Aaron Finch was set to be sacrificed at the selection table as Australia's present and future needs wrestled for prominence between beating India at the SCG and preparing for an Ashes year that will also see the returns of Steven Smith and David Warner.
Having been distracted in Melbourne by the hubbub around Smith and Cameron Bancroft speaking at length about their roles in the Newlands scandal that also featured Warner as a central player, the Australians and their captain Tim Paine have now openly acknowledged the need for the senior pair to be reintegrated as quickly as possible. With that in mind, and also the struggles of Finch at the top, it appeared likely that Marcus Harris would be accompanied by Usman Khawaja at the top of the order, while Marnus Labuschagne and Peter Handscomb would be recalled.
Mitchell Marsh will be the other player to drop out of the XI, as Paine talked up Labuschange's wrist spin as the fifth bowling option on a Sydney pitch that, in addition to being the first traditional Test surface of the summer, will be expected to take increasing amounts of spin as the game goes on. Paine, who could not have imagined this time a year ago that he would be leading Australia's Test side, said that a need for stability this year while also keeping room for the suspended duo was at the forefront of his mind.
"I think we're happy to change it a little bit. I think you don't want to be changing too much," Paine said in Sydney. "We want to try and settle guys who we think will play long-term in their positions looking forward into the next series and then into the Ashes, we want to settle guys in their positions so as little a disruption as we can have to that or the better in that sense, but at the same time we've got to find the best XI to win this Test as well, so it's a bit of a balancing act.
"It's through a bit of discussion, and being really open and honest as a group of selectors, and me as the captain. Obviously we want to pick the best XI that we think can win this Test. At the same time you're trying to look forward a little bit and make sure you have the right guys around the squad and in our group who we think can be successful across different conditions in Test cricket.
"There's always going to be a little bit of a balancing act - I know I've probably answered it in two different ways, and a lot of people who are critical of selection processes won't like that, but they're just the plain facts. That's what it is. We want to pick the best team. You always got to have a little bit of an eye to the future and what's coming up at the same time."
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While the coach Justin Langer had spoken positively of how much Finch would benefit from the experiences of this summer, the Victorian's harried visage was reflected in his choice of shot to be dismissed second ball of the second innings at the MCG, as one of Jasprit Bumrah's nine victims. Paine suggested that Labuschagne's all-round abilities and Handscomb's command of foot movement and scoring options against spin made them strong options for the SCG.
"Lots of chat, lots of energy, he doesn't shut up, Marnus, but I think at the end of a long series his energy has been great, to have him around the group the last few days," Paine said. "We know how good a cricketer he is, he's really skilled in all facets of the game. So if he plays tomorrow, we know if the conditions suit we saw in the UAE his leg spin's improved out of sight, and you're almost leaning towards him at Test level now as a bit of an all-round option, which is a really good package for us.
"We think it will spin here so if India were to play two spinners I think Pete can be a really important player for us, we know how good a player of spin he is, so that's one of the discussions we'll be having, whether India are going that way and if they are, are we prepared to bring him back in. I'm sure if he does he's an excellent player of spin, and contributes a lot tot the group. Like Marnus he's a very good package and person to have around the team, and we hope when he does play again he scores a lot of runs."
As for Khawaja's place in Australia's plans, Paine said that he would be an opener or a No. 3 depending on circumstances. Beyond the returns of Smith and Warner, it is not difficult to picture a top five featuring the banned duo, Khawaja, Harris and Travis Head. "Usman's opening record in Test cricket is very good and he's been on record saying he's not too fussed where he bats, whether it's Nos. 1 or 3," Paine said. "So his record's great, if that's the way we go Usman will go out and give his all and I think the way he's handled the last month or so has been exemplary, so it's a real credit to him.
"I hope they [Smith and Warner] are welcomed back, everyone's entitled to their opinion and will have a different view on it, but I think once they've done their time I'm certainly very hopeful the Australian public and the cricketing public in general will welcome those three guys back and give them a fair chance of coming back into the scene. Just to be treated like all other cricketers are."
Reflecting on the series so far, Paine said the emotional ups and downs of a narrow defeat in Adelaide, a strong victory in Perth and then a humbling reverse in Melbourne had made it challenging to manage the mental state of his young team. Even so, he looked ahead to a year in which the holes in the batting order would mean that by the time Smith and Warner came back, there would be a bevy of younger players steeled and hopefully not scarred by their experiences this summer.
"The difficult thing after Perth was more the external stuff, for a younger group we had gone from a team that was no good to all of a sudden really good and then we were back down here so it is about trying to keep a bit of perspective, a reality, about where we are at," Paine said. "I think we are showing signs of getting better, I think in the last Test while our batters didn't set the world on fire most guys got a start and showed that they can succeed at this level, so this Test there is going to be a real focus from our batting group.
"We know we are not going to win too many Test matches without scoring hundreds and that's something that we have spoken about and something we are really keen to improve and address. As I said in the last few Tests, the silver lining is that in a few Tests time we have some world-class players available and we are going to have some younger guys with eight to ten Tests under their belt so, it is going to be a great thing for Australian cricket."