Queensland batsman Joe Burns is set for a Boxing Day Test debut against India after being added to Australia's Test squad in place of the injured Mitchell Marsh. The inclusion of Burns for Marsh is the only change to Australia's 13-man squad for the Melbourne Test, although Marsh will travel with the group in preparation for the Sydney Test as he recovers from a hamstring complaint.
Burns, 25, has enjoyed a strong start to the Sheffield Shield season for Queensland, piling up 439 runs at 54.87 to follow up 563 runs at 46.91 last summer. An innings of 183 against a strong New South Wales pace attack at the Gabba was watched by the selectors Trevor Hohns and Mark Waugh.
Australia's coach Darren Lehmann said that Burns' flexibility as a batsman - he started as a middle-order player before moving up to open near the start of last summer - was a key factor in the decision. Burns has scored first-class hundreds while opening and batting at Nos.3, 4 and 5, and Lehmann said it was not yet decided where he would fit into the order.
"I'll have to speak to Steven [Smith], the skipper about that," Lehmann said. "But he can fit anywhere from 1 to 6. That's the advantage with Joe, he can bat in the middle order or up high. We've got some flexibility there. It depends on which way we want to go."
That helped to sway the selectors in Burns' favour ahead of Ed Cowan and Adam Voges, who are the leading two run scorers in the Sheffield Shield this season; Cowan is regarded as a specialist opener and Voges a middle-order player. The youth of Burns was another factor that encouraged the selectors that he was the right man.
One option would be to slot Burns in at No.3 and move Shane Watson down to No.6, given that Watson will be expected to shoulder a reasonable bowling workload as the only allrounder in the side. Lehmann said Watson bowled well in the victory at the Gabba and another allrounder was not required, meaning a specialist batsman was preferred.
He acknowledged the death of Phillip Hughes and a long-term knee injury for Usman Khawaja had opened up the opportunity for Burns. However, his first-class average of 42.74 is an indication of his ability and at the MCG he has played three first-class innings for scores of 59, 123 and 71.
"He's a very good player against fast bowling," Lehmann said. "He's proved that. He's played at the Gabba for the last couple of years and had a good couple of summers in Shield cricket. His performances this year have been very good.
"He got a good 180 here against Doug Bollinger and Trevor Hohns and Mark Waugh saw that and were very impressed with that. There's been some good contenders for that spot. It's always a tough call on other players but we went with Joe, a younger player. We think he's got something about him. We hope he does well."
Lehmann has seen plenty of Burns, having been his state coach at Queensland before being appointed to the national role. Burns scored 140 not out on first-class debut in February 2011 and knows his game well; he plays with a straight bat and plays the ball as late as possible, which has helped him at the Gabba, where Sheffield Shield pitches offer plenty for the seamers.
"When I [first] saw him play, I thought he could really play at the next level," Lehmann said. "It's taken him a while, he's had some ups and downs like all players do. He's put his name up at the right time. An opportunity comes up now. He's got to grab it."
"He's a good young kid, a cricket nuffy, which we love in our side. He'll be excited by the call up. He was certainly excited when Rod [Marsh] called him about an hour ago. He's done everything he can to present himself as the player he is. He's a very aggressive player, which is always good to see. That's the way we like to play. Hes' a simple guy that just loves playing the game."
Burns will play in the Big Bash League match for the Brisbane Heat in Sydney on Sunday night before flying to Melbourne to join the Test squad. Lehmann believes that David Warner should be fit for Boxing Day after being struck on the thumb during the small chase at the Gabba on Saturday, while Mitchell Marsh's recovery from his hamstring injury remains to be seen.
Ryan Harris is likely to be ready for the Boxing Day Test after missing the Brisbane match due to a quadriceps injury. Harris and Peter Siddle bowled in the nets at the Gabba on Sunday morning and Lehmann said Harris came through the session well.
Squad David Warner, Chris Rogers, Shane Watson, Steven Smith (capt), Shaun Marsh, Joe Burns, Brad Haddin (wk), Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc, Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood