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With the fifth and final Ashes match virtually done and dusted at the SCG, attention turns to who David Warner’s opening partner will be for the four Tests against South Africa, starting in March.
Sadly, there’s no way the selectors can support Cameron Bancroft, who showed so much promise with his unbeaten 82 in the second innings at the Gabba.
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The selectors stuck by him for the five Tests, but averaging 29.83 and scoring 179 runs – with nearly half of them on debut – doesn’t cut the mustard.
He has too many defensive flaws, and while he has quality concentration, the world-class South African attack will sort Bancroft out very quickly.
There are three alternatives.
Promote either Usman Khawaja or Shaun Marsh to open, with whoever misses out to bat three, because Steve Smith must bat four.
The skipper has played 17 Tests batting three, scoring 1744 at 67.07, played 24 Tests batting four, with 2531 at 84.36, and batted five for 17 Tests with 1236 at 61.80. The four slot has it by the length of the straight.
The third alternative is to find an experienced opener to keep the current batting order intact. And that’s Queenslander Joe Burns.
He’s already opened 18 times with Warner, from November 2015 to November 2016. They started their partnership in sensational fashion with 161, 237, and 101 in their first three digs against New Zealand.
In their first 12 partnerships, they racked up 835 runs averaging 69.58.
Then the rot set in, and they only scored ten runs in six partnerships – four against Sri Lanka, and two against South Africa – and Burns was dropped.
The 15-man squad for South Africa will be named later this month, but the Sheffield Shield won’t resume until February 8. So the only criteria the selectors have will be the five Shield rounds already played, where Burns is the only batsman to score two centuries and two half-centuries.
And he’s become an older, wiser, and better batsman since he was axed 14 months ago. He’s cracked an unbeaten 202 against South Australia in Cairns, scored 103 and 81 against Western Australia at the WACA, and 70 against Tasmania in Hobart.
All up, 514 runs at 57.11, and ready for the recall to do battle with the crack Proteas pace attack of Dale Steyn – if he’s fit enough – Vernon Philander, Morne Morkel, and Kagiso Rabada.
With Burns on board that takes care of 11 certain selections, so who will be the other four?
Batsman-keeper Peter Handscomb, and paceman Jackson Bird, have been well entrenched in the Australian squad, even when they weren’t playing. So it stands to reason they will be on the plane.
With two more seats available, one should go to all-rounder Marcus Stoinis, the other to one of two leggies – Adam Zampa or Mitchell Swepson.
Stoinis is untapped talent, being responsible for one of the most stunning ODI performances in history.
It was Eden Park in January last year, and only Stoinis’ second international. He came to the crease when Australia was shot to ribbons at 6-67, chasing the Kiwis’ 9-286.
In partnerships with James Faulkner (25), Pat Cummins (36), and Mitchell Starc (3), Stoinis smashed 146 not out, taking the Australians to 9-280, just seven runs from an extraordinary victory.
Stoinis had belted nine fours and 11 sixes to that point, but Josh Hazlewood (0) was dreaming when he ran himself out at the bowler’s end with Stoinis in full flight.
Stonis’ talent is so rare, it must be recognised and natured.
Both Zampa and Swepson deserve recognition, but with Zampa in the ODI squad, it’s time to call on Swepson’s talents.
My 15-man squad for South Africa:
David Warner (vc), Joe Burns, Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith (c), Shaun Marsh, Mitchell Marsh, Tim Paine, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Stark, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood, Peter Handscomb, Jackson Bird, Marcus Stoinis, and Mitchell Swepson.
First Test – March 1-5 at Durban
Second Test – March 9-13 at Port Elizabeth
Third Test – March 22-26 at Cape Town
Fourth Test – March 30-April 3 at Johannesburg