Recent reports say that Marnus Labuschagne is set to replace Matt Renshaw for the first Test against Pakistan.
This has made me wonder – is Justin Langer holding Cameron Bancroft’s spot for him?
On paper there should be no choice between Renshaw and Labuschagne. Renshaw has 636 Test runs at 33.47 and averages 40.18 at first class level with ten centuries.
Over the past three Australian summers he’s averaged at least 43 at first class level every season. He scored three Shield centuries in a row last summer and is coming off a country season where he scored 513 runs at 51.30.
Labuschagne averages 34.07 at first class level. He’s had one decent first class summer – the last one where he scored 758 runs at 39.89. He’s only scored four first class centuries. He only went on the Australian A tour because of an injury to Renshaw. While there he scored some useful knocks and a pair. He’s good, I like him, but he’s green.
Langer’s said he wanted to get back to the days when it was hard to get in the Australian Test team and he’s gifting a baggy green to Labuschagne, whose stats are inferior to not just Renshaw but also Peter Handscomb, Glenn Maxwell, Joe Burns and George Bailey.
Of course Langer loves Labuschagne’s attitude. “He would literally do anything to play cricket for Australia,” said the coach. “He loves playing cricket. His work ethic is as good as anyone’s. He’s one of those guys who is like the heartbeat of the team … in terms of work ethic, desire, focus.”
I’m not sure how Renshaw is different but Langer certainly doesn’t talk about the opener the same way.
I guess Labuschagne is a better fielder. And can bowl. There is that.
But it made me wonder – is it also a factor that Labuschagne is a middle order batsman while Renshaw is an opener and thus a rival for Cameron Bancroft when Bancroft comes back from suspension?
This is speculation. I’m having to do a bit of guess work. But I’ll explain my reasoning.
Langer has a big soft spot for Bancroft. He’s known him for years, coached him in WA. Langer described Bancroft as “literally like one of my sons… one of my boys”.
Langer praised him last year for Labuschagne-like dedication. “If you ask him to run 10 laps, he will run 20. If you ask him to bat for an hour, he will bat for two.”
At the beginning of last summer, Langer lobbied hard and loud for Bancroft to take Renshaw’s spot in the Australian Test side. This was duly done.
Langer’s lobbying also helped Shaun Marsh and Mitchell Marsh get back in the side at the expense of Pete Handscomb and Glenn Maxwell. Neither Maxwell or Handscomb are on this tour.
When Bancroft’s form proved underwhelming during the Ashes, Langer lobbied publicly for the selectors to show faith, saying it would be “crazy” for them to drop him. Namely, he wanted them to show the sort of faith they didn’t show to Handscomb, Maxwell or Renshaw (or, to go further back, Joe Burns or Hilton Cartwright).
The selectors obeyed and Bancroft stayed in the team until Bancroft went and got himself banned for cheating.
So Renshaw and Burns were flown in to South Africa to replace Bancroft and Warner as openers for the fourth Test. Renshaw had enjoyed a terrific second half of the 17-18 summer, including three Shield centuries in a row.
Burns had a very good first class season (635 Shield runs at 57.72), far better than Labuschagne. Renshaw failed twice in the Test but Burns top scored in Australia’s first innings with 42, more than the Marsh brothers made between them for the whole test.
It seemed Burns and Renshaw were set for a stint as Australia’s openers, at least for a while. It made sense – both had test experience, both were in good form.
Then Justin Langer became coach.
Burns was overlooked for the Australian A tour, meaning he didn’t have a chance to press his claims for the Test squad for the UAE. He did not make this squad. There was a lot of controversy over Glenn Maxwell’s omission but not much about poor old Burns.
Langer at least called him and told him to put his head down and “score more runs” – even though he’d scored more runs than Labuschagne.
Renshaw had a very successful stint in English county cricket, scoring runs that couldn’t be ignored, and was picked on the Australia A tour and the Test squad. But he missed a few games through injury and now it looks like he’s out on the basis of inadequate match practice – as if Labuschagne’s had a heap more.
So it seems Australia’s openers will be Usman Khawaja, who normally bats at three at Test level, and Finch, who opens in ODIs but normally bats at five at first class level. No other specialist opening batsmen were taken on tour.
If either Khawaja or Finch are a success in this series, they could easily be shifted back down the order to accommodate Bancroft and later, presumably, Warner, on their returns. They normally bat elsewhere. But Renshaw doesn’t. If Renshaw was a success it would make him hard to dislodge as opener.
There would be a spot available for Bancroft as Renshaw’s partner – but then you’d have two stodgy types at the top. And who would give way when Warner returned from his suspension?
Maybe this is purely coincidental on Langer’s part. This is all speculation. Personally I don’t think there’s intentional malice here – I feel it’s more subconscious. If someone ever said it to Langer he would swear up and down it wasn’t true.
But if Langer internationally tried to hold to intentionally hold Bancroft’s spot for him, it’s hard to see how he could have done more than what he’s done by removing Burns and Renshaw from the scene.