With Mitchell Marsh absent with an injury, Steven Smith will bat at No. 3 against India. His role in Australia's first-choice XI in the lead-up to the men's T20 World Cup, however, will remain fluid.
Australia are missing three of their first-choice players in the top six for the three-match series against India starting in Mohali on Tuesday, with Marsh, David Warner and Marcus Stoinis all back at home. Mitchell Starc is also resting because of a niggle. It means Australia will structure their side differently out of necessity, with just nine matches to go before starting their title defence at home against New Zealand.
Smith has batted at No. 3 in T20Is only once in the last 12 matches he has played across a two-year period. That was also out of necessity, against England in the 2021 T20 World Cup, when Marsh was left out for structural balance as Australia chose a fifth specialist bowler.
Since then, Smith has batted no higher than No. 4 regardless of Marsh's availability or not, with his long-time role as a floating "Mr Fix it", who would enter early at the loss of wickets in the powerplay, abandoned for a more permanent place in the middle order.
But his lack of strike power in the middle order has created questions around his place in Australia's first-choice XI for the World Cup, particularly after Tim David was added to the squad. In his last 12 games, Smith has only batted eight times, with a strike rate of 107.20, down from his already middling career T20 strike rate of 125.27.
Aaron Finch confirmed on Monday that Smith would likely bat at No. 3 in the series against India, and he reiterated Australia's faith in Smith's capabilities as a versatile cog in the line-up.
"Most likely he'll bat at three in this series with Mitch Marsh being out," Finch said. "We know the quality that Steve's got. He's one of the best players that has ever played the game over all formats of the game. So we know the skill that he's got and the game sense and the tactical nous that he's got.
"So we're really confident that regardless of what role he has to play within the structure of the squad, that he can do that very, very well."
"There'll be a little bit of mixing and matching, but still with that one eye towards the World Cup, to make sure that we're still as rounded as we can be as a squad"
Finch confirmed that Australia would experiment with the structure of their side and their personnel in various positions, with an eye on both the upcoming World Cup in Australia as well as the different conditions that will be presented in the three matches in India.
"Every decision that we make, I think, has one eye towards the World Cup and seeing the wicket yesterday [in Mohali], it looked like there was quite a bit of grass on it," Finch said. "And we know in Mohali, the ball can swing around and it can carry through quite a bit, so I think we will be mindful of not being too narrow-minded in terms of our focus.
"What we've tried to do over the last sort of six-eight-ten months is make sure that everything that we're doing in the T20 space ties back into the World Cup and, for us, it's about making sure that once we get there that we've had plenty of different combinations of teams that we can play. Because the last thing you want to do is have an injury derail your whole campaign because you're pigeon-holed into playing one style of cricket or one structure of team. So there'll be a little bit of mixing and matching, but still with that one eye towards the World Cup, to make sure that we're still as rounded as we can be as a squad."
The loss of two allrounders in Marsh and Stoinis, and a left-arm quick in Starc, will force Australia to structure the bowling differently, which in turn has a direct influence on the top seven they can select.
David looks set to make his Australia debut in the middle order as a direct replacement for Stoinis, after having played 14 T20Is for Singapore. But he only bowls very part-time offspin. Cameron Green, who is not in Australia's World Cup squad but is on this tour of India, is another who could play if Australia want a pace-bowling allrounder. Green made his T20I debut for Australia on the tour of Pakistan earlier this year, but has only played 14 professional T20s in his career.
However, Finch felt Green was capable of being a three-format player after his recent performances in the ODI series' against Zimbabwe and New Zealand in Australia.
"I think his ability to bat at five, six, seven in the one-day team has been really impressive," Finch said. "The fact that such a young guy was able to guide us home in a really tricky run chase, in a great partnership with Alex Carey in the recent series against New Zealand, shows that he's got all the tricks and the game sense for such a young guy to be super successful in all three formats for Australia.
"He's just such a great kid, someone who continues to impress with everything that he does."