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Middle-order men struggle to stake claim

Pain and gain … Mitchell Starc pulled Australia out of a hole with an unbeaten 52. Earlier, David Warner, left, wandered off in disgust after a dud decision.

Pain and gain … Mitchell Starc pulled Australia out of a hole with an unbeaten 52. Earlier, David Warner, left, wandered off in disgust after a dud decision. Photo: Brendan Esposito

Life after Michael Hussey is not travelling swimmingly for Australia.

The ever-dependable left-hander was never going to be easy to replace but when selectors opted, controversially, to activate his international retirement immediately, and leave him out of this one-day series, they might have hoped his absence would not be felt so dearly.

A third successive below-par score - they were stopped well short of 100 at the Gabba last Friday, and only exceeded 200 on Sunday thanks to another brilliant rescue effort from Mitchell Starc - has not made the decision to deny the veteran a farewell limited-overs road tour appear a masterstroke.

The most concerning issue, though, is not a few average or abysmal totals in a ODI series that will be forgotten not much longer after its final ball is bowled. The dilemma is that Australia are off to India in 17 days' time and an obvious successor to Hussey in the middle order has not raised their hand. If this was not professional sport, selectors might have to consider placing an ad in the paper calling for applicants.

Let's consider the contenders: Usman Khawaja, George Bailey and David Hussey. Khawaja, shifted out of the one-day side after the first match against Sri Lanka in Melbourne, has, simply by not playing since, raced to the top of the queue. He was out cheaply on Sunday in the Brisbane grade cricket Twenty20 final but he will prefer to have made that exit in front of dozens rather than a television audience of a million or so.

Bailey and Hussey began the series superbly at the MCG but since starring in game one have scored only 80 runs between them in three innings each. Hardly the statement either wanted to make as they push for that wide-open Test No.6 position.

On Sunday at the SCG, Hussey edged a fast and formidable Lasith Malinga to Lahiru Thirimanne at first slip for one. After an unremarkable start to the Sheffield Shield season - he made only 120 runs at an average of 17.4 in five matches before the break for the Big Bash League - the kindest thing that can be said about the 35-year-old's Test chances is that he can bowl decent off breaks, an attribute which may just be very useful for Australia over four Tests from Chennai to Delhi.

Bailey, meanwhile, scooped a rather innocuous Rangana Herath ball straight down the throat of Kushal Perera at mid-on on 22, having earlier survived an outswinging onslaught from Malinga. The Tasmanian, the national T20 captain, is a favourite of selectors and is likely to gain a start on the Indian tour, at the least as the reserve batsman, but aside from his 89 in Melbourne in the first ODI he does not have an overly impressive CV for the summer either. In four-day cricket, he has made 169 runs at 28.16.

Khawaja, almost by process of elimination, is the most qualified of the candidates on present form but due to his shifting out of the one-day team after only one game, has had to resort to playing club cricket in Queensland instead. His 438 Shield runs at 39.81 are not out of this world but stack up well against his rivals. He also was not in bad touch in a very ordinary team, Sydney Thunder, in the BBL, rolling out 206 runs at 41.

Another fringe contender is Tasmania's Alex Doolan, but his unbeaten 161 against the South Africans in Sydney seems, thanks to the lobbing of the BBL into the heart of the summer at the expense of the Shield, a fair way off in the rearview mirror. Then there is the all-rounder Glenn Maxwell, but he has not staked his claim as a batsman, or for that matter as a bowler, in this series.

As improbable as it sounds Australia could do worse, as it stands, to send Brad Haddin away as a second wicketkeeper and pick both him and Matthew Wade. He is the only batsman to score more than one century in the Shield this season. Whatever the case they need the next Michael Hussey, if there is one, to stand up.

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