Labuschagne in as selectors sharpen axe
MARNUS Labuschagne is set to be a walk-up start for Sydney after Australian captain Tim Paine despaired at the tourist-friendly decks ambushing the national team.
Selectors are deciding whether to axe Aaron Finch or Mitchell Marsh - or both - for the critical SCG Test, with recent panel member Mark Waugh declaring it was time to dump the two struggling stars and totally revamp the top six.
At the very least wholesale changes will be considered for the two-Test series against Sri Lanka starting in late January, unless Australia can lift themselves off the canvas and stop India winning a series down under for the first time.
However, a frustrated Paine says Australia's job has been made all the more difficult by home curators rolling the red carpet out for India by preparing inadequate pitches.
The MCG pitch was slow and flat like Bangalore, and the Australians are expecting the SCG wicket to turn like Chennai - hence why leg-spinning all-rounder Labuschagne has been added to the squad and not someone like Joe Burns to fix the more obvious crisis at the top of the order.
"I'd prefer to see wickets that have got a bit of bounce and carry. Our strength in Australia is our pace and it's very rare you go to India and get a green wicket," Paine said.
"It's been disappointing at times we've produced wickets that have played into their hands a little bit, albeit they've outplayed us in these conditions anyway."
Paine said Australia had no choice but to largely back the top six picked at the start of the summer, but talked up the chances of Labuschagne.
"There's not too many options to be fair. We've just got to keep working away and backing the guys to get better and improve," said Paine.
"(Marnus') batting is high quality and always improving. He showed in Dubai his leg-spin bowling is more than handy and he's obviously a superb fielder, so he brings a lot to our group.
"He's another young cricketer with a lot of talent, but as we've seen, talent doesn't guarantee you success at this level.
"There'll be a lot of things on the table in the next day or two and I've got some thoughts on what I think but I'll share that with JL (Justin Langer) and a few other guys before I share it here.
"We've got the best group of players available to us at the moment."
Usman Khawaja appears certain to shift up to open the batting in place of Finch who will be desperately hoping he is given one last chance as a middle-order player - where critics always felt he would be best suited.
Dropped squad member Peter Handscomb has also re-entered calculations given the slow, spinning conditions anticipated for Sydney which should suit the Victorian's backfoot style.
Labuschagne is most likely to come in as a straight-swap for Mitchell Marsh.
Mark Waugh said he would have picked Burns and said he'd also have Glenn Maxwell back on the radar.
"I think if Aaron Finch plays he should bat in the middle order. I personally would look at unfortunately dropping Aaron Finch and Mitch Marsh for Sydney. I think those two batsmen are under the gun," Waugh said.
"I just can't see it getting any easier although it's a bit tougher on Mitch Marsh because he's only played the one Test in this series.
"Aaron Finch, I originally thought he might be able to play a Michael Slater role but I think his technique has really been exposed against some quality bowling so I'd be probably be leaving him out … I'd think about bringing Peter Handscomb back into the side if it's looking like it's a spinning wicket.
"I don't think Aaron Finch will play in Sydney I think they will shuffle that batting order around."