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Khawaja and Finch should not open in Tests this summer

13th October, 2018
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Expert
13th October, 2018
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Usman Khawaja and Aaron Finch should move down the order for the Australian Test summer despite their brilliant efforts as openers in the first Test against Pakistan last week.

Australia have a glut of good opening options but their stocks are far shallower further down the order, which is where Khawaja and Finch can be of greatest use.

In Matt Renshaw and Joe Burns Australia have two proven first-class openers who are in fine form, with Renshaw having struck six first-class tons this year and Burns averaging 56 last summer in the Sheffield Shield.

Not to mention star opener David Warner’s ban ends in March and in December we’ll see the return of fellow opener Cameron Bancroft, who batted well in South Africa, top scoring for Australia across the first three Tests.

That represents a logjam at the top of the order for Australia leading into next year’s Ashes. If Khawaja and Finch remain as openers this summer, Australia will have the unnecessary situation of six batsmen vying for just two opening spots in the Ashes, with a paucity of options further down the order.

A far more appealing scenario leading into the tour of England would see Khawaja and Finch settled in to positions three and five in the order, with Warner, Renshaw, Burns and Bancroft left to compete for the opening roles.

Usman Khawaja plays a shot against Pakistan

Australia’s Usman Khawaja plays a shot (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

If this summer Renshaw and Burns struggled as openers then Australia would always have the option of falling back to Khawaja.

The 31-year-old left hander has been supreme in all three Tests in which he has opened, churning out 450 runs at 150. What makes that achievement all the more remarkable is those matches have taken place in three entirely different sets of conditions.

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First, in 2016, he made a grinding 145 under lights on a juicy, seaming Adelaide pitch against a rampant South African attack which had rolled Australia for 85 and 161 in the previous Test.

A month later, Khawaja scored a free-flowing 79* on a harder, faster Sydney surface against Pakistan. Then, this week, he encountered a slow, turning Dubai deck and proceeded to graft his way to a magnificent double of 85 and 141.

It can take good Test openers years before they can put together a trio of performances like that across such different conditions. Khawaja did it at his first try.

Each time he has opened in Tests it has been either as a fill-in for an injured team mate or, in this current series, as what initially appeared to be a temporary measure to get the best out of him in Asia, where he had previously floundered.

While Khawaja is a wonderful option for Australia as an opener, it would be far easier to balance the rest of the batting lineup if he went back to first drop.

This is particularly relevant looking ahead to the Ashes. Batting at first drop in English county cricket this year, Khawaja made three tons from just four matches, while Warner and Renshaw both have good recent records in England as openers.

In the last Ashes in England, Warner struck five half-centuries from nine innings as he finished with 418 runs at 46.

David Warner

David Warner of Australia (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

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Renshaw, meanwhile, recently completed a stunning debut season in Division One of the County Championship, scoring three centuries in six matches amid a haul of 513 runs at 51.

If Khawaja remained as opener for the Ashes one of that accomplished pair would either have to be left out of the Australian XI or forced to bat out of position down the order.

Khawaja and Finch were instrumental in Australia saving the first Test against Pakistan in Dubai. But beyond this series they will be more valuable batting further down the order in Tests.