Australia axe vice-captain Marsh as Khawaja returns against India

India cricket captain Virat Kohli (C) attends a press conference ahead of the first Test at the Adelaide Oval in Adelaide on Wednesday. — AFP

ADELAIDE, Australia — Australia sprang a surprise by axing vice-captain Mitch Marsh on Wednesday for the first Test against India, as Usman Khawaja's return was confirmed despite the shock of his brother's arrest.

Batsmen Travis Head and Peter Handscomb were preferred to the all-rounder, piling more pressure on the bowlers in what are forecast to be scorching conditions, while Marcus Harris will make his debut as opener.

Captain Tim Paine said the omission of Marsh, one of Australia's two vice-skippers along with Josh Hazlewood, was due to a lack of consistency and he would benefit from returning to Sheffield Shield cricket to find form again.

Handscomb edged him out after two half-centuries last week and a century for Victoria the week before that. "Mitch Marsh has not been as consistent as he would like and we would like," said Paine at his pre-match press conference, after the all-rounder endured lean tours of South Africa and the United Arab Emirates, where they played Pakistan.

In-form debutant Harris will open in a new-look top order alongside Aaron Finch. Paine described Harris as "an aggressive little player" who deserved his chance. Khawaja, whose brother was arrested on Tuesday for allegedly framing a love-rival with a fake terror plot, will come in at first drop.

The Pakistan-born Australian, who is returning after ankle surgery, was not seen in the nets on Wednesday after his family crisis, although he is known to only take on a light workload the day before a Test. Shaun Marsh will bat at four with Handscomb at five and Head at six.

The dumping of Mitch Marsh will add an extra burden for Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and spinner Nathan Lyon, who will have to take on more overs in temperatures forecast to top 30 Celsius.

"We obviously have a lot of confidence in Nathan Lyon bowling a lot of overs if we need to," said Paine, adding that Head could also bowl some off-spin on a pitch that is expected to deteriorate as the match wears on.

Coach Justin Langer said he was wary of an Indian side led by the incomparable Virat Kohli, that is aiming to win their first Test series ever in Australia. "They haven't had great success in Australia in the past, as Australia haven't had in India. They'll also be under great pressure, I think."

Kohli on Wednesday played down suggestions Australia are vulnerable after the ball-tampering scandal. Australia begin the opening Test in a scorching Adelaide on Thursday on a run of poor form and without batting powerhouses Steve Smith and David Warner, who remain banned.

Without them, India could have a golden opportunity to break their series drought. But dangerman Kohli — who electrified viewers with viral footage of a pre-Test batting exhibition in the nets — said he was taking nothing for granted.

"I personally don't think any Australian side is vulnerable at home," he said at his pre-match press conference, where a 12-man squad was named that included a recall for veteran opener Murali Vijay.

"You cannot take any side for granted. Whatever happened, the skill level is still there. However much you talk or behave, it's your skill that counts. They still have the skill to dominate at home. We're not taking anything for granted."

Much will depend on how Kohli, who has accumulated 1,063 runs in 18 Test innings this year, performs on a ground he admits is his favorite away from home. "I love coming to this ground, the city in general," he said.

If his aggressive net session on Tuesday is anything to go by, Australia's bowlers will have their work cut out. "Wow," was all former Australian wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist could muster after watching him in action, while ex-England skipper Michael Vaughan tweeted: "I get the sense he is in the mood!"

India opted to hold back the naming of their final XI until the morning of the Test as they mull whether to play all-rounder Hanuma Vihari or hard-hitting batter Rohit Sharma Ishant Sharma, Mohammad Shami and Jasprit Bumrah will lead their pace attack — ranked among the country's strongest ever — along with off-spinner Ravi Ashwin. Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Umesh Yadav missed out.

Squad - Murali Vijay, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (capt), Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant, Ravi Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah

Australia: Marcus Harris, Aaron Finch, Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Travis Head, Peter Handscomb, Tim Paine (capt), Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Starc.