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Opinion

Who cares who opens the batting for Australia in the first Test?

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Roar Guru
16th December, 2020
47

At the time of writing this piece, there were seven stories on the cricket page of The Roar specifically asking questions about who should open the batting for Australia in the first Test.

The current candidates in no particular order include Marcus Harris, Tim Paine, Marnus Labuschagne, Matthew Wade, Joe Burns, Usman Khawaja and Shaun Marsh. I even saw a suggestion for Pat Cummins to show us what he could do with the bat. Most people were bemoaning the choices available, but at the end of the day, does it matter who opens?

First of all, it’s the first Test in a four-Test series, so it’s not the end of the world if we lose this game. Of course we want the Australian side to win, but the series is still very much alive if we don’t.

The odds are also stacked in Australia’s favour with quality players likely to be available for the rest of the series, whereas India will lose their best batsman and inspirational leader after Adelaide. In other words, we can be one down and still come back in the following Tests.

Ravi Shastri (right) and Virat Kohli.

Ravi Shastri (right) and Virat Kohli are Team India’s brains trust. (Matt King/Cricket Australia/Getty Images

Second, there’s an assumption that whoever is chosen to open will fail. In fairness, that seems like a reasonable assumption, given the quality of the opposition bowling, the fact that it’s a day-night game, the likely pitch and weather conditions, as well as the form of the potential openers. It is, however, only an assumption and there are so many variables that could lead to a different result.

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The Indian bowlers might spray it all over the place, the Aussie innings starts in broad daylight, the pitch and weather conditions offer little to the Indian bowlers, luck goes Australia’s way with decisions, the Indian team drops chances allowing the batsmen to settle or the Aussie openers dig deep and bat for an hour or more – there’s a lot that can happen.

Third, this same team has had recent form in combating very ordinary starts. Cast your minds back to the 2019 Ashes series. The following table shows when Australia lost its first and second wickets in that series.

First Test Second Test Third Test Fourth Test Fifth Test
First innings 1/2, 2/17 1/11, 2/60 1/12, 2/25 1/1, 2/28 1/5, 2/14
Second innings 1/11, 2/27 1/13, 2/19 1/10, 2/36 1/0, 2/16 1/18, 2/29

That was a series played against a world-class attack in their home conditions, yet Tim Paine’s men went within one poor review and one bad umpiring decision of winning that series. They did enough to overcome poor starts and played as a team to win two Tests. Most of the XI from that series are back for this Test, with the difference being they are far more experienced and way more comfortable playing in home conditions.

Yes, the side will be up against a strong attack, but even if they lose early wickets, as they did in England, the team has shown remarkable resilience in overcoming poor starts to still post match winning scores.

Fourth, the Indians have to face some of the best bowlers in Test cricket.

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Even if Australia loses its openers cheaply, even if the team fails to make gargantuan scores, the bowling attack is still perfectly capable of restricting the Indian line-up to totals less than Australia makes. It showed last season, especially against the Black Caps, the sort of pressure required to completely play a team out of the game, through searching bowling backed up by great catching and ground fielding.

In summary, it doesn’t really matter who opens the batting. We can all be sure they will be trying their best.

It’s only one game and if the rest of the team makes enough runs and all contribute to taking 20 Indian wickets for fewer runs, the side wins anyway.