With Aaron Finch already locked into one opening batting berth, the selectors have David Warner and Usman Khajawa to pick from as the skipper’s partner.
Both combinations are proven to be world-class.
There have been 4124 ODIs decided since the first on 5 January 1971 at the MCG between Australia, captained by Bill Lawry, and England, led by Ray Illingworth.
Australia won by five wickets, with England leftie John Edrich named man of the match for his 82. Ian Chappell top-scored for Australia with 60.
Of those 4124 games there have been 76 opening batting combinations worthy of worldwide recognition. Both Aaron Finch-Usman Khawaja and Finch-Warner are ranked among the elite.
But the former has been outstanding to be among the top three on average per innings.
At the top of the list are Pakistan’s Mohammad Hafeez and Nasir Jamshed (2012-13), who averaged 70.50 from 12 innings with 846 runs, a top stand of 224, plus one half-century and four-century partnerships together.
Then comes Finch and Khawaja (2013-19), averaging 64.07 from 14 digs, with 897 runs, a top of 209 with three centuries and four half-centuries.
In third place is India’s Shikhar Dhawan and Ajinkya Rahane (2014-17) at 64.05 from 18 stands, 1153 runs, a top partnership of 231 with five centuries and three half-centuries.
Finch and Warner have averaged 44.29 from 48 innings, tallying 2126 runs, a top stand of 231 with five centuries and ten half-centuries.
That’s a big tick to retain the Finch-Khawaja combination for the World Cup.
But there are some side issues that need to be taken into account. Finch came out of a bad eight-game drought where he scored just 105 runs at 13.12 to fire in his last nine trips to the crease with 608 runs at 76. Khawaja has been in superb form all year as the leading international run-getter, with 769 at 59.15 ahead of Finch’s 634 at 52.83.
To put those stats in perspective, the world’s undisputed best ODI batsman, Virat Kohli, is third, with 611 at 55.54. That gives the Finch-Khawaja combination another massive tick for retention.
But the sleeper is David Warner, who has been out of action for the last 12 months under suspension, playing his last ODI against England at Perth’s new stadium last January, the first international cricket match at Optus Stadium.
Unlike Finch and Khawaja firing in their more recent innings, Warner’s last 13 ODI visits managed only 397 at 33.08 with one ton, while his previous 13 amassed 1052 at 80.92 with six tons.
That’s the reason why the Finch-Warner career average innings of 44.29 is 20 runs less than the Finch-Khawaja’s career average.
But the ticks are still with the latter.
With no ODI form over the last year, Warner’s only plus is his current form in the IPL, where he leads the tournament run-getters ahead of KL Rahul and Chris Gayle.
Let’s take into account running between wickets where Warner excels, and both Finch and Khawaja are lazy.
If Warner were to open, he’d press Finch every time, grabbing those extra runs through mistakes in the field and they all add up. He would do the same with Khawaja if Finch were dismissed first. That tick goes to Warner.
The next comparisons are their individual averages facing the first ball of a dig or being at the non-striker’s end.
Khawaja averages 54.76 when he faces the first ball and 51.16 as non-striker. Warner facing the first ball averages 52.39; if he starts as the non-striker, he’s averaging 34.75. Finch is averaging 40.84 facing the first ball and 39.21 as the non-striker. They are all in the same boat, batting better when they face the first ball.
And that leaves strike rates as opening batsmen. Warner strikes at 96.88, Finch 88.21, and Khawaja 85.99. Coupled with Warner’s outstanding running between wickets, the Finch-Warner combination gets the nod, with Khawaja at three. But the alternative is certainly positive.
For the record, there are eight other Australian opening batting combination averages listed among the top career 76: