The events of March 2018 following the second test between Australia and South Africa in Cape Town sent shockwaves through the cricketing world, resulting in the massive public uproar and the suspension of three key members of the Australian team following substantiated ball-tampering allegations. With Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft left to serve their suspensions, the Australian Cricket Team’s depth has been tested dramatically. Here are four players who have the ability to consolidate their spot in the Australian side in the coming Tests against India and Sri Lanka following the suspension of Smith, Warner and Bancroft.
Having been called on to replace David Warner in the opening position following the aftermath of the sandpaper crisis earlier in the year, Finch finally made his debut in the baggy green against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates. At the age of 32, selection in the test team had been a long time coming for the Victorian captain, having already cemented a consistent spot in the Australian One-Day and T20 teams before being picked for his maiden test. Finch made a strong start to his Australian career, scoring 62 opening the batting with Usman Khawaja in the First Test in Dubai, however, since then his scores have seemed to have gone downhill significantly. In the 1st Test against India, Finch clearly struggled against the swing of Indian fast bowler Ishant Sharma, who dismissed the Australian for a duck in the first innings of the test match, before also temporarily removing him in the second innings, with only a no-ball reprieving Finch of finishing the match with a dreaded “pair”.
If Finch is able to find some form opening for Australia in the coming matches of the summer, Australian selectors could be left with a significant headache over Australia’s opening pair. Whether or not Cameron Bancroft, the other Australian opener in the South African tour, will slot straight back into the team following his suspension after the sandpaper saga in South Africa is still uncertain, however it seems that if Finch does succeed in the coming matches, the Australian batting lineup will need to be significantly reshuffled Smith and Warner are able to be reinstated in March next year.
If Warner is automatically picked in the side come March next year, he could be shifted lower down the order into 5th or 6th, reminiscent of his early days playing for Australia, or more likely, either he and Finch open together, Finch moves down the order, or even Finch is dropped altogether from the side. If Finch is to consolidate his spot in the team, some big calls will need to be made by the Australian selectors.
Following the dropping of Vice-captain Mitch Marsh from the Australian team ahead of the First Test against India, 26 year old Victorian opener Marcus Harris was given the go-ahead to fill the remaining Batsman slot for Australia, earning his baggy green off the back of an impressive 250 not out against New South Wales in the Sheffield Shield. Harris showed exceptional class in his first test match, making strong starts in both innings only to be dismissed in the mid-’20s, a trend in which Harris seems to have brought across from first-class cricket, one of the reasons why he struggled to consistently be selected for Western Australia before moving states in 2016.
With Warner’s return as one of Australia’s openers in the coming months looking likely, Harris is in competition with at least three others for the remaining spot at the top of the innings- Aaron Finch, Cameron Bancroft, and to a lesser extent Matthew Renshaw. That spot could very nearly be Harris’ for the taking if he can just get himself consistently past the 30 marks. It will be interesting to see how Harris performs in the coming tests against India and also the series against Sri Lanka also approaching.
Another player given an opportunity following the sandpaper incident is Peter Handscomb, however even despite good form in the India series his spot in the team may still be in jeopardy.
Handscomb may struggle to keep his spot in the team when captain Steve Smith returns from his ball-tampering suspension, having been the 12th man in the infamous sandpaper match in Cape Town earlier this year. Smith, who was the best batsmen in the world before his suspension according to the official ICC rankings, will certainly be automatically inserted into the team as soon as he has finished serving his ban.
Having made his test debut against South Africa in 2016, Handscomb has struggled to stay in the Australian team since being omitted following the 2nd Ashes test last season. However, his test average is still reasonably solid for a middle-order player, standing at 41.76 across 14 test matches.
Handscomb’s primary competition lies against fellow middle-order batsman Travis Head, who’s all-round ability will likely set him above Handscomb unless he is unable to dominate the Indian and Sri Lankan attacks. Both may even be edged out by Mitch Marsh, who is still likely to make a return to the test team at some point during the summer.
Although he may be nearing the end of his career at 35, now is truly the time in which Shaun Marsh can finally cement his spot in the Australian test team. A nervy starter and extremely inconsistent, Marsh has been constantly in-and-out of the Australian side since making his test debut in 2011 against Sri Lanka.
Marsh averages nearly 50 batting in the middle order, but as a senior player of the team he needs to step up and score runs at number four, a spot which seems perfect for him- not too high up the order but not too far down either especially considering how often he is dismissed in single figures. His average in Australia is 43, significantly higher than his overall test average of 35. With the absence of key players, this is Marsh’s perfect chance to secure himself a place in the Australian side until the end of his career.
After a poor showing in the first innings, Marsh top scored for Australia in the second innings with a gritty 60, form that he needs to continue into the second test in Perth on Friday.