Another chance for runs, and another failure for both Joe Burns and Marcus Harris.
In a first, the Sydney Cricket Ground got day-night first-class cricket yesterday, with the Indians beginning their final three-day tour match against Australia A.
While runs were at a premium for both sides on the opening day’s play, with India first skittled for 194 (of which Jasprit Bumrah made 55 not out) and Australia finishing all out for just 108, Joe Burns succumbed to a second-ball duck, while Harris didn’t fare a great deal better, only making 26.
When you look at the Australia A batting card, Harris is actually made to look like a bit of a world beater, but the rest of the A team (minus Cameron Green) are unlikely to challenge for a spot in the Test XI this summer.
Harris, to be fair, did have runs at Sheffield Shield level to kickstart the season in the South Australian hub, with the Victorian opener making a double ton in the opener and a half-century in the second clash against Western Australia.
His runs put him firmly back on the selection radar for the first Test, but only making 35 in the first innings of last week’s tour game at Drummoyne against the Indians, followed up by Friday’s effort won’t put many brownie points against his name.
He does look to be the better option of the likely selections though, given his 31-year-old Queensland partner’s lean run of form to start the year.
Burns’ five innings in the Sheffield Shield tallied just 57 runs at an average of a tick over 11, while he only made four in the first tour game last week.
That, frankly, isn’t worthy of Test selection, and yet, the selectors may feel they have no other choice next Thursday at the Adelaide Oval, given the injury to David Warner and the concussion to Will Pucovski.
The young Victorian, who has had a long history with concussions, will need to be managed back to health and playing by the Australian medical staff, and would appear, for the moment at least, a very unlikely starter in the first Test of the huge upcoming series.
So, while the selectors could well call on Harris, he will need an opening partner.
There has been some talk Marnus Labuschagne could be the man to bridge the gap, but it’s a long-held belief among cricket experts that the best batsmen in the team should be at three and four.
That being said, the men who currently are the incumbents for those roles are Labuschagne and Steve Smith, who are, without a shadow of a doubt, the best batsmen in this Australian team.
The last thing the selectors will want to do is to open up first drop and potentially sacrifice one of those two best batsmen at the top of the order.
Could Labuschagne handle opening? Probably, and almost no doubt about it.
But is it the best move for the Aussies? No. Plenty of doubt about that one.
The other option internally at least is to promote the red-hot Matthew Wade up the order. The former wicketkeeper has become a fixture of the middle order, but in the short form of the game at least, he is an opening batsman.
His form against the Indian attack during the recent T20 series was red-hot, and the calm head on his shoulders at this later point of his career tends to suggest it’s a job he may be able to move to.
That, just like Labuschagne, would be a monumental risk though. But it would be offset by the opening of another middle-order spot, which, if his own concussion isn’t too bad, could be filled by an on-debut Cameron Green.
The other option is to go outside the current team, to either Shaun Marsh or Usman Khawaja, just when it looked like both men’s Test careers were on the brink of being over.
Of course, the squad has been picked, but with injuries to Pucovski and potentially Green, there will be scope to make changes should the selectors want to – although trying to work that out in the current COVID landscape could prove tricky.
Both of the veterans could also be an option at number three, though, on top of opening, should the selectors opt to go with Labuschagne at the top.
While Khawaja has a century to his name in the Sheffield Shield games played this year, Marsh has two in five innings to go with an 88.
His form is outstanding, but his career stats against India are abysmal, averaging just 28. He has also carried this form time and time again, only to falter when called up to the national team, and with his age now well and truly on the wrong side of 35, it would be an untold gamble to go with Marsh.
While Marsh and Khawaja are both experienced options, it would feel like a step back to go with either of them. In saying that though, if the selectors want to look outside the incumbent squad, then the Sheffield Shield stats list is grim reading at the top of the order.
Matt Renshaw and Cameron Bancroft both had a century, but don’t appear to be in the selectors’ sights. But other than the duo who have also played for Australia previously, there is simply nothing to get excited about.
While the selection manual would say to stick with the plan and play Burns and Harris, they simply aren’t in good enough form to warrant both being selected.
It can not be allowed to happen, and as a result, the selectors must do something left-field.
Australia A matches have proven it.