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'Best six batters in the country': Smith will open and Green returns as Bailey denies Bancroft rift over Sandpaper saga

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10th January, 2024
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Steve Smith’s move to the top of the batting order to replace David Warner has been confirmed by chief selector George Bailey after Australia named their squad for the upcoming two-Test series against the West Indies.

Cameron Green’s return to the team has been confirmed, with Matt Renshaw, a back-up opener, and Scott Boland the extra men in the 13-player list.

Cameron Bancroft and Marcus Harris, the other contenders for the job to fill Warner’s shoes at the top of the order, have been snubbed, with reports suggesting Renshaw’s versatility, having batted at Test level both as an opener and in the middle order, was what got him the nod.

“Steve Smith will be opening the batting and Cameron Green will be coming into the No.4 position which is fantastic,” said Bailey.

“Steve’s obviously motivated and energized and keen to do it. There were plenty within the team who were pretty keen to go on record and say that they weren’t keen to do it.

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 16: Australian team selector George Bailey is seen before day one of the Second Test match in the Ashes series between Australia and England at the Adelaide Oval on December 16, 2021 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

George Bailey. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

“So it was refreshing that Steve had come forward and said he wanted it and it was something that we’d been chatting about in the background as a selection panel with the coaches as well.

“It’s selfless that someone who’s had such success in one position or a couple of positions in the middle order that he’s open and willing and hungry to go and have a crack at something new and something different, which provides that opportunity to slot Cam into a position where he’s had so much success at first-class level and we think ultimately, is a great spot for him to be in the Test team.”

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The move represents a desire to get Green back into the team and to give him the best chance to shine, elevating him to play in a specialist batting position alongside Mitchell Marsh as the bowling all-rounder at number six.

Bailey had already indicated a desire to get “the best six batters in the country” into the side in some order, and confirmed in his press conference that Green had to play.

“The way the rest of that batting order is functioning left us feeling like we have someone who we think is pretty talented, who potentially was going to find it hard to get any Test cricket in the next 12 months,” he said.

“I don’t think that’s going to be particularly beneficial for Greeny. 

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The question of Warner’s successor has been a controversial one, with both Bancroft and Harris, the most likely candidates to step in for Warner if selectors wanted an established opener, ignored in favour of an internal reshuffle.

The pair are 31 and, in a team that is sorely lacking youth, it would appear that a decision has been made to move past Bancroft and Harris in favour of the 24-year-old Green.

Renshaw is the next cab off the rank, according to Bailey and the selectors. “I think ultimately you can mount statistically some strong cases for a number of players,” he said.

“As it currently stands, the panel sees Matt Renshaw is our next best batter.”We’ve gone back 18 months or so and I think if you take into account all first-class cricket I think across that time, those guys have played Shield cricket, some county cricket, some Australia A cricket, PM’s XI games.

“Matthew’s played a couple of Tests in Australia and in India across that period and his numbers stack up as well as anyone’s across that time.”

Bailey added that there were no residual problems with Bancroft and the team following his involvement in the sandpaper scandal of 2018, and that his omission had been purely on cricketing grounds.

“Categorically no,” he said when asked about a potential rift.

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“And I’ve shared this with Cameron on a number of occasions. It’s never been discussed, from the panel’s perspective, it’s purely a cricketing decision.”

“There’s not a member of the team who would have an issue with Cam playing. We certainly don’t have an issue with it.

“I think a lot of people forget the fact that Cam’s actually played Test cricket since returning from the ban.

“It was a long time ago. We’ve all moved well past that. I’d be disappointed if people were looking to that as a reason…that’s not the case. Never has been and never will be.

“Cam’s Sheffield Shield record over the last couple of years has obviously been phenomenal. It’s made this decision really challenging, a line ball call.

“Ultimately the decision to get Cam (Green) into the team was around we want our best six batters playing. As it currently stands the panel sees Matt Renshaw as our next best batsman.”

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“He is banging down the door. As I said, I think there’s a number of players that are banging down the door and that’s great. It’s not a bad thing that you’re having to make line ball decisions. It’s actually a really good thing.”

Though Smith has never opened in Test cricket, he averages 67 in the format coming in at first drop, and is well used to facing the new ball.

Green bats at four for Western Australia in the Sheffield Shield and averages 54 in domestic first-class cricket.

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)

(Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

Smith will captain the ODI team for the series that follows with four of the World Cup-winning squad, including skipper Pat Cummins, rested after the Tests, with Travis Head as vice-captain.

Mitchell Marsh, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins are all to sit out, with Aaron Hardie, Matt Short, Jhye Richardson and Nathan Ellis coming in, as well as Lance Morris, who would be in line for an ODI debut.

“It is a little over 12 months until the Champions Trophy and further opportunities for the likes of Aaron Hardie, Matt Short, Jhye Richardson, and Nathan Ellis will be valuable both to our ongoing improvement as a team and also further their personal experiences in ODI cricket,” said Bailey.

“The squad strikes a balance between players continuing to make their mark on international cricket, playing alongside some of our most experienced players with an eye to the future in this format.”

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Australia Test squad to face West Indies

Pat Cummins (c)
Scott Boland
Alex Carey (wk)
Cameron Green
Josh Hazlewood
Travis Head
Usman Khawaja
Marnus Labuschagne
Nathan Lyon
Mitchell Marsh
Matt Renshaw
Steve Smith
Mitchell Starc

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Australia ODI squad to face West Indies

Steve Smith (c)
Sean Abbott
Nathan Ellis
Cameron Green
Aaron Hardie
Travis Head
Josh Inglis
Marnus Labuschagne
Glenn Maxwell
Lance Morris
Jhye Richardson
Matt Short
Adam Zampa

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