Australia have dropped vice-captain Mitch Marsh for the first Test against India in Adelaide, recalling Peter Handscomb and backing their star quicks to shoulder a heavier workload in the absence of the oft-maligned allrounder.
Marsh had been under serious pressure to retain his spot after lean tours of South Africa and the UAE, and skipper Tim Paine has confirmed the West Australian’s omission in favour of in-form Victorian batsman Handscomb.
Opener Marcus Harris will make his debut in the series-opener starting at Adelaide Oval on Thursday, becoming Australia’s 456th male Test cricketer.
But the omission of Marsh, who shares vice-captaincy duties with Josh Hazlewood, is the biggest surprise given Australia have typically preferred including a fifth bowling option at home to support their frontline pacemen.
Marsh will be sent back to play for Western Australia in the Sheffield Shield but Paine made clear that he was likely to be required later in the series, with pitches in other cities unlikely to provide as much assistance to the bowlers.
“Mitch Marsh probably hasn’t been as consistent as he would like and we would like,” Paine told reporters on Wednesday.
“We’re taking an opportunity to send him back to Shield cricket … knowing at some stage we’re probably going to need him.
“The wicket over the last few years here has given enough throughout the game (to not need an allrounder).
“Going forward, we’ve got full faith in him being a Test allrounder.
“As this series wears on and you get to places where the wickets might be a little flatter and conditions a bit warmer …. that allrounder position becomes important.”
Handscomb will bat at No.5, breaking up a sequence of left-handers that had loomed as targets for India offspinner Ravichandran Ashwin.
Marsh produced two centuries during last year’s Ashes triumph and scored 96 in Australia’s series-opening victory in South Africa, but he has managed just 110 runs from 11 Test innings since while being used sparingly as a bowler.
Paine noted offspinner Nathan Lyon had bowled “a mountain of overs” during Australia’s recent Test series against Pakistan and was prepared to back up that effort, while Travis Head could also provide a part-time spin option.
Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins were all rested for the most recent Shield round and Paine was confident they would be cherry-ripe for the first Test.
“All our three quicks go in really fresh, so we’ve got confidence in them,” he said.
“It’s probably unlikely that we’ll use the three quicks as much as we will in this game, throughout the whole series as it wears on, but this being the first Test we think they’ll do the job.”
Harris will form part of a new-look opening combination alongside Victorian teammate Aaron Finch, with Usman Khawaja returning to his preferred No.3 position.
“He’s an aggressive little player,” Paine said of Harris.
“He can play his shots but he’s also really improved his defence. He’s come a long way as a batsman.”
India named a 12-man squad on Wednesday, having not yet decided whether Rohit Sharma or Hanuma Vihari would claim the final spot in their batting order.
AUSTRALIA XI: Marcus Harris, Aaron Finch, Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Peter Handscomb, Travis Head, Tim Paine (capt), Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood.