He might only be 23 years old, but Cameron Green already looms as the most irreplaceable man in Australian cricket.
With a finger injury to rule the all-rounder out of the Sydney Test against South Africa, the Aussies will have to scramble to find a replacement, with an heir apparent just about nonexistent on the first-class scene. Certainly no other all-rounder has both Green’s exceptional state record with the bat and his undoubted class with the ball.
The selectors may have to think outside the box to find a new member of the XI to walk out onto the SCG on January 4 – but whether that’s returning to the well with some forgotten names, radically shaking up the team structure or giving a Western Australian teammate of Green’s a shock chance to shine, there are plenty of options but few if any standout candidates.
Here are four ways the Aussies could replace Cameron Green in Sydney.
Green’s ability to offer Australia a fifth genuine frontline bowler while hardly compromising the batting order makes it a fiendishly difficult task to replace him. Whether blunting the attack or dampening the batting, every alternative option is going to make the team slightly less formidable in Sydney.
Perhaps, therefore, the best choice would be to try and fill the mould with a like-for-like: a batting all-rounder who might not be at Green’s level, but will at least offer some tidy overs with the ball and a handy presence at six behind an in-form top order.
Green’s fellow Western Australian Aaron Hardie is at the front of the queue in that regard. It would be silly to put too much weight behind his recent BBL performances for the Perth Scorchers, but it’s worth noting he has been striking the ball exceptionally.
Averaging a tick under 30 for the season at an impressive strike rate of 150.63, he is one of only four players in the tournament – the others being Scorchers teammates Josh Inglis and Faf du Plessis and Renegades captain Nic Maddinson – to have scored over 50 runs while striking at beyond 150.
His Sheffield Shield season hasn’t been quite as eye-catching, averaging 26.83 with the bat and having taken seven wickets at 43.71, but his first-class average of 44.57 and spectacular 174 in last season’s Shield final win speak to his undoubted talent with bat in hand.
As an added bonus, he now has Ricky Ponting’s seal of approval.
Moises Henriques would also have to be considered as a one-off option for Sydney: the 35-year old has been around about the Australian squad for years, particularly on tours of Asia. With four Tests under his belt already – albeit none since 2016 – he knows what playing at the top level entails.
He’s only a sporadic bowler for NSW these days, though he does have four wickets at 22.5 this Shield season; with the bat, though, he’s been a consistent performer for a long time, and has hit two half-centuries at 30.7 for the first-class season (including an unbeaten 99).
Neither Henriques nor Hardie could hope to replace Green, especially with the ball; but a reasonable number six batter who can send down a few handy overs to give the quicks some support would no doubt be appealing. The Aussie selectors thought similarly for the New Year’s Test in 2017, when Hilton Cartwright was handed his debut to allow Stephen O’Keefe to be selected as a second spinner to Nathan Lyon.
He only bowled four of their 190 overs for the Test, but was almost insurance in case injury hit one of the pacemen, just as it has in Melbourne.
Talk has been rife about the Aussies picking one of Mitchell Swepson or even young Victorian Todd Murphy as a spin twin for Nathan Lyon in Sydney – even though the SCG hasn’t been a turning track for the better part of two decades.
Green’s absence as a frontline quick probably puts paid to that unless they’re happy to carry the world’s longest tail; but if the Aussies want to pick two spinners and cover for Green, there’s still a left-field option to consider.
It has been nearly a decade since Ashton Agar burst onto the scene with his remarkable, Test record 98 at number 11 in the 2013 Ashes, but two Tests in Bangladesh are all he’s been able to add since that debut series. However, he has become a consistent member of Australia’s two limited-overs teams, with his handy batting and canny spin an excellent combination in white-ball cricket.
Agar proved he was around the mark when he was picked in the Prime Minister’s XI to face the touring West Indies, picking up two second-innings wickets; while he hit a freewheeling 72 from number eight in his only Sheffield Shield match of the summer, having missed most of it on T20 World Cup duties.
Agar won’t exactly run through the Proteas with the ball, and he’d probably need to bat at seven below Alex Carey, but if the selectors want a second spinner and an all-round option, the one-time boy wonder could be the answer.
As an aside, of all the years for Glenn Maxwell to break his leg – a superior bat to Agar while only moderately less effective with ball in hand in red-ball cricket, the Victorian’s much-yearned-for Test second chance could have been his!
