Australia’s selectors are set to make the biggest decision of their tenure with the choice of David Warner’s replacement to set the tone for an era of generational change.
Selectors are expected to announce their squad for the Test series against West Indies on Tuesday, with all eyes on who will take over from Warner as opener.
Warner’s exit marks the biggest change to the Test team since George Bailey’s appointment as chief selector.
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With Bailey at the helm and Tony Dodemaide and a coach alongside him, Australia have recalled Travis Head, Usman Khawaja and Mitch Marsh in recent years.
All of those calls have proven significant successes, but a decision on who replaces Warner at the top of the order will supersede the importance of all those selections.
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As many as eight players have been mooted as options to open alongside Khawaja in Adelaide on January 17, with that list now shortened to five.
Selectors are considering how badly they want Cameron Green back in the side, and if it is worth testing him as an opener or moving Steve Smith to the top to accommodate the allrounder’s return.
Otherwise, a call will be made between regular back-up batsman Marcus Harris, the in-form Cameron Bancroft or the more proven Matt Renshaw to play as a specialist opener.
Cameron Bancroft has the runs on the board in Sheffield Shield to support his case as Test opener. Credit: AAP
Lingering in selectors’ minds is if anyone has the gears to bat at a faster tempo, even if replacing Warner with a like-for-like attacking mindset is not possible.
“There’s not another David Warner out there,” coach Andrew McDonald said this week.
“The ability to put pressure back onto the bowler all the time, it was a joy to watch in his final innings.
“That’ll be considered in terms of what we look for in an opener, but it’s more so what we look for in the top-seven batters.
“You can have complementing skill sets within that and how they operate and function.”
If Australia do not go with a specialist opener, it is likely the chance will come for Harris, Bancroft or Renshaw when 37-year-old Khawaja retires.
David Warner (r) has backed Marcus Harris (l) to replace him at the top of the order. Credit: AAP
With Marnus Labuschagne the only player aged under 30 in Australia’s side that clean-swept Pakistan, it is conceivable as few as three players from that group will be available to tour India and England in 2027.
It means selectors have several crucial calls to get right in the coming few years.
When the last golden generation bowed out in the mid-2000s, Australia cycled through 33 debutants between 2007 and 2012.
Steve Smith, Nathan Lyon and David Warner emerged as generational players from that group, but 14 other played less than 10 Tests.
Cricket Australia had long wanted to avoid a similar turnover, but the success of the current team has meant moving players along has become difficult.
“Realistically there is going to be some rate of change over the next couple of years,” captain Pat Cummins said last week.
“We probably thought it was going to happen a little bit sooner but everyone is hanging on.
“There’s been some great opportunities for the young guys in Aussie A, even some ODI tours where a couple of the first-XI guys have rested.
“I’m sure we’ll be ready for it.”
The cases for and against Australia’s opener candidates
FOR: Has been the leading run-scorer in the Sheffield Shield for the past 18 months, averaging 56.88 this season. His game appears to have developed significantly since his last chance, during a difficult 2019 Ashes for openers.
AGAINST: He is the only player in the top-15 run-scorers in the Shield this season to go at a strike-rate of less than 40. Australia would ideally likely someone who pressures the bowlers with the more patient Usman Khawaja at the other end.
FOR: Has been part of Australia’s set up for some time, taken as the reserve batter on all tours outside of Asia in recent years. Has found some form in the past two months, scoring a century against Pakistan for a Victorian XI.
AGAINST: Has had the most chances at the top of the order of all options, and has never really sealed a spot. His 26 innings without a century and an average of 25.29 don’t exactly demand a recall.
FOR: There was always a belief when Renshaw was dropped as opener in 2017 that Australia would see more of him. Has a Test century to his name and scores at a quicker rate now than when he was last in the team.
AGAINST: Hasn’t scored the runs of Cameron Bancroft in the past 18 months, or spent as much time around the squad as Marcus Harris. It’s hard to see him leapfrogging both if Australia pick a specialist opener.
FOR: Australia are very keen to get Green back in the team as a generational talent and genuine allrounder. There is also a belief he has the gears in his game to score at a quick enough rate to put pressure back on the bowlers.
AGAINST: Has never opened in Test or domestic cricket in a red-ball game. There’s also a thought that a season back in the Sheffield Shield has rarely hurt anyone, and could do Green the world of good after being dropped following a tough Ashes.
Cameron Green is looming as one of the likely choices to replace David Warner as Test opener for Australia. Credit: AAP
FOR: Smith is a proven performer and a move to the top could reinvigorate his career. Is also known to be keen on the move, which would allow a recalled Cameron Green to bat in his most natural position of No.4.
AGAINST: Has never opened in Test cricket, and both Andrew McDonald and Pat Cummins are cautious about moving him out of No.4. Cummins said on Sunday he would prefer as little disruption as possible to the side.