Ben McDermott is the middle-order batsman the selectors are dying to pick.
It’s a name out of left field and one that many wouldn’t have on their elongated lists of players that are future Test batsmen for Australia.
McDermott’s name, however, has risen in prominence in the red-ball format in a swift and very real manner to the point where it seems quite obvious that he is much closer than the general reader may think.
It was always thought that for McDermott to be playing for Australia the opportunity would need to arise in white-ball formats.
With 12 T20 international matches to his name, the taste of international cricket has already reached the 26-year-old and has clearly left him desiring more.
McDermott has an excellent record for his adopted state, averaging 49.26 in 21 one-day matches for Tasmania as well as an uber impressive average of 32.43 in 68 T20 matches with a strike rate of 130, predominately for the Hobart Hurricanes.
Indeed his incredible form has extended to BBL10, where through his first seven matches he scored 299 runs at an average of 49.83 to lead the entire league for runs despite playing one or two fewer games than his counterparts.
But perhaps most impressive is his approach to cricket in the 2020-21 season, an elevation in the way he occupies the crease that has caught the eye of selectors.
Through four Sheffield Shield matches before the commencement of the Big Bash League, McDermott scored 355 runs at an average of 59.16, featuring a half-century in each match.
For such an explosive player, McDermott’s strike rate is well below 50 in the longer form of the game, with this season being no different, but he is playing in a decidedly different way.
Granted, there is an advantage to playing games within a South Australian hub, often possessing access to smaller boundaries, but there has been a confidence and presence in McDermott at the crease in Shield cricket this season.
In the same way Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne are more willing to bat slowly due to their increased ability to access different areas of the ground, subsequently punishing any bad ball and preaching patience, it has appeared as though McDermott has ventured down the same path.
In fact through just these four matches the 26-year-old has nearly doubled his career six tally in long-form cricket, finding that balance between attack and defence.
It hasn’t been an easy road for McDermott, who has still played at least one second XI for Tasmania in each of the past three seasons, but it finally seems as though the consistency is there.
And that’s all the selectors seem to have been waiting for.
Due to injuries, McDermott received what may have otherwise been seen by many as a random call-up to the Australia A team facing the Indians in the final practice match before the international Test series kicked off.
Having shown the consistency to start the season, the selectors finally had the reason they were looking for to pick McDermott and let him showcase his talents.
And showcase he did.
His second-innings century against India, requiring him to dig in with Alex Carey early on before enjoying a swashbuckling partnership with Jack Wildermuth, showed that the balance in his game was transferrable against stronger bowling attacks.
Too often in the past we have seen McDermott be far too defensive in Shield cricket and far too aggressive at the wrong times in the BBL. Now we have concrete evidence, passing both the eye and statistical test, that the adopted Tasmanian is ready.
McDermott has only two centuries across 38 first-class matches, leaving him with 2011 runs at a modest average of 34.
However, if rules are to be applied for selection regarding form, then we wipe the slate clean and strike while the iron is hot.
Despite a rock-solid start to his Test career and a player-of-the-match performance in the 2019 Boxing Day Test just five matches ago, Travis Head was dropped for the third Test against India.
On the flip side, Matthew Wade earnt his recall based on excellent form despite an average previous record, and while his spot is now in jeopardy, both these events go to show that the selectors are willing to make a decision based on what they currently see.
Going forward, Head should be a consistent figure that floats around that No. 5 spot in the Test team.
However, it is most certainly Ben McDermott who has emerged as the soon-to-be replacement for Matthew Wade in the Australian set-up that will fight with Head for the spot.
If the method going forward is to take full advantage of players in form who have a strong future at the top level, then this is the path to go down.
And with George Bailey playing a large role in the set-up, it all makes a bit more sense.
There is no single player who performs so consistently at a high level to take this spot in the middle order. But setting it up with strong performers at Shield level with styles that are malleable to any situation is the right way to approach things.
It’s why Travis Head deservedly stays relevant and why the selectors have long been keen on McDermott.
Australia doesn’t have a definitive fixture for Test cricket after the fourth Test against India, which will allow the dust to settle and the second half of the Shield season to be played and analysed.
Whether McDermott is able to play the remaining fixtures for Tasmania or returns from Australia’s T20 squad as part of the tour of New Zealand to play the final two Shield matches, he will have a golden opportunity to confirm to the selectors what they already know.
It might be unexpected to the vast majority, but do not be surprised when it happens.
Ben McDermott is at the forefront of selectors minds and will be in the Australian Test team in the near future.