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Australia have made do with six batters and four bowlers for the majority of our Test history: with Green not available, returning to the tried and true formula, which brought plenty of success before the Western Australian burst onto the scene and after Mitchell Marsh was given up on, could be the way to go.
The problem is the reserve batter in the squad, Marcus Harris, is an opening batter by trade, and with David Warner back in form and Usman Khawaja among the year’s top run-scorers, that’s not the hole that needs to be filled in the XI.
Sure, he could slot in at six or shunt Khawaja back down the order to where he made his twin tons at Sydney against England last year, but neither of those seem likely, or good, options.
Interestingly, seven of the top 11 Sheffield Shield run-scorers this season are opening bats. Of the others, Jake Doran is a wicketkeeper and Jordan Silk’s numbers are boosted by a career-high 154 not out. That leaves the two most in-form middle order batters in Australia, who both, as it happens, have played Test cricket before: Peter Handscomb and Hilton Cartwright.
Handscomb is an interesting option: with two centuries for the Shield season, including a monstrous 281 not out, he’s far and away atop the first-class standings. His Test career, which started brightly with a Bradmanesque 2016/17 summer, faded away after his technique was worked out by Jimmy Anderson during the next summer’s Ashes; but many players have played a lot of Test cricket with a worse average than 38.91.
An added bonus is Handscomb’s known quality when facing spin bowling: he’ll find it tough to break into Australia’s white-hot middle order for the upcoming tour of India, but he’ll definitely be around the squad. Giving him a Test here to prove he should be on that flight mightn’t be the worst idea.
Cartwright is, in theory, a possible fifth bowler, but the truth is he’s hardly sent down an over for WA in years. Instead, he’s now an out-and-out batter, with his four 50s for the Shield season the equal-most in the competition.
Having been picked for that New Year’s Test against Pakistan six years ago, the selectors definitely know who he is, and if Handscomb’s cards have been marked and they want an extra batter, Cartwright is the logical next in line.
Further outside the box is Matthew Wade: in three first-class games for Tasmania outside his T20 World Cup duties, he’s made five of six scores above 30, with the highlight 146 against NSW.
Having played Test cricket for Australia as a specialist batter in the recent past, Wade’s recent claim he doesn’t expect to play international cricket again in any format could prove unfounded, if the selectors value his pugnacious batting and experience to fill the void at six until Green returns.
Plus, we all know how handy he can be as a medium-pace option…
Could the Aussies take a leaf out of South Africa’s book, and pick five frontline bowlers for the New Year’s Test? It hasn’t worked for the Proteas this series, but then again, they don’t have Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith and Travis Head making piles of runs in the middle order.
Alex Carey’s batting has been slowly coming along after a shaky start last summer, and while you wouldn’t want him at six for tours of India and England, the traditionally flat SCG could be a good opportunity to test him out in a match with slightly lower stakes.
The problem with this is the size of the Aussie tail: with Mitchell Starc unlikely to play and dealing with a finger injury even if he does, picking Lance Morris in addition to Josh Hazlewood would see Pat Cummins need to bat at seven. A few years ago, that might have been viable, but certainly not anymore.
Should they go down this route, the only possible option is Michael Neser. With two first-class centuries, an average of 25 and a history of batting at seven for Queensland in the Sheffield Shield, the 32-year old cult hero is a reasonable stop-gap option.
His bowling, too, would give the Aussie attack some extra potency beyond even Green, with his Test average of 16.71 slightly underrated given Scott Boland’s obscene numbers.
A pace attack of Cummins, Hazlewood, Boland and Neser, plus Lyon as the spinner, would be a challenge to face for a South African batting line-up light on quality contributors. It’s unlikely, but certainly worth consideration given Neser, unlike virtually every other option, has been in and around the Test squad for the summer.
Should they go down this path, New South Welshman Sean Abbott, another frequent Test squad member in years gone by, would be another option, though his Sheffield Shield average of a tick over 23 is inferior to Neser’s. He’s regularly batted in the top seven for the Blues and for the Sydney Sixers in the BBL, and struck a half-century against Tasmania in November.
The bolter in this mix is Will Sutherland, son of former Cricket Australia head honcho James. The 23-year old has 23 wickets at an impeccable average of 20.34 this Shield season, behind only Lance Morris, Mark Steketee and Neser. Having also hit a maiden first-class century against South Australia in October, his batting form is as good as it has ever been, although batting at seven in a Test would be a tough assignment on debut.