Should Aaron Finch play in Sydney?

Adrian Meredith takes a look at the question of who should open the batting for Australia in the Fourth Test.

With 97 runs at an average of 16.16 in the ongoing test series against India, opener Aaron Finch’s position is under serious threat, with a poll conducted by Cricinfo showing that 70.80% of the 363 people polled wanted Finch to be dumped. A second poll, with 2,258 votes, asking who should replace him, had 43.53% wanting Matt Renshaw to return to the team, 23.74% wanting Joe Burns to return to the team, 21.92% wanting either Shaun Marsh or Usman Khawaja to open and to select a middle order batsman, and 10.81% wanting someone else, with the leading candidate for the “someone else” being none other than Cameron Bancroft.

Matt Renshaw, the leading choice in the team, was Australia’s incumbent opener from November 2016 through to September 2017 inclusive, where he played in 10 test matches, plus the one in South Africa, and did reasonably well in most of them.

In his first test match, against South Africa at Adelaide Oval, Renshaw scored 10 & 34*, scoring the winning runs as Australia chased 107 runs to win and got there with 7 wickets in hand. His score wasn’t all that impressive but his dedication was. Teams sometimes lose chasing 107, but with Renshaw there it was never in doubt.

In his second test match, against Pakistan at the ‘Gabba, Renshaw scored 71 & 6, his second innings effort forgiveable as Australia were setting up for a declaration, and Australia won by 39 runs.

He failed in his third test, scoring just 10 runs against Pakistan at the WACA, but, given that Australia won by an innings, it barely mattered.

In his fourth test, against Pakistan at the SCG, Renshaw scored a magnificent 184, but somehow didn’t get the man of the match award, as Australia won by 220 runs.

In his fifth test in India, Renshaw scored 68 & 31, as Australia surprisingly won a test match in India, and went 1-0 up in the series.

In his sixth test in India, Renshaw again impressed with 60 & 5, though his second innings failure hurt Australia, as they failed to chase 188 runs to win, losing by 78 runs.

In his seventh test in India, Renshaw scored 44 & 15, as Australia held on for a draw.

In his eight test in India, Renshaw failed for the first time in his career, scoring 1 & 8, as Australia lost by 8 wickets in a one-sided contest.

In his ninth test in Bangladesh, Renshaw did reasonably well in scoring 45 & 5, his last innings effort hurting Australia as they lost to Bangladesh for the first time in test cricket, by a margin of 20 runs.

In his tenth test in Bangladesh, Renshaw failed for the second time in his career, scoring 4 & 22, as Australia won easily by 7 wickets.

That was the situation for Renshaw when he was unceremoniously dumped, replaced by Cameron Bancroft, an out of form batsman who had two good scores after returning from injury, and then failed to impress at any stage that he was in the test team.

After Bancroft, Warner and Smith were all banned from the test team after Bancroft rubbed sandpaper on the ball, Renshaw came back in South Africa, and did badly, scoring 8 & 5 as Australia lost by 492 runs.

Renshaw, of note, was meant to play in UAE against Pakistan, where he was penned in to open alongside Aaron Finch, until an injury in a warm-up match forced Renshaw to miss the test series, with Usman Khawaja sent in as makeshift opener, while reserve batsman Marnus Labuschagne got his surprise debut.

After returning from injury, Renshaw was expected to line-up against India, but a single score of 250 not out was enough to push a man with a poor overall record, Marcus Harris, in to the opening position ahead of Renshaw, in another blow that reeked of unfairness.

Harris has done reasonably well in the tour, it should be noted, scoring 177 runs at an average of 29.50, which, in the context of the series, means that his position is reasonably safe, but his opening partner Aaron Finch’s position is not.

There is an argument that, had Renshaw not been dumped in the first place, Bancroft wouldn’t have been in the team, and none of the ball tampering would have happened, especially when you consider that Bancroft’s excuse is that he “didn’t know any better”. Renshaw, with by then 18 tests of experience behind him, and knowing that his place in the side was not under threat, undoubtedly would have known better and, assuming that Bancroft’s claim that Warner approached him is true, undoubtedly Renshaw would have simply told Warner to get lost, and would not have been influenced.

While there will be a temptation to play both Joe Burns and Matt Renshaw and to replace both openers for Sydney, just like India did for the Melbourne test with great success, that might be a step too far, though Burns and Renshaw are both in good form, and both open together for Queensland so should have a good relationship together. It’d seem unfair on Harris to do this, though as, in spite of only averaging 29.50 in the series, he has actually looked like he belongs at test level, something that Cameron Bancroft never really achieved.

Khawaja’s form has wavered this series and it would probably be a mistake to move him up to open, similarly with Shaun Marsh, though Mitchell Marsh probably should be left out for the 4th test, and perhaps Joe Burns could play, batting in the middle order, to strengthen the batting, with perhaps Burns at 3, Khawaja at 4, Head at 5 and Shaun Marsh at 6, a middle order that would look significantly stronger than the one Australia had in the first 3 tests.

It remains to be seen what the Australian selectors will do, but, with them not naming a squad for the 4th test perhaps they will tinker with the batting line-up, something that most of the Australian cricket-loving public thinks they should have done all along.

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