Michael Hussey urges Australia selectors to find traditional opener to replace David Warner

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Former Australia batter Michael Hussey has cautioned the Australian selectors on picking a makeshift opener as David Warner‘s replacement, saying he would prefer a specialist opener who has dominated Sheffield Shield cricket to be rewarded. Hussey, however, stopped short of naming a candidate.

Hussey was speaking ahead of the Boxing Day Test at the MCG after he was inducted into the Australian Cricket Hall of Fame alongside former Australia women’s captain Lyn Larsen.

Hussey started his Test career as an opener and made a century opening the batting in his second Test match in 2005 as a replacement for the injured Justin Langer, having made his name as an opener in first-class cricket plundering 15313 first-class runs predominantly for Western Australia and Northamptonshire prior to making his Test debut at 30.

The left-hander only opened in one innings in Test cricket after his first two Tests as he was shuffled down the order when Langer returned and played the rest of his 79 Tests as a middle-order batter, scoring 6235 runs at 51.52 in total with 18 of his 19 Test centuries coming at Nos.4-6.

But despite being one of Australia’s most adaptable all-format players in the three-format era, Hussey was adamant that Australia’s selectors should pick a specialist opener for the first Test against West Indies in January after Warner retires at the end of the Pakistan series.

“Opening is one of the toughest jobs in the game,” Hussey said. “So for me personally, if I was selecting, I’d be going for a traditional, proper opener. Someone who has done it for a long period of time. Because if you haven’t done it much in your first-class career, it’s going to be very difficult to come up the order.

“I’m not saying you can’t do it, and maybe someone could evolve into doing that role. But I think it would be difficult for a player like Mitch Marsh or someone – I know there’s been talk about him going up the order – I think he’s probably more suited, much like Travis Head, to be in the middle-order.

“I think that’d be the best for the balance of the Australian team.”

The debate on who should replace Warner continues to bubble away in the background as Australia’s side remains incredibly settled. Marcus Harris, Cameron Bancroft and Matt Renshaw are the three main specialist candidates in line for the role. However, Australia coach and selector Andrew McDonald raised some eyebrows prior to the Pakistan series when he raised the possibility of picking Marsh and Cameron Green in the same XI and shuffling the order to have Marnus Labuschagne move up to open.

Usman Khawaja said his preference was to have a specialist opener join him at the top and believed that Labuschagne wouldn’t be comfortable filling the role. Both Head and Marsh have publicly said they would prefer not to open the batting.

Harris did no harm to his case for the role with a century for the Victoria XI against Pakistan in the two-day tour match during the week, although he continues to dominate at the batting-friendly Junction Oval while being less prolific at Australia’s main Test venues in Shield cricket. Renshaw has made the most runs for Australia A and the Prime Minister’s XI in recent years, including a century against Pakistan batting at No.3 in Canberra earlier this month, while Bancroft has been the dominant opener in Shield cricket scoring 10 centuries since the start of 2021, twice as many as Harris and six more than Renshaw in that time.

Hussey stopped short of naming his preferred candidate but said Shield form should be rewarded.

“I like whoever’s dominating the level below, who’s been dominating in Sheffield Shield cricket over a period of time, and to be fair, they all have at various stages,” Hussey said.

“So it’s a tough job for the selectors. I don’t want to stand here and say it should be this guy or this guy.

“I hope that they reward the guy that’s been performing very well at Sheffield Shield cricket. I think that sends a great message to the competition. And it’s great for our pathways that we’re going to reward the guys that are doing well.”

Hussey spent two days working with the Australian team in the lead-up to the Perth Test as a coaching consultant while assistant coach Andre Borovec rested at home in Geelong after standing in as interim coach for the five-match T20 series in India following the World Cup.

“I really enjoyed it,” Hussey said. “Just watching how they prepared and slowly starting some little conversations to get to know them and their games a little bit more.

“It was fun. I really, really enjoyed it. My shoulder is still just recovering.”

Hussey has a strong relationship with McDonald having played Test cricket and BBL cricket with him at Sydney Thunder. Hussey worked with England at the T20 World Cup in Australia last year under Matthew Mott when England won the title but he is keen to work with Australia again in the future after his brief stint in Perth.

“It just depends on how the schedule sort of line up at this stage but I’ve got a good relationship with Andrew McDonald,” Hussey said. “We played with each other at the Thunder and our paths crossed many times. So I’ve got a good relationship there. I’ve got a good relationship with some of the players as well. So if I can [do more] I’d love to.”

Alex Malcolm is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo

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