Hands up for Test selection: Victorian skipper makes his move

Peter Handscomb has heaped pressure on Australian selectors to make room for him in next week's first Test while Usman Khawaja confirmed his fitness on an intriguing opening day of Sheffield Shield matches around the country.

Handscomb has been chosen in the 14-man squad to face India in Adelaide but cricket insiders claimed he needed a big score to edge his way into the XI.

He did just that with a fine 81 on Tuesday, complete with 11 boundaries, as he and Aaron Finch were the only Victorians to reach double figures as the visitors were fired out for 167 on a testing green deck early in the final session on day one.

Having tinkered with his technique over winter so he was not so deep into his crease, Handscomb had thumped a century against South Australia earlier this month but failed twice against Tasmania in Hobart last week.


The Victorian skipper has support to bat at No. 4 in the Test side but his inclusion would almost certainly mean either Travis Head or fellow Victorian Marcus Harris would miss out.

Peter Handscomb in action on Tuesday.

Peter Handscomb in action on Tuesday.Credit:AAP

Handscomb, with two centuries in his 13 Tests, replaced the suspended Steve Smith in the No. 4 role for the final Test on the ill-fated tour of South Africa but was dropped for the recent series against Pakistan.

Under heavy cloud, Harris did not do his hopes of a Test debut any favours when he was caught at first slip by Joe Burns for two but, as the second leading Shield run-scorer (439 runs) this summer, his body of work has been impressive. Test great Ricky Ponting is the latest to declare he should open in Adelaide alongside Finch.

There is so much uncertainty about Australia's top order that this round of Shield matches is thought to be a chance to influence selectors' thinking.

After a week of debate over whether Finch should open the batting against the Bulls, there was a compromise of sorts although it could be construed that the Victorians put state interests first by having him come in at No. 3, rather than opening, as the national selectors had wanted. It did not matter because Travis Dean, who had been the preferred opener over Finch, was dismissed for a fifth-ball duck.

Finch made a strong 50 off 87 balls before he was dismissed by paceman Michael Neser, who toured the United Arab Emirates with the Test team last month.

While Finch has not opened the batting for Victoria for several seasons, Shane Warne, Damien Fleming and Ponting were among those who had wanted him at the top of the order, for he will face a moving new ball against India, and also to build chemistry with Harris. Finch opens the batting for Australia in one-day internationals and Twenty20 cricket.

In what has become a selection jigsaw, Australian coach Justin Langer, also a selector, has spoken of his interest in retaining the opening pairing of Finch and Usman Khawaja, the pair having joined forces in the UAE.

Langer believes there is good symmetry between them but, should Khawaja retain that role, it would likely mean Harris would not play and Shaun Marsh would be used at No. 3.

Khawaja is making his return from a knee injury and showed no ill effects at the Gabba, stroking the ball well in making 41 off 86 balls before he tickled an edge down the leg side off paceman Chris Tremain and was caught by gloveman Seb Gotch in the shadows of stumps.

The Bulls, with former Test opener Burns supplying an unbeaten 71, will resume on 2-120 on Wednesday.

Head impressed on debut in the UAE but struggled in the one-day international series against South Africa earlier this summer. He will have the chance to further his claims when the Redbacks' clash against Tasmania in Hobart continues on Wednesday.

Australian captain Tim Paine was unable to have the long innings he craved when he was dismissed for 16 as Tasmania was torpedoed for 185. He had only 44 runs in his three previous Shield innings since returning from the UAE. He will need runs in the Test side if he is to retain the captaincy.

All-rounder Mitch Marsh and brother Shaun will have the opportunity to fine-tune their preparations in the Warriors' clash against NSW at Optus Stadium, the first time a Shield match has been played at Perth's new stadium.

Jon Pierik is a sports writer with The Age, focusing primarily on AFL football, cricket and basketball. He has won awards for his cricket and basketball writing.

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