Opener Marcus Harris looks set for a third crack at Test cricket after incumbent David Warner was ruled out of the first Test against India and rising star Will Pucovski suffered yet another head knock.
Harris tumbled down the pecking order after he was dropped during last year’s Ashes, leapfrogged by Pucovski and Joe Burns, who he now appears likely to partner against India in the Adelaide Test next Thursday.
Pucovski has been in wizardly form this summer but appeared dazed when a bouncer struck his helmet in the Australia A versus India game on Tuesday. The 22-year-old has had many concussions so it seems likely he won’t feature in the first Test.
With Warner unavailable due to a groin injury, an unexpected opportunity could be gifted to Harris. His most realistic challengers for the vacant Test opening spot – Usman Khawaja, Sam Whiteman and Cameron Bancroft – all were left out of the Australia A squad.
Harris made 35 and 25* batting at three against India this week in the three-day tour match, and will probably open with Burns in the second tour match under lights in Adelaide, starting tomorrow.
The 28-year-old left hander was dropped after an initial six-Test run and then recalled in the Ashes. That series was a horror show for Harris as he was picked apart by English seamers Stuart Broad and Jofra Archer.
He made 58 runs at 9 as those right arm quicks exposed Harris’ leaky defence and decision making by targeting him from around the wicket, similar to the way they bossed Warner.
The sharp angle this created caused Harris great difficulty in deciding which balls to leave or play. It also saw him squared up repeatedly, an ungainly position that left him vulnerable on both the outside and inside edges.
He was bowled or LBW four times in six innings in that series, largely due to that problem with getting too front on in defence.
The Victorian reportedly has worked on addressing this issue. Any technical improvements will be scrutinised by star Indian quicks Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami, both of whom are hugely skilled at bowling around the wicket to left handers.
And it wouldn’t just be India’s fine pacemen harassing Harris. The tourists could potentially field a five-man attack featuring both of their elite spinners, Ravi Jadeja and Ravi Ashwin. Jadeja would be a great option at number seven, having averaged 45 with the bat in Tests over the past five years.
That spin pair consistently troubled Harris the last time India toured, two years ago, and he also was dismissed by part-time off spinner Hanuma Vihari. Harris scored just 41 runs off those spinners while being dismissed four times.
There are, then, plenty of challenges ahead of Harris should he get a Test recall. He is in fine fettle though. Since being dropped, Harris has piled up 797 runs at 66 in the Sheffield Shield.
That includes 239 he thumped in a monster 486-run opening stand with Pucovski against South Australia six weeks ago.
Although Harris has been a flop overall at Test level, he was solid against India last time around. Opposed to a rampant Indian attack, he top scored for Australia with 258 runs at 37.
While Harris’ technique let him down in the Ashes, it was his temperament that failed him in his debut series. He was dismissed for less than 20 just once in eight innings yet repeatedly failed to exploit his good starts.
Harris continues to be plagued by a propensity for flashing at deliveries outside off stump, particularly with his pet cut shot.
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Meanwhile, his likely Test opening partner Burns is in a deep form trough, having made 61 runs at 9 in first-class cricket this summer. The 31-year-old made just 4 and 0 in this week’s tour game. He and Harris shape as a greatly vulnerable opening pair, especially under lights against the pink ball in Adelaide.
This first Test represents easily India’s best chance of a win in this series due to Warner’s absence, and the fact it’s the only match their champion batsman Virat Kohli will play. The Indian skipper will fly home after this Test to be with his wife for the birth of their first child.
With Kohli in the XI, and Burns and Harris looming as a major weakness for Australia, the tourists are a big chance of stealing a march on the home side.