After more than half a decade of searching, Australia finally found an opening partner for David Warner earlier this year — albeit by accident.
An untimely Covid-19 scare for Travis Head opened the door for Usman Khawaja to make his long-awaited return to Test cricket, and the Queenslander has been an absolute marvel in Australian whites ever since.
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But all good things must come to an end.
Warner and Khawaja are entering the twilight of their playing careers, both aged 36 and nearing retirement. Meanwhile, Warner’s recent form has sparked speculation he may not even board the plane to India next month.
It’s almost a certainty Australia will begin hunting for a new opening partnership in the next 12 to 24 months — and there are already several candidates.
“It’s good to see we’ve got a bit of depth in that area,” former Australian Test batter Michael Hussey told foxsports.com.au last month.
“David Warner’s made it public that he might only play Test cricket for another 12 months, and obviously Usman Khawaja’s coming into the twilight of his career as well, so who knows how long he’ll want to keep playing for.
“It’s going to be important to have a couple of really good players that have had some Test match experience to fill those two pairs of massive shoes.”
Currently a member of the Australian Test squad, Harris is the undisputed next cab off the rank.
The Victorian, who most recently represented Australia during last summer’s triumphant Ashes campaign, is coming off a successful 12 months in red-ball cricket.
Harris accumulated 726 runs at 42.70 in nine first-class matches for Gloucestershire over the winter, including three centuries, and the opener’s fine form continued after returning home in September, scoring 288 runs in four Sheffield Shield matches at 41.14, headlined by a century against Western Australia in October.
More recently, he smacked a classy 73 against the West Indies during the Prime Minister’s XI match at Canberra’s Manuka Oval.
But critics will inevitably point towards Harris’ mediocre Test record and ask whether the 30-year-old deserves another chance. The left-hander has averaged 25.29 with the bat in 14 matches, statistically making him the second-worst Australian opener in Test history.
However, countless Australian batters have dominated the Test arena after being axed and refining their craft at domestic level — Khawaja, Matthew Hayden and Steve Smith to name a few.
Another left-handed opener with international experience, Renshaw has been widely tipped for a return to the Test side in the near future.
The Queenslander made his Test debut in November 2016 as a 20-year-old, scoring a maiden century against Pakistan at the SCG later that summer.
But following a disappointing Test tour of Bangladesh in 2017, he was axed in favour of Cameron Bancroft.
Renshaw took a break from cricket in early 2020 after being dropped from Queensland’s Sheffield Shield side, but has been one of the Bulls’ most prolific run-scorers since his return.
The 26-year-old is averaging 51.66 in the Sheffield Shield this summer, scoring an unbeaten double-century against New South Wales in Sydney.
Renshaw then turned heads during last month’s Prime Minister’s XI match against the West Indies in Canberra, smacking 81 and 101 not out against the pink Kookaburra.
It’s also worth noting Renshaw has Test experience in the subcontinent, scoring two fifties against India in early 2017.
“I am ready,” Renshaw told AAP when asked about the possibility of a Test re-call earlier this month.
“The last few years I have definitely re-thought about how I go about my cricket.
“The Aussie stuff is important but you can get caught up with your mindset and trying to play for that, rather than just playing for my team and doing well for Queensland.
“That is the big learning I have had, along with enjoying my cricket. If (a Test recall) comes then it comes. It will take care of itself.”
Head has been a marvel in the Australian Test side this summer, winning back-to-back Player of the Match accolades for entertaining knocks in Adelaide and Brisbane.
The left-hander currently averages 44.55 in the five-day format, accumulating more than 2000 Test runs since his debut in 2018.
But despite his success at No. 5, Head has emerged as a surprise contender to replace Warner at the top of the order.
News Corp reports that Head could be considered a like-for-like replacement for Warner if the veteran opener decides to hang up the boots before the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
Although this solution might seem outlandish at first glance, Head’s aggressive batting style undeniably mirrors that of Warner, while the middle-order vacancy would create room for another all-round option — perhaps Mitchell Marsh or Glenn Maxwell.
And Head wouldn’t need to look far for inspiration — former national coach Justin Langer and Australian teammate Khawaja both started their Test careers in the middle order before flourishing as openers.
But sceptics will pose an obvious retort: Why change a winning formula?
“I don’t think Travis Head will open the batting for Australia in red-ball cricket,” former Australian all-rounder Simon O’Donnell told SEN Breakfast on Tuesday morning.
“He’s found his slot, and he’s fantastic in it.”
The South Australian has also been earmarked as Aaron Finch’s replacement in the ODI team, expected to open the batting for Australia at next year’s World Cup in India.
Another forgotten Test opener, Bancroft was one of the countless cricketers Australia trialled at the top of the order alongside David Warner over the past decade.
It was seemingly a match made in heaven when the duo scored an unbeaten 173-run opening partnership on Bancroft’s Test debut, but the Cape Town ball-tampering saga put both of their careers on pause.
However, the West Australian was rushed back into the Test side ahead of the 2019 Ashes series following a prolific stint in the County Championship, but he was axed in favour of Marcus Harris ahead of the Headingley fixture.
More than three years later, Bancroft is once again in contention for a Test recall following an impressive start to this summer’s Sheffield Shield, plundering 483 runs in six matches to become the tournament’s second-leading run-scorer.
The 30-year-old is the only cricketer with three Sheffield Shield centuries this season, while nobody else in the competition has faced more than 1000 deliveries, highlighting his longevity at the crease.
