This will surely go down in Australian cricket history as the most protracted selection battle for a position which should have been made vacant a long time ago.
Marcus Harris, Matt Renshaw and Cameron Bancroft will pad up next week against Pakistan in Canberra for the possible right to one day hopefully replace David Warner when he potentially retires from the Test side.
Warner intends to hang up his baggy green cap after the third Test of the upcoming series against Pakistan, putting the ball in the selectors’ court to see if they have the gumption to veto his plans.
Despite a red-ball slump which has produced just 1243 runs at 28.9 with only one century in 25 Tests since 2020, the 37-year-old left-hander looks set to get his wish.
Channel Seven has already produced “farewell to Warner” promos to hype up what is likely to be a mundane series, hoping his swansong will lure in viewers.
The fact that Seven’s head of sport, Lewis Martin, has admitted this and applied further pressure on the selectors by weighing in for Warner via the media is a case of the tail wagging the dog and a terrible look for Cricket Australia.
All this leaves the frustrated trio of Harris, Bancroft and Renshaw no closer to their respective goal of succeeding Warner as Usman Khawaja’s opening partner.
Whoever makes the cut this time around, in a year or two the other spot should be up for grabs with Khawaja, who turns 37 next month, also nearing the finish line of his career.
CA’s high-performance staff look like they’re already trying to preserve his ageing legs as much as possible, resting him from not one but two recent Sheffield Shield matches even though he’s only a single-format player at international level.
Renshaw got a brief recall last summer, Harris is widely considered the next in line but Bancroft should be the player who steps in for Warner at the top of the order.
Those two players will be inextricably linked in infamy due to their foolish actions at Cape Town five years ago and after Warner was able to rebuild his career, it would be fitting in a way if his exit opened the door for his younger counterpart to have a final crack at making the grade at Test level.
Bancroft, Harris and Renshaw have each had a couple of decent chances to cement a spot in the Test XI. They are all now much better players for the experience of their trevails but two of them are going to be disappointed by the selectors.
And whoever misses out on the Warner spot is no guarantee to be in contention when Khawaja calls it a day. Will Pucovski could be back in the frame by then or an emerging prospect like Henry Hunt or Teague Wyllie could jump the queue by then.
Encouragingly, Victoria coach Chris Rogers is saying Pucovski is coming out the other side of his mental health and concussion issues and once he strings a few matches together, the big scores should start flowing again.
Bancroft can’t have done much more than his output for Western Australia over the past two seasons – topping the Shield runscorers list last summer by a long way and he is again on top with 505 at 63.12 with two tons among his five scores over 50.
He has ironed out the deficiencies in his batting under Adam Voges and his coach is the perfect example of a player who made the most of their last chance to prove themselves at international level.
As the only right-hander among the contenders, or the incumbents for that matter, he has the potential to offer a point of difference to Khawaja.
The 31-year-old is not just scoring runs on the bouncier surfaces of the West – adaptability can be a weak point among Sandgropers due to the unique conditions that they grow up on.
Harris, also 31, has built up plenty of respect in the Australian dressing room for biding his time as a member of the extended squad who hasn’t been required in the starting line-up.
It has undoubtedly affected his momentum at Shield level but his diminishing returns at Victoria do not scream out Test recall.
He looks like the kind of gritty performer who will grind out a modest record at whichever level he’s in without converting that tenacity into dominance. The WA-born leftie wants to follow in his mentor Justin Langer’s footsteps by going from unfashionable to effective.
But his destiny appears more Bruce Laird than Langer in that he doesn’t quite have all the tools to convert occupation of the crease into centuries at the highest level.
In his favour is the fact he’s the only member of the three challengers who currently holds a CA contract after the new deals were handed out in May, after Renshaw’s struggles during the Border-Gavaskar Trophy tour in India.
Unlike his two rivals, Renshaw at least has time on his side if the 27-year-old misses out on Warner’s gig.
The Queenslander has shown enough both in his first foray to Test cricket before he was properly prepared and in his renaissance in the first-class arena to tantalise selectors into thinking he could make the spot his own, a la Matthew Hayden, after a few false starts.
It’s hard to read too much into his three Tests of limited opportunities last summer when he was barely sighted in the rain-ruined SCG Test and then sent on a hiding to nothing in the middle order on India’s raging turners – you couldn’t get conditions more foreign for someone most comfortable opening on seaming Gabba pitches.
Harris looks like he has his nose in front, Renshaw or even Pucovski could have the rosier long-term future but Bancroft deserves to be opening alongside Khawaja sooner rather than later.