Australia's attempt to emulate their Ashes bowling formula from last summer, combined with question marks over a batting line-up shorn of Steven Smith and David Warner, has forced the omission of the vice-captain Mitchell Marsh from the team to face India in the first Test of the summer at a draining Adelaide Oval.
Twelve months ago the selectors chose Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon as their sole four bowlers for the opening two Tests against England, before Marsh was called in as a reinforcement from the time of the third match onwards. The change in team balance was vindicated by the way the front-liners dominated Joe Root's team, and a year on the captain Tim Paine and coach Justin Langer have sought to repeat the dose against Virat Kohli's tourists.
There are two key differences, of course: India's batsmen are far better versed in facing spin and will be capable of attacking Lyon to bring the pacemen back more quickly, while an Australian batting line-up without Smith and Warner will need contributions from as many players as possible. This has meant a recall for Peter Handscomb in the middle order, handing Victoria three spots in the same Australian batting line-up for the first time since Bill Lawry, Ian Redpath and Keith Stackpole in the 1970-71 Ashes.
"Mitch Marsh probably hasn't been as consistent as he would like and we would like," Paine said, confirming that Marsh would be a likely inclusion later on in the Test summer. "We know the talent Mitch has. We know most likely at some stage in this series we'll need him, so we're taking the opportunity at the moment to send him back to play a Shield game, get more cricket under his belt, knowing at some stage we're probably going to need him.
"We know he is good enough to be a genuine allrounder at Test level, he probably just hasn't put it together consistently enough. There's the opportunity for him to go back and get a Shield game under his belt before the BBL start. Going forward we've got full faith in him being a Test allrounder and as this series wears on and we get to places where the wicket might be a bit flatter, conditions might be a little warmer and our bowlers a bit tired then the allrounder position becomes important."
Apart from anything else, the decision to drop a recently appointed vice-captain underlined how slim Australia's leadership resources currently are. Without Marsh in the team, captaincy duties would be most likely to fall to the limited-overs captain Aaron Finch or one of the state captains Usman Khawaja (Queensland) or Travis Head (South Australia) in the event of Paine suffering an injury.
Either way, Paine acknowledged that arguably the key "chess match" of the series when Australia were in the field would involve India's efforts to attack Lyon in order to force him to bring his fast men back earlier than intended. "I'm sure there will be opportunities at times when we can hopefully put their spinners under pressure and try and put some big overs into their fast bowlers," Paine said. "It is going to be no different for them; they are going to see at times if they can attack Nathan and get on top of him and we're going to have bowl our quicks a bit more than we would like so it is going to be a real chess match in that regard.
"The [Adelaide] wicket over the last few years here has given enough throughout the game [to not need an allrounder]. We've obviously got a lot of confidence in Nathan Lyon bowling a lot of overs if we need to. And probably the fact all our three quicks go in really fresh, so we've got confidence in them - particularly at the start of the series. It's probably unlikely that we'll use the three quicks as much as we will in this game, throughout the whole series as it wears on - but this being the first Test we think they'll do the job."
Paine was dismissive of questions over whether Starc, Hazlewood and Cummins would be capable of standing up to the workload, given their micro-managed preparation for this assignment. "They got through the Ashes last year I thought and bowled a hell of a lot of overs," he said. "So, they are fresh and ready to go. They have had a great preparation and are ready to go. They are fine to go. They will be bowling big overs if need be, and they are totally comfortable with that.
"The quicks are going to have to bowl a bit more and we have full faith that Nathan Lyon can do the job in any conditions, he's shown that over the last few years, he bowled a mountain of overs in the UAE and our quicks are fresh so we can cover that, Travis Head bowls some handy offspinners so we have options there but we'll be backing our bowlers."
As for the debutant Marcus Harris, Paine saw the maturing of a talented shotmaker into the sort of rounded batsman who will be able to help guide Finch and the No. 3 Khawaja through the testing early periods of each innings, before hard pitches and Kookaburra balls allow batting to become significantly less testing. "He's been a really consistent player for Victoria for three years and thoroughly deserves the opportunity," Paine said.
"He's always been a really talented batsman but I think in the last three years we've seen him mature into a top line opening batter. He's an aggressive little player, he'll play his shots. But he has also really improved his defence and has come a long way as a batsman. We're really excited as we think he has the game for Test level and we can't wait to see him get out there tomorrow."