The Australian batsmen who could benefit from Newlands saga
Australia's selection plans for next week's fourth and final Test against South Africa have been thrown into chaos as a result of the ball-tampering scandal that overshadowed proceedings in Cape Town.
A shocking Saturday at Newlands saw Australia opener Cameron Bancroft admit to ball tampering, with skipper Steve Smith confessing the team's leadership group had been responsible for devising a plan to manipulate the ball.
Smith and his vice-captain, David Warner, were subsequently stood down from their roles for the remainder of the Test, with Tim Paine appointed acting skipper. And Smith will now miss the series finale after he was handed a one-match ban by the ICC.
While Bancroft is free to play after receiving only a fine and three demerit points, it remains to be seen whether he or Warner will feature in Johannesburg as Cricket Australia continues its own investigations into the matter.
Steve Smith and David Warner have taken the field this morning, but it's Tim Paine in charge for the Aussies.
— cricket.com.au (@CricketAus) March 25, 2018
With the potential for three slots to open up in Australia's top four, we take a look at possible candidates for a call-up as the tourists seek a 2-2 series draw having collapsed to a 322-run thrashing at Newlands.
As the only reserve batsman in Australia's squad, Handscomb appears the most obvious replacement for Smith in the middle order.
After making an excellent start to his career with two hundreds and a pair of fifties in his first four Tests, Handscomb was dropped last December after underwhelming performances in the first two Ashes meetings against England.
A player with an idiosyncratic technique, which regularly sees him play full deliveries off the back foot from deep in his crease, he made his debut in the last match of a series against South Africa in November 2016, as Australia made wholesale changes in Adelaide following a heavy defeat in Hobart.
Another of the Adelaide debutants in November 2016, the international career of opener Renshaw has followed a similar path to that of Handscomb.
Renshaw also enjoyed productive initial returns, highlighted by a fabulous 184 against Pakistan in Sydney last January, but lost his place to Bancroft for the Ashes after a run of low scores in Tests was followed by a dismal start to the Sheffield Shield season.
However, he has regained form in spectacular fashion in recent weeks, compiling centuries in three successive Shield matches across February and March to strengthen his claims for a recall.
And century to Renshaw, a dab through slips off Agar; his third #SheffieldShield ton; this season; off 153 balls with 12 fours. Congrats Renners! @myFootDrAu #QldBulls now 2-168, lead of 220
— Queensland Cricket (@qldcricket) March 9, 2018
A Queensland team-mate of Renshaw, Burns partnered Warner at the top of the order in 13 Tests between December 2014 and November 2016, averaging a solid if unspectacular 37.95.
One of the leading performers in the Shield this season, he also has considerably more experience than the 21-year-old Renshaw - a factor that could well count in Burns' favour.
In a scenario that sees Australia leave out Warner and Bancroft in addition to Smith, veteran Tasmania skipper Bailey could well be seen as a useful short-term option.
A respected leader, Bailey could conceivably be called upon to captain the Test team, having previously led Australia in limited-overs cricket. Now 35, he last played a Test in January 2014.
Callum Ferguson's only Test to date was a miserable one; he made three and one in the innings loss to South Africa in Hobart that led to Renshaw, Handscomb and Nic Maddinson being drafted in for debuts.
The 33-year-old has scored heavily in domestic cricket this season, though, and could now get a second chance.
Glenn Maxwell averages 50 in first-class cricket since losing his Test place prior to the Ashes, while the likes of Travis Head, Kurtis Patterson and Daniel Hughes have also enjoyed decent seasons and wicketkeeper-batsman Matthew Wade made a first-innings hundred for Tasmania in the ongoing Shield final.
Bang your hands together everybody!!! Matthew Wade reaches !!! A beautiful thing. TAS 7/373.
— Cricket Tasmania (@crickettas) March 24, 2018