Sydney hero Usman Khawaja has retained his spot in the Test side, but a former Australian cricketer has warned against the move.
Marcus Harris has been axed from the Australian Test side, with SCG centurion Usman Khawaja replacing the opener at the top of the order for the fifth Ashes Test in Hobart.
On Thursday afternoon, Australian captain Pat Cummins confirmed to reporters that Harris would not feature in the series finale at Blundstone Arena, while Khawaja will open the batting alongside childhood mate David Warner.
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Harris scored 179 runs at 29.83 in the opening four Ashes Tests, his best performance being a gritty 76 during the Boxing Day fixture at the MCG.
But the left-handed Victorian has copped criticism for failing to convert starts into big scores — after 14 Tests in Australian whites, he has only reached 50 on three occasions with no centuries to his name.
However, he has passed 20 in his four most recent innings, helping get the shine off the Kookaburra before exposing the middle-order.
Last week, Khawaja was named in the Australian starting XI for the first time since August 2019 after teammate Travis Head tested positive to Covid-19 ahead of the New Year’s Test in Sydney.
And Khawaja didn’t let the opportunity go to waste, cracking twin centuries to cement his place in Ashes folklore.
The 35-year-old was deemed “undroppable”, and Harris is the unfortunate fall guy who needs to make way for the returning Head, who was Australia’s highest run-scorer of the series before the SCG Test.
“I was surprised (Khawaja) didn’t start the series, personally,” England captain Joe Root told reporters on Wednesday.
“I think he’s a wonderful player. I think he’s in a period of his career where he’s very content with his game and he’s got an understanding of how he wants to go and play.
“We’ve got some work to do to make sure that we keep him quiet in this last game.
“It’s a phenomenal effort what he managed to achieve last week. It was truly brilliant. We need to make sure we keep him quiet as best we can here in Tasmania.”
Khawaja has opened the batting on seven occasions at Test level, scoring 484 runs at 96.80 including two centuries and two fifties.
But speaking on SEN 1116, former Australian spinner Bryce McGain warned elevating Khawaja to the top of the order was “fraught with danger”.
“I know in the past he has opened the batting, and his record opening the batting in Test matches is outstanding, there’s no questioning that,” he said.
“But he’s been batting in the middle-order, and that’s his best spot. He’s been batting at No. 4 for Queensland through Sheffield Shield over the last couple of seasons, which put him in the form that he could do what he did in the Sydney Test.
“Putting him up to then open the batting and fill that spot for Harris … I think it’s fraught with danger. We don’t want to do that.
“It’s a specialist role.”
Khawaja himself conceded opening the batting is an entirely different kettle of fish to playing in the middle-order, telling reporters after his second SCG century: “You can’t really compare No. 5 to opening. It’s a bit like apples and oranges, and I know because I’ve done both of them.
“Opening is very tough. There’s a big difference between opening and batting No. 5.”
Meanwhile, Cummins said that national selectors were waiting to see how paceman Scott Boland fared at training before making a final decision on the bowling attack for Hobart.
Mitchell Starc was the only paceman from either side to feature in all four Ashes Tests to date, prompting suggestions the Aussie quick should be rested for the fifth match.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, the 31-year-old was adamant he did not need a rest, and was eager to play the historic day-night fixture in Hobart.
Stars boasts a stellar record with the pink ball in Test cricket, taking 52 wickets at 18.23 in nine matches.
“I’m not looking for a break,” he said. “It’s the last Test match of an Ashes series at home. It’s a pink ball too.
“Feeling good. Obviously we’ve had a couple of days now to get ready for the fifth Test.
“Hopefully it’s not my turn to rest … I’d very much like to play. I guess it’s in the hands of selectors.
“But I won’t be asking for a rest.”
The fifth Ashes Test between Australia and England gets underway at Bellerive Oval on Friday, with the first ball scheduled for 3pm AEDT.