Prior to this summer, Australia had changed their batting line-up ten times in their previous 14 Tests.
During that tumultuous period, which started when Steve Smith and David Warner were banned, Australia incredibly used 15 different batsmen in their top six.
Smith, Warner, Aaron Finch, Marcus Harris, Joe Burns, Matt Renshaw, Cameron Bancroft, Shaun Marsh, Mitch Marsh, Peter Handscomb, Marnus Labuschagne, Travis Head, Matt Wade, Usman Khawaja and Kurtis Patterson all had a crack.
Throughout this time there was a heavy focus on Australia’s reliance on Smith and Warner, the former in particular. Yet the continual chopping and changing made it very difficult to build any stability around that star pair.
Now, however, due to the emergence of Labuschagne as a high-quality Test batsman, Australia have a very strong core. This gives them the luxury of affording a longer leash to Joe Burns, Travis Head and Matt Wade.
Fitness permitting, that trio all should be locked in for Australia’s next series in Bangladesh in June. And unless they perform horrendously in that two-Test series, they should be retained for next summer’s blockbuster four-Test series against India.
Having built some impressive form, with an 8-2 win-loss record in their past 11 Tests, Australia should now seek stability.
Australia fans have grown so accustomed to the side’s batting selection lottery that many constantly call for change. Even as Australia have gone 4-0 this summer against Pakistan and New Zealand there has been regular speculation about dropping Burns or Head or Wade or Tim Paine.
Why, exactly? And for whom?
Burns averaged 44 in Tests this year and has a career Test average of 39, including four tons. Head has made a fine start to his Test career, averaging 43 after 16 Tests. Wade, meanwhile, was handed the huge task of becoming a specialist batsman in the UK, a graveyard for Aussie stroke makers, and managed to score two tons in that Ashes before now averaging 49 in four Tests this summer.
Considering all that, and with Warner, Labuschagne and Smith purring along, there is no need to consider dumping any of Burns, Head or Wade.
A large segment of Australian fans seem to want batsmen to either dominate or disappear. How else do you explain the amount of disrespect directed towards Head, a young batsman with a better record after 16 Tests than all-time greats like Ricky Ponting, Matthey Hayden, Justin Langer, Steve Waugh, Michael Clarke and Smith?
Or the lack of appreciation for Burns and Wade? It is not as if Head, Burns and Wade are keeping proven stars out of the team.
The only accomplished Test batsman on the sidelines is Usman Khawaja, who was justifiably dropped and has since had a shocker in the Sheffield Shield, averaging 17 from eight innings.
Aside from Khawaja, Will Pucovski and Nic Maddinson are battling mental health issues, and Patterson has been held back by injury. Beyond that trio, there are no other batsmen pressing strongly for Test consideration.
Burns is not in peak form. Yet he’s still scored 198 Test runs at 33 this summer, hardly grounds to axe him for the umpteenth time after just four Tests back in the team. Give him time, he has earned it with his previous Test and Shield performances.
The alternative is to fire up the opener’s merry-go-round yet again and go back to Harris or Bancroft, or punt a debutant.
And if Wade or Head are punted, what does their replacement have to do to be considered worthy? Average 50-plus? How about we just calm down for a while, forget about axing this bloke or that fella, and appreciate the fact that the Australian side is in good nick.
Australia are fortunate that their Test top six is finally in healthy shape, arguably stronger than it has been for a decade. That may take a while to sink in for some fans.