Henry Hunt (left), Peter Handscomb (centre), and Matthew Renshaw (right) are among those pushing for national selection. (Photos: SACA, @VicStateCricket, @qldcricket)

The announcement of Australia’s squad for its upcoming Test series against the West Indies saw several in-form batters miss out on selection. Despite generating debate amongst the Australian cricket public, the news offers an indication of the significant depth Australia currently boasts in its batting stocks.

The Inner Sanctum takes a closer look at the players who are next in line to assume a position in Australia’s top order.

Peter Handscomb (Victoria)

Victorian captain Peter Handscomb has enjoyed a stellar 18 months at domestic level, catapulting himself back into the frame for national selection once more.

Across six innings so far this Sheffield Shield season, Handscomb has amassed 544 runs at an average of 108.80. This has included two centuries and one half-century.

An encounter with WA last month saw Handscomb reach a career-best 281 not out in what was a fine display of batsmanship.

The 31-year-old has simply picked up from where he left off during the 2021/22 Shield campaign, where he finished the season as the leading run-scorer with 697 runs to his name.

With a tour of India on the horizon in 2023, Handscomb will likely be on the radar of George Bailey and his selection panel. His ability to play spin has long been a hallmark of his game and will suit the conditions confronting the Australians on the subcontinent.

However, Handscomb isn’t merely an option for overseas tours but rather presents as a well-balanced middle-order batter. A maiden international century against Pakistan at the Gabba in just his second Test reflects this.

With 16 Tests already to his name, If Handscomb were to earn selection for Australia in red-ball cricket in the near future, it would be his first Test match appearance since January 2019.

Aaron Hardie (Western Australia)

Despite his all-rounder status, Aaron Hardie has shown enough potential with the bat to attract the attention of the Australian selectors.

Hardie has burst onto the domestic cricket scene since making his first-class debut in March 2019, boasting a healthy average of 46.68 across 17 appearances for Western Australia.

Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the 23-year-old’s performance has been his ability to score important runs in pressure situations. In last season’s Marsh Sheffield Shield final, Hardie compiled an unbeaten 174 runs off 316 balls to bat Victoria out of the game.

More recently, the WA prospect stood firm in the face of a rampant Queensland attack, reaching 70 not out in the second innings of a low-scoring affair to guide his state to a hard-fought victory.

Given the success of fellow West Australian teammate Cameron Green, Hardie has a clear blueprint of the path that could see him earn Australian honours. Comparisons between the pair will likely be drawn on numerous occasions in the coming years should Hardie continue on this current trajectory.

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Henry Hunt (South Australia)

Since making his first-class debut for South Australia in 2019, opening batter Henry Hunt has emerged as one of Australia’s brightest prospects. Hunt’s recent feats culminated in him being recognised as the Marsh Sheffield Shield Player of the Year for 2021/22, a campaign that saw him accumulate 601 runs.

The 25-year-old possesses patience, discipline, and maturity beyond his years. In a recent clash with Victoria, Hunt was vital in helping South Australia cling on to an unlikely draw, notching an unbeaten 97 runs off 326 balls to keep the Victorians at bay.

With already seven first-class centuries to his name, it is clear that Hunt has the capacity to score big and occupy the crease for long periods of time. Meanwhile, his leadership capabilities will also be endearing to the Australian selectors, having been entrusted with South Australia’s captaincy duties in the absence of Travis Head.

Hunt will be featuring in the Prime Minister’s XI meeting with the West Indies and will be hoping to reinforce his red-ball credentials against an international outfit.

Kurtis Patterson (New South Wales)

The classy Kurtis Patterson has arguably flown under the radar within cricket circles in recent times. Yet his commendable performances for New South Wales so far this Sheffield Shield season should keep him in the conversation regarding national selection.

Patterson has amassed 269 runs across seven innings’ this campaign, boasting a healthy average of 53.80. An unbeaten 122 runs off 175 deliveries against South Australia was a major highlight for the 29-year-old.

Patterson is of course no stranger to Test cricket, having represented Australia on two occasions against Sri Lanka in early 2019. This saw him register a maiden international century in Canberra during the second Test.

Whilst Patterson will likely be lower down the pecking order should a vacancy emerge in Australia’s red-ball batting line-up, his strong output at domestic level shouldn’t be undervalued.

Matthew Renshaw (Queensland)

Queensland’s Matthew Renshaw has continued to press his claims for national selection over the past few seasons of long-form cricket.

Coming off the back of scoring 410 runs last Sheffield Shield season, Renshaw quickly hit the ground running this summer, recording an unbeaten double-century against New South Wales.

The left-handed opening batter also produced some strong performances for Somerset in the County Championship over the Australian winter. Averaging 47.69 across 13 innings’, Renshaw registered two hundreds and one fifty during his time abroad.

The 26-year-old offers flexibility, given his ability to bat at the top or slot into the middle order. Nonetheless, his most suited position appears to be as an opener, especially due to his temperament.

With already 11 Test matches under his belt, Renshaw is accustomed to the rigours of international red-ball cricket. His stint in the Australian line-up saw him average 33.47 and score three 50s and one century.

He last represented Australia in Test cricket during the infamous 2018 series against South Africa, where he was called up following the suspensions of Cameron Bancroft, David Warner, and Steve Smith.

Renshaw will no doubt be hoping for a better set of circumstances should he return to the Australian Test setup in the near future.

Tim Ward (Tasmania)

Initially plying his craft at club level in New South Wales, Tim Ward’s move to Tasmania has seen him flourish with a new-found opportunity in the Sheffield Shield. The 24-year-old already has seven 50s and one century to his name, offering glimpses of his exciting potential.

Having amassed 552 runs last Sheffield Shield campaign, Ward is currently on track to improve on that record in 2022/23. He has scored 365 runs at an average of 60.83 across seven innings.

A testament to his rapid rise to the domestic cricket scene, the left-hander was also named the Bradman Young Cricketer of the Year for 2022.

Ward’s smooth transition to first-class cricket means that he firms as a long-term prospect for Australia at international level. Nevertheless, he will likely be looking to add to his maiden and only first-class century against Queensland last October.

Ward was recently denied the opportunity to register his second Sheffield Shield ton, with the intervention of rain leaving him stranded on 90 runs off 71 deliveries.

More quality performances from this talented left-hander will keep him firmly on the radar of Australian Test selectors.

Peter Handscomb, Aaron Hardie, Henry Hunt, and Matt Renshaw have all been included in the Prime Minister’s XI squad for its upcoming four-day fixture against the West Indies.

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