Test squad: Shock candidates emerge if Bancroft fails
SHAUN Marsh and Usman Khawaja could be shock candidates to open the batting in South Africa if Cameron Bancroft fails to fire against the world's No.1 ranked pace attack.
Australia will announce their Test squad in Sydney on Monday morning and unless Joe Burns can prove his fitness in the face of serious injury, or Matt Renshaw gets a recall, there may be no shadow in the party of 14 or 15 for the opener who struggled on debut in the Ashes.
Bancroft is virtually a certain selection after being strongly endorsed by coach Darren Lehmann and captain Steve Smith, and he will rightfully be given every chance to prove himself against South Africa, starting with the first Test in Durban on March 1.
However, this shapes as a heavy duty four-Test series and there will be no guarantees for him to see out the entire campaign if he and Australia are tested against a powerful pace attack led by Dale Steyn.
There looks to be only one batting position up for grabs in the squad for South Africa, with Marcus Stoinis, Glenn Maxwell and Renshaw fighting it out - that presuming No.1 candidate Burns is scratched due to injury.
Stoinis would have likely been picked for the first Ashes Test at the Gabba if not for family circumstances, while Maxwell was called in as a shadow batsman for Brisbane and is the leading Sheffield Shield run-scorer.
Peter Handscomb is set to be picked as the first-choice reserve batsman despite his mid-Ashes dumping, meaning Australia could be well served for middle-order men but potentially short on depth at the top.
As capable as Shaun Marsh is as an opening batsman, selectors will be hugely reluctant to utilise his versatility given the 34-year-old finally nailed down a middle-order position in a career-defining Ashes summer.
Similarly with Khawaja, it would be a huge gamble to move him up from No.3 to open with David Warner and potentially expose Steve Smith.
Australia's clear preference is to have Burns on the plane given he has made three Test centuries as an opener and has had a standout Sheffield Shield season, but there are grave fears that testing this week could show the Queenslander's torn adductor injury is season-ending.
Some experts believe Australia should simply go back to the man they punted at the start of the summer to make room for Bancroft - 21-year-old, Renshaw.
Australia have made it clear that they believe Renshaw is a career Test cricketer, and selecting him as back-up for Bancroft would reflect their faith in his ability.
But the problem for the selection panel is that Renshaw has only made one first-class score (a half century) since being axed before the Ashes.
After telling Maxwell that he hadn't scored enough runs to justify selection for the one-day team, it would be rich to call up Renshaw with no form base behind him.
The Twenty20 squad to take on England and New Zealand in a tri-series will also be named on Monday, with indigenous Hobart Hurricanes ace D'Arcy Short to be named to make his Australian international debut.
Steve Smith is expected to be rested for the Twenty20s meaning David Warner or Aaron Finch will captain the T20 side.
POSSIBLE AUSTRALIAN TEST SQUAD: Steve Smith (capt), David Warner, Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Mitchell Marsh, Peter Handscomb, Tim Paine, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon, Jackson Bird, Jhye Richardson, Marcus Stoinis/Glenn Maxwell/Matt Renshaw