Marcus Harris in pole spot for Test opener role as Cricket Australia eye future team building
Marcus Harris has scored 601 runs in Nine Sheffield Shield (2022-2023 season) appearances with two centuries and three fifties.
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Cricket Australia has been working on player contracts of late which are reflected in the groundbreaking announcements they made for domestic structure first, along with the women's team and finally the National men's team. In what seems to be a big plan for the future, CA handed contracts to its men's team with some surprising calls. In the same vein, Marcus Harris bagged the national contract through the head selector George Bailey indicating him being the frontrunner for being the Test opener for the long term.
Notably, Harris last featured for Australia in a Test in January last year, while remaining benched for most of the time. Eventually, he was overlooked for the SCG Test in the favour of Matt Renshaw and then he could not secure his place for the recently concluded tour of India. Interestingly enough, Bailey has hinted that Harris would most likely be preferred for schedules in place for the next 12 months. Australia are to play Tests in England and New Zealand, Thereafter, they will play at home against West Indies and Pakistan next summer.
Amid all the selection race and conundrum, Harris will be showing up for Gloucestershire County in the second division of the County Championship this winter, ahead of 'The Ashes 2023' squad selection. It is worth mentioning that Harris racked up four tons out of his six Championship centuries with scores reading above 125, which certainly depicts his appetite to score big. In totality, in his 17 appearances, Harris averages 47.62, with six centuries. Moreover, he scored three tons each for Gloucestershire and Leicestershire, respectively.
Certainly, one of our criteria is past performance and an eye to the future as well: Bailey
Looking at how Bailey thinks about the selection criteria, he probably weighs on the past performances both in the domestic arena and the county stints, meaning reflecting the playing technique in tough English conditions. And looking at Marcus Harris' current form in the domestic circuit it is apt to consider him as the front-runner for the opening slot considering his County records and red-hot form in the Sheffield Shield.
However, the Aussie had horrible outings during the 2019 Ashes tour. He could only manage a meek average of 9.66 in Three Tests. If that was not enough to gulp down, the man put down a match-changing opportunity in the form of dropping Ben Stokes during the famous Headingley Test. Albeit, this horrid run turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Harris. As a result of his English soil experiences, he tweaked his batting technique which has reaped rewards for the batter.
Being one of the most consistent performers, in the Sheffield Shield, Marcus Harris struck five scintillating centuries post the last Ashes tour. His sublime run with the bat meant he averages a decent 46.23 in the coveted Shield. The 30-year-old bagged his spot in the 24-player list of men's national contracts ahead of potential rivals- Cameron Bancroft, Matt Renshaw and Peter Handscomb. The head Australian selector did not miss out on appreciating them for being top performers in the domestic circuit.
"Matt and Pete had opportunities in India in the subcontinent where we think both of them have good skillsets for those conditions. And I agree with what (WA coach) Adam Voges said post the (Sheffield Shield) final that he thinks Cam Bancroft is batting as well as he's ever seen. We'd agree with that as a panel as well. So really excited by the form that he's in, and really glad that he's over in England playing, that's fantastic," Bailey was quoted as saying by the ICC.
"I think Matt Renshaw was putting a really compelling case at the top of the order early on in the year for Queensland, and then by virtue of being away in India, didn't get much of an opportunity in the back-half of the year," Bailey continued.
Interestingly enough, Renshaw scored a century to bail out Australia A from early jolts in New Zealand against their A-side. Notably, the tour was planned to simulate English conditions which also included the use of the Dukes leather ball. However, with Warner and Khawaja turning 37 soon, Australia may need two worthy openers to fill in their big shoes ahead and with how things are shaping up for Cricket Australia, Harris is leading the openers' pack.
"Not being rude towards Usman or Davey, but there's no doubt those two are closer to the end than the start of their careers, so we're going to need some depth. We're going to need all three of those guys (Bancroft, Handscomb, Renshaw) performing really, really well for us. And hopefully, they make our decisions incredibly challenging over the next little while," George Bailey further added.
Moreover, before signing out Bailey did mention that the Australian selectors will be announcing the squad for the coveted World Test Championship final along with the first two Ashes Tests in the coming weeks ahead. Therefore, it will be interesting to see if David Warner still gets to play as an opener over Marcus Harris in the WTC final against India.