Cameron Green
Cameron Green is one option to take over David Warner's spot as Test opener. Image by Richard Wainwright/AAP PHOTOS
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History shows manufactured openers work for Australia

Scott Bailey January 9, 2024

They are the manufactured openers adding weight to Cameron Green’s case for a Test recall.

From Usman Khawaja to Bob Simpson, and the six other men who have moved from Australia’s middle-order to become regular openers in the past 70 years, all but one has seen his average improve when making the full-time switch to the top of the order.

Selectors will on Wednesday announce their squad for the West Indies series, giving the first clear indication of who will open in place of the retired David Warner in Adelaide.

It is becoming increasingly likely they will opt for a non-specialist opener to walk out alongside Khawaja on January 17.

One option remains shifting Steve Smith to the top of the order in a bid to allow Green to be picked in his Sheffield Shield spot of No.4.

But the path of minimum disruption would be for Green to open and the rest of Australia’s order to stay put.

When Warner announced his retirement plans on a cold English morning last June, it initially appeared the race to replace him was between three traditional openers: the Test squad’s back-up batsman Marcus Harris, Sheffield Shield leading run-scorer Cameron Bancroft, and a man who has outperformed both of them at Test level; Matt Renshaw.

But Mitch Marsh’s runs at No.6 and Green’s omission from the side have quickly changed that conversation.

Coach Andrew McDonald hinted at the idea of a non-specialist opener going to the top in an interview with the ABC last month, pointing out the history of manufactured openers for Australia.

Australia men's cricket coach Andrew McDonald.
 Coach Andrew McDonald has hinted at the idea of a non-specialist opener going to the top. Image by Richard Wainwright/AAP PHOTOS 

The list of players who spent five or more Tests in the middle order before moving to the top includes Khawaja, Justin Langer, Shane Watson, Simon Katich, David Boon, Keith Stackpole and Simpson.

All of those fared better as an opener than they had previously when in the side.

Only Greg Blewett has moved from the middle order to open in 10 or more innings and performed poorer in the higher slot.

There are mixed feelings on repeating the approach from within the ranks of reborn openers.

Langer has called for a specialist to replace Warner at the top of the order, Katich is fine with a makeshift option in Green and Khawaja urged caution this week over shifting Smith from No.4.

“I say it’s a specialist position in brackets, but anyone who can bat in the top four can open,” Khawaja said.

“I just wouldn’t want to sacrifice someone who is in my opinion the second-greatest ever Test batsman off the position that he’s been batting is for so long.

“The beauty of Steve Smith is he’s a beautiful No.4 batsman. He can bat against pace. He’s really good against spin.”

Shane Watson bats for Australia.
 Shane Watson’s average more than doubled when he moved up the order to open for Australia. Image by Dean Lewins/AAP PHOTOS 

OPENERS WHO MOVED FROM THE MIDDLE ORDER

USMAN KHAWAJA: Average before opening – 39.41. Average as opener – 57.40

SHANE WATSON: Average before opening – 19.76. Average as opener – 40.98

SIMON KATICH: Average before opening – 36.00. Average as opener – 50.48

GREG BLEWETT: Average before opening – 35.70. Average as opener – 29.40

JUSTIN LANGER: Average before opening – 39.04. Average as opener – 48.22

DAVID BOON: Average before opening – 23.94. Average as opener – 45.06

KEITH STACKPOLE: Average before opening – 25.28. Average as opener – 40.5

BOB SIMPSON: Average before opening – 19.42. Average as opener – 55.11

(* Stats take into account average before first long-term shift to opener)