All careers come to an end at some point. Some players are axed and never given another chance. Others retire on their own terms with a record to be proud of.
As Australia’s incumbent Test openers David Warner and Usman Khawaja are both 35 years of age, one could expect either one of them to close the book on more than a decade of international cricket any time now, both having represented Australia in all three formats. But there is one simple reason why they would not: they are still scoring runs.
Warner is currently enjoying his time in India, having scored three consecutive half-centuries in the Indian Premier League, while Khawaja’s Test performances this year have been second to none, scoring four centuries from nine innings and reaching 90 on two other occasions.
Would it make sense for them to walk away now, knowing that they have more to give?
Sure, there are examples of great careers that have dragged on for too long, but in this case, the Australian team has a lot to prove in the forthcoming 18 months, and the veteran pair would undoubtedly love to be a part of it.
Warner has already stated his intentions to be part of the 2023 Ashes series in England, as well the 2023 World Cup in India. He has also cited beating India in India as an aspiration, which he will get the chance to fulfill later this year in a four-Test series.
Khawaja, on the other hand, has been rather casual about his future in cricket, conveying the idea that he is not fussed about it in interviews, yet showing an evident hunger for runs out in the middle.
If both openers called time tomorrow, a spot in the Test team would likely go to Marcus Harris, the only reserve opener in the squad for Australia’s recent tour of Pakistan, by default, despite his modest returns in the Test arena.
And there is already a healthy list of contenders for the other spot, the frontrunner of which would be Bryce Street, who showed his prowess with a century against England Lions in December. Selectors could also turn to previously tried openers Cameron Bancroft and Matt Renshaw, or Henry Hunt and Sam Whiteman, who have previously earned Australia A selections.
But this is all hypothetical. Unless injury plays a part, it will probably be at a least a year before any of these players get a sniff. And timing will be crucial in deciding who gets the call-up.
By the end of the 2023 Ashes, Bancroft, Harris and Whiteman will all be in their 30s, which may make them less desirable than the younger likes of Hunt, Renshaw and Street as long-term options. But as Khawaja showed when fighting his way back into the team, age does not matter if you can prove beyond doubt that you’re the best option.
Whiteman could begin the 2023-24 Sheffield Shield season with back-to-back centuries. Will Pucovski might enjoy a year free of injury and concussion. Tim Ward, recently named Bradman Young Cricketer of the Year, could leapfrog other contenders by piling on runs, granted he has enough time to prove himself before the need for a new opener is realised.
It is possible that the next Australian opener is still yet to play first class cricket.
Of course, it is possible that either Warner or Khawaja could find themselves unprecedentedly dropped if they underperform in future Tests. But Khawaja is in the form of his life, and Warner’s pedigree has seen him tolerated through several lean patches of form; though their age may factor towards less patience for the veteran pair.
While an immediate opening at the top of the order would be ideal for some, others may benefit from the passing of time.