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Axing the latest chapter in Renshaw rollercoaster, but he’ll be back

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Expert
13th February, 2020
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Charting the still fledgling career of Matthew Renshaw, it becomes clear the 23-year-old has experienced more ups and downs at an age many Australian Test cricketers are yet to even debut.

Picked, dropped, picked then dropped again by 22, the Queenslander has grown up quicker than most.

And as he takes a break from domestic cricket after being dropped for the Sheffield Shield, the inevitable question is whether we’ll see him back in the baggy green. While his talent is unquestioned and age is very much on his side, the opener’s downward spiral in the game’s longer formats has now lasted 18 months and has seen him slip down the pecking order.

So where did it go wrong?

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Renshaw’s career is an interesting case study in the mental difficulties of a young opening batsman. Picked alongside Peter Handscomb and Nic Maddinson in wake of the Hobart debacle against South Africa in 2016, the then-20-year-old made a strong start to his Test career.

On his debut he was pigeon-holed as a stoic, defensive opener after scoring 34 not out off 137 balls in the second innings in Adelaide. Six weeks later he would score 184 at the SCG against Pakistan and Australia seemingly had a ten-year cricketer on their hands.

He continued to impress. Two half-centuries in his first three innings of the 2017 tour of India underlined his ability to adapt on difficult wickets. And while his returns petered out in that series and the following tour of Bangladesh, they did so for most of the Australian top order, too.

Despite the leaner trot he was granted slack, and for good reason. His prospects remained high.

Australian batsman Matt Renshaw

(AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

But soon after things started to go downhill and, at least in the longer format, haven’t truly recovered since. A poor start to the Shield season in late 2017 saw him fail to pass 20 in his first six innings and, as if to underline the fickle nature of cricket, he was replaced by Cameron Bancroft for the Ashes.

A virtual lock just months prior, he found himself on the outer.

In an interview with The Final Word podcast last May, Renshaw admitted to struggling upon his return home.

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“I might have changed my technique a little bit going into Bangladesh to deal with those wickets, and I didn’t adjust very well coming back if I’m completely honest,” he said. “Then (in the Shield) I sort of just kept finding ways to get out.”

While some felt he was hard done by, Renshaw himself didn’t.

“I didn’t have the runs on the board which they asked for, so he probably deserved that opportunity,” he said.

Despite this he finished the season strongly, scoring three hundreds and a vital 81 not out in the final that saw him, in strange circumstances, whisked away to South Africa as cover in wake of the sandpaper scandal that engulfed Australian cricket in early 2018. But he would score just eight and five in Johannesburg, and that remains the last time he has played at Test level.

After that, Renshaw’s shift downhill was gradual rather than rapid. He moved to Somerset shortly after the Jo’burg Test and, in hindsight, rebranded himself as a cricketer.

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Stoicism was replaced with style, and he would average over 50 in a six-game stint, including three hundreds. The most memorable of these was a rapid 112 off just 99 balls against Yorkshire, scoring more than half his side’s first innings total on a Taunton green top.

His third hundred would soon follow against Nottinghamshire. But now, more than 18 months on, that remains the last time he has reached triple figures at first-class level.

Matt Renshaw bats during a test match against India

(AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade)

Luck, too, hasn’t gone his way. After his successful stint with Somerset, Renshaw was all but certain to be picked against Pakistan in the UAE but was concussed badly at short leg in a warm-up match. After the concussion (the fourth of his career) he struggled with the Bulls, averaging just 21.88 last season.

This season he has struggled again, averaging just 20.22 in ten innings without passing 50. Those two seasons at home were book-ended by another stint in the UK, with Kent this time, where he stumbled again in the four-day format.

His form of late in the Big Bash has been pleasing, however. Renshaw scored three half-centuries to be behind only Chris Lynn as the Brisbane Heat’s top run-scorer. He has said he enjoys the shorter formats to just bat without overburdening himself.

The path back into the Australian Test XI now appears a longer one, even though he is still reportedly at the forefront of selectors’ minds. And at 23, there’s little reason to rush a player that remains a 100-Test prospect.

As we hear often in this context, many players have been dropped for Australia and returned to forge brilliant careers. There’s good reason the Queenslander turned heads when he arrived on the scene, and not just for his refreshing positivity.

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He has the temperament and skill set to thrive at the top. And while he is not showing those wares now, he’ll be back.