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The Roar



Test Mortem: Epic comeback win but cracks remain in line-up, Shield form has to count for something, Pat should bat higher

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11th March, 2024
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Australia’s epic comeback win in Christchurch will live long in Test cricket folklore but it shouldn’t paper over the cracks in the team’s batting line-up. 

The dramatic three-wicket victory completes a summer of seven Tests for Australia in which they finished just nine Gabba runs shy of a flawless record. 

Despite the 6-1 campaign, the Australian brains trust are kidding themselves if they think this team is playing anywhere near its peak after going perilously close to dropping matches to Pakistan and New Zealand on top of their first loss to the West Indies at home for the first time in 27 years

The batting has been an ongoing issue since the Ashes tour and apart from Mitchell Marsh, every other member of the top six faces questions about their role heading into next summer’s five-Test home showdown with India. 

Everything revolves around whether they persist with Steve Smith at opener. 

The experiment hasn’t worked apart from when he carried the bat for 91 not out in Brisbane’s second innings to nearly deny the Windies their drought-breaking triumph. 

Tough calls need to be made – whether that’s dropping Travis Head or Cameron Green to make way for Smith in the middle order or potentially giving Marnus Labuschagne a try at opener. 


Head seems to only have one form of batting – attack and hope it comes off. He is consistently getting out trying to blast his way back into form. A batter who is unable to defend their wicket with confidence without resorting to big shots to unsettle the bowling is usually one who only thrives in the limited overs arenas.

The Smith test run as a Test opener was worth a try but after making 171 runs from eight innings at the top of the order (with more than half coming from one knock), it is clear this is not his natural spot in the order. 

Smith is averaging 28.5 in his makeshift role, less than half his usual output. 

CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND - MARCH 10: Matt Henry of New Zealand celebrates after dismissing Steve Smith of Australia during day three of the Second Test in the series between New Zealand and Australia at Hagley Oval on March 10, 2024 in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

Matt Henry celebrates after dismissing Steve Smith. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

And there’s also the matter of India’s world-class bowling attack being the next Test opponents that Australia will face with Jasprit Bumrah getting first use of the cherry. 

Do you think India would prefer Smith to open or settle back into his usual role? There’s your answer, George Bailey.

He is at his best when the ball is moving less laterally and he is able to pick off straight deliveries on the stumps to work them away through midwicket. 


When he’s facing the new pill, the opening bowlers are for the most part aiming wide of off stump to swing it away or trying to seam it back in.

Smith has looked all at sea in that corridor and after letting the ball thunder into his pads in the first innings at Christchurch, he straight up missed another one that was ducking back in when out cheaply in the second innings. 

He deserves to finish his career on his own terms in the middle order but the 34-year-old will slightly tarnish his legacy if he peters out as an unproductive opener instead of the middle-order behemoth who is a few good knocks away from 10,000 Test runs. 

CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND - MARCH 11: Captain Pat Cummins of Australia (C) and his team mates pose with the trophy after their series win during day four of the Second Test in the series between New Zealand and Australia at Hagley Oval on March 11, 2024 in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

Captain Pat Cummins and his teammates pose with the trophy after their series win in New Zealand. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

“At least half the team has played 50 Test matches, that’s pretty hard to replicate,” Cummins said after the win.

“In those key moments, being able to draw on that knowledge of guys that have played all around the world, it’s valuable. We’re in no rush to make rash changes.”

Shield form must be protected from white-ball series


Leading into next summer’s Test schedule, the Australians are due to tour Ireland and England for two combined T20-ODI series in September before heading home for six more white-ball bashes against Pakistan. 

Here’s a wild thought, Sheffield Shield form should dictate who gets picked in the first Test in Brisbane. 

Australia’s top players are spreading themselves too thin by playing multiple formats. Head’s Test form has dropped off as he has risen to prominence in the other two formats over the past 12-24 months. 

Head, Green, Smith and Labuschagne should be joining Usman Khawaja for Shield duty in as many matches as possible early next season. 

Perhaps Khawaja could even be allowed to play in all Queensland’s fixtures after he was surprisingly rested twice last summer from Shield duty, not the wisest strategy given he is “only” a batter and doesn’t play white-ball cricket at international level. 

And if it’s Matt Renshaw, Cameron Bancroft, Marcus Harris or anyone else who shows they can handle opening the batting, they should be backed to perform at Test level alongside Khawaja. 

He’s turning 38 at the end of this year and after a modest summer of 447 runs, no centuries and an average of 34.38, Khawaja needs to show the past seven Tests were just a minor blip on the radar after his golden return to international cricket, not signs of a steep decline at the end of his career.

Alex Carey saw Australia home on Day 4 of the second Test.

Alex Carey saw Australia home on Day 4 of the second Test. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

Carey can have the gloves for life now 

Alex Carey hates the attention and is renowned for putting the team first so that’s why you will never hear him blow up about being left two runs shy of a century in Monday’s three-wicket cliffhanger when Pat Cummins’ four brought up the winning runs.

Pressure was building on the 32-year-old keeper to back up his superlative glovework with a knock of substance after a lean run since a perfectly legitimate dismissal thrust him into a media firestorm during the Ashes. 

And his match-winning innings in Christchurch typified the strength of his character. It wasn’t quite in the realm of Adam Gilchrist’s blazing 149 not out when he and Justin Langer chased down Pakistan at Hobart in the fourth innings a quarter of a century ago, but it was just as important.

Super fit, there is no reason why he can’t stay in the role for another three or four years – he didn’t get to lead the team song during the Ashes after Nathan Lyon handed him the duties on last year’s tour when his campaign ended early due to a torn calf.

But it would be great to see Carey being part of the next Ashes trip three years from now where Australia will look to win a series, not just retain the urn, in England for the first time since 2001. 


Cummins should go up a spot, Starc unreliable 

Pat Cummins yet again came through in the crunch with the bat with 32 not out to help Carey guide Australia to victory after Mitchell Starc ducked off first ball. 

Starc is averaging 13.57 from 380 runs since the start of 2022 with a highest score of 41, lasting 25.7 balls per innings. 

Cummins in the same timeframe has scored 554 at 17.87, including an unbeaten 64 recently against the West Indies, and also lasts around the same amount of time. 

When a recognised batter needs someone to stick around in the lower order, Cummins has been much more reliable in recent times than Starc, who seems to be dining off his 99 he scored against India more than a decade ago.

Curiously, the Aussies have elevated Cummins ahead of Starc in white-ball matches recently even though the left-hander is better at clearing the boundary late in innings. 


Not a major issue but on recent form, Cummins is a better option.