Plot thickens around Ashes openers role
JOE Burns has never been the golden child of Australian batting which means every little sprinkle of sugar and spice on his first class record never goes astray.
On Monday he added the sweeteners to what now seems an irresistible case for Ashes selection when he moved to 64 not out at stumps against Victoria in the Sheffield Shield match in Melbourne with Queensland (1-135) leading by 232 with one day to play.
It followed his first innings 60 which backed up a robust 180 against Sri Lanka in the second Test in Canberra earlier this month.
Burns earned his Test recall the hard way and even after his Canberra century some pundits were unwilling to declare him a certain selection for the Ashes.
But as momentum builds he looks to be on the plane to Heathrow.
The plot is thickening around him with the return of David Warner and Steve Smith meaning the squeeze is on for batting spots.
With Marcus Harris (95) and Cameron Bancroft (138 not out) making runs in the current round of Shield matches Australia has several viable opening options.
Matt Renshaw made 47 on Monday but needs to sprout wings after a modest summer in the closing Shield round to stay in the discussion.
With three Sheffield Shield rounds remaining and Australia to delay naming its Ashes squad until during the Australia A tour of England there is still time for a late swooper to make the Ashes.
Among those in contention are cagey NSW paceman Trent Copeland, the type of old-fashioned seamer Australia often refuses to take to England because of their limited pace but whose nagging line and length continue to torment Sheffield Shield batsmen.
Copeland missed a Shield game to concentrate on his new career as an analyst with Channel 7's cricket coverage but he has returned in good form with a four-wicket haul against Western Australia on the weekend.
Queensland all-rounder Michael Neser, who has averaged better than 60 in the Shield this season and scored 75 not out against Victoria, could also catch the selectors eye if he can reproduce last year's mastery of the Dukes ball which are being used in the closing Shield rounds.
Bancroft is the player who could benefit most from the late announcement of the Ashes squad.
If it were chosen today he would seem unlikely to be chosen but a few more centuries could make the choice between he and Harris a borderline call.