India tour of Australia

Injuries and bad form open a can of Australian worms

Australia is struggling to find batsmen who can open against India’s formidable pace attack in Adelaide on 17 December. A combination of injuries, bad form, and a concussion in yesterday’s tour match have plagued the nation’s preeminent pool of opening batsmen. It raises four questions, but there is only one answer.

A final tour match under lights beginning on Friday 11 December will most likely determine that answer. Joe Burns and Marcus Harris will vye for the opening roles, while Cameron Green has another chance to blaze a trail to an Australian middle order debut.

The debate about Australia’s openers began at the start of the 2020-21 Sheffield Shield. David Warner was a certainty but incumbent partner Joe Burns couldn’t buy a run—scoring just 57 in three matches at an average of 11. Meanwhile Victoria’s Will Pucovski averaged 247 across two matches. His opening partner, Marcus Harris, scored 355 runs in four innings. Both Victorians entered the frame, but it was Puckovski who stimulated most excitement.

The choice of David Warner’s opening partner was to be settled in a “bat off” between Joe Burns and Will Pucovski earlier this week. They opened together for Australia A in the first of two tour matches against the Indians in Sydney. Yet nothing was resolved—Australia A were 2/5 within minutes. The plot thickened again when young-gun all-rounder Cameron Green scored an unbeaten 125 batting at five. Then Green took the wickets of both Indian opening batsmen!

The opening saga broadened further when Joe Burns was bowled for a duck and Will Pucovski was concussed (on 23 not out) during the 2nd innings. 24 hours later David Warner was ruled out of the Adelaide Test match with a groin injury suffered during the ODIs against India. All of this raises at least four questions:

Should selectors retain faith in the horribly out-of-form Joe Burns?

Should selectors go back to the future with a recall for Shaun Marsh or Usman Khawaja?

Should selectors promote Marcus Harris to bat alongside Burns (or Pucovski if he is fit)?

Should selectors reshuffle the order to accommodate Cameron Green?

A fifth bowler would normally be an attractive option at Adelaide—a toiler’s pitch. But the day-night fixture favours bowlers. Yet Green is an almost irresistible option with the bat. A century and wickets against India A and 363 runs at 72 in four Shield Matches this season, the kid is the real deal. How do you fit him in?

Australia is unlikely to drop Matt Wade or Travis Head. But it might promote Marnus Labuschagne to open with…somebody. Green could then find a place at five or six.

If selectors resist the temptation to inhale Green on this occasion, there’s still the opening dilemma to resolve.

Pucovski should have time to pass any concussion fitness requirements in the next 7 days. But Australia will not take any chances on a young man who has suffered eight (8) previous concussions. That leaves Joe Burns and Marcus Harris, or does it?

If both fail to convince in their final hit out this weekend, where does Australia turn?

Usman Khawaja, Matt Renshaw, and Shaun Marsh all averaged over 50 during the opening rounds of the Sheffield Shield this season.

Who makes your cut?