It’s been too long since Australia last had the opportunity to pick young cricketers that have demanded Test selection through sheer weight of performance.
Since Ryan Harris was awarded his baggy green in blustery Wellington in March 2010, a further 45 players have been awarded their Test debuts. Nineteen did so before their 25th birthday, showing the selectors aren’t averse to youth. Yet only 11 have kicked on beyond ten Tests, displaying a caveat to this faith.
But none of them were picked on account of red-hot performance. Even the greatest of them in Steve Smith began his career as a capable leg spinner before evolving into the long form’s premium batsman.
While he did average 56 with the bat in 13 first-class matches, it was a bowling mean of nigh on 49 that got him the nod – neither a sign of banging the door down, nor of what was to come.
This is where Will Pucovski and Cameron Green come into the picture. Starting with Pucovski first, he’s been a name that has generated more than a whisper in recent seasons. Yet whenever on the cusp, his opportunity was gone on account of well-documented personal issues.
No need to embellish on this point, as it is his record now that should strike into focus.
A total average of 55 over 22 first-class matches is appealing enough, before you factor in two double-tons in his last two outings. In a decade where grassier wickets have seen plenty of wickets plundered for too few runs at Shield level, these aren’t figures to be ignored. Thankfully, the selectors share this sentiment as well.
Cameron Green brings about an entirely different discussion which goes to the heart of Australian cricketing psyche.
Since the Second World War, Australia have only occasionally trifled with allrounders at Test level. Granted, few can match the majesty of a Keith Miller or Richie Benaud, and as such, the country have largely sought to pack their side with six blokes who can bat well, four or five who can take 20 wickets, and a wicketkeeper who can contribute some handy runs.
There was little need to combine the distinct art forms until 2005, when Andrew Flintoff changed the Australian modern perspective on allrounders.
Both Shane Watson and Mitchell Marsh were given good cracks to show the multidimensional quality required, yet both have fallen short due to both injury and inconsistency. And again, neither had the runs and wickets records needed to show they were going to be the Australian answer to Flintoff.
It must be said that Cameron Green is no guarantee he will be either. The uniqueness of quality allrounders are derived from how few there are.
Yet over 19 Shield matches, he’s averaging with the bat at near 50 and bowling sub-23. Players have been picked for the Test team with records in near reverse of that. And he too has begun 2020/21 with a bang, piling on two tons and recently returning to the bowling crease after injury.
Both players present appealing choices, but it takes bravery to select them ahead of worthy options in the likes of Joe Burns and others with appealing cases.
For one, most of the young players picked in the last decade have been proverbial Hail Marys, being drafted in either during positions of weakness or in the vainglorious hope of uncovering a hidden gem. Yet the likes of Smith, Nathan Lyon and Pat Cummins are the exceptions, not the rule.
It’s even braver to pick them against India. Their first ever triumph two years ago was courtesy of a batting line-up unable to withstand the losses of Smith and David Warner. It is this area where Pucovski and Green are most likely to solidify Australia’s home advantage, even before you account for Virat Kohli’s impending departure after the First Test.
Seldom have the stars aligned for Australia to take a calculated punt as opposed to a speculative one. Success for Pucovski and Green can enable them long unabated stints in the Test team for years to come.
Initial failures can afford them the opportunity to learn within the national team environment, or at worse, return to Shield climes to rework their games for a later run at a future date.
So their case is solid. All that is needed now is bravery.