Vodafone Test Series v India
'Gobsmacked': Australia could end 20-year Test drought
Injury to David Warner could lead to Australia picking a right-handed opening partnership for the first time since Michael Slater and Greg Blewett
1 December 2020, 07:55 PM AEST
With David Warner considered a slim chance of regaining fitness for the start of the Vodafone Test Series against India, Australia seem poised to break with 20 years of tradition by employing a pair of right-handed openers.
Due to the need for concussion and now COVID19 substitutes as like-for-like replacements under revised playing conditions, Australia last month named specialist openers Joe Burns and Will Pucovski alongside Warner in their 17-man squad for the Vodafone Series.
It's also likely they'll now need to draft in an additional opener to the current Test squad as a potential back-up.
Left-hander Marcus Harris is the other specialist opener in the Australia A squad that will play two games against the Indians in Sydney from next week, and he is second-highest runs scorer among openers in the first phase of Marsh Sheffield Shield matches ahead of WA's Sam Whiteman (another leftie).
Yet another left-hander, Nic Maddinson, is also in the Australia A squad and has experience as an opener but has more recently been batting in the middle-order for his adopted state, Victoria.
And while Shaun Marsh has previously opened in Tests and is in outstanding form in the Shield arena, he acknowledges that – at age 37 - his international days have passed.
Men's team coach Justin Langer said yesterday he wasn't "holding (his) breath" that Warner would recover from a groin injury in time for the first Test at Adelaide Oval from December 17, which would indicate right-handers Burns and Pucovski could become Australia's 245th Test opening combination.
But should 31-year-old Burns (who has played 21 Tests) and uncapped Pucovski walk out together to face India's new-ball attack, they will become the first right-handed opening combination Australia has fielded since March 2000.
That was when Michael Slater and Greg Blewett fashioned their 22nd (and final) first-wicket union before Blewett was replaced in the starting XI by left-hander Matthew Hayden.
"Someone messaged me on Sunday when Warner got injured, and they said, 'guess who the last ones were?' and I could not believe it," Blewett told cricket.com.au today.
"I was gobsmacked.
"You'd like to think they've always picked the best possible openers available at the time, and they just happen to be mainly left-handers."
"So I think it's just got to be coincidence."
Even so, it's a stark disparity given Australia have deployed 33 opening combinations in Test cricket over the interceding two decades and never have they sent out a pair of right-handers to face the first over.
They range from one-off pairings such as Warner and Glenn Maxwell (in the fourth innings of the 2013 Delhi Test), to the Langer-Hayden bromance that lasted 113 innings and remains the most productive in Australia's Test history.
Of those 33 opening partnerships, 18 have brought together two left-handers in various permutations including Marsh, Adam Gilchrist, Michael Hussey, Phil Jaques, Chris Rogers, Simon Katich, Phillip Hughes, Ed Cowan, Chris Rogers, Matthew Renshaw, Usman Khawaja and Harris.
There have been only five right-handers who have opened in more than one Test innings during the past 20 years – Slater, Burns, Shane Watson, Cameron Bancroft and Aaron Finch – and none of them batted together at the top of the order.
And among the 10 most successful opening combinations Australia has fielded in Tests, only one – Geoff Marsh and David Boon, who combined for 1871 runs at an average of 46.78 per innings at a period in the late 1980s ruled by West Indies fast bowlers – paired right-handers.
Blewett said in his experience – 46 Tests and 232 first-class games, largely as an opener – the left hand-right hand combination felt most effective but he added contrasting game styles were just as important when settling on an enduring first-wicket pair.
"If you look at Hayden and Langer, Haydos was predominantly a front-foot player who liked hitting the ball back down the ground whereas Lang's strength was probably square of the wicket, so the lengths for bowlers had to change a fair bit," he said.
"But if you've got a right and left hander with different games as well, that's your ideal because then you've got bowlers having to constantly change their line as well as their length.
"I would also say there are probably more right-arm fast bowlers going around in world cricket and they create more rough for left-handed batsmen, so I've also felt that left-handed batsmen have had it tougher than right-handers.
"Especially in Test match cricket, and to some degree Shield cricket as pitches deteriorate over the course or four or five days, so it's remarkable they've dominated as openers for all that time.
"But if you're looking for a reason why it's been 20 years … I haven’t got one."
Finch today backed up Blewett's prognosis, claiming that despite cricket history and folklore suggesting selectors prefer left-handed openers, the secret to successful partnerships against the new ball is a difference in individual approach rather than which side of the bat each opener stands.
"It definitely has its advantages at times," said Finch, whose ODI opening partnership with Warner is verging on the second-most successful for Australia in that format behind Gilchrist and Hayden.
"With Davey and me in particular, we're such different styles of players and so whether we were left-handers or right-handers, I don’t think it would make a huge amount of difference.
"As an example, if you look at Langer and Hayden as an opening combination, they played so differently that you had to bowl totally differently to each of them anyway."
Australia's Test openers this century: Matthew Hayden, David Warner, Justin Langer, Simon Katich, Shane Watson, Chris Rogers, Joe Burns, Phillip Hughes, Ed Cowan, Phil Jaques, Michael Slater, Matt Renshaw, Usman Khawaja, Cameron Bancroft, Michael Hussey, Marcus Harris, Shaun Marsh, Aaron Finch, Greg Blewett, Adam Gilchrist, Glenn Maxwell