Australia's Test selection picture clouded

Michael Ramsey
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CRICKET AUSTRALIA PAKISTAN

Will Pucovski may have cracked the Australian Test team

Travis Head has been backed to reclaim his spot in Australia's Test side, but a sideline chat between Will Pucovski and Australia coach Justin Langer has added to the selection mystery.

Langer and chief selector Trevor Hohns will on Thursday unveil a 12-man squad to face Pakistan in two Tests in Brisbane and Adelaide.

Head had appeared the narrow favourite to edge out Pucovski for the vacant middle-order post after his century against a Josh Hazlewood-led NSW attack in the Sheffield Shield last week.

But the situation was clouded during Wednesday evening's dinner break in the Australia A tour match against Pakistan, where Pucovski appeared to be congratulated by teammate Marcus Harris and had a lengthy conversation with Langer.

Langer and Hohns sat down on Wednesday to finalise their plans, with uncertainty lingering as to who will fill the two vacant batting slots.

National selectors hedged their bets last summer by naming a 14-man squad for the first two Tests against India, with their conservatism likely due in part to Steve Smith and David Warner being unavailable through suspension.

The 12-man squad this time around suggests Langer and Hohns are clear on their plans, despite none of the Test hopefuls in the Australia A side firing a shot.

Head boasts superior experience to the highly-talented but untried Pucovski, as well a strong record prior to being dropped during the Ashes.

The left-hander, who was vice-captain during the Ashes, scored more Test runs than any other Australian during Smith and Warner's absence.

Head was among Australia A's batting flops in Perth but he impressed in the last Sheffield Shield round with a century against a Josh Hazlewood-led NSW attack.

"That was probably the best hundred I've seen for the year, that one last week against the best attack we've had against us," South Australia coach Jamie Siddons said.

"If they're going to pick someone in form, he's the one."

It remained unclear on Wednesday evening who would open the batting alongside Warner for the first Test at the Gabba starting November 21.

Former Test opener Simon Katich and ex-national coach Darren Lehmann have been among those pushing the case for Joe Burns to play at the Gabba.

But the Queenslander was clean-bowled for a golden duck in the first Australia A innings in Perth, then made 11 in the second dig.

Burns has lacked opportunities but boasts four Test centuries and plenty of experience batting on the spicy Gabba deck.

He was also unlucky to miss out on this year's Ashes after being diagnosed with a fatigue disorder which forced him to return home.

Incumbent Test opener Harris has a recent Sheffield Shield century to his name but it was on one of the flattest Junction Oval pitches in recent memory.

Harris also struggled during the Ashes, while top-order stalwart Usman Khawaja has underwhelmed for much of the past year.

Mitchell Starc's fiery recent form has him tipped to play at the Gabba ahead of fellow quick James Pattinson, who would be most likely named 12th man.

Possible Australia XII: Joe Burns, David Warner, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Travis Head/Will Pucovski, Matthew Wade, Tim Paine (capt), Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, James Pattinson, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood.