In and out of the Test team since 2014, this is it for Joe Burns.
The Queensland veteran is undoubtedly one of Australia’s finest and most technical first-class cricketers, however he has had his fair share of misfortune following some up-and-down form, untimely injuries and often falling out of favour with selectors.
That’s why after receiving the call-up to open the batting in Australia’s series against Pakistan, Burns knows he needs to make the most of his opportunity.
It’s not the fact that he isn’t talented enough or that he doesn’t have the grit and determination required at the level. These attributes have already been proven in the Test arena.
Australia has already seen what the versatile batsman can do. It’s just a matter of whether he can consistently string enough games together to nail down a spot in the team.
Cricket fans have caught glimpses of Burns’ batting prowess, making a solid start to his Test career back in the 2014/15 summer, scoring back-to-back half centuries against a quality Indian bowling line-up in just his second Test.
And while he wasn’t able to maintain that form to make an appearance in the 2015 Ashes series, he made a statement to the cricketing public in 2015 with hundreds against both New Zealand at the Gabba and a prized Boxing Day century against the West Indies.
However, following yet another hundred against New Zealand in early 2016, Burns endured a lean run in Australian colours, ultimately falling victim to the revamp of the Test team after they were skittled for 85 by South Africa in Hobart.
Barring a lone Test appearance in South Africa immediately after the sandpaper scandal, it was not until early this year that Burns once again got his chance in Australian colours, immediately making his mark with a mammoth 180 against Sri Lanka in Canberra.
Although those runs came against an underwhelming bowling attack, it seemed that Burns had turned a corner and was set for a sustained run in the Test team.
It wasn’t to be, as an unfortunate spout of chronic fatigue mid-year meant Burns’ county stint with Lancashire was cut short, downing any hopes of a maiden Ashes campaign.
That’s why his call-up for the home summer is so significant. The selectors know what the right-hander is capable of, and even though he has been short of runs lately, he has been given the chance to once again solidify his spot alongside David Warner at the top of the order.
Australia has experienced a revolving door at the top of the order, with Shaun Marsh, Cameron Bancroft, Matthew Renshaw, Aaron Finch, Marcus Harris and Burns himself all trialed alongside Warner at various stages over the past few years. Hopefully it’s only a matter of time until someone stamps their authority on the position.
Right now, Burns has that opportunity. After a lacklustre start to the Sheffield Season for Queensland, highlighted only by scores of 52 and 76, he will be desperately hoping that he can put to bed any demons he has from his cheap returns for Australia A last week – scoring just 0 and 11 – and give himself the chance to be Australia’s long-term Test opener.
With a lack of standout performances from other candidates such as Marcus Harris and Bulls teammate Usman Khawaja, Burns has been given the chance as much on reputation as much as recent form.
Former Australian captain Ricky Ponting has endorsed the left-hand/right-hand partnership he has the chance to build with Warner.
“With Burns being there now… if [bowlers] want to go around the wicket to Warner, they’ll have to go over the wicket to Burns. So it just makes the bowler’s job a little bit more difficult,” Ponting told cricket.com.au.
“(Burns) is a good selection… Looking back to the Ashes squad, he was probably the most unlucky omission from that.
“Things didn’t work out for him in the tour game [but] he’ll obviously get a lot of confidence out of being back.”
“He’s got a proven track record, averages about 40 in Test cricket and hopefully that will continue.”
At age 30, Burns should be entering his prime. However, unless he can establish himself in the Test team before long, time may be running out.
That’s why this summer is a perfect opportunity for him. While the world-class bowlers of both Pakistan and New Zealand will challenge him, should he score runs, it might well be a turning point in his career.