Justin Langer has given the strongest indication yet that Joe Burns will retain his place at the top of Australia's batting order for the first Test against India with the final decision being made after the first of the Australia A matches next month.
Both Burns and Will Pucovski, who has made two double-hundreds in three Sheffield Shield innings this season compared to Burns' 57 runs in five knocks, are in the Australia A squad to face the Indians at the Drummoyne Oval and then the SCG under lights.
However, Langer said that the man chosen to partner David Warner in the day-night Test would mostly likely link up with the Test squad in Adelaide when they start their preparations, which will overlap with the second Australia A fixture - a floodlit match starting on December 11.
Though Burns has struggled at the start of the season for Queensland, Langer referenced the strong pairing he has with Warner - which averages over 50 for the first wicket - and the fact it was part of Australia's clean sweep of the 2019-20 season against New Zealand and Pakistan when they went to No. 1 in the world, although the pressure from Pucovski is significant.
"[Will's] been amazing hasn't he, and it's exactly what we are looking for, I've said it for a very long time that we want guys who are outside of the team to bang so hard you can't ignore them," Langer said. "The fact is he's been so good we can't ignore him, he's been brilliant.
"That said I've also been consistent with the messaging that last summer we loved the combination of Joe Burns and David Warner, they have a real synergy, so at this point I'd say that will remain the same. But what Will's doing, what Cameron Green has done, is making a real statement through sheer weight of runs and that's always been a strong foundation for the strength of Australian cricket."
Burns and Pucovski will likely open together in a three-day game starting on December 6, but Langer was reluctant to term it a showdown. "I wouldn't say it's a bat-off. Joe Burns has done really well for us. Will Pucovski, we are really looking forward to seeing how he steps up to Australia A. It will be great to see him play against India, a new step up for him, so it's an exciting time. Competition is healthy.
"When guys have done a really good job for us - like in this case that Joe and Davey did for us last summer - there's a reason we're ranked the No.1 Team in Test cricket. Those sorts of partnerships are really important, so we should never underestimate that.
"Will Pucovski is doing everything humanly possible to play the first Test. But that's what we have to weigh up. We should never underestimate the job the guys have done to get us to where we are. We went through a period when there were lots of ins and outs, and in my view we should back the guys in there. That can change, but it's a pretty strong philosophy to stick to."
The decision between Burns and Pucovski is the only major debate for the selectors among the final XI for the start of the series. The much-talked-about allrounder Green is in the squad - with Langer saying his batting alone puts him in contention - and he has recently resumed bowling for Western Australia, but the theme of caution continued to be urged.
"We know he's got enormous talent, but he's had two stress fractures," Langer said. "The way we manage Cameron Green, as Western Australia are at the moment, will be a combined effort. We have to show the due respect that's required and we have to patient. We've learned that over and over again.
Langer added that up to 15 of the Test squad will probably come together in Adelaide for their preparations ahead of the first Test with potentially two batsmen remaining with the A squad for the pink-ball warm-up. All the bowlers, including Mitchell Swepson, will be in the Test camp which means he along with Michael Neser, Sean Abbott and James Pattinson would not play the second Australia A game at the SCG.
Although the squads for this series will continue to operate with various biosecure protocols, the easing of some state borders has allowed a little more flexibility in where players can be.