Colombo: Peter Siddle will take the place of an injured Ryan Harris in Australia's team for the third Test against Sri Lanka in Colombo. Usman Khawaja has been left out to make way for the return of Ricky Ponting, who missed the Pallekele Test for the birth of his child.
Harris was ruled out due to a minor hamstring strain, meaning a recall for Siddle ahead of his less-experienced fellow Victoria fast bowler James Pattinson. "I guess we're going to be safe, rather than sorry," Michael Clarke, the Australian captain, said of Harris.
"He's [Harris] played an unbelievable part throughout this series, [he is] the leading wicket-taker and someone who we think is really important to our success in the Test format. I certainly don't think it's worth the risk of playing him here; if that minor strain becomes a big tear he could be out for a lot longer. I think he's too important to us to risk him at this stage."
Siddle struggled for rhythm and the right length in the warm-up game in Colombo that preceded the first Test, but has been working hard in the nets and the gym to build his strength and stamina since. He will have a critical role to play, for Harris has been the leading bowler in the series so far, claiming 11 wickets at the cost of just 14.54 runs each and consistently troubling the Sri Lanka top order. Siddle has the ability to move the ball, and took a hat-trick against England at the Gabba last year by bowling a full length.
Khawaja, meanwhile, makes way for Ponting, but his spot at No. 6 will go to Shaun Marsh, who made a stirring 141 on his Test debut in Pallekele when deputising at No. 3. In the three Tests he has played so far, Khawaja has a top score of 37, but has looked the part each time he has batted. Nevertheless, Marsh's resolve in exploiting his first opportunity to the fullest meant the selectors on tour could not leave him out for Colombo.
"It's brilliant to have Ricky back, he's been an amazing player for such a long time. He's always going to walk back into the team," Clarke said. "Hard for Uzzie because, without going and making a big score individually, he's shown he can bat anywhere in the order.
"The way he's played spin at the start of his innings has been really positive so he's shown the selectors going forward that he can play anywhere in the top six. It's obviously a tough selection but we thought with Shaun making 140 on debut it was really hard to leave him out.
"I think he [Khawaja] might have felt there was a chance he was going to miss out. Tim and myself spoke to everyone last night. The key with this stuff, not only for the guys who are missing out but just as importantly for the guys who are playing, [is that] it's important to let everybody know as soon as you find out. As soon as the selectors know you should make it known what the team is.
"Uzzie was, obviously like anybody, disappointed. He wants to play every game he can for Australia but he was fantastic. He understood our reasons. The one thing Uzzie made very clear was that he wants us to go and win this Test series 2-0. A big part of why we've had success is guys are putting the team in front of themselves and Uzzie's another example of that. The one thing that came out of his mouth was 'let's just go and win this third Test, go home 2-0 winners', which is brilliant."
Khawaja is the first player to be dropped under the new selection structure, recommended by the Argus review, that had Clarke sitting officially on the selection panel, and playing a key role as the man to relay this news to the players. His predecessor Ricky Ponting spent his entire captaincy pushing for such a structure, and Clarke said even though it was not a palatable part of the job, he and other players always felt more comfortable receiving the bad news from the captain.
"It's certainly not something you look forward to, but what it does do is it allows the player to understand the captain's feelings, on how he [the player] has performed throughout the tour," Clarke said. "As hard as it is to go and front a player and let him know he's not selected in the Test match, I can give him the honest feedback.
"It's 100% what I feel and that's something I've tried to do throughout the whole tour since taking over as a selector: make sure I'm 100% honest with the guys who have been selected but also the guys who are missing out. The 'no bullshit' policy is very important to me. I want guys to know the truth and unfortunately for Uzzie, a big part of the reason is Shaun got 140 on debut. It's really hard to leave him out."