During their decade of dominance in the 2000s, Australia’s batting machine was fronted by two stroke-playing aggressors in the form of Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer. One towered over opposition bowlers, belligerently clubbing the ball back whence it came. The other had reinvented himself as a swashbuckler, playing his shots as if to atone for his previously grafting innings. Together they hunted down pacemen and their domain was the first twenty overs of an Australian innings.
As such, with the success of the Hayden – Langer days in mind, the Australian selectors have gravitated towards this model of “positive batting.” Since that point in time, each sustained opening partnership for Australia has included an aggressor, but – to the reluctance of the selectors – an accumulator. Shane Watson had Simon Katich. David Warner had Ed Cowan and later Chris Rogers. It reveals much about the attitude of the selectors (and the press) that, of the pairs, the accumulator was the batsman who came under the most selectorial pressure.
It wasn’t until the 2015/16 Tests against New Zealand that the National Selection Panel got the Christmas wish they so thoroughly desired with the chance to pick Joe Burns, an attacking Queenslander, along with David Warner. To their delight, the young man hit his way to consecutive sixes to reach a second innings hundred in the first Test of the summer. Two more tons would follow with similar verve against the West Indians and the Kiwis. All was well.
Then came Sri Lanka. The signs were clear from the start: prior to the first Test, according to cricket.com.au’s “Unplayable Podcast”*, Muttiah Muralitharan, consulting for Australia, chose to have a bowl against the Australian batsmen and, although Steve Smith “worked him out alright”, Joe Burns “had no clue.” Embodying Australia’s struggles against spin, Burns ended up producing scores of 0, 2, 3 and 29.
Although Burns was dropped for the third Test against Sri Lanka, it seems likely that he will return for the home series against South Africa and Pakistan. Now, this is probably justified given that he scored three hundreds in eight Tests the previous summer. But, with a view to the future and, more specifically, the tour of India in February – March 2017, the more inspired option for the National Selection Panel must be to pick Cameron Bancroft. (My previous preference would have been to pick Ed Cowan, but it seems that both he and the Panel are heading in different directions.)