DUBAI - Both Michael Clarke and Mitchell Marsh should be fit for the first Test against Pakistan, but Australia's chairman of selectors Rod Marsh has said the final make-up of the XI may not be decided until the morning of the match.
Clarke and Marsh had been recovering from hamstring injuries in the lead-up to the practice game in Sharjah and despite not making big scores, neither man seemed hampered at the crease or in the field. Marsh bowled seven overs in the second innings and scored a duck and 35, while Clarke faced only 36 deliveries for the game as he fell cheaply in both innings. "They'd have liked more runs, obviously," Rod Marsh said. "Their fitness is fine. I can only go on what the physio says. He's pretty happy, the doctor is happy, I'm happy."
The likely scenario appears to be that Marsh will debut, acting as the fifth bowler alongside two spinners and two quicks. But the Australians are yet to train in Dubai and see the Test pitch, and it is that surface more than form from the tour game that is likely to be weighing on the minds of the selectors.
The Dubai pitch can offer a surprising amount of pace and carry, which could yet encourage the use of three fast bowlers. But the leading wicket-taker at the venue is Saeed Ajmal and in all Tests at the venue, 104 wickets have been taken by spinners compared with 80 from fast bowlers and medium-pacers. On top of that, teams like to prepare turning pitches to test Australia.
That, and the fact that Pakistan have struggled recently against left-arm orthodox spinners, suggests that Steve O'Keefe has a good chance of making his debut in Dubai alongside the incumbent offspinner Nathan Lyon. O'Keefe picked up three wickets in the first innings against Pakistan A and Lyon claimed two in the second, while the offspinning allrounder Glenn Maxwell went wicketless.
"He [O'Keefe] bowled nicely, as did Nathan Lyon," Rod Marsh said. "I thought Nathan bowled better in the second innings than he did in the first innings and I thought Steve bowled better in the first innings than he did in the second. But that's understandable. Steve bowled 23 overs I think from memory in the first innings and it was his first bowl since Townsville, I think, for Australia A, and he'd have felt a bit stiff and sore. It took him a while to get going [in the second innings], but that's fine. He'll be better for the run, as will Nathan, as will Maxwell. They'll all be better for the run. I'm reasonably happy with the way the spinners went."
Not everyone enjoyed the practice match, though. Opener Chris Rogers, in particular, will enter the Test underdone in local conditions after being trapped lbw for a golden duck in the first innings, then run out for 3 after a mix-up with Phillip Hughes in the second. Rogers was the third-leading run-scorer in Division One of the County Championship this year, but must quickly find his feet in the UAE.
"Obviously these are different conditions and we would have liked him to make runs in this game," Marsh said. "We would have liked Michael Clarke to make runs. We would have liked everyone to make runs, but it hasn't happened. So we've just got to sit down and nut out what is the side that we think is best prepared to win in these conditions."
Rogers and David Warner should open in Dubai - Warner suffered a groin injury in the final ODI but appears to have recovered - with Alex Doolan at No.3, followed by Clarke and Steven Smith. Marsh is the likely No.6, then Brad Haddin, with Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle, O'Keefe and Lyon the probable attack. However, Rod Marsh insisted the selectors still had plenty of decisions to make.
"There's more than one spot to discuss I can promise you that, for a variety of reasons," he said. "We haven't even come close to saying this is what the XI will be. There's so many other things to consider. We haven't even seen the pitch, you know. We won't know what that pitch is like really until the morning of the game. We can look at it on Monday, we look at it again on Tuesday, but we won't know what it's like until the morning of the game
"This pitch for the one-dayers here [in Sharjah], we looked at it the day before and everyone had a mild dose of the panics. But it was nothing like that when we got here the next day. You can't make a judgement on a pitch unless you know the ground very, very well until the day of the game. So really, I don't know why everyone spends so much time looking at cricket pitches. It is a waste of time. Especially in this part of the world, you wait until the day."