‘The art of batting’: We’ve got work to do, laments Langer
National coach and selector Justin Langer has conceded the Australian system is not adequately preparing batsmen for the rigours of Test cricket, as he hinted Aaron Finch could be thrown a lifeline for the fourth Test despite renewed calls for his axing.
The Australian team arrived in Sydney on Monday with many questions to ponder as Lamger's side chases a series-levelling victory in the fourth Test, starting on Thursday at the SCG.
The headaches remain for selectors, who are awash with problems but not solutions to Australia's batting woes.
Former captain Steve Waugh has weighed into the discussion, taking to social media to name an XI that has Shaun Marsh replacing Finch as opener in a dramatically re-shuffled batting line-up.
Wicketkeeper Tim Paine would bat at five in Waugh's side followed by the recalled Marnus Labuschagne and Mitchell Marsh – the latter earmarked by the Test great to play the counter-attacking role that Adam Gilchrist mastered at seven.
Waugh joins Simon Katich in calling for Finch to be axed while Ricky Ponting also believes the Victorian is on shaky ground after Labuschagne's recall to the squad.
Langer said selectors were reconsidering Finch's position as an opener but admitted options were limited if the incumbent was to be shifted down the order or removed altogether.
There is no specialist opener in the 14-man squad while moving Usman Khawaja from No.3 would create issues elsewhere in the order, headlined by the shifting of Shaun Marsh to first drop.
"Something we're talking about obviously," Langer said of Finch's future at the top. "He's having a bit of a lean run of it although he's got a couple of 50s, got a 100-run partnership one Test match ago and that set up the whole Test match for us."
Langer said Finch was now in "uncharted territory" as a three-form international player, as Steve Smith and David Warner had been before their suspensions.
"He's got to somehow recharge his batteries over and over and over again – it's a great challenge for him at the moment," Langer said. "Test cricket is about toughness and character and he'll be better for this period."
The deeper issue for Australian cricket is whether the levels below are capable of producing Test-quality batsmen.
"I think the results would suggest we're not," Langer said. "Most of our batters in Australia who are knocking on the door are averaging in the 30s. Whether it's the system, I'm not sure if it's something we have to change in our psyche again.
"I'm not sure specifically about the system but it would suggest the art of batting we've got some work to do on it."
Usman Khawaja has scored Australia's only century since last year's Ashes. He was also the only Australian to average more than 40 in 2018.
Langer insisted on his first Test squad selection in September that selectors could no longer reward mediocrity but four months on they still have no other choice.
Labuschagne's selection, after averaging 28 in the Shield this season, has raised eyebrows but there are no players in the Shield demanding selection through sustained excellence.
In Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli, India have two lynchpins in their top six, ingredients missing in Langer's current recipe.
Joe Burns and Glenn Maxwell are averaging marginally above 40 in first-class cricket but are out of favour. Gone are the days where Australia had players the ilk of Brad Hodge, Martin Love and David Hussey waiting in the wings.
"We've got to be careful not to reward poor performances. But again, trust me, try being a selector at the moment," Langer said.
"It's not as if the guys are absolutely banging the door down. If you're talking to some A-grade or second-grade grade coaches, [they'd say] we're playing kids who probably don't deserve to play A-grade or second-grade.
"But it's where we're at at the moment. It's something everyone is looking at and we want to work on getting better."
Andrew Wu writes on cricket and AFL for The Sydney Morning Herald