Without any doubt, replacing David Warner in the Australian set-up is going to be an uphill task for the team management. Australia have never had anyone as prolific as him at the top during his 12-year span with the side as a Test player. No Australian opener has scored more runs (8,747) than Warner since his debut. Moreover, he also has the most runs, most centuries (26) and most fifties as an opening batter in the longest format since his debut in December 2011.
It is indeed massive shoes to fill ahead of Australia’s next Test assignment against the West Indies, which begins at home with the first game in Adelaide on January 17.
Let’s take a look at some potential replacements for Warner at the top.
Cameron Bancroft returned to the Test team briefly after serving his one-year ban for his role in the sandpapergate, where he managed scores of just 8, 7, 13 and 16 in his four innings against England in 2019. However, since then, he has gone back to domestic cricket and has been a prolific run-getter, especially in the Sheffield Shield.
Since his last Test, Bancroft has scored 2,283 runs at 40.77 in the first-class tournament opening the batting, which includes as many as nine tons and four fifties in 62 innings. Not just that, he also played in the County Championship, turning up for Durham in 2019, in which he led, scoring 726 runs at 45.37, albeit at No. 3.
However, the opening batter could not rack up the runs for Durham when he returned in 2021, managing just 183 runs at 26.14 and in 2023, when he turned up for Somerset, he scored a meagre 137 runs at 19.57.
Bancroft’s excellent show in the Sheffield Shield saw him picked for Australia A for their tour of New Zealand in August 2023. Opening the batting, he scored 14, 47, 7 and 16 in his four innings.
In the ongoing Sheffield Shield season, the Western Australian is the leading run-getter so far, having notched up 512 runs at 56.88. Good enough for a call-up straightaway?
Marcus Harris has had numerous chances to cement his place in the Test side, but a big score has always eluded him. He last played in the whites in 2022. Since 2021, he has scored 1,204 runs at 41.52 in the Sheffield Shield, playing a pivotal role in helping Victoria to the final in back-to-back seasons. In fact, other than Bancroft, Harris is the only opener who has averaged over 40 in this period.
He, in fact, led Australia A during their tour of Sri Lanka in 2022, managing just 82 in four innings there.
Harris had a couple of good seasons in County cricket as well. In 2021, he scored 655 runs at 54.58, which included three tons in 13 innings for Leicestershire. And the following two years – 2022 and 2023 – he turned up for Gloucestershire, from whom he slammed 1,183 runs at 47.32 in this period, accounting for five tons and four fifties in 26 knocks.
A compact left-handed batter, Harris could, in a way, be a like-for-like replacement for Warner. For someone who is not too tall in stature, Harris can certainly pack a punch and play the attacking sort of cricket that Australia are used to at the top. He was the backup opener as recently as the World Test Championship (WTC) final and the Ashes, an indication to show that he could potentially be next in line.
Joe Burns was tipped to be a long-term option at the top for Australia, getting into the side straight after Chris Rogers’ retirement in 2015. However, it has not panned out as Australia would have hoped for. One cannot say Burns was not given enough opportunities to hang on to his place. He has scored nearly 1,500 Test runs in 23 matches.
Since 2021, Burns has managed just 1,090 runs at the top at 32.06 for Queensland in Shield, which are quite ordinary returns and at first look, does not seem to warrant him a chance to be picked for Tests.
What would perhaps work in his favour is the wealth of experience the 34-year-old has accumulated over the years. He has nearly 10,000 first-class runs at 38, with 20 tons to his name. He has shown an appetite to score big runs, be it at the domestic or international level. In fact, he has gone on to score over 125 every time he has scored a ton for Australia in the format.
Moreover, he has not been a part of any A tours recently as well, further indicating perhaps that the Queensland cricketer is not part of Australia’s scheme of things in the near future. But an average of close to 44 in the Shield this season could certainly give him an outside chance.
Left-handed batter Matt Renshaw broke into the scene as a 20-year-old in 2016 when Australia made wholesale changes after they were thumped by South Africa in their own backyard. Despite a few spirited performances, he has not managed to cement his place.
Unlike Burns, 27-year-old Renshaw still has age on his side and has plenty of time to stake a claim for a place. Since 2021, Renshaw has scored 944 runs at 37.76 in the Shield, which includes three tons in 28 innings. And when he has opened, his average has shot up to nearly 52.
Renshaw has further solidified his case for a call-up, with scores of 112, 78, 2, and 140 against New Zealand A during the two unofficial Tests played in Lincoln earlier in 2023. However, in the ongoing Sheffield Shield season, he averages under 32 in 11 innings, which may have done a bit of damage, but he has time to turn things around in the second half. Like Harris, Renshaw too was part of the WTC final squad and also the Ashes.
The opener from South Australia has been impressive with his consistent performances over the last couple of years. Since 2021, Henry Hunt has scored 1,347 runs as an opener, only behind Bancroft (1,872) in this period in the Sheffield Shield. The right-handed opener also has five hundreds and four fifties in 39 innings.
He is the only uncapped player from this list and since making his debut in 2019, he has been quite impressive. He scored his maiden ton in just his fourth match, and it was a record-breaking one as well, as he put on 293 for the first wicket with Jake Weatherald – the highest opening stand for South Australia in 52 years. He was also named the Sheffield Shield Player of the Year for his impressive performances in 2021-22.
An Australia A debut against England Lions followed, where he scored 33 and 40 as his side won by 112 runs. He was part of the team that toured Sri Lanka in 2022, where he slammed a magnificent ton in Hambantota after getting out on a pair in the previous unofficial Test.
He has been dubbed as a long-term opening prospect for Australia, and the 26-year-old has made all the right noises thus far.
Travis Head and Mitchell Marsh have ruled themselves out of contention to move up the order. However, Steven Smith, who comes in at four, has put his hand up and offered to take up Warner’s spot at the top. That would mean Australia would have to find a suitable middle-order batter, which is going to be tough. Smith averages 61.50 and 57.18 at No. 4 and five, respectively. But more importantly, Smith has never opened the batting in Test or first-class cricket. Safe to say, it would be far-fetched to see Smith come out to open the batting with Usman Khawaja in 10 days’ time against West Indies.
Former Australia all-rounder Shane Watson has also backed Cameron Green to open the innings. Watson, who found himself opening in Tests after playing most of his career in the middle-order, feels Green has the mentality to open in the longest format. With Marsh having cemented the all-rounder’s role that Green was accustomed to, the only way to get the latter involved is if he bats at the top.
With both head coach Andrew McDonald and skipper Pat Cummins open to having a player without prior experience of opening in first-class cricket, it opens the door for Green’s return.
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