Second Test – starts 10:30am local time on Saturday, December 26, 2015 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground
$1.03 at Bet365.com
$26 at Sportsbet.com
$13 at www.Luxbet.com
THE Australian selection panel has one hell of a decision to make ahead of the second Test against the West Indies.
With Usman Khawaja a certainty to start after proving his fitness and form in exceptional style in the Big Bash League on Sunday, either Joe Burns or Shaun Marsh will have to step aside.
It would be a rough call either way: Burns and David Warner are averaging 88.85 as an opening pair, while Marsh is fresh off a career-best 182 – and a record fourth-wicket partnership of 449 with Adam Voges – in the Hobart Test.
Some say the latter, who was called up after Khawaja injured his hamstring in November, should be the first man out, while others point to the fact the former hasn’t passed 40 in his last five Test innings.
Speaking to the press in Melbourne on Tuesday, Burns said he was “frustrated” at having failed to convert several solid starts following his standout performance against New Zealand in Brisbane.
Nevertheless, the Queenslander insisted the speculation over his position in the side would have no bearing on his preparation for Boxing Day.
“Nothing changes from my point of view. I just try and prepare as best I can,” Burns said.
“We’ve got a few days of training before the game and I’m just focused on getting to each day, training as hard as I can with a view to making sure I’m ready to play.
“Then obviously selections will go from there.”
While selectors’ eventual decision could have ramifications for the respective careers of Burns and Marsh, one suspects it will have little impact on the outcome of the Test match.
The first instalment of the 2015-16 Frank Worrell Trophy more than justified the pre-series premonitions of an Aussie whitewash, with the home side winning by an innings and 212 runs.
That bloodbath at Bellerive has seen Australia’s series odds plummet to $1 even at many online bookmakers, while the West Indies are now paying as much as $151 outright (www.CrownBet.com).
It was no surprise the tourists looked so spiritless in the first Test, given their preparation consisted of a 10-wicket mauling at the hands of an inexperienced Cricket Australia XI.
They fared somewhat better in their recent two-day tour match against a Victoria XI in Geelong, with Kraigg Braithwaite, Rajendra Chandrika, Marlon Samuels, Jermaine Blackwood and Denesh Ramdin all spending time at the crease.
While the opposition was hardly worth writing home about, Darren Bravo said the hitout could only benefit a Windies roster which is desperate to find some touch and self-belief.
“It’s just a matter of confidence,” the Trinidadian batsman told reporters on Tuesday.
“Coming in to this series most of our batsmen didn’t really have that confidence. We lost the series in Sri Lanka [in October], we lost the practice game as well in Brisbane. It’s a matter of confidence.
“It’s important that whenever we go to bat we spend some time out in the middle. If we spend time we’re definitely going to score runs. Naturally we play aggressive cricket where batting is concerned. It’s just a matter of us spending time out in the middle and putting up a very good fight.
“It’s very important we look at the positives. In the practice game young Blackwood played pretty well, as well as Kraigg Brathwaite. The bowlers had a very good run, including Jerome Taylor. The guys are putting in the work, it’s just a matter of us going out there and executing.”
Bravo – Sportsbet’s $1.80 favourite to top his side’s runscoring charts this series – was one of the few West Indies players to make any headway against the Australian bowling attack in Hobart, stroking a superb 108 in a first-innings total of 223.
And while he admitted the hosts were strong, the 26-year-old refused to concede they were unbeatable.
“The Australian bowlers, they have a plan exactly how they want to get us out,” Bravo said.
“You respect the good balls and put away the bad balls. Yes they are a very good team but at the end of the day they are still humans. They’re going to present bad balls and it’s just a matter of putting it away.
“I don’t think you should be bogged down too much. Don’t be intimidated by the Australian bowlers. Just back yourself and your ability.
“When you’re not scoring runs it is difficult to pick yourself up. I believe the guys have that sort of resilience in them. Most of us have scored international hundreds. We have proven that we are definitely capable of playing at this level.
