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News

Smith to bat 3, Marsh to open

Steven Smith has been anointed Australia's new Test match No. 3, Shaun Marsh appears to be the choice as stand-in opening batsman, and one of Fawad Ahmed or Adam Voges will debut in the first Test against the West Indies in Dominica on Wednesday

Steven Smith has been anointed Australia's new Test match No. 3, Shaun Marsh appears to be the choice as stand-in opening batsman, and one of Fawad Ahmed or Adam Voges will debut in the first Test against West Indies in Dominica on Wednesday.
Australia's captain Michael Clarke confirmed that his vice-captain Smith would walk out at the fall of the first wicket on Wednesday, a decision he said was made during the latter part of the home summer after Smith had been such a dominant figure during the Border-Gavaskar series against India and then looked a natural No. 3 during the critical phases of the World Cup.
"Steve Smith will bat at No. 3. That was 100% me going to Smithy and having a conversation with him, and he's all for it," Clarke said. "We spoke a little bit through the one-day series and the World Cup. Nothing was confirmed until we got on tour, so once he arrived I spoke to him and made it very clear where I wanted him to bat, and he's very comfortable to bat there."
Clarke's call should end a period of enormous instability in that position for Australia, as Shaun Marsh, Usman Khawaja, Rob Quiney, Phillip Hughes, Shane Watson, Ed Cowan, Alex Doolan, Clarke himself and even Glenn Maxwell have played in the position with precious little success. No-one has emerged as the clear No. 3 between Ricky Ponting's 2011 demotion and the present day, much as it took five years for Ponting to mature into the right man after David Boon retired in 1996.
The choice between Fawad and Voges hinges upon the pitch at Windsor Park, which is expected to spin but is also well grassed at present. The degree of shave applied by the groundstaff will determine whether the captain Michael Clarke is given dual spin for the first time since the Trinidad Test of 2012, when Nathan Lyon was partnered by Michael Beer, or a three-man pace attack featuring Mitchell Johnson, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc.
Should Fawad be chosen in Dominica, Clarke said he expected the selectors to counterbalance their line-up by choosing both Shane Watson and Mitchell Marsh, deepening the team's seam bowling resources even if they will also weaken the batting. Voges must hope that Starc's capacity to find reverse swing on an abrasive square will grant him a berth in the middle order, most likely ahead of Mitchell Marsh.
"We're going to have two unlucky ones," Clarke said. "Because if you play two spinners you're going to have to play two quicks and two allrounders, I would imagine, in Watto and Mitch Marsh. So yeah, whatever two quicks miss out are going to be extremely unlucky. But I don't think it'd be fair on any of the players to make that decision today just with how the wicket is. I think there's still a lot unknown; it's still quite wet, they are watering it a few times a day, so it looks very different to the two we've trained on.
"It probably looks a little bit more similar to the nets out the back. So yeah, we'll see what that looks like tomorrow, I reckon we'll probably have a better indication tomorrow, see if they cut that grass or leave that grass on it. I haven't taken too much notice of the actual game-wicket just yet. I've been taking a lot of notice of the difference in the wicket you are facing spin on versus the wicket you are facing the quicks on.
"And that probably sums up where we are, I think. It feels like raging turner or green seamer. So, we'll wait and see what they give us in the middle and then we'll make a plan from there. I think the wickets out the back have been really good; I think a lot a bit slow, still a little bit of spin no doubt about that, but I think those wickets are certainly different to the two out here."
Shaun Marsh's emergence as the man most likely to take the place of the concussed Chris Rogers followed his smooth century in the Antigua tour match, and his use at the top of the order in other formats. Watson has a handsome record as a Test opening batsman but it is felt that his bowling value is diminished by that commission, and he enjoyed batting down the order - albeit in a different format - at the recent World Cup.
Starc prospered most of all in that tournament, but the selectors must consider whether he is ready for Test duty after arriving in the Caribbean late from the IPL and missing the tour match. The likelihood of swing both conventional and reverse will give them some pause for thought.
"It'll definitely reverse, again this wicket with the brand new ball you've got conventional swing, watching West Indies against England they swung the new ball really well," Clarke said. "Natural swing will come from overhead, if it's overcast I think it'll swing and then definitely on this wicket we'll see some reverse swing."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig