Australia’s selectors are set to make the biggest decision of their tenure with the choice of David Warner’s replacement to set the tone for an era of generational change.
Selectors will announce their squad for the Test series against the West Indies on Wednesday, with all eyes on who will take over from Warner as opener.
Warner’s exit marks the biggest change to the Test team since George Bailey’s appointment as chief selector.
With Bailey at the helm and Tony Dodemaide and a coach alongside him, Australia have recalled Travis Head, Usman Khawaja and Mitch Marsh in recent years.
All of those calls have proven significant successes, but a decision on who replaces Warner at the top of the order will supersede the importance of all those selections.
As many as eight players have been mooted as options to open alongside Khawaja in Adelaide on January 17, with that list now shortened to five.
Selectors are considering how badly they want Cameron Green back in the side, and if it is worth testing him as an opener or moving Steve Smith to the top to accommodate the allrounder’s return.
Otherwise, a call will be made between regular back-up batsman Marcus Harris, the in-form Cameron Bancroft or the more proven Matt Renshaw to play as a specialist opener.
Lingering in selectors’ minds is if anyone has the gears to bat at a faster tempo, even if replacing Warner with a like-for-like attacking mindset is not possible.
“There’s not another David Warner out there,” coach Andrew McDonald said this week.
“The ability to put pressure back onto the bowler all the time, it was a joy to watch in his final innings.
“That’ll be considered in terms of what we look for in an opener, but it’s more so what we look for in the top-seven batters.
“You can have complementing skill sets within that and how they operate and function.”
If Australia do not go with a specialist opener, it is likely the chance will come for Harris, Bancroft or Renshaw when 37-year-old Khawaja retires.
With Marnus Labuschagne the only player aged under 30 in Australia’s side that clean-swept Pakistan, it is conceivable as few as three players from that group will be available to tour India and England in 2027.
It means selectors have several crucial calls to get right in the coming few years.
When the last golden generation bowed out in the mid-2000s, Australia cycled through 33 debutants between 2007 and 2012.
Steve Smith, Nathan Lyon and David Warner emerged as generational players from that group, but 14 other played less than 10 Tests.
Cricket Australia had long wanted to avoid a similar turnover, but the success of the current team has meant moving players along has become difficult.
“Realistically there is going to be some rate of change over the next couple of years,” captain Pat Cummins said last week.
“We probably thought it was going to happen a little bit sooner but everyone is hanging on.
“There’s been some great opportunities for the young guys in Aussie A, even some ODI tours where a couple of the first-XI guys have rested.
“I’m sure we’ll be ready for it.”