21/02/2024

David Warner has announced he will retire from Test cricket after the Sydney Test. (Photo: cricket.com.au / X)

To say David Warner’s eventual retirement has sparked much debate would be an understatement.

More thought has gone into the conundrum of selecting his successor than the gaping hole his departure will leave. However, it poses a valid question – how do the Australian selectors choose to replace a top-order stalemate?

Warner has always rebelled against the foundations of Test cricket through his aggressive stroke play. After impressing in the shorter formats, Warner made his Test debut at a time when Australia was trying to replicate what the eras before it had produced. A powerhouse of international cricket, the Aussies made a living demolishing their opponents in the 2000s.

Although, when the last wave of players from the ‘Golden Era’ began to call time on their careers, warning signs began to show. Most notably, the national selection committee scrambled to find a formidable opening partnership to replace the stability of Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer.

For six years, Hayden and Langer terrorised the best bowling attacks in the world.

Hayden had the brute force to score runs at pace. His ability to tick the scoreboard over made Langer’s job easier. The Queenslander allowed Langer to get settled at the crease and play his natural game.

By the time Hayden retired in January 2009, Australia were yet to find a secure replacement for Langer. This would put a greater strain on finding the right person to succeed Hayden. 

Finally, after nearly three years, one of the opening spots was locked down, after the Aussie selectors gave Warner the opportunity in the red-ball format.

Over the course of his 12-year tenure, the New South Welshman has seen a revolving door of partners stand at the opposite end of the pitch. However one thing has rung true, the common candidates have possessed the same temperament as Langer.

Current partner Usman Khawaja, a perfect perpetrator of the style Langer played with. He is patient but can dispatch the bad ball to the fence. It is a style that all three touted replacements for Warner possess.

Although if Australia wants to keep with the successful combination it had for at least this century, it needs someone who can unload on an opposing bowling attack.

It is time for Travis Head to be promoted up the order.

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Forced to bat at five when he was first selected, Head has proven time and time again that he has the capabilities of being Warner’s successor.

An attacking middle-order batter at Test level, Head has opened with great success in the shorter formats. It was only last week that the South Australian willed the Aussies to their sixth World Cup title with his second century of the tournament.

Since opening in ODIs full-time in 2018, Head has scored 1493 runs at an average of 48.16, boasting a strike rate of 115.37.

His ability to make runs at the top of the order for Australia has translated into an enhanced ability to score at will in the middle order for the Test team.

Since becoming a staple in the red-ball team, Head has added a new dimension to the side.

On many occasions, the trailblazer has rescued an innings. Centuries against England in Hobart in 2021 and India in the World Test Championship Final came when Australia needed someone to step up.

The left-hander did this by putting bowlers on the backfoot immediately. Head’s strike rate of 79.33 since the 2021 Ashes series is the third-best of anyone during that time. The only players to surpass that are the biggest beneficiaries of Brendon McCullum’s Bazball experiment – Ben Duckett and Harry Brook.

Travis Head has the potential to have a bigger impact on the Australian side as an opener than prime David Warner. Partnering with Khawaja, the 29-year-old does not have to change much about his game.

Although he will have to face the new ball earlier than he does at five, Head showed promising signs in the Border-Gavaskar series earlier this year. He scored 90 in the second innings of the Ahmedabad Test and also had two scores above 40 throughout the tournament.

Any need for deliberation should not be to decide Warner’s successor, but who should replace Head at five. In that instance, Cameron Green should be recalled.

Forced to give way for an in-form Mitch Marsh, Green has chipped away at a return ever since. A maiden century against India in Ahmedabad changed the momentum of the game.

However, Marsh is playing the best cricket of his career, meaning there is no room for him in the team. Taking Warner out of that team and moving Head up the order though leaves a spot open for the 24-year-old.

It was proven in the recent Ashes that the pair can play in the same team. Batting at six and seven respectively, Marsh and Green would have the opportunity to lock down their spots in the middle order long-term.

In short, media speculation has implied that replacing Warner will be a complicated task, hence sparking the debate a month before the Australian legend is set to say goodbye.

However if looked at properly, it should be a no brainer that Travis Head is the perfect candidate; he embodies the same flamboyance with bat in hand that the New South Welshman does.

The case should be dismissed, and we should all focus on celebrating the career of one of the true warriors of Australian cricket.

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