Aus vs WI: Shaun Marsh left out for Khawaja

Middle-order batsman Shaun Marsh, who scored a career-best 180 in the previous Test against West Indies in Hobart, was left out of Australia's Boxing Day Test team for fit-again Usman Khawaja.

Usman Khawaja hit back-to-back centuries in two Tests against New Zealand before injuring himself.   -  Reuters

Selectors dropped Shaun Marsh from the Australian side on Friday to make way for the return of batsman Usman Khawaja ahead of the Boxing Day Test against West Indies in Melbourne. There was no room for Marsh, who hit his highest Test score of 182 in Australia's thumping innings and 212 run defeat of the Windies in the first Hobart Test.

Pakistan-born Khawaja returns to the Australia side, reclaiming his No.3 spot after he was sidelined for the last two Tests with hamstring trouble. Khawaja scored 174 and 121 in the first two Tests against New Zealand last month and proved his fitness with an explosive 109 off 70 balls for Sydney Thunder against Melbourne Stars in the Big Bash League last weekend.

It will otherwise be an unchanged side for Saturday's Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, where Australia are favoured to retain the Frank Worrell trophy against the struggling tourists. Khawaja's recovery from injury created a selection showdown between Marsh and opener Joe Burns.

The selectors opted for Burns, valuing continuity at the top of the order over Marsh's fantastic form in the first Test. "That was a big part of it," skipper Steve Smith said, while confirming he will drop down to No. 4 in the batting order to make way for Khawaja. "Joe's been playing quite good cricket, he scored a hundred only a couple of Tests ago. They (Burns and David Warner) average 80 as a pair and it's pretty important to have a good opening stand. They've been doing a very good job so the selectors thought that was the right way to go."

Burns and Warner already have three partnerships of at least 100 runs and selectors are also looking ahead to the two-Test tour of New Zealand in February. "We were always talking about what's coming up as well," Smith said. "There were lots of conversations around it. Shaun's extremely unlucky to miss out after scoring a brilliant 180 in the last Test match and 49 under a bit of pressure in the Test before that (against New Zealand in Adelaide)."

Smith 'good to go'

Smith, who has been troubled by knee and hip soreness, had an extended hit in the nets on Christmas Day and struggled for fluency. "The wickets were a little bit tired and it was hard to get a lot of timing so I was getting a little bit frustrated out there," Smith said. "I might have a hit indoors in the morning to get a bit of confidence up before play."

Smith said he is fully fit, with the extended break after the abbreviated three-day first Test allowing him to rest his niggles. "My knee is probably feeling as good as it's felt all summer, so that's all good and the hip has settled down," the 26-year-old said. "I'm good to go."

Uncapped paceman Scott Boland, called into the squad following Nathan Coulter-Nile's shoulder injury, will be released to play in the Twenty20 Big Bash League. Smith, recently crowned ICC cricketer of the year, nominated fielding as one area his side needed to improve on after walloping the West Indies in Hobart.

"We can always improve in certain areas," Smith said. "Our fielding has been quite disappointing this summer, so that's something that we've been working very hard at. "We're just looking to get better every day and make sure that we get ourselves where we want to be — and that's No.1 in all three formats."

Australia (likely) - David Warner, Joe Burns, Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith (capt), Adam Voges, Mitch Marsh, Peter Nevill, Peter Siddle, Josh Hazlewood, James Pattinson, Nathan Lyon.