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Langer: 'We're really confident Marcus has got what it takes'

Australia coach backs the struggling opener for Boxing Day and possibly beyond despite very lean returns

Alex Malcolm
Alex Malcolm
23-Dec-2021
Marcus Harris fell early  •  AFP/Getty Images

Marcus Harris fell early  •  AFP/Getty Images

Australia coach Justin Langer has backed under-pressure opener Marcus Harris confirming there is no doubt about his place for Boxing Day as the selectors are determined for him to forge a long-term partnership with David Warner.
Harris remains the only major question mark in Australia's XI after they marched to a 2-0 series lead in Adelaide.
Harris has been Australia's best-performed opening in domestic cricket over the last five years but has only played six Test innings since 2019, all of which have come this year. He has only reached double-figures twice, with a top score of 38 against India while his second innings 23 in Adelaide is his next best, although he was 9 not out in the fourth innings chase in the first Test in Brisbane.
More worryingly for Harris, he is averaging just 22.19 after 23 Test innings and just 14.85 in his last 15 innings having reached 20 only three times in that span. Australia's selectors have noted that he has not had an extended run in the side since his debut summer having been dropped and recalled twice for two six-inning stretches apiece but the latter featured an 11-month gap between Tests.
"It's something that we've talked publicly about and privately, about really cementing not just for the short term for the long term our opening partnership. I think it's very, very important."
Justin Langer
Langer is determined to give Harris the opportunity to bed down his place at the top of the order.
"He'll play in the Test, no worries about that," Langer said. "This is his home ground. He's played a lot at the MCG. He hasn't made the runs he'd like to so far, but he dominates domestic cricket. So he knows how to play. We know he's a very good player. We're hoping he plays well and gets a good partnership with Davey Warner in this Boxing Day Test match.
"We're really confident Marcus has got what it takes to be a successful Australian opening batter. What we see in the nets, what we see in domestic cricket all adds up to what is potentially a very good Test career."
Harris does have a solid record at the MCG in first-class cricket averaging 43.26 with three centuries including an unbeaten 250 in 2018. He made his Test debut that summer and put up a solid showing against a world-class India attack averaging 36.85 for the four-Test series and reaching 20 in seven of eight innings including scores of 70 and 79 in Perth and Sydney.
It is that showing against India combined with his long-term domestic numbers that have led to Harris being backed for an extended run in this Ashes series.
"We'd like to back our players in where we can and as I said, we know how good an opening batter he is in domestic cricket," Langer said.
"He has shown glimpses of it in Test cricket so far, and we're hopeful that he'll keep kicking on and keep getting better. It's a tough, tough gig Test cricket, opening the batting so he's not far off, I don't think.
"It's something that we've talked publicly about and privately, about really cementing not just for the short term for the long term our opening partnership. I think it's very, very important. We've chopped and changed a lot over the last five or six years and testimony to that is how many opening partners Davey Warner has had in his career. So certainly one of the building blocks of a great team is the opening partnership and the top three, and we're determined to get that right."
Harris is the fourth opening partner Warner has since the start of the 2019 Ashes series and he has had 13 in his 10-year Test career, although only seven have been for more than five innings.
Harris himself has had four different opening partners in his short career, one of whom being Usman Khawaja who is the only man that could replace him in the current squad with Australia's selectors opting not to add either Bryce Street or Henry Hunt to the group for the final three Tests.
Khawaja has scored two of his eight Test centuries opening the batting and averages 96.80 in seven innings at the top of the order. However, since his last Test appearance at Headingley in 2019 Khawaja has opened just three times in first-class cricket for scores of 30, 4, and 2. Since October 2020 he has made four Sheffield Shield centuries but has not batted higher than No.4 in any of his 20 innings and even batted at No.5 for Australia A against the England Lions in Brisbane a fortnight ago.
But Langer did state that Khawaja is an option if Australia needs one at the top of the order at some point.
"Time will tell," Langer said. "The reason as he came in is he's a very adaptable player. He can play in all positions. He's opened in the past. He can bat in the middle order.
"So as I say with all our guys, I've said it for four years, you've got to stay ready. You never know when the opportunity is going to come. Stay ready, stay ready, stay ready and Uzzy is so experienced, he's a calm head, he's fantastic around the group. The boys love having him around the squad so he's going to stay ready like all the players.
"There's plenty of talent in Australian cricket. We can only pick 11 at a time, unfortunately. But it's nice to have some real depth and some talent knocking on the door so that'll be the message to Uzzy and he gets it."

Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo