The contenders in Australia’s unsettled batting line-up

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  • Andrew McGlashanDeputy editor, ESPNcricinfo

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      Deputy Editor Andrew arrived at ESPNcricinfo via Manchester and Cape Town, after finding the assistant editor at a weak moment as he watched England’s batting collapse in the Newlands Test. Andrew began his cricket writing as a freelance covering Lancashire during 2004 when they were relegated in the County Championship. In fact, they were top of the table when he began reporting on them but things went dramatically downhill. He likes to let people know that he is a supporter of county cricket, a fact his colleagues will testify to and bemoan in equal quantities.

One way or the other Australia are going to have a new-look batting order when they take on Sri Lanka at the Gabba. Only Marcus Harris, Usman Khawaja and Travis Head are locked in the top order. There are five players fighting over the other spots following the late call-up for Kurtis Patterson and it may be that he is now leading the pack.

Joe Burns

For

A seasoned opening batsman who has made consistent runs at Sheffield Shield level, Burns was parachuted into the side in the wake of the ball-tampering scandal when Australia had a patched-up eleven in Johannesburg. The batting has continued to look like that since and it’s hard to know why Burns hasn’t featured. Not to mention he has three Test centuries to his name – of all the batting options available, only Usman Khawaja has more

Against

Missed his chance to make an irrefutable claim to open alongside Marcus Harris with two poor shots against the Sri Lankans in Hobart. He appeared very eager to play with aggression, slashing into the slip cordon in both innings, which did not look like a method for long-term success.

Matt Renshaw

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After seven Tests he was averaging 48.91 and looked the real deal. He could bat time, which is something Australia need right now. Last year playing for Somerset he appeared to find a new side to his game, dominating attacks with strokeplay and not just occupation. Then he was concussed when certain to play in the UAE and he has been sidelined since which has felt harsh. Despite his more recent struggles, Renshaw is a 22-year-old worth investing in.

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Like Burns, he missed his chance in Hobart and probably looked the most out-of-touch of all the CA XI batsmen, edging to slip in the first innings having survived a big caught behind appeal and then playing round a straight one in the second. Unlike Burns he does not have a productive domestic season behind him, either, averaging just 19.90 in the Shield.

Marnus Labuschagne

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An incumbent in the Test side, he was good enough three weeks ago (and to bat at No. 3) so surely he should still be good enough now. He made a neat half-century in the second innings against the Sri Lankans and got a decent look at their bowlers and the pink ball. He is also a very flexible cricketer and could easily shift back to the middle order. Then there’s his legspin. While far from world-beating, he is the only one of the top-order options to offer bowling that is passable as a fifth option.

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It would seem harsh for him to miss out, but there was a strong school of thought that he shouldn’t have been brought back in the first place with a middling first-class record this season. Neither should a Test match top six be selected on the basis of someone being able to bowl a few part-time overs. Either they are one of the best six batsmen or they aren’t.

Will Pucovski

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Australian cricket needs a new hero and there is plenty of hope that 20-year-old Pucovski will be it. Get him in the side to bring a feeling of renewal. He is clearly hugely talented as the 243 against Western Australia showed and he has since spoken impressively about the personal challenges he has faced with his mental health. Shaped up well in Hobart with two neat innings to suggest he wouldn’t be overawed by the Sri Lanka attack

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However, a concern reared its head in the first innings of the tour match when he was out hooking. There has already been considerable discussion over his ability against the short ball following blows to the head, and nothing goes unnoticed these days. Also, after just eight first-class does he really know his game? Test cricket is a tough place to learn.

Kurtis Patterson

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His form is not in doubt after scores of 157* and 102* against the Sri Lankans, certainly in the first innings of that match he looked a class apart from the rest of the top order. While he has been in the Sydney Thunder squad and training for T20 he hasn’t played a BBL match which has probably work in his favour when it comes to slipping back to long-form mode. At 25, with seven seasons behind, he is also a player who now knows his game. The selectors have been criticised for ignoring form, so this would be a good move.

Against

Yet what does it say about the selectors that they’ve had to call him up in this way? And what about the other batsmen in the squad who would be leapfrogged by a guy who wasn’t in contention a week ago? There has been some disgruntlement this season about selection messages and a debut for Patterson could leave one or two others wondering where they stand.

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