Having more options for fewer spots is normally a good headache for any team management. The same could be said of the Australian cricket team. Just ahead of the ODI series last month, David Warner said that he would prefer Joe Burns, to Will Pucovski, as his opening partner.
Marcus Harris returned to first-class cricket with 239, 71 and 45. So, Harris had his supporters as well. All these noises were at a preference or idealistic level, but it was still a happy headache for Justin Langer and Tim Paine.
With under 24 hours to the first Test, Australia stare at an opening conundrum that remains a headache, sans the ‘happy’ part. Warner and Puckovski are out with injuries, and Burns has 62 runs from nine innings in first-class cricket this season, including two ducks against the Indians in the warm-up games.
Harris has been a respite, scoring 91 runs from the two warm-up games against the Indians. But has he really done enough to deserve a national comeback?
Meanwhile, Marnus Labuschagne found his name thrown into the hat as well. He spent the early part of his First-Class career opening for Queensland. In fact, he debuted for Queensland as an opener in 2014, scoring an 83 and 0.
He has opened nine times in First-Class cricket, but not since 2016. He also donned the opener’s role against India in the third ODI in Canberra earlier this month. But why would anyone want to disturb a settled middle-order? Labuschagne averages 82.61 at No.3.
Langer cleared the confusion on Tuesday, “Marnus won’t be opening, he’s done an amazing job at No. 3. Steve Smith does an amazing job at No. 4. We’ll try and stay as settled as possible while David [Warner] is injured. We’ve got some tough decisions to be made.”
Matthew Wade – Australia’s Mr Fix It
Matthew Wade’s name has emerged as another favourite for the opening spot. Former cricketers like Allan Border, Ricky Ponting, Shane Warne and Michael Clarke have all named Wade as their preferred opener for the Adelaide Test.
If Wade plays the new ball, there’s no disturbance to the rest of the line-up. From numbers 3 to 5, the order remains unchanged. Australia have confirmed that if fit, all-rounder Cameron Green is set for a Test debut in Adelaide. Then Green makes the cut at No.6 with Paine at No.7.
Australia’s ‘Mr Fix It’, as Langer refers to Wade, has leapfrogged the specialists for a shot at the opening berth. Despite not being in the same league as Warner, Wade can be the aggressor a team needs at the top.
“Matthew Wade is almost becoming ‘Mr Fix It’, he’s so well regarded. He’s a very, very important part of our team … he’s got good footwork, he’s tough, and he can also counter-attack, we know how aggressive he can be. He can definitely do it; we’ve just got to work out what the best makeup of our team is going to be,” Langer threw weight behind Wade on Tuesday without closing the suspense.
With the white ball, Wade has found some success as an opener, most recently in the T20Is against India. However, he has never opened in First-Class cricket. In the five innings that he has batted at No.3, he averages 57.25.
Marcus Harris or Joe Burns?
When it comes to their respective Test records, Joe Burns has been more prolific with 1,379 runs from 21 Tests at 38.3. To Harris’ advantage is his recent form in the Sheffield Shield where he amassed 355 runs in three innings.
Despite not setting the stage alight in the warm-up games against Indians, the Western Australian spent more time at the crease than Burns. Also, four of Harris’ nine Tests have come against India in the 2018-19 series.
He was the best Australian batter in the series with 258 runs at 36.85. He just managed 58 runs in the six innings he batted in the Ashes before being dropped. Harris has more experience of facing this Indian attack than Burns.
Former cricketers are divided with their opinion. While Border, Clarke and Warne have backed Harris to open, Ponting and Brad Haddin have put their weight behind Burns.
The big misses
In an ideal world, Australia could have recalled Usman Khawaja. His second-innings century in Dubai during the 2018-19 tour is still fresh in the minds of the team. The knock was hailed as one of the finest from an Australian opener away from home.
The 33-year-old Queensland skipper maintains a Test average of over 40 and averages 96.8 (from seven innings) as a Test opener. Not to forget, he's Australia's first centurion against the pink ball, and he achieved the feat in Adelaide (against South Africa, in 2016). In first-class cricket this season, Khawaja has made 222 runs at 74.
The other contender could have been Shaun Marsh, who has been piling runs at will for Western Australia this season. Marsh, who was dropped after the India series of 2018-19, averages 38.56 as a Test opener, and more importantly, has three centuries in first-class cricket this season. Marsh, who is captaining Western Australia, has already amassed 485 runs from four First-Class games this season at an average of 97.
Ironically, Marsh’s state-mate Harris is competing with Khawaja’s domestic teammate Burns for the Australian opener’s slot. Whoever the Australian team management end up going with, they will be tasked with setting the perfect platform for Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne to take over from.Published 16 Dec 2020, 19:35 IST