By Ian Reid
David Warner has been named the replacement for the injured Shaun Marsh - one of the final calls from the former national selection panel. Warner has been in sensational form in the longer form of the game for New South Wales (NSW), not to forget the tour to Zimbabwe where he dominantly represented Australia ‘A’.
Even though it is highly unlikely Warner will play (Usman Khawaja deservedly looks set to fill in for the injured Marsh), the thought of the Warner and Shane Watson at the top doesn't seem as appealing for Tests as it is in limited-overs.
There have been strident calls for Watson to slip down the order which, in many ways, makes sense. Watson works mighty hard at his batting and bowling and recently made mention of his shift in mindset in discharging the two roles. But the threat to his body, because of increasing workload, has to be a matter of concern.
Here’s a look at the statistics of notable Australian opening partnerships that stood the test again some highly capable opposing bowling units.
The Justin Langer-Matthew Hayden partnership produced an incredible 6081 runs, from 122 innings, at a 51.53 average. They had a telepathic connection which went well beyond the playing field. Their impact scarred many tight bowling units.
The Mark Taylor-Michael Slater partnership managed 3887 runs, from 78 innings, at an average of 51.14.
We also can’t forget the well-merged but recently-disbanded Watson-Simon Katich duo that managed 1529 runs, from 29 innings, at an average of 52.72. The break up happened in the belief that Katich was too old for future plans.
Phillip Hughes briefly partnered Katich with a mixed return. However, it was a partnership which flourished in certain matches with an overall return of 604 runs, from 11 innings at an average of 60.40.
In contrast, the aggressive combine of Hughes and Watson has produced 472 runs in 15 innings at an average of 31.46.
The Watson-Hughes partnership may require a bit more time and patience to brew into something spectacular, but it seems hard to see this occurring after Watson recently stated that he is well aware it isn’t taking off. Again, a new selection panel will be eyeing this closely and it certainly doesn’t look like a partnership that will survive for long.
The logical option seems to be going back to what has worked and then nurturing a partnership on the basis of one batsman being able to hold the fort, while his partner looks to attack with freedom. Statistics tell of a trend, a trend that was a stronghold for protecting the Australian middle-order. What seemed to work was the aggressive player feeding off the cautious, more conservative batsman.
The talk of Watson moving down is good. We have Marsh - injury pending - slotted in brilliantly at No 3. And it isn't all that out-of-the-ordinary for a No 3 to open. It’s like coming in at the fall of an early wicket.
Khawaja has been hitting the nets hard and posting good individual scores each season. The man is a traditionalist. While both Khawaja and Marsh have the ability to play conservatively, seeing out the good deliveries and dispatching the rubbish to get their runs. The idea is Warner opening alongside one of them, with Ricky Ponting moved down to occupy a middle-order position.
A few months back Warner said he was eager to earn the cap despite all the hype over his T20 game. That statement indicated a hunger to be the best cricketer he can at the elite level. He's certainly showing a change in temperament. And with a tight technique and the performances to back him, he’s making a case for himself. One can never know how good he is till the opportunity is presented to him. But Warner partnering Hughes or Watson may not be the solution to repair the broken top order, given Warner’s aggressiveness.
Hughes is a young man who has been placed under immense pressure. He was built up way too much by the media following his maiden series. Flintoff then subjected him to huge pressure by targeting him with short-pitched bowling and depriving him of space. Hughes has produced a handful of innings since, but it doesn't change the fact that he will need a good Test match. He is certainly feeling the heat of the pressure to perform at the elite level. This could be his final chance for the summer. It is hard for a young man to cop the criticism he has and the concern from the supporters seem to be that quality bowlers figure him out.
Supporters have a right to voice their frustration. They are the ones who keep the game alive. However, the players are the professionals. They are the ones who have a hard time and they are the ones to turn it around. The supporters can help them in the turnaround.
The second Test is likely to see some changes in the Australian line-up. Usman looks set to make his return, while Patty Cummins could get his Baggy Green.
(Ian Reid runs http://www.thebaggygreen.blogspot.com. In doing so he aims to encourage other supporters around the world to support the team and open their minds to the challenges Australian cricket faces. He comes from the Steve Waugh era of cricket, so he tends to be very optimistic and enjoys the in-depth aspects of this great game. Ricky Ponting inspires him and states that it has been an honour to have followed his career since 1994-95. Ian is a supporter of the South Australian Redbacks and The Wallabies)