(Australian Associated Press)
FIVE BURNING QUESTIONS FOR AUSTRALIA’S TEST SUMMER:
1/ CAN AUSTRALIA ESTABLISH A RELIABLE TOP SIX?
– No centuries in the first five Tests last season and a worrying reliance on Steve Smith during their Ashes retention leaves Australia’s batsmen with plenty to prove this summer.
Joe Burns’ recall and the return of Travis Head is Justin Langer’s response, the coach saying he’s “getting closer” to figuring out Australia’s best Test side.
Both need to runs, though, David Warner’s dismal Ashes series leaves him vulnerable despite returning to a happy hunting ground and Marnus Labuschagne has impressed despite not yet posting a Test century.
2/ WILL TIM PAINE CONSOLIDATE OR LOOSEN HIS HOLD ON THE CAPTAINCY?
– Whether the wicketkeeper should relinquish the captaincy once Steve Smith’s leadership ban expires – or even remain in the side – has been a constant talking point ahead of the Test summer.
That’s despite the classy custodian’s sharp work behind the stumps and eadership accomplishments that include a brave drawn Test against Pakistan in the UAE and retaining the Ashes.
Paine is still well backed by those who count, but Langer will hope the Tasmanian can score valuable runs, take his catches and captain wisely to fend away the detractors.
3/ WILL WE SEE THE BEST OF MITCHELL STARC WITH THE RED AND PINK BALL?
– The left-armer, almost unplayable at his best, was a tourist for all but one Ashes Test as Justin Langer opted for accuracy over explosiveness.
It’s a different story in Australian conditions and, with James Pattinson suspended from the first Test, Starc’s been given the green light to unleash at the Gabba.
He’s taken 16 wickets in his past two Sheffield Shield games and has the platform to continue that for Australia with the red, and potentially, pink ball in Adelaide.
4/ WILL PAKISTAN’S FAST-BOWLING CARTEL PROVE TO HAVE MORE BARK THAN BITE?
– A possible debut for 16-year-old Naseem Shah has been the talking point leading up to the opening Test, potentially joining a pace attack which has posed problems in the past for Australia.
Mohammad Abbas averages less than 19 after 14 Tests. Imran Khan ripped through the Australia A batting unit last week in Perth.
A pink-ball Test in Adelaide will follow the Gabba clash and ensure plenty of nervous moments, but Australia are intent on batting this inexperienced bowling unit into the ground.
5/ WILL AUSTRALIAN CROWDS EMBRACE OR TURN ON DAVID WARNER?
– Painted as the villain of the team’s ball-tampering scandal and a passenger during the Ashes campaign, Warner has some ground to make up in red-ball cricket this summer.
Justin Langer said Warner’s previous body of work, particularly at home, meant he would always play at the Gabba.
Crowds have been kind since his return to Australian shores, but will that continue if Warner doesn’t fill his boots against Pakistan and New Zealand?