Giving Green light to opener experiment could work – but that doesn’t mean it’s the right option
The more we hear from Andrew McDonald about his affinity for Cameron Green as a potential Test opener, the more likely it is that it’s going to happen.
You have to feel sorry for the three specialist candidates who have been slogging it out at Sheffield Shield level waiting for a rare chance to re-establish themselves at the top of the order for the national team.
Finally, David Warner’s spot will be up for grabs – 12 months later than it should have been due to the selection panel’s dithering – and all that Matt Renshaw, Cameron Bancroft and Marcus Harris are hearing on the topic in the media is how good the other options are.
First the idea of Marnus Labuschagne or Mitchell Marsh being elevated were floated, Travis Head said he didn’t want to go back up there again after filling in at opener in unique circumstances in India, so Green has become the candidate du jour of the selectors.
“In the last 30 years, I think there’s been 30-odd [Australian Test] openers, and 50 per cent of them have come from a non-traditional opening background,” McDonald said on the weekend. “If that’s anything to go by, then there is the ability to potentially be able to rejig your order.”
He’s done his homework and it certainly sounds like he’s laying the groundwork for Green to get the gig.
Much like a politician flying a kite in the media before announcing a policy they know will not be well received, McDonald has been throwing these tidbits out for the past few weeks.
There have been players like David Boon, Simon Katich and Justin Langer who have made the transition to opener with success but they were already top-order players so the difficulty in making that leap was lessened.
Langer’s selection there was as unplanned as you can get – Michael Slater’s form slumped on the 2001 Ashes tour so he was punted for the final dead rubber Test. Langer came in and made a ton alongside Matthew Hayden and the rest was history.
But there have been failures as well. A cautionary tale for the Green experiment could be another towering all-rounder from WA who was thrust into the role in 1992 after Geoff Marsh had been dumped.
Tom Moody managed just 71 runs in six innings in a three-match tour of Sri Lanka and his promising Test career was halted after eight matches – he never wore the baggy green again and was restricted to ODI duties for the remainder of the decade.
Green actually could be a success as a Test opener but whether it’s the right option for the team and the player himself in the long run should be at the forefront of the selectors’ thoughts when they name the squad to face the West Indies later this month.
When it comes to techniques, Green has a classical forward defence and plays in the most correct style of any of the current crop of Australian batters.
The nuances of opening are foreign to him as he has only ever batted as high as four for West Australia.
Leaving the ball, rotating the strike and the different mental preparation that comes with opening would need to be learned on the run.
But he would have the best mentor by his side in Usman Khawaja, who has played his career-best cricket as an opener over the past couple of years after going up and down the order at state and Test level for well over a decade.
The obvious comparison for Green is Shane Watson, the previous golden-haired, powerful all-rounder that Australia has craved for decades.
He made a successful switch from the middle order to opening at a time when Australia had few options in the post Justin Langer and Matthew Hayden era.
Watson also possessed what looked to be a strong technique but he struggled with the moving ball at the top of the order, a facet of cricket that Green has not had to deal with as much in his first-class career.
The enticing factor for the selectors in going with Green ahead of the specialists is that it gives them two seam bowling options to support the frontline trio of Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc.
Green would not be able to bowl as much, particularly late in a fielding innings, if he is also opening but by having Marsh on deck to send down his out-swingers in short spells alleviates the need for his fellow Western Australian to be overused with the ball.
Against the Windies, who are already struggling and have chosen a squad with seven uncapped players, there’s a fair chance in both Tests that the four frontline bowlers won’t need any back-up at all.
Green is considered one of the six best batters in Australia in the post-Warner era but that does not necessarily mean he should be opening.
Bancroft could not have done more to demand a recall by topping the Shield scoring ranks this season and last and at 31, if he’s passed over this time around he might as well put his baggy green cap in mothballs.
Harris is also 31 and the knock against him and Renshaw appears to be that they are too similar to Khawaja – left-handers who graft rather than take the attack to the opposing new-ball bowlers.
Their chance appears to be when Khawaja calls time on his career but that will likely be at least a year away, if not longer.