Perth - Skipper Steve Smith says he is leaning towards
playing all-rounder Mitchell Marsh as Australia's fifth bowler in Thursday's
potentially Ashes-deciding third Test against England in Perth.
Smith declined to finalise an Australian XI at his Test-eve
media conference Wednesday as selectors mull over the merits of struggling
batsman Peter Handscomb and local star Marsh.
Handscomb's place is under threat after a total of 62 runs
in three innings in the series after a difficult Adelaide second Test in which
his batting technique came under the microscope.
If recalled, it would be the first appearance for Marsh
since a shoulder injury mid-way through Australia's Test series in India
earlier this year.
His chances have improved through his ability to provide a
fifth bowling option to support Australia's pace attack on what is expected to
be a flat WACA wicket.
"If we do go down that route it's purely for the
reasons we think we need an extra bowler on this wicket -- nothing to do with
anyone's batting," Smith said.
"The stats suggest over the past couple of years that
bowlers have had a pretty heavy workload out on this wicket. We're probably
leaning down that way at the moment.
"It will depend on what we think the wicket's like
tomorrow and if it is going to be hard and fast and bouncy, that might change
England, rattled by off-field booze-related incidents, face
the prospect of losing the series in Perth where they have not beaten Australia
since 1978. They were heavily defeated in the opening two Tests in Brisbane and
Smith admitted that changing a winning team while leading
2-0 in the five-Test series would be a tough call on Handscomb, who averages
47.35 in his 12 Test appearances.
Despite criticism of Marsh's consistency at Test level where
he averages just 21.74 in 21 Tests, Smith said he has seen signs in his recent
batting to suggest he's a changed player.
"He's tightened up his defence quite a lot," Smith
"I know speaking to him when he was back in the team a
little while ago, we spoke about softening your hands up in defence and those
good length balls - not going so hard at them.
"I've seen that watching him the last couple of days in
the nets and watching some of the Sheffield Shield games, that in defence he
has actually softened his hands up.
"He's still putting away the bad ball. He hits the ball
as hard as anyone I've ever seen. He's a strong lad."
Smith said the groundsman had been working to get more pace
into the WACA wicket ahead of the Test.
"I think he's got more grass on it than he previously
has to try and get that pace on the wicket," he said.