Usman Khawaja faces an uncertain future after being dropped for the fourth Ashes Test in Manchester, where Mitchell Starc and Peter Siddle are locked in a battle to claim the final spot up for grabs in Australia’s side.
The tourists have named a XII for the high-stakes clash at Old Trafford that starts on Wednesday, which comes with the five-Test series locked at 1-1.
James Pattinson has been rotated out of the attack, as expected, and will be replaced by either Starc or Siddle.
Steve Smith’s return from concussion prompted coach Justin Langer and chairman of selectors Trevor Hohns to drop Khawaja just two days after the veteran served as stand-in skipper for a tour game in Derby.
Khawaja, who raced the clock to prove his fitness for the first Test after suffering a hamstring injury in the World Cup, has logged scores of eight, 23, 36, two, 13 and 40 during the series.
The 32-year-old has paid the price for failing to convert any of his starts, while the change will also ensure there is minimal reshuffling of the top six.
Khawaja has been overtaken in the pecking order by Queensland teammate Marnus Labuschagne, who top-scored in three consecutive Test innings for Australia and is expected to bat at first drop this week after filling Smith’s shoes at No 4.
Selectors want to give Marcus Harris, recalled for the third Test after Cameron Bancroft was dumped, a chance to show his opening partnership with David Warner has a future.
The rise of Labuschagne and Harris could count against Khawaja in the coming home summer, although the left-hander has proven those doubting his Test credentials wrong in the past and Langer is a big fan.
“I like how calm he is in big Test matches. Sometimes it comes across as him being very laconic but Mark Waugh was like that as well,” Langer said last month.
“He’s been the pin-up boy of Australian cricket in the sense that he knew what he had to do. He had to get fitter and stronger, he had to improve his fielding. He’s done all those things. He’s been very good as a leader.”
Khawaja suggested last week he still feels “really good batting” but a lack of big runs was “obviously frustrating”.
Matthew Wade, who scored a century in Australia’s series-opening victory then produced more modest returns with the bat at both Lord’s and Headingley, had also been under the pump.
Australia have carefully managed the workload of their fast bowlers on this tour, especially Pattinson given it is the express paceman’s long-awaited international comeback after three and a half years of injury hell.
There is a three-day break between the fourth and fifth Tests, all but ensuring the attack will be changed yet again for the series finale.
Australia XII for fourth Test: David Warner, Marcus Harris, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Matthew Wade, Tim Paine (captain), Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Peter Siddle, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood.