Marsh set for recall as Handscomb feels pinch
PETER Handscomb is set to be axed from the Australian side vying to reclaim the urn in Perth, with Mitchell Marsh to return as the all-rounder.
It's a bitter pill for Handscomb to swallow, given he averages 47 in Test cricket and 12 months ago was injected into the line-up as a pillar around which Australia could rebuild its fortunes.
The sight of Handscomb hitting fielding drill balls to the Marsh brothers practising their slip catching appeared a clear sign that he is dead man walking.
Selectors are wary of the WACA deck being so flat that a fifth bowling option is a must, although Marsh himself has only bowled in one and a half Sheffield Shield matches this season since his return from shoulder surgery.
Australian staff have stated they aren't worried by the lack of miles under Marsh's legs, while the big right-hander is primarily out to rewrite a current Test batting average of 21.
It's something Marsh believes he is mentally capable of doing now he's banned himself from reading any negative feedback on social media.
Fast bowler Josh Hazlewood candidly admitted Australia would love the luxury of a "Jacques Kallis" to solve their all-rounder problems, but concedes an extra bowling option is always handy, especially on a wicket which he expects to offer precious little to the bowlers.
Marsh - who is set to bat at No.6 with brother Shaun shifting up the order to No.5 - says he is ready for his next big chance.
"I have to believe I'm the best all-rounder in the country to be playing Test cricket," he said.
"But at the same time for me to be playing Test cricket I've got to be the sixth-best batsman in Australia.
"That's always been the case and my bowling has always been a bonus.
"I went through a stage where I read everything, Facebook comments and all that sort of stuff.
"At the time it made me feel pretty shit to be honest, but people are entitled to their opinion and are passionate about cricket, so it's all good.
"I find them quite funny now and I actually think it's great that the Australian public can be so passionate about sport, especially cricket.
"People are always entitled to their opinions. Eight months ago I stopped reading everything pretty much. I think I'll probably stay that way."
Handscomb's dropping is being framed as a conditions based decision, but the 25-year-old will now find it difficult to return to the line-up this Ashes series because the Shield season is on break and the only cricket available to him is the Big Bash League.
When Usman Khawaja was axed after just one Test in Bangladesh this year he suggested that it was the kind of decision that could create instability in the dressing room, and selectors may be risking similar uneasiness by benching a player with a record as sturdy as Handscomb's after just three innings - two of them against the pink ball.
Mitchell Marsh insists his body is up to whatever bowling challenge the third Test throws up.
"As many (overs) as the skipper needs me," said Marsh.
"I started (bowling) probably nine weeks ago. It's obviously a slow process and there's a lot of sports science behind these days to get your workloads up to a point where you're ready to go in a game.
"I've been bowling for a while and the body feels good.
"Rhythm-wise I'm feeling really good at the moment. It often takes a little while once you get back into bowling, but I feel pretty good."
Handscomb has been forced to answer questions about his technique and confidence this Ashes series, but he has only had three innings at the crease, and two of them were in the pink ball Test.
A record of two hundreds and four 50s from 12 Test matches with an average of 47 suggests he is up to Test cricket.
However, Australia are wary of their last two years at the WACA, where getting 20 wickets has been an absolute grinding slog for bowlers.
Hazlewood expects this to be another dead WACA pitch.
"(It's been) pretty flat to be honest, especially the New Zealand game (two summers ago)," he said.
"Hopefully it has some pace to it, but over the last few years it hasn't been too good
"You always want an all-rounder but at the same time you want those runs at No. 6. It would be ideal to have a Jacque Kallis or someone like that but they are pretty special players."