Australia have pencilled in Aaron Finch and Travis Head for Test debuts against Pakistan next month, with Michael Neser also making a strong case for inclusion, according to captain Tim Paine. All three were included in the Australian XI to play Pakistan A in a four-day warm-up game in Dubai, starting on Saturday.
Paine is preparing to lead Australia in the Test team's first assignment since Steven Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft were banned for their part in the Cape Town ball-tampering scandal - absences which leave a particular hole in the tourists' batting. Finch, an experienced white-ball opener, is set to make a Test bow alongside Matt Renshaw at the top of the order, with Head, who also offers a spin-bowling option, likely to bat at No. 5 or 6.
The team named to play Pakistan A is "pretty close to what we'll go with" for the first Test in Dubai, said Paine, although he suggested players outside the XI could still make a case for inclusion. Neser and Mitchell Starc will provide the pace options, supported by Paine's newly elected vice-captain, Mitchell Marsh, while slow left-armer Jon Holland has been selected to partner Australia's premier spinner, Nathan Lyon.
Ashton Agar has also now joined up with the squad, and could come into contention if conditions dictate, while the veteran Peter Siddle, who last played a Test in November, is the other option to take the new ball with Starc. Paine called Neser, who made his one-day debut on Australia's tour of England in June, a "really, really skilful all-round cricketer" and an "exciting option". "He's someone in these conditions who could thrive," Paine said.
"The squad is really flexible," he added. "When we get to the first Test and we assess the conditions, we can play two quicks, three spinners, whatever scenario's presented by the Test wicket, we'll have a team that we think will do well in those conditions."
The process to appoint Paine's deputies, Marsh and recuperating quick Josh Hazlewood, has been indicative in the change of direction initiated by Justin Langer, who replaced Darren Lehmann as head coach after the tour of South Africa. Marsh and Hazlewood were among those put forward for leadership roles by their team-mates, and then selected as vice-captains after making presentations to a panel including Langer, selection chairman Trevor Hohns, and CA board director Mark Taylor.
"Really happy with them," Paine said. "Both are really trusted, respected guys in our team, both really deserve it. We went through a really rigorous process to get the role, so really happy for both of them.
"I think it was really important to have the players' buy-in. Everyone went through that process, myself included. I think it was good for the players to be able to voice their opinion and have a say in who leads them, and it was also great for the guys that have been nominated to go through the process and be interviewed. It's something we don't normally do and a good experience."
While unlikely in practice, Paine suggested it was theoretically possible for him to have lost his position as captain if he were not among the six - which also included Finch, Head and Alex Carey - who received the most nominations from the group.
"Obviously I came across the captaincy in not-ideal circumstances, so to go back into the pool and be voted back out by your peers is great," Paine said. "It means a lot to all three of us that we've been voted in by our peers.
"I'd imagine so [on the possibility of losing the captaincy], probably wouldn't have been my call. We took it very seriously. The players had their say and then there was process after that as well. It wasn't done to tick boxes it was to make sure we have the right people leading this team going forward."
As well as regenerating the culture within the team, Paine reiterated that Australia were intent on changing their tactics in an attempt to win away to Asian opposition for the first time in seven years. On Australia's last visit to the UAE, in 2014, they lost 2-0 - crushed by 221 runs and 356 runs in the two Tests - and Langer has challenged this squad to "leave the egos at home" in order to practise a more attritional approach to batting than on previous tours.
"Australia teams of the past haven't had huge success here in Dubai, in Asia in general, so it's an exciting opportunity," Paine said. "We've got a bit of a different group, some younger guys have come in. Big challenge but a really exciting opportunity, we've been working really hard on the style of cricket we want to play over here in the last week. We've got a bit more training and a tour game to come to keep nailing it down. If we do everything we've talked about, we'll be more than competitive.
"We've spoke about little ways we change. Traditionally, Australian teams have been really aggressive and tried to take the games to opposition. I think over here in particular, you've got to be really patient and I guess try and stay in the game for as long as you game. We know that the first three days here can move really slowly, the pitches are generally really flat, then the last two days, it can start to spin and reverse and the games in the back end move really quickly.
"It's about being really patient, really disciplined. JL spoke a little bit about leaving our egos at home, particularly as a batting group, and being prepared to bat for a long, long time. If we can do that we can have some success."