Barring injury, the bowling attack of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon is set, and Tim Paine will captain and keep wicket in the first Test against India but plenty of questions remain around the top order. There have been three ODI's, five T20Is and four rounds of Sheffield Shield cricket since the 373-run defeat to Pakistan in Abu Dhabi. How have the incumbents and contenders faired and who will be selected for Adelaide?
At the end of the Test series in the UAE Finch appeared a lock for the first Test against India but he has hit a significant form slump in ODIs and T20s since. Scores of 1, 0, 3, 1, 5, 41, 11, and 7 have caused alarm and he has spoken of the challenges the change in formats have posed to his technique. He only has three T20s and one Shield match to find some touch. Further complicating matters, his record opening the batting in first-class cricket in Australia is poor. He was well suited to opening on the low slow surfaces in the UAE but Australian conditions are a different beast and very few makeshift openers have succeeded in Australia in Test match cricket. Most of his success in first-class cricket for Victoria has come batting at No.5. He looks certain to play. Where he bats is still to be finalised. Victoria coach Andrew McDonald told SEN radio on Wednesday that he was planning to bat Finch in the middle order against Queesland and had not received any instructions from the selectors over where to bat him.
Fitness is the only question mark for Australia's best batsman. He had surgery to repair a meniscus tear in his knee on October 23. He is back running and replicated some running between the wickets over the weekend. He was set to face bowlers for the first time this week. The last Shield round before the Test starts on November 27 and he expects to be fit for that. If all goes to plan he will play in Adelaide. He should bat at No.3 but there may be some consideration given to him opening in light of his excellent record at the top of the order.
Any doubts about his Test place have been erased. His form since returning home has been sublime. He made 80 and 98 in Shield match against Tasmania at the WACA where the bowlers dominated. He followed that with a supreme 106 against a high-quality South Africa ODI attack in Hobart. Eight days later Marsh peeled off 163 not out to help Western Australia chase down 313 against South Australia at Adelaide Oval, the venue of the opening Test against India and the scene of a century against England last year. The four failures in the UAE are a world away. Despite his success at No.5 in last summer's Ashes, on current form he is the best equipped to bat in the pivotal spot while Steven Smith is absent.
Like Finch, Head showed promise in the UAE and appeared almost certain to retain his place in Adelaide. But like Finch, his form since has given the selectors pause. He was strategically left out of Australia's T20 assignments. He missed out in his only Shield innings before a nightmare one-day series against South Africa put his Test place under pressure. That may have eased somewhat with a good Shield performance in Adelaide against WA where made a fluent 87 in the first innings and was unfortunate to be lbw. He was equally unlucky to be strangled down the leg side in the second innings for 0. The lack of runs from the other contenders has helped his cause but conversely the ability of South Africa's paceman to expose him technically, albeit in short-form cricket, has meant a home Test in Adelaide is not absolutely guaranteed.
Australia's new vice-captain remains a divisive figure. After the failures in the UAE the 27-year-old was left out of Australia's matches against South Africa and the T20 series against India to get valuable time in Shield cricket. It was the clearest indication that he is still a mainstay in Australia's Test team. He made a statement scoring 151 batting at No.4 against Queensland and he also bowled 30 overs in the match claiming the wicket of Marnus Labuschagne. He followed that a second innings 44 against South Australia which was vital in the context of the game but Daniel Worrall did breach his defence in the same manner Mohammad Abbas had in the UAE. He looks likely to play given the Australian attack will need extra bowling support but unlikely to bat higher than No.6.
Despite some promising performances in the two Tests in the UAE having been picked seemingly on potential, he appears likely to miss out on Adelaide. Like Matt Renshaw, his Shield form has not helped his cause with scores of 3, 28, 10, 11, 52 and 4 perhaps forcing the selectors hands despite the half-century coming against Australia's Test attack. Given what he showed in the UAE with bat, ball and in the field, a case could be made to stick with him long-term. But Australia's dire results of recent time may not allow for such long-term thinking.
After his omission in the UAE he appeared almost certain to open the batting in Adelaide but his form has not made his selection a certainty. He made an unbeaten 145 on immediate return from the UAE for his premier cricket team Toombul in Brisbane and made another on November 10 but his Shield form has been far less productive. He was dismissed for 3 and 0 against South Australia in Adelaide by both an inswinger and outswinger from Joe Mennie. He made 89 and 21 against WA on an Allan Border Field surface where two players made scores of 150 plus and six others made half-centuries. He followed that with 21 and 6 against the Test attack, nicking Nathan Lyon in the first innings and being adjudged caught behind attempting to cut Josh Hazlewood in the second.
The left-hander has put himself firmly in the mix for Adelaide through not only a great start to the domestic season but solid performances over the previous two years. No man has scored more runs or centuries in Shield cricket since the start of the 2016-17 season than Harris. He announced himself with 250 not out against New South Wales and has backed that up with scores of 65 and 67 in the next two games. He stands up under pressure, with two of his nine first-class hundreds coming in Sheffield Shield finals. The 26-year-old has matured into a very dependable opener for Victoria, and any queries over his ability to bat time and make sound decisions consistently have been quashed this season.
He remains in the frame after he was omitted from the UAE squad on form. His JLT Cup run was excellent and he produced an impressive Shield century against South Australia at the MCG. But he has left a few starts on the table with scores of just 27, 48 and 23 in conditions where team-mates have made significant scores. The selectors will have taken particular note of his move up to No.3 for Victoria. It has been a wise move to put his technique under pressure against the quicks up front, which has been the question mark against him. Whether he's done enough for a recall remains to be seen.
After mysteriously dropping off the radar for the UAE series he has re-emerged as a contender for Adelaide. In a team crying out for experience, his three Test hundreds opening the batting in Australia and New Zealand certainly count in his favour. He also debuted against India last time they toured, making twin half-centuries in Sydney, and his excellent Shield season last summer should stand for something. His Shield form this season won't count against him but he hasn't smashed down the door. He made 64 against South Australia but was one of Lloyd Pope's seven victims, then made 49 and 80 not out in Brisbane against WA albeit on a road. He copped a poor decision in the first innings against NSW but then did all the hard work on the third evening against Hazlewood, Starc, Cummins and Lyon only to edge a ball first up on the fourth morning to be out for 38.
He has become a legitimate contender to play in Adelaide as a specialist batsman. England have proven two wicketkeepers can play together in a successful side. He made three centuries last Shield season, the equal most of any player, and has started this summer with four consecutive Shield half-centuries and 137 against the best Shield attack in the country, Victoria. He has two Test hundreds and one came batting at No.6. Tasmania captain George Bailey believes he should be considered given how well he is batting at the moment, particularly his ability to bat with the tail and shift up and down the gears depending on the match situation.