third round of the Shield, either South Australian could find himself as a part of the Test team's top six, likely to be batting ahead of a gloveman who has also made runs. In Melbourne, the Redbacks' own Alex Carey squandered a more than useful start in the latter part of the day, working the old ball around smoothly then negotiating the new one in the company of Tom Cooper until he sliced Scott Boland to Glenn Maxwell at backward point.

Meanwhile, to the north, the unobtrusive Peter Nevill began to compile his own innings of substance in the company of the New South Wales tail. Seldom a batsman to try to dominate an attack, Nevill relies more on patience and deft placement while backing himself to occupy the crease. In his previous stint with Australia, this method was often compromised by the rush of wickets around him, raising the emphasis on finding a willing middle order ally this time around. Useful stands at Hurstville Oval with Mitchell Starc and then Pat Cummins illustrated the value Nevill may be able to offer given off siders who can attack good bowling with intelligence.

Of course the man many see as having a mortgage on the No. 6 berth, WA's No. 3 and part-time bowler Cartwright, did not bat this day. But his contribution was nonetheless significant to proceedings, in coaxing the national captain Steven Smith to shell a wide delivery to point after removing a good deal of rust in his 76.

That wicket, in the first over of a bowling stint that read 1 for 20 from seven overs, did not recall the words of Chappell so much as those of Napoleon Bonaparte who, like Smith, has never been an Australian selector. "I know he's a good general," the emperor once asked, "but is he lucky?"