@Ben_Wisden 3 minute read
Ben Gardner runs the rule over the likely and not-so-likely potential candidates to replace injured Australia Test opener David Warner.
The news that a hamstring injury will keep David Warner out of the first Test of the series against India has thrown Australia’s plans into disarray. Forget his 2019 Ashes travails, the Bull remains a force to be reckoned with on home soil, and with another of the openers in the squad also under an injury cloud, Australia will have to dip deep into their reserves to find their top two.
The opening options in the squad
3 matches, 519 runs @ 173, 2 100s, HS: 255* (2020/21 first-class statistics)
Long earmarked as an Australia opener for years to come, Will Pucovski’s stellar start to the 2020 season should have guaranteed him a place in David Warner’s absence. But he was forced to retire hurt after being hit by a bouncer while batting against India A, and given his history of concussion injuries, is now also considered a doubt for the first Test. If he’s fit, he’s a shoo-in, but it’s a very large conditional at the moment.
4 matches, 61 runs @ 8.71, HS: 29
The other full-time opener in the squad, Joe Burns has a clean bill of health and is technically the incumbent. But that’s about all he has going for him after a torrid beginning to the Sheffield Shield campaign continued with a double failure for Australia A against the touring Indians. He now averages 8.71 since the start of the 2020/21 season with a high score of 29, and this when virtually all his rivals are scoring hundreds for fun. In any other scenario, he’d be unselectable. But as it stands he might be the only fit opener in the Test squad.
3 matches, 298 runs @ 59.60, 2 100s, HS: 167
While he’s not an opener by trade, it’s only slightly harsh to say that’s the role Marnus Labuschagne effectively fulfilled in the 2019 Ashes, with Stuart Broad having the new ball on a string and Australia’s top two on toast. He’s proven himself adept at negotiating any new-ball movement, and deputised for David Warner in the third ODI after he was ruled out. Pushing up the Steve Smith acolyte would also allow Cameron Green to make his Test debut without the need to leave out Travis Head or Matthew Wade.
The other recent Test openers
3 matches, 415 runs @ 103.75, 1 100, HS: 235
Marcus Harris hasn’t played a Test since Australia’s 2-2 draw in England in 2019, but has hit form at the perfect time for Victoria in the Sheffield Shield. His five innings have seen him rack up 415 runs at 103.75, including a mammoth 239, with a low score three runs higher than Burns’ season best. He batted at No.3 in that Australia A game against the Indians, outscoring Burns and Pucovski in both innings combined. If Australia are playing it safe, they don’t come much safer.
4 matches, 253 runs @ 42.16, 1 100, HS: 104
Another who hasn’t played since the 2019 Ashes, Cameron Bancroft has also put together a healthy body of work in the Sheffield Shield, averaging 42.17 from six digs, with one century. It’s less impressive when taken in the context of an obscenely run-heavy season across the board, but if Australia do deem Burns’ form too much of a concern but want to stick with tried-and-tested regular openers, Bancroft is near the head of the queue.
The in-form outside bets
4 matches, 333 runs @ 55.50, 2 100s, HS: 118
Until recently, Yorkshire-born wicketkeeper Sam Whiteman was something of a Sheffield Shield journeyman. But with three tons in his last seven first-class knocks, he’s now suddenly near the forefront of the conversation. The question for Australia is, is this a promising player finally coming good, or a freak season for an otherwise run-of-the-mill batsman?
3 matches, 276 runs @ 92.00, 1 100, HS: 168*
Matt Renshaw burst onto the scene in his own unique way in 2016. Aged just 20, a near-seven-hour 184* against Pakistan in his fourth Test suggested that here was an opener who could stay the course. It’s now been two and a half years since his last Test appearance, with his star having faded dramatically. Still, the hype was not unjustified, and though he’s now batting at No.5, 178 runs for no dismissal in his last first-class game suggests that Renshaw could yet come again. But probably not now.
The Warner like-for-likes
2 matches, 209 runs @ 69.66, HS: 83
If Australia want a like-for-like replacement for David Warner, they might not get much closer, in all ways, than Matthew Wade. Another combative, pugnacious hard-hitter, Wade has recently moulded himself into a white-ball opener of some repute, showing off his skills with two quick fifties atop the order in the final two T20Is against India. He also batted at first-drop for Tasmania in the Sheffield Shield with some success, so moving up to face the new nut might not be too much of a stretch.
While Wade might be able to match Warner’s ball-striking abilities, arguably only Glenn Maxwell can outstrip them. He does, surprisingly, have experience opening the batting in Test cricket, and against India too, having been promoted in attempt to bash some quick runs in 2013. He managed only a 14-ball eight, but with a succession of ballistic knocks in white-ball cricket against India, one of the most confounding players of the modern era might just be primed for another assault on the sensibilities of the Test cricket die-hards.
The golden oldies
3 matches, 226 runs @ 56.50, 1 100, HS: 131
Usman Khawaja has so far not quite become the great batsman many felt he would be, averaging just a smidge over 40 from his 44 Tests so far. However, his best Test innings, a restorative 141 against Pakistan to save the first game Australia played after the ball-tampering scandal, came as an opener, and he made 131 and 46* in his most recent first-class game. On the cusp of turning 34, Khawaja might not have long left in his Test career, but equally the likes of Chris Rogers, Adam Voges and Michael Hussey have shown the value in giving an older batsman a chance.
4 matches, 485 runs @ 97.00, 3 100s, HS: 135
Shaun Marsh hasn’t played for Australia since India’s last tour down under, and at the age of 37, most considered his curate’s egg of a Test career to have come to an end. But the Mark Ramprakash of Australian cricket has once again proved he’s a domestic demon, notching three hundreds in the Sheffield Shield cricket this season, with another score of 88 in there too. As esteemed a voice as Allan Border has touted him as an option “right out of left field”, and who are we to argue with the godfather?