Matt Renshaw began his international career as an ultra-defensive opening batsman but today in India he’ll be trialled as a 50-over strokeplayer for Australia A, possibly batting in the middle order.
Renshaw looks likely to be in Australia A’s starting XI today against India A in their opening match of the 50-over quad-series, which will also feature South Africa A and India B.
Australia A have a wealth of opening options, including Travis Head and D’Arcy Short who have both opened in ODIs this year, as well as Usman Khawaja, who’s opened in eight of his 17 ODIs and has an imposing record at the top of the order for Queensland.
There’s also wicketkeeper-batsman Alex Carey, who opens for South Australia in domestic cricket. This heavy competition for opening berths could see Renshaw bat in the middle order for Australia A.
While the tall left hander has opened in each of his ten one day games in Australian domestic cricket, he batted in the middle order in all of his six matches for Somerset in the recent Royal London One Day Cup.
For Somerset Renshaw batted at six in one of those matches and at five in the other games.
While his overall return of 180 runs at 30 wasn’t impressive, what caught the eye was his scorching strike rate of 104.
That included a sprinting knock of 55 from 40 balls against a strong Sussex attack boasting three bowlers with international experience – Indian quick Ishant Sharma, South African seamer David Wiese and English spinner Danny Briggs.
Renshaw’s ability to shift to the middle order and also to score at better than a run a ball across the tournament was further proof of his growing versatility as a batsman.
The 22-year-old has developed greatly since his Test debut almost two years ago. At that stage Renshaw was a truly old-school opener – cautious in the extreme, with a sole focus of protecting his wicket. That approach saw him leave, block and nurdle his way to 44 from 183 balls across his first Test.
Renshaw’s defensive style was eventually unpicked by bowlers last year, first in the Tests in India, then in the following series in Bangladesh and, finally, in the opening rounds of the Sheffield Shield season.
He was dropped for the Ashes after averaging just 14 with the bat in 16 first-class innings leading up to the first Test. But then Renshaw underwent a transformation.
Starting from just before the Shield’s half-season break he began to employ a far more expansive game, looking to play his shots and put pressure on opening bowlers, rather than just absorbing pressure himself. The dividends were immediate and hefty.
Renshaw has since feasted on first-class attacks, piling up 1235 runs at 56, including six tons from just 14 matches. The key indicator of how much Renshaw has evolved as a first-class batsman in that time is his swift strike rate of 62, compared to his dawdling career strike rate of just 43 when he was dropped for the Ashes.
Renshaw is now playing his pull shot with ferocity, is lofting balls on his pads over the leg side field, is slashing wide deliveries through and over gully and point, and is driving aggressively down the ground and through the offside.
He has long looked similar to Matthew Hayden, now finally Renshaw is playing with a degree of flair reminiscent of the legendary Australian batsman.
That’s not to suggest he’s suddenly a readymade ODI cricketer, as Renshaw still owns a modest List A record, with 504 runs at 34.
Rather it is an indication that he may just have the talent, dedication and adaptability to turn himself into a viable middle order ODI option.
What may make Renshaw an attractive middle order candidate for Australia in the coming years is his confidence and ease against spin. Renshaw dominated star Pakistani leg spinner Yasir Shah in the home Tests 18 months ago and then, a few months later, played some fine knocks in India against the home team’s elite tweakers Ravi Ashwin and Ravi Jadeja.
Australia are in desperate need of an ODI middle order batsman who is fluent against spin.
Time and again over the past two years Australia’s strong top order has excelled only for the middle order to crumble against spin.
The world’s top two ranked ODI teams England and India both bowl at least 20 overs of spin on average per match. So Australia will need to find an answer to their spin conundrum if they want to become an elite ODI team once more.
Renshaw may just become one of the leading candidates to address that weakness. With up to seven one-day matches in India this month, the Queenslander has a chance to start building his case.
Possible Australia A XI for today’s match against India A
1. Travis Head (c)
2. D’Arcy Short
3. Usman Khawaja
4. Peter Handscomb
5. Matt Renshaw
6. Alex Carey (wk) (vc)
7. Jack Wildermuth
8. Ashton Agar
9. Chris Tremain
10. Billy Stanlake
11. Mitchell Swepson
Australia A 50 over squad: Travis Head (c), Alex Carey (vc), Ashton Agar, Peter Handscomb, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Michael Neser, Joel Paris, Matt Renshaw, Jhye Richardson, D’Arcy Short, Billy Stanlake, Mitchell Swepson, Chris Tremain, Jack Wildermuth
August 17 – Australia A versus India A
August 19 – Australia A versus South Africa A
August 21 – Australia A versus India B
August 23 – Australia A versus India A
August 25 – Australia A versus South Africa A
August 27 – Australia A versus India B
August 29 – Quad-series final