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Wicket Wisdom: Warner locks in SCG Test farewell, but who replaces him?

15 December, 2023

If there were any lingering doubts David Warner would get his SCG farewell, they were put to bed in the opening session of the Test summer. Taking on his favourite opponent, the veteran opener blasted Pakistan’s hapless bowlers to all parts of Optus Stadium. After racing to 72 before lunch, Warner brought up his first Test century since last December just before the tea break. The ton was his 26th at Test level – the eighth most by an Australian – putting him just one behind legendary Australian captain Allan Border on 27.

Remaining a force in coloured clothes, Warner declared before the Ashes he would like to end his glittering Test career in front of home fans in Sydney in January. He again didn’t thrive in English conditions – although not at the low level of his infamous 2019 Ashes campaign – to cast some doubt over whether selectors would stick by him. But after smashing 20 of his Test centuries on Australian soil, Warner simply needed to be given a chance to finish on his own terms. 

The 37-year-old’s red-ball form has dropped off considerably in recent times – he went almost three years without scoring a century from January 2020. But if he is able to demolish Pakistan further in Melbourne and Sydney, the calls will begin for Warner to reconsider his Test retirement. With the big tours of India and England – countries where he has struggled the most in Tests – still another three years away, would it be the worst idea if he did? As Warner’s wife Candice said earlier this year, “who do they bring in that’s better?”

 

Contenders to replace Warner

How do you replace a generational opening batter? Selectors have had years to prepare for Warner’s exit, but they seem no closer to settling on his replacement. For all of Warner’s faults – mostly his inability to star outside of Australia in red-ball cricket – he is this country’s most dominant multi-format batter and is irreplaceable. 

After Matthew Hayden retired, Australia were blessed to have another aggressive opener, Warner, just two years away from debuting. The three contenders plugging away in the Sheffield Shield – Cameron Bancroft, Marcus Harris and Matt Renshaw – are all traditional Test batters. 

Warner and Usman Khawaja have been perfect for each other at the top of the order. Khawaja soaks up the pressure and builds an innings, while Warner can be the aggressor with the potential to win a Test in a session. Will selectors want a more attacking option to partner Khawaja? Allrounders Cameron Green and Mitch Marsh have been raised as possibilities to move up the order, as has World Cup hero Travis Head, and run machine Marnus Labuschagne. Head and Labuschagne can both almost certainly be ruled out. Head can do it in Asia, as he did well when filling in for Warner in India earlier this year. Khawaja fears Labuschagne would hate opening, preferring to stick at No.3.

Whoever the replacement is, they could be doing it after Australia’s most prolific Test opener has just bowed out still, seemingly, on the top of his game.

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