Melbourne: Daniel Christian's chances of making his Test debut on Boxing Day could be boosted by Australia's desire to have five bowling options against a powerful India batting line-up. Australia's selectors will name the squad for the Melbourne Test on Wednesday and it could be a larger-than-usual group as they wait on the fitness of key players, including Shane Watson and Shaun Marsh.
The possible permutations to be considered by the selectors were complicated on Tuesday when opener Ed Cowan made his case with 109 against the Indians for Cricket Australia Chairman's XI in Canberra. In the same match, the incumbent opener Phillip Hughes, certain to be axed for Boxing Day, scored 20 batting at No.4, Usman Khawaja made 25 and David Warner scored 2.
The rest of Australia's Test batsmen converged on Melbourne for a batting camp after their struggles in the series against New Zealand. The allrounder Christian, who was 12th man in the loss to New Zealand in Hobart, will join the group on Wednesday after he plays for the Brisbane Heat in Tuesday night's T20 match against the Melbourne Stars at the Gabba.
Christian has been one of the leading Sheffield Shield run scorers this summer but it is his bowling that will appeal the most to the selectors, with Watson unlikely to bowl in Melbourne as he continues to recover from a hamstring injury. The Australians did not play an allrounder against New Zealand, whose top order struggled, but the coach Mickey Arthur said the team's needs might change against India on flatter pitches.
"We played on two pretty helpful wickets against New Zealand to be honest, so we didn't need a huge amount from that fifth bowler, we got through that easily," Arthur said. "But when you're playing at the MCG and at the SCG and there's back-to-back Test matches, it does become hard when you've got four bowlers.
"I see the spinner bowling a huge amount more, though. We need to be able to fiddle some overs from some of our batters. That's how we'll look at it. If we think our allrounder is in our best six batters at the present time then he'll get a game."
Asked if Christian had done enough to be considered a top-six Test batsman for the India series, Arthur pointed to his first-class form this summer. In five Shield games, Christian has made 475 runs at 59.37, including two centuries.
"He's got an unbelievable record this year," Arthur said. "He's done superbly well for South Australia. Stats will tell you that he could possibly be in our top six batters. The fitness of our other players will also possibly determine that down the line. We'll have a squad and work out the certain permutations in terms of fitness and then settle on an 11 closer to the time."
The national selector, John Inverarity, will announce the squad at 1pm Melbourne time on Wednesday, but the size of the group remains to be seen. Watson is expected to be named after missing the New Zealand series due to a hamstring problem he picked up in South Africa, and even if he is unable to bowl he is likely to play. Arthur said Watson "is certainly in our best six batters".
Marsh has less of a chance to make the starting line-up but could be named with a view to giving him as much time as possible before the Test to prove his fitness. He has battled a back problem since the first Test in South Africa and while he was at the Melbourne batting camp on Tuesday, Arthur said it was an issue that Marsh had not played a match in more than a month.
"It is a concern," he said. "Ideally you want guys to be playing. Whenever you're playing a game your intensity goes up 20% from a practice session, the competitive juices kick in and the guys are put through a lot more in a game. We would have liked him to play more cricket but it hasn't been possible. He is a class act. We've got to give him every opportunity. Time will tell.
"Guys like Watson and Marsh, if ultimately selected, we'll probably give them as much time as they need to get themselves ready to play. So it might be a slightly enlarged squad for this one but our preference is always to be decisive and name a 12. I guess we'll know tonight once we put the finishing touches to our squad."
There is less uncertainty surrounding Australia's attack, with Arthur declaring there were "no concerns whatsoever" about the fitness of the fast men James Pattinson and Peter Siddle. Both men had minor niggles after the New Zealand series but were in the MCG nets on Tuesday to bowl to Australia's batsmen, and neither is considered in doubt for Boxing Day.
Mitchell Starc, who was adequate without really grabbing his opportunity against New Zealand appears likely to retain his place, with Ryan Harris facing a near impossible ask to prove his fitness for Boxing Day. Harris has had a hip problem since the first Test in South Africa and was named to play for the Brisbane Heat on Tuesday night. However, the injury-prone Harris will struggle to prove to the selectors that he can last through a Test match with no first-class cricket in which to test himself.
Possible squad: Michael Clarke (captain), David Warner, Shane Watson, Ed Cowan, Usman Khawaja, Ricky Ponting, Michael Hussey, Daniel Christian, Brad Haddin (wicketkeeper), Peter Siddle, James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon.