The Australia opening dilemma is nothing of the sort

Alec Swann Columnist

By Alec Swann, Alec Swann is a Roar Expert

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51 Have your say

    Cricket selection is not a difficult business.

    You sit in a room, or maybe in front of a speaker for a conference call, and choose 11 cricketers to take the field. That’s it.

    No atom splitting, no budget allocation, no complex mathematical formula; 11 places, 11 names, nice and neat.

    Now, of course, it can be awkward, especially when there are competing voices and opinions, and it’s seldom straightforward given the vagaries of form and so forth, but let’s not add drama to something that doesn’t really have any.

    Occasionally the team picks itself and the selection meeting is nothing more than the opportunity for a chinwag and to order a flavoursome lunch on the expense account.

    On the flip side, when results are poor and nobody’s having a good time of it, a salary is earned and fingers are crossed due to the inexact science that underpins taking a punt.

    But going back to the original assertion, it isn’t as hard as is often made out. If anything, those doing the selecting make it harder for themselves.

    One such scenario where this shouldn’t be the case is when the Australian selectors gather to decide who will represent their country at the Gabba in the first Ashes Test next week. And, more specifically, this relates to who David Warner will partner at the top of the order.

    Matt Renshaw or Cameron Bancroft?

    Bancroft or Renshaw?

    Renshaw. Bancroft. Renshaw. Bancroft. Bancroft.


    There should indeed be an Ashes novice facing the new ball in Brisbane, but it has to be the West Australian rather than the Queenslander, with the former in smouldering form, in stark contrast to the latter whose recent Sheffield Shield output can’t even be described as tepid.

    The once-upon-a-time opener in me sympathises with Renshaw, as poor form is a heavy millstone to carry, and even weightier for him no doubt with what is just around the corner. But the momentum is well and truly with Bancroft and to such a degree that making him wait for his chance would be downright bonkers.

    Cam Bancroft walks off the field

    AAP Image/Richard Wainwright

    Too often a player in form is urged to ‘keep knocking on the door’ and by the time they do get the nod their hot flush has passed.

    Herein lies the conundrum at the heart of selection. Do you go for continuity and place your faith in an investment – Renshaw – which initially produced decent returns, or do you appreciate the fact another stock is where the action is – Bancroft – and take the plunge?

    Plenty of times it is a marginal call, six of one half a dozen of the other for want of a better phrase, but not in this instance.

    Bancroft is not so much knocking on the door as taking a crowbar to the lock and this kind of form, surely, has to count for something. And don’t direct your attention to his career statistics – although 4000-plus runs at an average of almost 38 is far from tardy – as these don’t so justice to the here and now.

    In three innings he’s ammassed 390 runs – 160 against a virtually Test-strength New South Wales attack – which screams inclusion. That is really all there is to it.

    Renshaw – who, it should be rememebered, is barely into his 20s – will come again, as he has shown the aptitude and game to succeed at the top level, but he’s in such a rut that, for the time being, he simply can’t warrant selection.

    So Mark Waugh et al, if you want my advice, there it is. One small favour to ask, though; don’t make Bancroft keep wicket.

    Alec Swann
    Alec Swann

    Alec Swann is a former Northants and Lancashire opener turned cricket writer. Outside of the joys of a Test match, Newcastle United and golf generally occupy his other sporting interests with a soft spot for the Newcastle Knights.

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    The Crowd Says (51)

    • November 15th 2017 @ 8:27am
      nick said | November 15th 2017 @ 8:27am | ! Report

      Selection is very rarely straight forward as astute judges are aware. It’s a balancing act involving investments, form and a myriad of other factors. I don’t see this particular situation as a shoot-out and hopefully nor will the selectors. For good reason, Bancroft would fix a larger hole if picked as keeper. He’s a pro, has been doing it for years and is currently outperforming other keepers.

      What this all boils down to is that there are 2 spots (opener and keeper) and, probably, 4 candidates. Renshaw, Wade, Neville and Bancroft. We’ve been collapsing a lot lately so who are the best two? England would be thrilled if we pick either of Neville or Wade – neither of whom can hold a bat at the minute. England would much prefer to bowl at those two than Renshaw. Renshaw hasn’t made runs lately but has batted time, which is half an opener’s job.

      So I’m retaining and supporting the young Renshaw, a solid investment in the future, to see off the new ball and terrorise England’s opening bowlers for many Ashes series to come; and welcome Cameron Bancroft to match Bairstow’s output in a few years’ time.

      • Roar Guru

        November 15th 2017 @ 9:21am
        JamesH said | November 15th 2017 @ 9:21am | ! Report

        Good point. It seems logical when you look purely at that one position in the order, yet it’s more complicated than that when you examine the team composition as a whole. A top 7 of Bancroft, Warner, Khawaja, Smith, Handscomb, Maxwell and Nevill doesn’t look as likely to win us games as a top 7 of Renshaw, Warner, Khawaja, Smith, Handscomb, Bancroft (wk) and Maxwell (I’d bat Bancroft at 6 in that scenario).

        If the selectors don’t have immediate faith in Renshaw but still see him as a long-term prospect then there are other options at the top. Dare I say it, Shaun Marsh would be a handy stop-gap for 12 months and his Shield form in the last couple of years actually warrants his selection. If not him, then you could bring Khawaja up to open and slot Ferguson or Cartwright in at 3, since that’s where they bat for their respective States. Heck, Smith could even bat 3 and Bailey could come into the side on current form.

        For those who question Bancroft’s suitability to keep in a test match – the more I see/read of his keeping, the more I am convinced he would do a decent job. By all accounts he is a technically proficient gloveman and his ability to concentrate over long periods of time is outstanding. On current form I can’t see us losing much (if anything) behind the stumps if he is picked ahead of Nevill or Wade, and I think Carey is still too raw to be thrown in the deep end.

        People laughed when England picked Bairstow as their full-time keeper and look at him now.

        • November 15th 2017 @ 11:10am
          BurgyGreen said | November 15th 2017 @ 11:10am | ! Report

          Agree 100%. Bancroft offers more value for this team as a keeper, and if Renshaw is to be dropped you’ve got Burns, SMarsh, Khawaja etc who will be solid at the top.

          Come to think of it, Cowan is extraordinarily unlucky to not be playing the Shield, as he’d almost be the front-runner as a stop-gap opener had he been able to show some form.

          • November 15th 2017 @ 11:23am
            dan ced said | November 15th 2017 @ 11:23am | ! Report

            You could try Khawaja at the top, but as for the otheres..haven’t we had enough with stopgaps and failures. Burns didn’t quite cut it, Smersh has been dropped a dozen times.

            Bancroft should open, only other openers looking solid in shield are Harris and Weatherald.

            Carey will do a great job with the gloves, and score an handy amount of runs.

            Maxwell/Cartwright at 6 is the trickier decision, if they want stopgap pace for the Gabba.. they’ll pick Cartwright, but if they pick Maxwell as a pure bat surely a Lehmann, Ferguson, Hughes, Lasagnatrain would be less flaky than Maxwell!

            • November 15th 2017 @ 4:56pm
              matth said | November 15th 2017 @ 4:56pm | ! Report

              To be fair to S Marsh, he’s actually been pretty good opening this year.

              As for surely A, B, C or D will do better than Maxwell. Why? Maxwell’s career averages match them and he scored the only hundred in India outside of Smith and Clarke for a long time. And the only hundred by an Australian number 6 since forever as well.

          • Roar Guru

            November 15th 2017 @ 12:52pm
            JamesH said | November 15th 2017 @ 12:52pm | ! Report

            Good point, Burgy. The fact that Maddinson is still being picked over Cowan encapsulates the biggest problem in domestic cricket right now – merit has all but gone out the window.

            • Roar Rookie

              November 15th 2017 @ 1:08pm
              Matthew Pearce said | November 15th 2017 @ 1:08pm | ! Report

              Maddinson was already in the side, Hughes was the one picked over Cowan.

              He has at least made runs, but I agree with the gist of things.

              • November 15th 2017 @ 2:48pm
                George said | November 15th 2017 @ 2:48pm | ! Report

                Hughes was opening with Cowan last season. Maddinson wasn’t playing after his Test appearances.

              • Roar Rookie

                November 15th 2017 @ 2:57pm
                Matthew Pearce said | November 15th 2017 @ 2:57pm | ! Report

                All the reports about the selections this season were about Hughes vs Cowan. Maddinson wasn’t playing because he stood down from FC altogether for a little bit to get his head straight.

    • November 15th 2017 @ 8:41am
      Jameswm said | November 15th 2017 @ 8:41am | ! Report

      If only it were that simple. I think Bancroft has y. But:

      (a) does he open?

      (b) if he opens, does he also keep wicket? It’s hardly ideal, but it doesn’t seem to be worrying him this season. It also allows us to pick specialist middle order batsmen at 6 and 7 – two of Lehmann, Cartwright and Maxwell.

      (c) does he keep and bat 7? That really shores up our middle order very well and solves our keeping dilemma

      (d) does he keep and bat 6? That gives us the luxury of an all rounder at 7, like Mitch Marsh (when bowling) or Agar, neither of whom are top 6 bats or top 4 bowlers.

