The six candidates open to replacing Warner as Head’s partner at the top of the ODI order
With so many theories and counter-theories debated over who would replace David Warner in the Test team, perhaps it’s a sign of ODI cricket’s diminishing appeal that the race to be the new white-ball opener has barely caused a ripple.
Travis Head, after a lean run of four runs across three dismissals from just seven balls in his last three international appearances, is sitting out the final two matches of the series against the West Indies for a much-needed freshen-up before the Test tour of New Zealand at the end of the month.
Especially after his scintillating World Cup form, the 30-year-old has nothing to worry about when it comes to his opening spot in the 50-over side despite his rough patch.
But who will be his partner at the top of the order long term?
There are essentially five candidates and a few of them should get a chance to stake their claim in the remaining ODIs against the Windies in Sydney on Sunday and Canberra on Tuesday.
Head has curiously been replaced by fast bowler Josh Hazlewood (shouldn’t he have his feet up after five Test on the trot?) in the squad while another quick in Spencer Johnson has also been added.
Debutant seamer Xavier Bartlett will be rotated out of the SCG clash despite taking 4-17 on debut in Friday’s MCG win due to his workload management following a back injury earlier in the summer.
Josh Inglis will likely get another chance to push his top-order credentials after an impressive 65 off 43 while opening on Friday. Squad member Jake Fraser-McGurk is an option to replace Head as the other opener or Cameron Green, who made 77 not out at first drop in game one, stand-in skipper Steve Smith or Matt Short could get a run.
The opening candidates
Josh Inglis: Can hit a long ball and as a right-hander, he should mix well with Head. Being keeper and opener is not a problem in the white-ball arena as Adam Gilchrist proved for the bulk of his career.
Inglis showed with his brilliant 110 off 50 in the T20 series in India early in the summer that when he goes off, he can be a match-winner.
The down side with the 28-year-old is that he can be feast or famine, which could be a little too similar to Head.
Mitchell Marsh: Probably the frontrunner for the spot the next time Australia roll out their full-strength line-up (which could be a long time from now). The Allan Border Medallist has cracked 554 runs at 55.4 from 11 hits as opener in ODIs, striking at better than a run a ball.
The main question for the selectors is do they move Marsh away from first drop where he has shone in recent years.
Jake Fraser-McGurk: Right now the Rooster is well down the pecking order but anyone who can smash a ton off just 28 deliveries in the Marsh Cup is worth a look at this level.
JFM averages a relatively modest 36 at List A level and he’s only passed 50 twice in 15 innings but his strike rate of 140.11 suggests that he’s there for a good time, not a long time, when he arrives at the batting crease.
Once he smooths off some rough edges, the 21-year-old could be a game-changer for Australia in the white-ball formats.
Matt Short: Easily the most improved player at domestic level in the past couple of years.
A bit of a late bloomer, the 28-year-old all-rounder has primarily made his bones in the T20 arena but a blistering 134 off 100 for Victoria earlier this summer at Mackay in the 50-over format proves that he is adaptable.
Cameron Green: His maiden voyage at No.3 on Friday night was promising and it’s clear that he prefers to come in earlier in the innings to give himself time to establish himself before upping the run rate.
But could Australia risk having an opener who does not take on the new ball? Green proved he could do it in a T20 series in India a couple of years ago by blasting some very accomplished bowlers from the get-go. He’s got it in him but he doesn’t appear comfortable enough in the side to risk getting out early at this stage of his career.
Steve Smith: He’s moved up to opener in the Test team and prefers going in as early as possible in the white-ball contests, enjoying some success in the T20 arena at the top of the order.
He’s got zero experience opening in ODI cricket (apart from a pre-World Cup warm-up game which didn’t statistically count) but that didn’t stop Australia from giving him the gig in the Test side.
Of the candidates to partner Head, he’d be the one with the least long-term benefit given the 34-year-old has already won two World Cups and is unlikely to still be flinging himself around in the 50-over format when the next trophy is up for grabs in South Africa in 2027.
Left-field options …
Daniel Hughes has been one of the most consistent 50-over performers at opener for NSW over the past few seasons but at 34, the international ship has probably passed him by.
Marnus Labuschagne has opened once in ODI cricket, didn’t do too well. He only just seems to cling onto his spot in the middle order so it’s hard to see Australia bringing him up to a crucial opening role.
Ben McDermott has been in and around Australia’s white-ball squads for a few years and as he showed with 143 off 112 at the top of the order for Queensland earlier this summer, he is a highly accomplished operator going in first.
Caleb Jewell has had big raps on him at Tasmania for a few summers but has yet to put together a string of significant scores to catch the attention of the national selectors.