It’s well past midnight – on a ‘school night’ – and I’m sitting in my home study, leaning forward with my red eyes transfixed on the scene from Headingley.
Joe Burns has done well on his return to the Test side. That can only mean one thing: he’s going to be dropped soon.
That tends to happen with Burns.
I wouldn’t argue Burns was the unluckiest cricketer in Australian history – not while Brad Hodge and David Hussey are running around. But he has been dropped a lot. An awful lot.
Joe Burns made his Test debut in 2014-15 against India, replacing an injured Mitch Marsh – or an injured Michael Clarke, one of of the two. Burns had played consistently well at Sheffield Shield level since 2010-11, earning him the nod over other contenders like Ed Cowan and Adam Voges. His youth and versatility helped, apparently. Anyone who has followed the Sheffield Shield is well aware of Burns, yet commentator Mark Taylor admits he doesn’t know much about him.
I remember seeing the last days of play, with everyone hanging around so Shaun Marsh could get his century – he was dismissed for 99 and India hung on for a draw. Burns’s debut was mostly unnoticed.
Burns has better luck in his second Test, scoring 58 and then 66 off 39 balls as Australia push for victory. It’s another draw. Australia rewards him by dropping him for the 2015 tours of the West Indies and England. Instead they take the Marshes and Adam Voges – to be fair, Voges had an amazing domestic season.
It’s Burns’s first experience being dropped by selectors. It wouldn’t be his last.
The 2015 Ashes is a disaster for Australia, with Clarke, the Marshes and Voges all proving disappointing. There are a bunch of retirements, including Clarke, Shane Watson and Chris Rogers, opening up slots in the batting line-up. Poor form from Cam Bancroft and Shaun Marsh, other contenders for spots, has Burns back in the team to play New Zealand. He scores 71 and 129 on his comeback. Has he established himself?
He follows it with scores of 40 and zero; 14 and 11; 33; 128 and five; and 26. He tours New Zealand and makes zero and then 170 and 65 in a thrilling second Test.
Burns keeps his place for the tour of Sri Lanka. Like all the Australian batsmen, he finds the going hard. He makes three and 29 in the first Test and zero and two in the second. Burns says all the right things after the game but gets dropped in favour of Shaun Marsh for the third Test. Marsh goes on to score a century.
Mark Taylor takes a swipe at Burns’s fielding, comparing it unfavourably Cameron Bancroft’s.
Burns is recalled for the second Test against South Africa in 2016-17 following an injury to Shaun Marsh. He scores zero and one and Australia lose. It’s Australia’s fifth loss in a row, and despite playing only the one Test, Burns gets dropped again, this time for Matt Renshaw. Nic Maddinson and Peter Handscomb are also brought into the side.
Matt Renshaw has a good run in the Test side but then wobbles and is replaced by Cameron Bancroft, who doesn’t really have a good run in the Test side but keeps his spot until he cheats and tries to cover it up and gets banned. Burns is recalled to the Test team for the fourth Test against South Africa off the back of a strong Shield season. He makes four and 42, the highest score in the innings, in a game during which Australia is thrashed.
He is rewarded by not being picked for the Australia A tour of India, the Australian tour of the UAE or the Australia-India series. Instead Australia decide to open with Aaron Finch and Usman Khawaja and then Marcus Harris.
Burns is recalled to play Sri Lanka in 2019, replacing Finch and beating Matt Renshaw. He makes 15 in the first Test but is kept for the second, in which he makes 180 and nine.
Burns signs up to play county cricket but misses some due to injury. He recovers and scores a century for Australia A against Surrey but is overlooked for the Ashes squad in favour of Cam Bancroft and Marcus Harris. Trevor Hohns admits Burns’s illness was a factor. All the Australian openers go on to fail in the Ashes.
Burns gets recalled to the Australian side in late 2019 at the expense of Marcus Harris. However, Cam Bancroft is also picked in the squad despite not scoring any runs. Burns makes the first XI, but what does Bancroft’s presence mean for him?
The three most remarkable things about Burns’s career so far are:
In 2015 Burns was dropped in favour of Clarke, Voges and the Marshes. Clarke didn’t play Test cricket after 2015, Voges didn’t play after 2016 and the Marshes are, well, the Marshes.
After Sri Lanka he was dropped in favour of Marsh and Moises Henriques. It was Henriques’s last test. After Hobart he was dropped in favour of Matt Renshaw, Nic Maddinson and Peter Handscomb, all three of whom seem to be well out of Test consideration at the moment (though you never know).
After sandpapergate he was dropped in favour of Khawaja, Finch and Harris. After that 180 against Sri Lanka he was dropped in favour of Harris and Bancroft. How many of these decisions turn out to be correct in the long term?
What’s Burns done exactly? Is his hair too long? Is it his fielding? Are they frustrated he can’t bowl? Does he have an attitude problem? Is it too threatening that he’s studied business at uni? Is he too quiet? Is he too dull?
He’s one of our most consistent batsmen. His average has rarely dropped below 40. He has better Test records than Finch, Harris, Renshaw, Bancroft and the Mashes.
Well, he’s got his chance again, and I’m glad.
But if history is any guide, they will get rid of him again sooner rather than later.