Australia's looming tour of India could sway selectors to consider Glenn Maxwell as Shane Watson's replacement for next week's series-ending Test in Sydney.
Watson aggravated the left-calf injury that kept him out of the first two Tests of the summer bowling on day one of the Boxing Day Test. While he subsequently batted, making 83, and was in the field for Sri Lanka's second innings Australia's likely insurmountable series lead is almost certain to prompt his exclusion for the SCG Test starting on January 3.
When Watson was unavailable for the start of the South Africa series he was replaced by a specialist batsman, Rob Quiney. If they followed the same policy this time around Usman Khawaja would be almost certain to be included, as he would have played in the Boxing Day Test had captain Michael Clarke not overcome a hamstring injury.
At the time of Quiney's selection, however, the South Africa series had not begun and the world No.1 Test team ranking hinged on its outcome.
Chief selector John Inverarity is an unabashed fan of having at least one all-rounder in the Test team. With Sydney set to be a dead rubber he and fellow selectors may seek to replace one all-rounder with another, especially in case Watson's injury problems extend to next year's crucial tour to India and England.
If Australia sought a pace-bowling replacement for Watson, the leading contender would seemingly be NSW's Moises Henriques, who has this season who has begun to live up to his lofty expectations by averaging 64 with the bat and 20.15 with the ball.
Nevertheless, a probable frontrunner if selectors insist on a replacement all-rounder would be Maxwell.
The 24-year-old Victorian boasts a batting average of 42 and bowling average of 33.38, after almost two full years of first-class experience.
Selectors' faith in Maxwell both as a batsman and even as an off-spin bowler was his selection in both of Australia's second-tier teams this season. In both for Australia A against South Africa and the Cricket Australia's Chairman's XI against Sri Lanka he flourished with the bat and was capable with the ball.
He made 64 against South Africa and 91 against Sri Lanka, the latter from just 77 deliveries. While his batting clearly shades his bowling, Inverarity is known to be bullish about his potential as an off-spinner, evident in his selection as the primary spinner in both matches.
Two key factors could weigh in his favour to earn a Test debut next week: his good record at the SCG and Australia's looming tour to India, where it is certain to play more than one spinner based on England's successful recent strategy of employing Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar against the home team.
In three innings at the SCG Maxwell has 195 runs at an average of 65, although his bowling record there of five wickets at 45 is underwhelming.
Maxwell made his national-team debut earlier this year, on Australia's limited-overs series against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates, and was also part of its World Twenty20 squad. Selectors' faith in him as a long-form player too was reinforced by their decision to invite him to train with the Test team on Christmas Day, before the Boxing Day Test.
When Maxwell was withdrawn from his Big Bash League team Melbourne Stars' first match this season, instead play for the Chairman's XI in Canberra, the Stars' coach Greg Shipperd said he supported the decision if it pushed him closer to Test selection.
While an SCG call-up for Maxwell would be a huge blow for the Stars' BBL title hopes Shipperd declared the all-rounder was "ready" for Tests and said he would support such a decision, despite the implications for the Stars.
"The Australian selectors have been on the money with all their instinct calls with players this season and he would be another good call," Shipperd said on Friday.
"He's had two Australia A hit-outs and I'm sure it's very satisfying from their point of view that his numbers are on the board.
"It'd be very smart and intuitive long-term thinking, but also for the now."
Shipperd reckoned Maxwell's renowned aggression with the bat should not hinder his Test selection prospects.
"Given the current circumstances of Test cricket I'm sure he can play an aggressive, counter-punching, icing-on-the-cake innings. What he's trying to develop, and we're trying to develop with him, is to be able to shift through the different gears. We saw that with Watson the other day, that he decided to camp at the wicket and minimise risk and play through an innings. 'Maxi' can do that sort of thing too," he said.
"He's a confident young boy with great faith in his ability, as has every right to be. He just needs to become extremely ruthless in taking every opportunity that comes his way."
The coach also expressed confidence that Maxwell's spin bowling was "stand up at one-day, T20 or the longer version of the game".
If Maxwell was chosen for the match selectors would be unlikely to bat him above number six, and could also consider promotion wicketkeeper Matthew Wade to six to reduce pressure on the right-hander.