Fans will inevitably be divided on whether Bancroft deserves another opportunity at Test level, but national selectors would find it difficult to ignore him if he maintains this run of form.
The one-Test wonder who can’t catch a break, Pucovski is at risk of becoming the forgotten man of Australian cricket.
Once earmarked as a future great of the game, Pucovski’s career has been plagued by mental health and frustrating injury setbacks.
The Victorian has suffered nearly a dozen concussion scares, one of which delayed his Test debut until January last year, where he scored an impressive half-century against India at the SCG.
But a fielding mishap on the final day of the New Year’s Test sidelined the youngster for the series decider in Brisbane, opening the door for Marcus Harris’ return.
An undeniable talent, Pucovski averages 48.97 at first-class level with six Sheffield Shield centuries to his name.
The 24-year-old got his summer off a blistering start by cracking an unbeaten 193 in Victoria’s second XI pre-season fixture against New South Wales in Coffs Harbour, surviving 404 deliveries and 682 minutes at the crease.
But he is currently taking a break from cricket, stepping away from the sport in October for personal reasons.
Pucovski is still in Australia’s future Test plans, joining an eight-man squad of developing players sent to train at the MRF Academy in Chennai earlier this year.
Hopefully the stars align and Pucovski gets another opportunity to prove his worth in Australian whites.
He may not be a household name, but Hunt has been turning heads in the Sheffield Shield over the past 24 months.
The South Australian was the fourth-leading run-scorer in the Sheffield Shield last summer with 601 runs in eight matches, becoming the only cricketer to muster three centuries in the competition.
Hunt boasts all the attributes of an old-fashioned opening batter — patience, discipline, technique and endurance.
The 25-year-old pushed his Test credentials with a match-saving performance against Victoria in October, surviving 326 deliveries at the crease in the fourth innings to clinch a draw from the jaws of defeat.
But he hasn’t been able to convert starts into big scores this summer, currently averaging 31.00 in the Sheffield Shield with two fifties in 10 knocks.
Hunt won’t be on the plane to India next month, but he’s not far from earning a coveted baggy green.
Another player who has been dominating in the Sheffield Shield circuit over the past 18 months, Whiteman is a smokey to earn a Test debut.
The West Australian opener was the second-leading run-scorer in the Sheffield Shield last season, plundering 641 runs at 58.27 in seven matches.
Whiteman has also enjoyed a successful start to his 2022/23 campaign, scoring 390 runs at 43.33 in six matches, including a classy century against South Australia in Perth last month.
The 30-year-old was selected for Cricket Australia’s recent tour match against South Africa in Brisbane, but he struggled against the formidable Proteas attack, registering scores of 11 and 1.
Whiteman’s glovework could also be considered a bonus — having a reserve wicketkeeper in the starting XI is always handy in case of injury.
Remember the name.
Earlier this summer, the West Australian teenager became the Sheffield Shield’s youngest centurion since Ricky Ponting following a breakthrough knock against New South Wales.
Playing in just his third first-class match, Wyllie scored 104 on a tricky WACA deck to become the first person born after 2003 to score a Sheffield Shield century, achieving the feat against a bowling attack featuring four Australian representatives.
Speaking to the ICC earlier this year, Wyllie compared his batting style to that of Indian legend Rahul Dravid, who was renowned for his impenetrable defence.
“I‘m a very stodgy kind of opener who just tries to bat the innings,” he explained.
“I wouldn‘t say there’s one particular player that I’ve modelled my game on, but I consider myself to bat a little like Dravid. I like to bat long periods of time and not give my wicket my way.”
Wyllie became the second youngest cricketer to win a Sheffield Shield final last summer, behind only Test captain Pat Cummins, helping Western Australia break its 23-year title drought.
Speaking to CODE Sports in October, West Australian coach Adam Voges earmarked Wyllie as a young talent to keep an eye on this summer.
“He’s quite a big guy, he’s got a physical presence when he’s at the crease,” he said.
“Technically he’s really solid. He’s been an opening batter pretty much all of his career, so technically he’s sound.”
Another batting prodigy who burst into the spotlight earlier this summer, Ashley Chandrasinghe compiled an old-fashioned century on Sheffield Shield debut in November, scoring an unbeaten 119 against Tasmania at Hobart’s Bellerive Oval.
His 311-ball century was the second-slowest Sheffield Shield ton for a Victorian, narrowly behind Shawn Craig’s 316-ball ton against Tasmania in January 1999.
Chandrasinghe modelled his batting technique off modern greats Michael Hussey and Kumar Sangakkara, and he undeniably boasts their temperament and patience when at the crease, making just one run from his first 49 balls against Tasmania.
After he was dumped from the Victorian state pathways in 2019, Chandrasinghe decided to ply his trade in the Northern Territory; an unusual choice considering the federal territory doesn’t have a Sheffield Shield side.
But he turned heads during the recent winter season by plundering five consecutive centuries for Waratah in the Darwin Premier competition, breaking the all-time record.
“He’s just getting started,” Waratahs coach Udara Weerasinghe told NT News earlier this year.
“He’s one of those players who knows where their off stump is.
“Champions are made when nobody is watching, that’s my story for him.”
Last month, Chandrasinghe combined with Will Pucovski for a 270-run opening partnership during Victoria’s second XI pre-season fixture against New South Wales in Coffs Harbour.
“I think he has all the attributes, the personal qualities as well as the talent to go to the highest level,” Waratahs club president Simon Matthias told the News Corp publication.
“He’s perfectly suited to four-day cricket, and that’s why I think he’s really got a strong future at first-class level.”
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