Usman Khawaja has been axed from Australia’s XI to make way for the return of Steve Smith for the fourth Ashes Test.
Australia is set to make two changes to the side that lost to England by one wicket last Test with Smith in for Khawaja and either Siddle/Starc in for Pattinson who has been left out.
The pitch and conditions will be the major factor in who earns the third pace spot behind Cummins and Hazlewood with Starc primed to enter the series after carrying the drinks for the first three Tests.
Australian selectors decided to back Marcus Harris to open with David Warner over Khawaja after a lean series for Australia’s first drop.
Khawaja has averaged 20.33 in six innings so far in this series with the high score of 40 just not enough for the selectors to pick him for Old Trafford.
England bowlers have had the wood over Khawaja in his 12 innings in the UK dating back to the 2013 Ashes where he has averaged 19.66 across six Tests since.
Even Khawaja’s 72 against Derbyshire last week wasn’t enough to hold his spot in the XI after failing to convert on his starts.
Australia’s batting in the past two Tests has been shaky with only Smith, Labuschagne and Warner the only players to past 50.
This was highlighted in the first innings at Leeds where Australia inexcusably collapsed losing 8/43 to be bowled out for 179.
The positive Australia took out of their batting woes was the form of Marnus Labuschagne, who has impressed many in the series, scoring three half-centuries in a row.
Khawaja’s axing will see Labuschagne most likely move up to bat at No.3, with Smith returning in his favoured No.4 position.
Smith’s return will a welcome sight to all Australians after missing the third Test with a delayed concussion.
Smith once again looked like the best test batsmen in the world with scores of 144, 142 and 92 in his three innings before England quick Jofra Archer hit him with a ferocious bouncer.
Langer backed Smith to pick up where he left off.
“He’s moving really well. We’re hopeful that he gets back into the zone, hits the ball off the middle of the bat,” Langer told Fox Sports.
“The whole time he’s been here he’s been batting well. So let’s hope he can continue that. It’s important for our team and it’s just nice to know that he’s back in the team.”
Meanwhile, the urge to pick much-maligned all-rounder Mitchell Marsh has been resisted as Matthew Wade keeps his spot at No.6, while vice-captain Travis Head stays at No.5.
Australia requires one win from the final two Tests to retain the Ashes with the fourth test starting Wednesday 8pm (AEST).
Australian XII: Tim Paine (C, WK), David Warner, Marcus Harris, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Matthew Wade, Pat Cummins, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon.