Meet the contenders
Phillip Hughes, 22 (NSW)
Certainly the first in line, although he failed to have any impact during the final three Tests against England last summer when he replaced the injured Katich. However, the selectors were impressed by his 138 and 93 in the Sheffield Shield final in March, and he also made a century in the last Shield game before the decider. His technique will always be questioned, but twin hundreds in his second Test, in tough conditions in Durban two years ago, show that he can score at the highest level. One of the most fascinating subplots in Australia's next two Test tours, to Sri Lanka and South Africa, will be whether Hughes can grab his opportunities. If not, he'll be under enormous pressure come the home summer.
Usman Khawaja, 24 (NSW)
A fine young batsman who the selectors want to embrace, Khawaja's main issue is that he doesn't open for New South Wales. But then, Katich wasn't opening for his state when he was thrust into the role in Test cricket in 2008, and nor was Justin Langer when he suddenly became a champion Test opener in 2001. Khawaja's poise was on display in the Sydney Ashes Test when he replaced the injured Ricky Ponting, and with Ponting likely to stay at No.3, Khawaja would need to drop down or move up if he is to keep his place in the side in the immediate future. In 33 first-class games he has made seven hundreds and averages 47.30, and one way or another, he should become a permanent part of the Test team over the next few years.
Shaun Marsh, 27 (WA)
Like Khawaja, Marsh doesn't typically open for his state in the longer format. Unlike Khawaja, his record at first-class level is a fraction disappointing. For a batsman of Marsh's talent, six tons in 60 first-class appearances is below par, although last season he managed one century and three fifties in only four games, his season having been disrupted by injury. In Marsh's favour, he has proven himself capable of performing at international level, and his ODI record is strong. In 2009, the selectors made Watson a Test opener based in part on the fact that he had shown ability against the new ball in one-day internationals. It's not out of the question that Marsh might win a similar vote of confidence.
Nic Maddinson, 19 (NSW)
He might not be ready just yet, but expect Maddinson to put his hand up for higher honours over the next couple of years. In October, he became the youngest New South Wales player to score a century in his first-class debut, and he had added a second ton by the end of the summer. Importantly, both came when he was opening the batting. A highly-talented left-hander, Maddinson could very well become part of Australia's plans for the 2013 Ashes, and if he thrives during this winter's Australia A tour to Zimbabwe, there could even be a call-up sooner rather than later.
Ed Cowan, 28 (Tas)
A solid domestic performer over the past couple of seasons, Cowan opened for Australia A in Hobart last year during England's first warm-up match of the Ashes tour. He made thirties in both innings and finished the Australian summer with a century in Tasmania's Sheffield Shield final victory, which earned him the Man of the Match award. However, he turns 29 next week and is perhaps not the young up-and-comer the selectors want, although if he can manage a huge domestic season in 2011-12, he won't be out of contention.
David Warner, 24 (NSW)
Along with Maddinson, Hughes and Khawaja, Warner is heading to Zimbabwe later this month as part of Australia A's four-day squad. It's a big step forward for a man who had been viewed as a short-format slogger, so much so that he made his Twenty20 international debut before he'd even played a first-class match. He still has only seven first-class appearances to his name, but posted a mature century while opening in the second-last match of the Sheffield Shield season. A year ago, Warner playing Test cricket seemed about as likely as Katich making Australia's Twenty20 team. How times change.
And who won't get the job?
Mark Cosgrove, 26 (Tas): Has time on his side but is unlikely to win a baggy green unless his fitness improves dramatically. Has opened at domestic level and topped the Sheffield Shield run tally last summer.
Michael Klinger, 30 (SA): Realistically, has probably missed his chance. Had two huge summers with South Australia but fell away last season when given the state captaincy.
Phil Jaques, 32 (NSW): The forgotten man. Three hundreds in 11 Tests was a fine record but he has not been the same after a severe back injury, and at 32 his ship has sailed.
Chris Rogers, 33 (Vic): Like Jaques, he has had a taste of Test cricket. But will be 34 in August, and is therefore too old for a selection panel looking to the future.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo