The Roar
The Roar



Pipeline running dry: Aussie selectors struggling to find young batters knocking at the door, let alone bashing it down

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6th March, 2024
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The late, great Rod Marsh was known for being precise with his gloves and an astute observer of cricket talent as one of the best pathways coaches the game has seen. 

A decade ago he warned that Australia’s batting pipeline of talent was running dry and that apart from two fellas named Steve Smith and David Warner he couldn’t see too many 10-year Test players on the horizon.

The legendary wicketkeeper, who died two years ago, was adamant the rise of T20 cricket, a lack of coaching dedicated to the basics of technique in the elite junior pathways and the fact that batting was being made easier by the large chunks of willow that are now permitted all added up to concerns in the future.

“It’s ridiculous when you think about the size of the bats they are using and you see mis-hits going for six,” he said in 2014. “You think ‘well if I was playing today’ – and I used to hit the ball in the air when I batted – but if I was playing today the temptation would be to always go over the top rather then hit the ball along the ground, and find the gaps.”

Ten years on, he couldn’t have been more spot on.

There is a significant lack of young batting talent at first-class level putting any pressure on the six incumbent Test batters. 

Only four players have scored more than 500 runs at Sheffield Shield level this season while averaging above 40 – Tasmania’s Beau Webster (840 at 70) to edge out Western Australian opener Cameron Bancroft (704 at 50.28) with teammate Sam Whiteman (619 at 41.26) and NSW rising star Ollie Davis (514 at 64.25) the only other players hitting that benchmark.


Webster, Bancroft and Whiteman are each 30 or 31 while it is no surprise that Davies, at 23, is being talked up as a potential Test prospect down the track due to the dearth of younger options in the domestic middle orders.

Pressure should be growing on Marnus Labuschagne and Travis Head to get back to top form after they have gone through a string of low scores this summer heading into the Second Test against New Zealand in Christchurch on Friday. 

But there are few options in the state ranks who are knocking at the selection door, let alone bashing it down. 

Rod Marsh

Rod Marsh. (Photo by Adrian Murrell/Getty Images)

Nine of the leading 15 run-scorers in the Shield this season are already in their 30s and have either been given a couple of cracks at international cricket without cementing a spot like Bancroft, Peter Handscomb and Marcus Harris or journeymen having a surprise summer of runs like Tasmania’s Charlie Wakim and Jordan Silk.

“In an ideal world, if you’ve got a 35-year-old and a 25-year-old both of equal ability then you choose the 25-year-old,” Marsh said a decade ago when he was the chief selector.

“If the 35-year-old you believe is going to do a better job, then you choose the 35-year-old. It’s simple.”


And that’s the dilemma facing George Bailey and co when they have established veterans who are struggling like Labuschagne and Head, and David Warner before them. Apart from Cameron Green, 24, there has been no batter at first-class level who has dominated. 

Not that T20 cricket is the root of all batting evil or that this problem is confined to Australia. 

And it’s not as if a talented power hitter like Tim David decided he would dedicate himself to being a white-ball gun for hire because of the dollars on offer. He tried to cut it at first-class level but couldn’t get a start but found that the role of being a T20 finisher suited his skills set and went down that path. 

Jake Fraser-McGurk of Australia bats during game three of the Men's One Day International match between Australia and West Indies at Manuka Oval on February 06, 2024 in Canberra, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Jake Fraser-McGurk. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

For all the talk that Jake Fraser-McGurk could follow Warner’s path into the Test team after making a name for himself in the T20 ranks, he has a long way to go to prove his game can adapt to Shield level before anyone could even contemplate sending a baggy green cap in his direction. 

There was plenty of the usual rigorous debate and philosophical differences put forward to my suggestion that the Australian batters had grown complacent because they were in a cocoon of comfort that comes with knowing you are highly unlikely to be dropped.

The saving grace for Australia in Wellington during the first Test was that Green finally broke through to score the kind of innings that his talent has foreshadowed – standing tall with a steady knock as wickets clattered around him before stepping on the accelerator to not only reach a hundred but power onto 174 not out as the usually unflappable Kiwi bowling attack went haywire. 


And that their bowling attack is still the best in the world, bar none (that’s right, India), with Nathan Lyon stepping into the lead role this time around while Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood offered unrelenting support. 

Cameron Green of Australia celebrates his century during day one of the First Test in the series between New Zealand and Australia at Basin Reserve on February 29, 2024 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Cameron Green celebrates his century during day one of the First Test. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

The eventually emphatic 172-run victory masked the fact that Australia’s other top six batters all failed to pass 40 in their 12 trips to the crease. Lyon, with his cameo 41 as nightwatchman, was the next best effort. 

Australia have managed to get by for most of the summer, apart from the Gabba hiccup against the West Indies, with a misfiring batting unit and such is their stranglehold over New Zealand, they will probably win this next Test even if they don’t rack up big scores. 

But as Marsh predicted, Australia can no longer rely on the batting production line which once meant Matthew Hayden, Damien Martyn, Stuart Law, Michael Bevan and co were continually overlooked despite mountains of runs at Shield level. 

And with Usman Khawaja 37, Steve Smith 34 and every other member of their top seven north of 30 apart from Green, the current batting brigade have a finite time left before the selection panel’s job will become a whole lot harder.