Paine targets long-term improvement

Fourth Test will start from Thursday, January 3 in Sydney

Paine targets long-term improvement PHOTO: AFP

Australia captain Tim Paine insisted Wednesday that his priority was to develop his inexperienced cricket team for the future even as they face the prospect of losing a home series against India for the first time.

But he pledged that Australia would still pick the "best XI that we think is the best combination to win this Test" once they had seen the Sydney pitch.

Australia, who have never lost a home series against India, go into Thursday's fourth Test 2-1 down and in danger of Virat Kohli's men completing a historic landmark Down Under.

While Australia must win to level the series, Paine said that his aim was on improvement, particularly in the batting department, with home Tests to come against Sri Lanka ahead of an Ashes tour to England this year.

"It doesn't for me personally," he said on whether preventing an India series win was his key motivation. "Other guys may use it but my focus has been on us improving and on us playing the best possible cricket that we can and when we haven't, making sure we learn from it."

The hosts' top order has largely failed to fire and the odds are mounting that the underperforming Aaron Finch will either be pushed down or axed, with number three Usman Khawaja moving up to open alongside Marcus Harris.

"If that's the way we go, Usman will go out and give his all as he always does. I think the way he's handled the last month or so has been exemplary, it's a real credit to him," said Paine.

The captain said he wanted a final look at the wicket before selecting the team, adding that conditions at the Sydney Cricket Ground would determine which members of the 14-man squad were left on the sidelines.

"It's just team balance really," he said. "There's ongoing discussion the last day or two but we'll have a final look at the wicket and we'll have our last chat then. We're not too far away. As I said all along, we'll be looking to pick the best XI that we think is the best combination to win this Test and the wicket will play a part in that."

The Sydney wicket has a healthy green tinge which will suit both team's opening bowlers, before it could deteriorate to give something to the spinners.

Australia have parachuted leg-spinning batsman Marnus Labuschagne into the squad for Sydney and he could start if selectors feel there is enough in the track to warrant playing him alongside Nathan Lyon.

And if India opt for two spinners, it could open the door for a return of Peter Handscomb, who was left out of the Melbourne Test but is renowned as a top player of spin.

That would likely put all-rounder Mitch Marsh's spot at risk.

Paine said it was crucial that the batsmen play their part in Sydney, with none of them getting more than 50 in Melbourne with the exception of tailender Pat Cummins.

"This Test is going to be a real focus for our batting group. We know we're not going to win Test matches without scoring hundreds," he said. "That's something we've spoken about and something we are really keen to improve and address."

Australia were skittled for 151 and then 261 in Melbourne.