Hot Warner leaves duo scrambling for role
David Warner's explosion of runs in the Indian Premier League is set to send Usman Khawaja and Shaun Marsh into a dogfight for the final place in Australia's World Cup line-up.
Warner's timely reminder to coach Justin Langer that he is the best opener in the world has seen calls grow for Australia to revert to the Warner-Aaron Finch pairing that delivered the 2015 World Cup.
That would mean breaking up the Finch-Khawaja partnership that has averaged 91.8 runs in Australia's current eight-match winning run.
Warner leads the IPL with 517 runs, averaging 73.9 at a strike-rate of 148.6.
On Sunday, Warner crunched 67 (38), his fourth-straight half-century. He is yet to be dismissed by spin, which has been Australia's Achilles heel over the past two years.
Parachuting Warner in as opener would force Australia to decide whether to bat natural opener Khawaja and prolific No.3 Steve Smith out of position or drop Khawaja, who is the world's leading ODI run-scorer in 2019.
Khawaja averages more than 50 as an opener but just 24 at No.3. Smith averages 52.6 at No.3 and 35.6 at No.4.
Smith was dropped from the IPL last week but returned as Rajasthan Royals captain last Saturday and was named man-of-the-match after an unbeaten 59 (48) at No.3.
While Smith's sore elbow is still limiting his stroke play and forcing him to throw underarm in the field, those symptoms are easing.
Khawaja's poorer strike-rate and average against spin bowling is another red flag against using him at No.3. If the left-hander entered at around the 20 over-mark he could get bogged down by multiple spinners in the middle overs.
Marsh's versatility - he averages 45.1 at No.3 and 48.3 at No.4 - and penchant for converting starts into centuries sits in his favour.
Ultimately, Australia looks set for a choice between a Warner-Finch-Smith-Marsh or a Warner-Finch-Khawaja-Smith top order.
Smith and Marsh could flip roles in the first combination.
The top order will be followed by all-rounders Glenn Maxwell and Marcus Stoinis, keeper Alex Carey and a potent tail headed by Pat Cummins.
Australia has five practice games to find the best formula.
They will play three against an under-strength New Zealand in Brisbane next month before jetting to England for warm-up games against England and Sri Lanka in Southampton.
Jhye Richardson's dislocated right shoulder is tracking well and he is expected to be fit for the first game against Afghanistan on June 1.
Richardson dodged surgery and is undergoing frequent physiotherapy to strengthen his shoulder after going down in March.
Experts on Monday pointed out that Shane Warne returned from a similar injury in five weeks in 2003, although then missed the World Cup due to a drug suspension.