Matt Renshaw could earn a dramatic Test recall.
Matt Renshaw could earn a dramatic Test recall.

Unrecognisable: How Smithless Aussies could line up

AUSTRALIA could field an unrecognisable XI for the fourth and final Test against South Africa if Cricket Australia comes down hard on all involved in the embarrassing ball-tampering scandal.

From top to bottom, Australia's team could undergo serious surgery ahead of Friday's match at the Wanderers.

Some members of that team might still be in Australia, with CA reportedly discussing who can be part of the mad dash to South Africa.

But the bottom line is even small changes could result in a major reshuffle in the batting line-up.

Steve Smith’s team is fractured.
Steve Smith’s team is fractured.

What we already know is that Steve Smith will not be a factor in the fourth Test, after he was handed a one-Test ban by the ICC on Sunday night.

But he will almost certainly be joined on the sidelines by several teammates after Cricket Australia completes an investigation into the tampering affair - and it is not inconceivable that Australia could be looking for six replacements.

That would be the result if everyone who has already been fingered - as well as those from the leadership group, which Smith outed as being culpable in concocting the brazen plan - all find themselves in the firing line.

The make up of the leadership group remains a closely guarded secret, however it is believed to include Smith, his deputy David Warner and bowlers Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon and Mitchell Starc.

However it has been reported that both Hazlewood and Starc have privately denied playing any role in the ball-tampering discussions.

Former Test spinner Gavin Robertson said he'd heard it was just two people, likely Smith and Warner, who came up with the plan - while Cameron Bancroft overheard and joined.

Shaun Marsh could be shuffled up the order.
Shaun Marsh could be shuffled up the order.

Warner has endured a nightmare series on and off the field following a string of ugly encounters, including a slanging match with South Africa's Quinton de Kock outside the team dressing rooms during the first Test and the shameful sledging of his family during the second Test in Port Elizabeth.

 

The combustible opener a single demerit point away from an ICC ban as it is, but - after being stripped of the vice-captaincy midway through the third Test in the wake of the scandal - it seems inevitable that he too will be asked to step aside for the final match of the series.

There are enormous question marks over the immediate future of Cameron Bancroft, the young opener who carried out the illegal tampering, but he evaded an ICC ban - and was instead fined 100 per cent of his match fee.

Given his actions, it is nigh on impossible to imagine Bancroft escaping sanction from CA.

With potentially three top-order batsmen needing to be replacing, the scenario is an absolute disaster for Australia.

There is only one reserve batsman picked in the Australian squad - Peter Handscomb, who incredibly appeared to play a key role in the tampering drama when it looked like he relayed a message to Bancroft to dispose of the offending makeshift sandpaper.

Peter Handscombe at work in the nets. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)
Peter Handscombe at work in the nets. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

However, Handscomb stands to be the first man called on should changes be made to the Australian batting line-up.

However, Australia will be scrambling to find two spare batsman to get to South Africa in time for Friday's fourth Test - with reports suggesting in-form Queensland duo Matthew Renshaw and Joe Burns and Tasmanian captain George Bailey could be pulled out of the Sheffield Shield final to jet off.

The 28-year-old Burns, who played hasn't played Test cricket since winning his 13th cap in the Hobart trainwreck against South Africa, was favoured to win a spot on the South African after a strong start to the Shield season - before disaster struck and the versatile batsman suffered a groin injury at an inopportune time.

Renshaw has been in dynamic form, smashing three consecutive centuries against Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia as Queensland surged into the Shield final.

Queensland player Joe Burns could be called up for the fourth Test.
Queensland player Joe Burns could be called up for the fourth Test.

Former Test batsman and Twenty20 captain Bailey is another who has reportedly been considered for a call-up - but the Tasmania star, too, is taking part in the Shield final.

However, replacing two openers with one will force a considerable reshuffle to the batting order.

Middle-order batsman Shaun Marsh has opened previously, and would be an obvious choice to partner Renshaw should both Bancroft and Warner be banned.

Usman Khawaja is out of form, but would certainly hold his spot at first drop in the current climate.

Burns could, feasibly, slot into Smith's spot at No.4 - leaving Handscomb to bat at No.5, and Mitchell Marsh holding his spot at No.6

The prevailing feeling is that Australia's bowling group will be untouched, with Hazlewood and Starc reportedly unaware of the plan hatched to conjure more reverse swing.

However there is adequate cover already on tour should that situation change.

Victorian spinner Jon Holland travelled to South Africa as cover for Lyon, but wasn't expected to play unless the offspinner suffered an injury - and would be well placed to step in should Lyon face any sanctions.

Likewise, South Australian seamer Chadd Sayers and young Western Australian quick Jhye Richardson would be in line for Test debuts should anything happen to Starc, Hazlewood or fellow paceman Pat Cummins.



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