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News Analysis

Australia's opening dilemma: what are their options?

David Warner is ruled out, Will Pucovski has concussion and Joe Burns is badly short of runs

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
11-Dec-2020
From a position of strength where Australia were looking to either retain the opening combination of David Warner and Joe Burns or promote the hugely in-form Will Pucovski, their plans have been thrown into disarray by form and injury concerns. Warner is ruled out of the first Test in Adelaide at least, Pucovski is recovering from mild concussion and Burns is in a dire run of form. Assuming Pucovski doesn't get up in time for Adelaide, what are the options available?
Hold the line, don't panic
This would still appear the likely route, where Burns retains his place - he has been backed from the start by selectors, coach, captain and team-mates - with fingers crossed that he gets runs at the SCG or lifts for the occasion in Adelaide. He would be partnered by Marcus Harris, who last played a Test during the 2019 Ashes and has since tweaked his technique working alongside Chris Rogers, with 355 Sheffield Shield runs in three innings under his belt including a 239. Harris has nine Tests to his name, including four against India two years where he made 258 runs at 36.85, and in the following series against Sri Lanka he opened with Burns so it would not be an entirely unknown pairing.
The senior pros
The ship appears to have sailed on this one, but if you glance at social media (which, of course, is where all the proper selection debate happens) then you may notice a few mentions of Shaun Marsh and Usman Khawaja. The former had a prolific start to the Shield season, just as everyone, including Marsh himself, was moving on from his Test career. Speaking to 7News Perth, Justin Langer did not slam the door shut for Marsh: "You never discriminate against age. He's doing everything possible," he said. Khawaja, meanwhile, holds an average of 96.80 when opening the batting including 145 in the 2016-17 day-night Test against South Africa in Adelaide.
Mission for Marnus
This is perhaps gaining a little momentum, a promotion one spot up for Marnus Labuschagne to plug the gap - most likely alongside Burns, but potentially even Harris if the selectors really get spooked by Burns' form. As Steven Smith said yesterday, the No. 3 can be in to face the second ball of the match anyway so is there a massive difference if he goes in straight away? And if you can be thrust into an Ashes Test as a concussion sub, and never look back, you can probably handle this. Labuschagne has opened nine times in his first-class career, although not since 2016, and also did it in the recent ODI series after Warner's injury although was dismissed for 7. The other byproduct of this move would be the middle-order batsman moving up a slot each which creates room for Cameron Green at No. 6. Green has done enough to suggest he could command a spot on batting alone, regardless of the bowling workload he is capable of.
From left field
This one involves another batting-order reshuffle and is a bit more out-of-the-box: shift Matthew Wade up from No. 6. If it was alongside Burns it would retain the left-right combination and, as a punchy left-hander, Wade is not too dissimilar to Warner even though not the same pedigree. It would be a leap of faith given that Wade has never opened in first-class cricket (he does have an average of 57.25 from five innings at No. 3) although he has done it a lot in white-ball cricket, including a handful of ODIs, and on the Australia A tour of England in 2019 before the Ashes made one-day scores of 117 and 155 at the top of the order. This move would actually lead to fewer batsmen moving from their current positions but, like the Labuschagne option, would also open up the spot for Green.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo