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Race in four: McDonald narrows down Warner replacements, strongly hints at all-rounder's return

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30th December, 2023
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Australian coach Andrew McDonald has confirmed the race to replace David Warner at the top of the order is down to four.

Speaking to ABC Grandstand, McDonald, fresh off Australia’s series-sealing 79-run win over Pakistan at the MCG, said it was ‘pretty clear and obvious’ the quartet who will be vying to fill Warner’s shoes when the veteran bows out of Test cricket after the third Test at the SCG.

Past opening options Cameron Bancroft, Marcus Harris and Matt Renshaw are considered by many to be the three strongest candidates, but McDonald confirmed talented all-rounder Cameron Green is also firmly in the mix for a move up the batting order – and gave the strongest hint yet Australia will give the 24-year old the chance to make the spot his own.

“Until we have to make the decision, we’re not in any rush. All angles will be considered,” McDonald said.

“There’s four people that have been discussed, and they’ll be the ones that are taking up our time as we lead into that West Indies game.”

When asked if those four were Bancroft, Green, Harris and Renshaw, McDonald answered: “I think that’s pretty clear and obvious, yes.”

The 42-year old, who played four Tests for Australia in 2009, said Green’s lack of red-ball experience opening the batting, with his highest position in the order in Sheffield Shield cricket at number four and his Test innings coming at numbers six or seven, wouldn’t be marked against him, pointing to past success stories of players moving into the position and excelling.

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Incumbent opener Usman Khawaja spent much of his early career at number three before moving to permanently open in January 2022, while Justin Langer, David Boon, Simon Katich and Shane Watson are others who have contributed strongly at the top of the order despite limited prior experience as openers.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 28: Cameron Green of Australia bats during day three of the Second Test match in the series between Australia and South Africa at Melbourne Cricket Ground on December 28, 2022 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

Cameron Green: Australia’s next Test opener? (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

“In the last 30 years, I think there’s been 30-odd [Australian Test] openers, and 50 per cent of them have come from a non-traditional opening background,” McDonald said.

“If that’s anything to go by, then there is the ability to potentially be able to rejig your order.

“That’s not to dismiss the value of a tried and tested opener who’s done it over a period of time.

“We’ll consider all those options and angles, and work out what that looks like for us moving forward.”

Regarded as a generational all-round talent when he made his debut in late 2020, Green has played 24 Tests, averaging 33.59 with the bat and 36.03 with the ball and making key contributions in both suits throughout his fledgling career.

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However, a minor hamstring injury before the third Ashes Test at Headingley in July opened the door for Mitchell Marsh to replace him in the all-rounder role, with his fellow Western Australian taking the chance with a swashbuckling century to spark a career-best run of form.

Green has played just one Test since then, with the pair chosen together in the fourth Test XI: the youngster managed just 16 and 3 not out compared to Marsh’s 51 and 31 not out, and has been relegated to substitute fielder and twelfth man duties since.

McDonald acknowledged switching Green, or indeed anyone, up to open from the middle order would require a ‘juggling act’, with incumbent batters Travis Head and Marsh reportedly less than keen to make the switch themselves.

“It’s always going to be a difficult one to move players that have been successful in positions, and that’s the juggling act that, if we were to potentially consider a Green, that we’d have to work through,” he said.

Whoever of the nominated quartet is given the nod for the first Test against the West Indies at the Adelaide Oval in mid-January, Warner’s shoes promise to be big ones to fill.

David Warner of Australia celebrates after scoring a century during day one of the Men's First Test match between Australia and Pakistan at Optus Stadium on December 14, 2023 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

David Warner celebrates a century during the first Test against Pakistan in Perth. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

In McDonald’s eyes, the 37-year old, who has made the fifth-most Test runs by an Australian while ranking sixth and seventh respectively for ODI and T20I runs, is ‘our best ever thee-format player’ – and ensuring he receives a fitting farewell from the Test arena will be challenging.

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“It’s always a difficult one to get the send-off right,” he said.

“The focus will be firmly on Pakistan and how we dismantle them and potentially take a clean sweep of this series. Afterwards, that’ll be when the celebrations begin.

“He’s going to be hard to replace, he’s a valued team member, hence why we’ve gone on the journey of keeping him over the last 12-18 months when others were questioning his position.

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“We’ll send him off in the right way… in time, I think he’ll go down as our best ever three-format player.

“He should get all the credit that he deserves on the way out, albeit he still will be involved in Australian cricket, so it’s not goodbye finally from us.”

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