Since Joe Burns’ last extended run in the Test team, Australia have used seven different openers.
They’ve churned through Cameron Bancroft, Marcus Harris, Matt Renshaw, Shaun Marsh, Aaron Finch and Usman Khawaja in addition to mainstay David Warner.
Now Burns is back for his sixth stint in the Australia side. That sounds wrong, but it’s not – the Queenslander’s 17 Tests have been spread across six separate stints in the team.
He started with two Tests against India in the summer of 2014-15. Then in late 2015 he returned to the Test team for what has been his only prolonged stint – ten consecutive Tests against New Zealand, the West Indies and Sri Lanka.
In late 2016 his third stint in the team saw him bizarrely recalled for just one Test, against South Africa in Hobart. His fourth stint also lasted just one Test when he came into the team for the fourth match in South Africa in March last year after the ball-tampering scandal. Burns came back to the Test line-up ten months after that for two Tests against Sri Lanka.
Now, another summer on, he has begun his sixth stint in the Australian Test team in resounding fashion by crunching 97 in a monster 222-run opening stand with David Warner in Brisbane yesterday. After a slightly nervy start, Burns quickly found his groove. In the 13th over he hooked a 145 kilometre per hour short ball to the boundary off 16-year-old pace prodigy Naseem Shah, who was hugely impressive.
Not long after, Burns advanced down the pitch twice to off spinner Iftikhar Ahmed, first lofting him cleanly over mid-on for four and then giving himself room to hit over cover to the boundary.
That took Burns to 32 from 47 balls and from then on he looked supreme. His footwork to the spinners was swift and assured. Against the quicks he timed the ball beautifully, leaning into drives and sweating on anything short. Naseem Shah tested Burns with several searing short balls, including one that smashed him on the elbow.
That blow came from the second last ball before lunch. Australia went into the long break on 0-100 with Warner cruising at the other end. The left-handed veteran has been flogged by critics over the past 18 months due to his role in the sandpaper scandal and his horrendous Ashes.
Many cricket followers even made the nonsensical suggestion he shouldn’t have been in Australia’s team for this Test, in spite of his astounding home record. Warner can’t change what happened in South Africa or in the Ashes. What he can do, however, is help Australia to win this series against Pakistan and then beat the talented Kiwis in the following three-Test series. That is all that should matter to him right now.
Yesterday Warner batted with tremendous control. Even when he was well set he resisted the urge to try to flay the Pakistan attack and continued to respect the good balls.
Burns, at the other end, did exactly the same thing.
Yes, the Gabba pitch was good for batting and, yes, this Pakistan attack is inexperienced. But the stand between Warner and Burns was high class. They look good together. They always have.
Across 20 innings batting as a pair, the average opening stand between Burns and Warner has been 53. That is the fourth-highest average in Test history for an Australian opening pair (minimum 1000 runs). It is even better than the 52 average of legendary opening pair Matt Hayden and Justin Langer.
Surely now, after churning through openers in the past two years, Australia must give Burns an extended run in the team. His record as a Test opener is fantastic, with 1074 runs at 43, including four tons and a 97 from just 15 matches.
At 30 years old he is in his prime and could potentially play for another four or five years. With no other attractive opening options – Bancroft and Harris have had their chances for now and Renshaw is in a long form trough – there is no need to look past Burns for the rest of this summer at a minimum.
It is time to belatedly give Burns a generous stint as a Test opener.