Se­lec­tors jug­gle pieces of bam­boo­zling top- six puz­zle

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - SPORT - IAN CHAP­PELL

JUST like the Aus­tralian bowlers who found Chetesh­war Pu­jara an un­solv­able rid­dle by the end of the Test se­ries, the se­lec­tors were no closer to de­ci­pher­ing the iden­tity of the top six bats­men in the coun­try.

They’d been duped by Shaun Marsh and Us­man Khawaja, the ex­pe­ri­enced pair sup­posed to pro­vide the back­bone in the line-up.

Pe­ter Hand­scomb, with his mul­ti­ple vari­a­tions of a mis­guided tech­nique, had failed to con­vince any­one of his per­ma­nency at the crease. And the on­go­ing ex­per­i­ment with bat­ting all-rounder Mitch Marsh had failed for one sim­ple rea­son — lack of runs.

The only shin­ing light was tyro opener Mar­cus Har­ris, who, de­spite the lack of a re­ally big score, had dis­played good tem­per­a­ment and solid tech­nique.

The time was right for dras­tic changes and it came in the se­lec­tion for the two Tests against a strug­gling Sri Lanka. An ar­gu­ment could be mounted that the de­posed play­ers would have suc­ceeded in the less pres­surised at­mos­phere of a Sri Lankan se­ries but that would only have led to greater dis­ap­point­ment in the up­com­ing Ashes se­ries.

The time was right for a change of di­rec­tion and the big­gest de­tour was the choice of 20-year-old bat­ting hope Will Pu­cov­ski.

Aus­tralia, a cricket na­tion once renowned for gam­bling on young bat­ting tal­ent, had re­turned to its roots. Pu­cov­ski has joined the ranks of such il­lus­tri­ous play­ers as Don­ald Brad­man, Neil Har­vey, Doug Wal­ters and Ricky Ponting — all picked for Aus­tralia be­fore turn­ing 21.

If Pu­cov­ski comes close to em­u­lat­ing any one of those bat­ting genii at the start of their ca­reers, he’ll pro­vide a lot of re­lief for the se­lec­tors and some much-needed runs for cap­tain Tim Paine.

Pu­cov­ski was cho­sen on po­ten­tial and two big scores in the Sh­effield Shield. There’s no doubt­ing his tal­ent; the only con­cern is his health as he has in­curred a num­ber of con­cus­sions, which will be noted by op­po­nents ea­ger for the up­per hand.

Join­ing Pu­cov­ski in the re­vamped squad are Matt Ren­shaw and Joe Burns — two play­ers with a his­tory of some suc­cess in Test cricket.

Ren­shaw was un­lucky to lose his spot in the side orig­i­nally, hav­ing suf­fered a string of fail­ures at first­class level rather than in the Test arena. Burns is an adapt­able bats­man, play­ing both as an opener and in the mid­dle-or­der. Al­though he has a string of sin­gle-fig­ure scores, Burns does have three Test cen­turies.

In the mid­dle of a mud­dled sea­son, with Test matches of­ten ob­scured by the Big Bash tour­na­ment, these are rea­son­able se­lec­tions. The se­lec­tors will then face the dif­fi­cult task of putting to­gether the jig­saw puz­zle that is the Ashes squad.

Hav­ing failed to reach an in­nings to­tal of 300 in los­ing to New Zealand, Sri Lanka is un­likely to em­bar­rass the em­bat­tled Aus­tralian at­tack. There’s noth­ing like a bag of wick­ets to boost the con­fi­dence of a bowler, and the big three — Mitchell Starc, Josh Ha­zle­wood and Pat Cum­mins — should have smiles on their faces af­ter a bout with the Sri Lankans.

Vic­tory should be a for­mal­ity against Sri Lanka and hence a clearer pic­ture for the top six bats­men to fea­ture in the Ashes se­ries.

Hav­ing suf­fered through the tough­est sea­son for choos­ing a Test team, the se­lec­tors will be hop­ing the pic­ture of the top six is much clearer come the end of the sum­mer.

If it’s not, then it won’t mat­ter who they choose to face Eng­land.

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