Australia, of course, will be without former captain Steve Smith, opener David Warner and young batsman Cameron Bancroft after the ball-tampering controversy in South Africa in March 2018. All three will be unavailable for the series owing to their suspensions (Smith and Warner for 12 months, Bancroft for 9 months), and this has meant that Australia’s top order batting is in disarray prior to the side being selected for the forthcoming India series.
There are a number of players vying for a spot in the Australian top and middle order, including Peter Handscomb, Marcus Harris, Matthew Renshaw, Joe Burns and Callum Ferguson, all of whom are trying to impress the selectors during the final round of Sheffield Shield matches before the Test squad is announced.
If any of these is able to claim a spot, it will likely be at the expense of one or both of Mitchell Marsh and Marnus Labuschagne, both of whom played in Australia’s recent 0-1 Test series loss to Pakistan in the UAE. Australia was thoroughly outplayed in both matches (and only avoided a whitewash owing to Usman Khawaja’s heroic innings on the last day of the First Test to salvage a draw), during which neither player staked an especially strong case to be retained for the forthcoming series on home soil.
The attempt to turn the younger Marsh brother into a top order batsman who bowls a little was an unmitigated disaster, as he made only 30 runs in 4 innings at number 4, with an average of 7.50 and a top score of 13. At the same time, Marsh’s bowling was little called upon, and he finished the series with overall figures of 2/98 from the 30 overs he bowled in the two matches, at an average of 49.00 and a 90.00 strike rate. On this basis, even his being considered as a potential all-rounder has to be called into question.
Labuschagne certainly outperformed Marsh in both disciplines during the Pakistan series. Batting at number 6, he made 81 runs at 20.25 with a top score of 43, but he ended up being the surprise package with the ball. He took 7 wickets with his leg breaks (finishing behind only Nathan Lyon in the wickets tally) and topped the averages at 22.42 (with a strike rate of 33.4). Whether he could expect such returns on Australia pitches remains highly doubtful, and so if he earns a recall to the Test side, it is likely to be on the strength of his batting alone, in which case he hasn’t done enough to convince.
The way in which the selectors solve the dilemma of the absence of Smith and Warner will go a long way to determining the outcome of this series. Will a young (or in the case of some of the candidates, not-so-young) batsman seize the opportunity to cement a long-term place in the Australian line up, or will this series simply be a case of treading water until the former captain and vice-captain are deemed to have been suitably rehabilitated and readmitted to the ranks?
None of this, of course, will bother India who head to Australia at the completion of their series against the West Indies, where the home side convincingly won the Test series 2-0.
In terms of the odds for the upcoming series, it is clear that the bookmakers consider this to be one of the most evenly poised contests in many years. Australia has for many years always been clear odds-on favorites for any series at home, regardless of the opposition; however, there is a very different picture emerging ahead of this clash.
Many of the sports betting sites listed at Playright.co.uk, are offering the same price of 7/5 on both Australia and India to win the four match series — unheard of odds before the bans of Smith and Warner and the rapid decline this has caused in Australia’s fortunes (both on and off the field). The draw is currently priced at 3/1.
In terms of the overall score for the series, the best price for a 2-1 victory for either side is the same at 9/2, or you can get 15/2 on either side winning the series 3-1.
Perhaps what is most telling in the odds as an indication as to how far confidence in this Australian side has fallen is that you can get 13/1 on Australia winning the series 3-0, and a whopping 25/1 on a 4-0 series whitewash for the hosts. This sort of price would have been unthinkable only twelve months ago for an Australian side at home.
For those who think Australia is set to fall apart, the odds-on India winning the series by the same margin are the same as for the Aussies — 13/1 on India winning 3-0, and 25/1 on it completing a clean sweep and taking out Border-Gavaskar trophy 4-0.
Thursday 6 December - Monday 10 December 2018
Friday 14 December - Tuesday 18 December 2018
Wednesday 26 December - Sunday 30 December 30 2018
Melbourne Cricket Ground
Thursday 3 January - Monday 7 January 2019
Sydney Cricket Ground
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