      Renners has had some innings this season where he has eaten up a lot of balls, his main job. Warner is backing him too. I’d be inclined to stick with him with Bancroft keeping and batting at 7, but I haven’t seen him bat this season.

      • Roar Guru

        November 15th 2017 @ 9:21am
        JamesH said | November 15th 2017 @ 9:21am | ! Report

        If it was a 2-3 test series then Cam could probably open and keep, but not for 5 tests.

    • November 15th 2017 @ 9:11am
      twodogs said | November 15th 2017 @ 9:11am | ! Report

      He simply demands selection, whether at 1,6 or 7. There comes a time when class cannot be ignored. Either Renshaw or Wade have to make way for him and he either opens or keeps. Maxwell shouldn’t be the scapegoat either especially ahead of Wade but as usual chief selector Smith will probably veto Maxy.

    • November 15th 2017 @ 9:55am
      paul said | November 15th 2017 @ 9:55am | ! Report

      As everyone knows, cricket is mostly a mental game and it’s pretty clear Bancroft’s full of confidence at present. I’d love to see him bat at 6, have a specialist keeper and either persist with Renshaw or chose another partner for Warner.

      The selectors need to remember how the side has batted over the recent years and the trend has been to get off to good starts then have batting collapses in the middle and lower order ( or make a heap of runs). If they want to bolster the side to steady the ship after losing wickets, I reckon Bancroft at 6 is the guy to do it.

      The best keeper in Australia is currently injured and again, the selectors must bring in Neville or Carey because first and foremost they’re glovemen. Don’t worry about this “pick and stick” rubbish til you have a full field of candidates to consider which will happen next year. Leave Bancroft to do what he’s doing so well at present, scoring runs.

      • Roar Rookie

        November 15th 2017 @ 11:55am
        Lancey5times said | November 15th 2017 @ 11:55am | ! Report

        This is really odd thinking. We have three potential spots in the side to fill and one guy who can fill any one of them. 2 of these spots have no outstanding options to fill them and one has at least 3 possibles in addition to the versitile guy I have mentioned. It is this hole that we are looking to fill with Bancroft

        • Roar Guru

          November 15th 2017 @ 12:37pm
          JamesH said | November 15th 2017 @ 12:37pm | ! Report

          Yeah, if he’s not going to keep (and bat 6-7) then it seems like a no-brainer to open with him.

        • November 16th 2017 @ 1:08am
          Don Freo said | November 16th 2017 @ 1:08am | ! Report

          I don’t know about the “odd thinking”, Lancey. I think Paul is right that we should forget about “pick and stick”. Cricket works so differently to shaping a footy team. We don’t need long term, we need form. Great if that turns out to be long term but it never needs to be.

          I don’t agree regarding Nevill or Carey as keepers ahead of Bancroft. Banners is actually the best gloveman in Shield cricket right now. We need a keeper. He is it.

          Now, time to agree with Paul again. When Whiteman is well, or Harper, Carey or Nevill find form, then maybe they can allow Banners to just be a batsman. Bancroft, however, is almost certain to claim the position for the next 5 years if he is true to his work ethic. He just steps up.

    • November 15th 2017 @ 10:01am
      Cassia said | November 15th 2017 @ 10:01am | ! Report

      Brancroft has to play. He is in form and confident. Straight swap with Renshaw who is out of form and a free wicket for the Poms at the moment.
      Neville is the safest choice for keeper in the most important series we have or will play for a while.
      Bring it on. Go Aussies.

    • November 15th 2017 @ 10:04am
      Brian said | November 15th 2017 @ 10:04am | ! Report

      Except most of the runs won’t be scored by Renshaw or Bancroft. Why not select Renshaw let him do his job of facing 100 balls and taking the shine off for Warner, Khawaja, Smtih & Handscomb. Those 100 balls for 19 runs could be a lot more valuable then the potential alternate of Bancroft being out within 4 overs.

      • November 15th 2017 @ 11:23am
        Ezza said | November 15th 2017 @ 11:23am | ! Report

        ?? Renshaw faced 3 balls yesterday for his 1. You can’t be serious? Great future ahead of him but unpickable at the moment.

      • November 15th 2017 @ 3:07pm
        Mike Dugg said | November 15th 2017 @ 3:07pm | ! Report

        His job is making a big score not facing 100 balls for 19. This is kind of thinking that bad Cowan get 17 tests averaging 31

      • November 16th 2017 @ 1:11am
        Don Freo said | November 16th 2017 @ 1:11am | ! Report

        Bancroft is facing many more balls than Renshaw right now. Why would he be out ‘within 4 overs’? Brian?

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