“It is just a matter of going out there and spending some time.”
Australia team news
Usman Khawaja will reclaim his spot after missing the last two Tests, but where he bats may depend on which of Joe Burns or Shaun Marsh gets the axe.
If Burns goes, Khawaja will probably open the batting; but if Marsh is left out, ‘Uzzie’ will most likely slot in at first drop.
There will be no Test debut on Boxing Day for Nathan Coulter-Nile, who dislocated his shoulder while playing for Perth Scorchers in the BBL on Monday.
Victorian quick Scott Boland has joined the squad as a replacement, but there should be no change to the four-man pace attack of James Pattinson, Josh Hazlewood, Peter Siddle and Mitchell Marsh.
Possible Australia XI: Warner, Burns/S Marsh, Khawaja, Smith (C), Voges, M Marsh, Nevill, Siddle, Pattinson, Hazlewood, Lyon.
West Indies team news
Shannon Gabriel has left the touring party after sustaining an ankle injury in Hobart, which leaves the Windies short a genuine tearaway quick.
They’ve called up the uncapped Miguel Cummins as a replacement, although the 25-year-old Barbadian didn’t feature in the recent practice match at Simonds Stadium.
The other option is allrounder Carlos Braithwaite, who played against both the Victoria XI and the CA XI.
Despite the dismal batting performance at Bellerive Oval, each of the top six should get another chance in Melbourne.
Possible West Indies XI: K Braithwaite, Chandrika, Bravo, Samuels, Blackwood, Ramdin, Holder, Roach, Taylor, Warrican, Cummins.
Result – Australia to win ($1.083 at Bet365.com)
Fall of first wicket – Australia over 38.5 ($1.90 at CrownBet.com)
Man of the match – Usman Khawaja ($11 at Luxbet.com)
There isn’t much to explain here. Australia are short-priced favourites in all the key Boxing Day betting markets, and rightly so. Barring some unforeseen disaster which decimates the Aussie squad between now and Christmas, there is no choice but to back the home side.
Top team runscorer betting
Usman Khawaja ($5.50 at Sportsbet) – After his blitzing Big Bash century at the MCG on Sunday, the 28-year-old lefty has now notched three hundreds in his last three competitive digs. Need we say more?
David Warner ($3.60 at Bet365) – The Aussie vice-captain was in roaring touch in Hobart before getting caught down the leg side on 64. He will be eager to fill his boots in Melbourne, where he has yet to notch an international hundred.
Darren Bravo ($3.80 at CrownBet) – The one they call ‘Little Lara’ was a class above his teammates in the first Test. He has an excellent record away from the Caribbean and will be the go-to guy once again.
Marlon Samuels ($4.75 at William Hill) – The enigmatic Jamaican was putrid in every aspect at Bellerive, but form means little with such an unpredictable talent. On his day, he can do anything against anyone.
Top team wicket-taker markets
James Pattinson ($3.75 at Sportsbet) – After a rusty first innings at Hobart, the Victorian announced his return to Test cricket with a superb five-wicket haul in the second. He’ll be especially pumped to bowl in front of his home crowd at the ‘G.
Josh Hazlewood ($3.50 at Bet365) – There was speculation around Hazlewood’s place in the Test side a month ago, but his displays at Adelaide and Hobart were exceptional. Those odds are good value for a guy with 16 wickets in his last two Tests.
Jason Holder ($4.50 at Bet365) – As the only West Indies bowler to keep his economy rate under four runs per over, the skipper was the pick of a very bad bunch in the first Test. If he keeps it tight again and jags one or two wickets, he’s every chance to top the first-innings figures.
Jerome Taylor ($4.33 at Bet365) – A bowling analysis of 17 overs, no maidens, 108 runs and no wickets does not reflect kindly on the leader of the Windies pace attack. He’s so much better than that and simply must lift his game for Melbourne.
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