Australia v West Indies first cricket Test: Darren Lehmann says Shaun Marsh will be hard to drop

Enjoying the summer: Shaun Marsh is in a rich vein of form. Photo: Getty Images Australia v West Indies first cricket Test report

Australian coach Darren Lehmann admits Shaun Marsh will be hard to drop as the hosts, having dispatched the West Indies inside three days, face the biggest dilemma of the series inside their own camp.

The opening night of the Big Bash League was dealt a blow on Saturday with the withdrawal of Australian captain Steve Smith with knee and hip soreness, robbing this week’s Sydney derby of a major drawcard.

After Australia’s battering of the West Indies well inside three days at Hobart, attention will now turn to the Twenty20 tournament, which features its own high-profile players from the Caribbean and begins on Thursday night when the Thunder host the Sixers at Spotless Stadium.

Australia, who announced the return of Usman Khawaja to the squad from the Boxing Day Test and the addition of Stephen O’Keefe for the third Test in Sydney, have released six players for the opening stages of the BBL but Smith is not among them.

The Test captain said he was in “no doubt” for the second match of the series against the West Indies starting on Boxing Day with aggravation of right knee pain and a minor strain in his right hip flexor. His absence, however, serves as a commercial and competitive setback for his franchise, the Sixers, who he was to have played the first two games of the season for prior to linking up with the national squad again in Melbourne.

“I think it’s just precautionary. I don’t think I’ll be able to go at 100 per cent, which is what you need to do in T20 cricket. I don’t want to do any further damage,” Smith said.

Elsewhere, Joe Burns (Brisbane Heat), Peter Nevill (Melbourne Renegades), Nathan Lyon (Sixers), Shaun Marsh and Nathan Coulter-Nile (Perth Scorchers) have been made available for the BBL opening rounds while the Test bowlers are as expected rested.

As for the make-up of the Australian side for Boxing Day, Lehmann said Khawaja, returning from a hamstring injury, would slot straight back into the XI if deemed fit after a pair of hundreds against New Zealand last month.

Who will accommodate him is the question. Shaun Marsh would be unlucky to drop out after making 182 but selectors may want to stick with Burns in an opening partnership with David Warner, particularly given the Queenslander himself made a century this summer against far stronger opposition in New Zealand. What appears certain is that Marsh won’t be heading back to the top of the order.

“I’ve said that for a while now I think [Marsh] is best suited at five,” Smith said. “He’s played some very good cricket at five. He did last summer as well. I was really impressed with the way he batted last week, he did well in tough conditions and tough circumstances, and again backing it up again this week with a big hundred. He’s batting really well.”

Lehmann said selectors had a series of options to sort through if Khawaja was fit, but in terms of personnel it will be a straight decision between Burns and Marsh.

“It’s hard to drop someone who makes 182,” Lehmann said on ABC radio. “You’re asking guys to come in and make runs and he actually came in as a replacement for Usman. The challenge for us for selectors is to try out and work out what the best six is They can all bat from one to six which is a pleasing thing for us.

“It’s going to be hard to change but if Usman is fit and he comes back in then we have to change. We’ll have to work out whether he opens, whether he bats three and Smith goes to four, whether Shaun Marsh stays in. It’s going to be a tight call.”

Australia squad for Melbourne Test: Warner, Burns, Khawaja, Smith (c), Voges, S Marsh, M Marsh, Nevill, Siddle, Pattinson, Hazlewood, Lyon, Coulter-Nile. Australia squad for Sydney Test: Warner, Burns, Khawaja, Smith (c), Voges, S Marsh, M Marsh, Nevill, Siddle, Pattinson, Hazlewood, Lyon, Coulter-Nile, O’Keefe.

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