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Harris dropped, Khawaja to open in Hobart after his twin hundreds

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Travis Head returns to the middle order while the attack is still to be confirmed with Scott Boland needing to pass a fitness test

Australia’s bowling attack is still to be finalised with captain Pat Cummins confirming Scott Boland would need to pass a fitness test on his rib injury to play in Hobart. Jhye Richardson will likely come into the side if Boland does not come up. Mitchell Starc is set to play after pulling up well having played all four Tests so far.

Khawaja had made an irresistible case to be retained in the side for the fifth Test after twin centuries in Sydney. Head was guaranteed to return after missing the SCG Test due to Covid-19 and the selectors made the tough decision to leave Harris out.

“I think he knew was it was coming,” Cummins said on Thursday. “The message to Harry is we think he is going really well. It’s really tough on him. It’s not too often someone comes in and hits two hundreds in the same game. But I thought Marcus has been really good I think he’s been growing with each game he was a huge part in how we won that MCG Test with a crucial innings.

“So he’s certainly part of the future. We’ll keep investing in him. I think he’s been going really well.”

It is the third time Harris has been dropped in his 14-Test career. The selectors were determined to give him a run at the top of the order and he has played in Australia’s last five Test matches after coming in for the final match against India last summer. But he has passed 50 just three times in 26 Test innings and only once in his last five matches, albeit a match-winning 76 in the third Test at the MCG.

It has been a tough series for openers on both sides due to the bowler-friendly surfaces and Harris has reached 20 in four consecutive innings but only has one half-century to show for it. His overall Test average of 25.29 left him vulnerable to the selectors’ axe. However, Cummins stressed Harris would not be cast aside as a Test player.

“No, absolutely not,” Cummins said. “I think Uzzy and Davey have really earned that spot to open the batting but the reality is they’re both 35 years old. So whilst that doesn’t mean anything in the short, short term there will be a day where we need to find some other openers. Marcus is still absolutely got a huge future with us. He’ll be around the squad. I think there might even be an Australia A tour go overseas in the off-season. Of course, there’s heaps of Shield cricket and county cricket as well so for sure this is probably more a case of someone demanding a spot as opposed to Marcus losing his spot.”

Khawaja averages 96.80 and has made two centuries in seven Test innings as an opener, including 145 in a pink-ball Test against South Africa in Adelaide in 2016. He averages 39.30 opening in first-class cricket across 36 innings with four centuries, although three have come on the subcontinent. But he hasn’t batted higher than No. 4 in his last 22 first-class innings, during which time he has compiled six first-class hundreds and has averaged 65.94.

“Really confident with Uzzy opening,” Cummins said. “He’s a class player. He can bat anywhere in the order. Even at the start of the summer when he was part of the squad, from the selectors’ point of view and being his captain I felt like he could bat anywhere from one to six so he’ll slot straight into one, everyone else stays where they are. Trav Head really owned that No. 5 spots the first few games.”

Meanwhile, Boland is still battling to overcome his rib concern with Cummins stating that the selectors would wait until after the final training session to confirm his fitness. He needed pain-killing injections to get through the SCG Test after his heavy fall on his ribs in the first innings but he still bowled beautifully picking up seven wickets.

“We think he should be right,” Cummins said. “I don’t think he’ll be getting injections down here. I think he’ll just have a bowl and judge if he feels a bit better than he did a few days ago. He bowled 30-40 overs after he did the injury which gives us a lot of confidence he can get through it. Just speaking to him he says it’s an injury that he’s confident doesn’t get worse with heaps of bowling. It’s just a lot of pain. So hopefully he can manage that. He said he’ll have a bowl. He’s played enough. He’ll be honest.”

Boland does have a good pink-ball record in first-class cricket averaging 22.64 overall but he has a poor record at Bellerive Oval in both pink and red-ball games averaging 64.

Richardson took seven wickets in his one and only Sheffield Shield red-ball match at Bellerive earlier this season and took five wickets in the fourth innings of the pink-ball Test in Adelaide but missed the MCG and SCG Tests due to shin soreness.

Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo

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