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Australian Test squad selection best done with dart board and blindfold

A few seasons back Australia announced its first Test squad before a round of Sheffield Shield matches to allow time before for promotional engagements ahead of the opening match of the series.

This was the source of some hand-wringing from those who believed Shield runs and wickets would thus be ignored — although only by those clinging to the far-fetched notion superior domestic first class form guaranteed Test selection.

This season, on the other hand, the luxury of premature selection seems like a wild fantasy from a bygone era.

Certainly, the Australian team is taking shape. Unfortunately the shape is pear.

Indeed if the Australian coach Justin Langer could nominate a perfect time to announce the team for his first home series behind the laptop, currently it would be day three of the first Test in Adelaide.

Mitchell Starc celebrates Faf du Plessis' wicket

You see, it turns out us starry-eyed romantics who had looked forward to this Sheffield Shield season as a rare "bat-off" for Test spots had badly overestimated the calibre of the bats we expected to go off.

Instead, the failure of several Test aspirants to grasp the nettle during the first three Sheffield Shield games has merely created some certainty about who shouldn't be picked to take on India.

But before casting a slightly despondent eye across what we had optimistically hoped would be a Cox Plate field of contenders for the vacant spots and, so far, has turned out to be more of a Mudgee Maiden, let's look at the "known knowns" for the first Test with one-and-a-bit Sheffield Shield games to go.

So, what are the 'known knowns' about this test squad?

No need for Langer just to pencil in numbers eight to eleven. He can tattoo them on his forehead.

There is more chance the Victor Richardson Gate will be missing from Adelaide Oval on December 6 than quicks Mitchell Starc, Patrick Cummins and Josh Hazlewood and off-spinner Nathan Lyon.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Australia's Nathan Lyon pose in front of the scoreboard.

Starc, Cummins, Hazlewood and Lyon carry the burden of protecting Australia's unbeaten home record against India — threatened like never before by the might of Virat Kohli's imposing batting line-up and the absence of Australia's two best batsmen.

Captain Tim Paine will, quite obviously, keep wicket. Although not without having been second-guessed by some pundits impatient to see his likely successor, Alex Carey, elevated. So impatient they have ignored Paine's smooth and impressive transition to the captaincy under difficult circumstances.

And that is where the selection certainty ends — at least for those banking on form, fitness, long-term contribution and reputational reliability.

Usman Khawaja is the only batsman whose name screams "pick me", so we will assume reports of his rapid recovery from knee surgery are on the money and welcome him back with open arms.

Aaron Finch, the like-for-like Warner replacement, will open despite having spent the first part of the season losing touch while meeting the contractual obligation of early-season international limited overs affairs.

Usman Khawaja points his bat while holding his helmet in his other hand.

Shaun Marsh will bat four and Mitchell Marsh will occupy the all-rounders role at No.6 — although, hopefully, because he scored a recent double century, not because Australia is persisting with the idea of choosing an all-rounder even when there isn't one worthy of a place.

As always, the Marsh brothers' selection will bring an outcry from those conspiracy theorists who believe their selection is a desperate attempt to stop mineral-rich West Australia succeeding from the Commonwealth, conveniently forgetting S. Marsh's Test record in Australia stacks up against anything a potential middle-order usurper has produced and M. Marsh has decent Test form and that recent first class double hundred to justify his selection.

Those are the tried and tested, but who's filling the gaps?

That leaves two positions vacant. Finch's opening partner (assuming Khawaja bats at three) and No.5.

Langer recently suggested "gut instinct" would play a part in selection, which might mean he is eschewing the somewhat controversial "projection" of the previous high-performance regime.

Or it might just mean the selectors will be forced to take a stab in the dark because there are few compelling candidates.

Peter Handscomb walks off after being bowled in Johannesburg

On the weekend Matthew Renshaw lost his wicket to Nathan Lyon (21) and Josh Hazlewood (6) while playing for Queensland against NSW at Manuka Oval.

As if international attacks were not doing enough to expose Australia's brittle batting, now our own bowlers are getting in on the act.

Yet my rather substantial gut's instinct is that Renshaw should open with Finch because he retains the capacity to blunt the impressive Indian pace attack, vital with such a potentially fragile middle order.

Number five?

Peter Handscomb's technique still has more movements than a Beethoven Symphony but he retains that most elusive quality, a cricketer's DNA.

Marcus Labuschagne is fit, up for the fight and bowls a bit of spin. But is he bone fide, can't miss Test quality?

Do you throw the young Jason Sangha into the fray and hope a potentially wonderful career is not be sacrificed on the altar of selectorial desperation and unrealistic public expectation?

Jason Sangha is congratulated on a Shield wicket for NSW

Glenn Maxwell made 38 (23) in Saturday night's T10 against South Africa. If we're counting Shaun Marsh's ODI century as Test form, are we desperate enough to work this into the conversation?

Moises Henriques? Marcus Harris? Travis Head? Alex Doolan? Joe Burns? Monty Burns?

At this point, you wonder if the new high performance manager should upgrade the software on Langer's laptop or just give him a dart board and blindfold.

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