Victorian and Australian opening batter Marcus Harris has lost his spot in the Australian XI ahead of the first-ever Ashes Test in Hobart on Friday.
Before the start of the series, Australian selector George Bailey and the other members of the selection panel backed Harris to be the opener for the entirety of the summer.
However, after four matches Harris has been unable to cement his spot in the side, and now finds himself out of the Test XI for the pink ball Test match in Hobart.
In the four Tests Harris has played this series, he’s scored 179 runs, averaging 29.83 with a highest score of 76, an important knock that helped Australia win the Boxing Day Test at the MCG.
Australia hasn’t confirmed its XI, but captain Pat Cummins confirmed the news that Travis Head will return and bat in his regular spot at number five, while Usman Khawaja will be elevated to opener replacing Harris.
Khawaja has a remarkable record as an opener, averaging 96.80 with two centuries in seven innings.
Cummins said he believed Harris was going along well, but it was a case of Khawaja’s form demanding selection.
“I think he knew it was coming, the message to Harry [Marcus Harris] is we think he’s going really well. It’s really tough on him, it’s not too often someone comes and hits two hundreds in the same game,” he said.
“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.
“He’s certainly part of the future, we’ll keep investing in him. I think he’s been going really well.
“This is probably more a case of someone demanding a spot as opposed to Marcus losing his spot due to form.”
Despite the non-selection, Cummins said Harris still has a part to play in the side’s future plans, especially with Khawaja and David Warner coming to the latter part of their careers.
“I think Uzzie and Davey [David Warner] have really earnt that spot to open the batting but the reality is I think they’re both 35-years-old,” the Test skipper said.
“Whilst that doesn’t mean anything in the short term, there will be a day where we need to find some other openers.
“Marcus [Harris] has still absolutely got a huge future with us, I’m sure he’ll be around the squad. I think there might be an Australia A tour going overseas in the off-season, there is plenty of [Sheffield] Shield cricket, County cricket, there is [still] lots of opportunities.”
There was talk during the week that Marnus Labuschagne could open while Khawaja bats at number four. Cummins said he was putting his faith in Khawaja opening the batting.
“[I’m] really confident with Uzzie [Usman Khawaja] opening, he’s a class player, he can bat anywhere in the order,” the 28-year-old said.
“At the start of the summer when he was a part of the squad, from the selectors’ point of view and me as captain I felt like he could bat anywhere from one to six so he’ll slot straight into one and everyone else stays where they are. Travis Head [has] really owned that number five spot in the first few games.”
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This will be Cummins’ first-ever Test match in Hobart, and doesn’t know what to expect of the pitch, especially adding the element of the pink ball.
“Yeah [there is] a bit of grass, I think especially the first few days, hopefully [there is] a bit of seam [movement], a bit of swing. I think it’s going to be a little humid as well,” Cummins said.
“Sometimes when it’s really cold at night it [the ball] doesn’t do as much, [I] don’t know if that’s the case. Every pink ball [Test match] feels like there is a lot of unknowns coming into it, probably more so here not knowing the venue.”
In past Ashes series, Australia would normally depend on players like David Warner, Steve Smith, and Marnus Labuschagne with the bat, and Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon with the ball.
Cummins said it was pleasing to see other players like Scott Boland (equal third leading wicket-taker, 14 wickets at an average of 8.64) and Khawaja (twin hundreds) come in and make an impact.
“It’s been great to have these other guys come in and feel comfortable enough to perform and dominate straight away,” the captain said.
“I think it’s a nod to the amount of talent we have around Australia, [that] the [Sheffield] Shield has produced. It shows we don’t have to be reliant on the same three or four players you feel like anyone in the team can be a match-winner.
Cummins has also been impressed by the improvements made by the senior players.
“I’ll add onto that with the growth we’ve seen from some of the senior guys as well. Mitchell Starc is having a breakout summer 10 years into his career,” he said.
“Even Nathan Lyon, we’ve seen him bowl beautifully this summer and develop a few different skills, it’s been really pleasing.”
Alex Carey’s keeping in the last few Tests have been a talking point, but Cummins is happy with how the experienced keeper is performing in his debut Test series.
“I think firstly on his batting, I haven’t helped him out [there] declaring on him [and in] the last game he got an unlucky one [dismissal],” Cummins said.
“I think the thing that’s consistent with Kez [Alex Carey] is he’s just willing to do anything it takes to help out the team, he put himself out there at the Gabba batting in the second innings.
“[With his] keeping it’s his first year, it’s tough. He’s working really hard [and] we’re super confident in him. He took eight catches in his first game, it sets an incredible standard to try and keep that up.
“He’s been confident enough going for the balls he missed earlier in the series, [I’m] not worried. He’s class, he’s played many games for Australia and [is] experienced.
“I think there has been a lot of big positives, so the message to him is to keep doing what you’re doing, we’re all behind you.”
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