Early Shield test for Aussie bats
AUSTRALIAN selectors have turned this weekend's round of Sheffield Shield matches into a shootout for Test spots confident they'll be armed with enough evidence to pick the best X1.
Despite a fifth round of Shield games finishing six days before the opening Test against India in Adelaide, the team will be named well beforehand to cater for logistical issues.
That puts a premium on runs now for the likes of incumbent Travis Head and would-be opener Matthew Renshaw with challengers continuing to come.
Fitness concerns over Usman Khawaja, who led all scorers in the Test series loss against Pakistan last month are yet to be fully put to bed too.
Khawaja completed his first running set after knee surgery in Brisbane on Monday.
"Still not perfect but got a lot better by the end of the session," he said.
If fit, Khawaja will either open the batting with Aaron Finch or slot in at number three depending potentially on whether Renshaw finds some Shield form.
Renshaw, who was sidelined with concussion issues in the United Arab Emirates, is not the lock to return to the Test team many consider him to be and Khawaja proved a success opening against Pakistan.
Khawaja could however have to prove his fitness in a club game, or a second XI game for Queensland, given he'll miss this week's Shield clash.
It's unlikely Marnus Labuschagne, who bowled better than he batted after a surprise Test call-up against Pakistan, will hold on to his spot.
Labuschange has only scored 52 runs in four Shield innings since returning from the UAE, and fell cheaply in Queensland club cricket last weekend too.
Head was serviceable in his first two Tests against Pakistan, but was disappointing in the one-day series. The South Australian scored just 15 runs in three innings, less than every Australian player other than D'Arcy Short, who was out for a duck in his only effort.
In his lone Shield innings this season Head scored 16, and he could be in a head-to-head fight with Test discard Peter Handscomb who is continuing to garner support for a recall.
Handscomb, who has two Test hundreds to his credit, nailed a century for the Vics in the last Shield clash, on the back of four 50s in the domestic one-day competition.
His positivity and confidence are high after enduring questions about his technique and former Test quick Ryan Harris, who is coaching the Cricket Australia XI this week, wants Handscomb in the Test team.
"I think he (Handscomb) would be one I would like to see in there," Harris said.
Despite calls for Finch to bat in the middle-order from former coach Darren Lehmann, he's set to remain an opener after an impressive series against Pakistan.
Shaun Marsh's one-day century in Hobart on Sunday, after scores of 98 and 80 for Western Australia last month, have put to bed any doubts about him retaining his place.
The same goes for his younger brother Mitch, who pounded 151 for WA on the back of just 30 runs in four innings in the 1-0 Test series loss to Pakistan.