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Discarded Test batsmen diversify to find way back into Australia squad | Sam Perry

Joe Burns, Travis Head and Cameron Bancroft knocked at the door, politely. They brought only a modest offering of runs, but some other gifts too. Variously, they brought some culture fit. Some leadership potential. Some concussion-rule flexibility. Some intensity. Some yoga. Some handy offies. If you can’t bring runs, you’ve got to bring something else.

It’s undoubtedly a great time to join this Australian team. There appears no major marketing imperative this year, no heavyweight fight on the horizon, no deeper project to build for. It’s just a summer of cricket against lowish-key opposition (a sure fire invitation for disaster). There’s some selection intrigue and, importantly, some clear air for Australia to attempt a redress of underwhelming batting depth, and maybe – as a matter of insurance – tackling what might happen if Nathan Lyon goes down.

These selections confirm that we have now moved past Greg Chappell’s “generational star” era and into the “bash down the door” era. It’s a philosophy seductive in its simplicity and nostalgia, harking back to those times when Australian runs were almost a given, especially at home. You can just about hear the golden era players nodding to it, propped up on stools at a bar, taking turns to tell the current crop, “that’s what you had to do, you had to bash it down. Tons. Double tons. Triples.” Swig.

Take the story of an early-career Brad Hodge, axed from the Victorian side and told by his coach he needed to “make an irrefutable case” for re-selection. So he returned to Premier Cricket and made back-to-back hundreds. Victoria’s coach said, “give me a double ton and we’ll welcome you back”. Unfortunately Hodge failed, scoring only 150 in his next innings. It was not enough to gain immediate selection. He had to bash it down. He eventually did (for Victoria, at least).

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But what do you do when today’s door has yielded no such bashing? What happens when the door receives only a polite knock, or the occasional urgent rap? You bring something else.

It’s difficult to contrive a reasonable reaction to Burns’ selection other than, “good on him”. While we are unclear about his relationship to earthing, yoga, martial arts and self-help mantras, the easygoing Queenslander with a classic right-hander’s technique just about deserves first shot as Warner’s partner this summer, even if he hasn’t conclusively earned it. He averages 40 here, and the nation “would take that”, if offered now.

Bancroft, on the other hand, appears to have wisely drawn upon some of the more intangible forces of persuasion to join the squad. Earlier this summer he was reading Sarah Knight’s You Do You: How to Be Who You Are and Use What You’ve Got to Get What You Want. In the absence of Bulk Runs and Daddy Tons (the book players of previous generations read), it appears Bancroft’s intensity of application and diligence was enough to win him the edge over his competitors.

And who can begrudge him? In Australia’s near-enough-might-be-good-enough batting environment, it’s clearly wise to show an interest in self-improvement. At a time when there’s evidence of cosseted players avoiding feedback, falling to the same dismissals that exploit known weaknesses, why not overtly demonstrate an edge of a different sort? Bancroft has called out his own underperformance and has technical issues to fix, but he ploughs on earnestly with the sort of doggedness that clearly endears him to Justin Langer. As with Burns, good on him.

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Amid the worthy praise for Australia’s fast bowling depth, an issue looms when it comes to spin. After Nathan Lyon, there are few contenders whose performances demand consideration. Though in a world where the language of roles pervades, the spinner with a capacity to contain would appear to have the inside running on these shores. Australia’s bowling approach still revolves around the effective rotation of the nations spirit animal – the penetrating paceman – where plans and strategies permitting fast spells delivered by maximally fresh thoroughbreds are the order of the day.

The extent to which Australian spinners can support that – through long, economical spells that “put the squeeze on” – makes or breaks their usefulness to the side. It’s arguable that this is the case at all levels of Australian cricket, where neither wickets nor prevailing attitudes support the advance of the attacking spinner. While the containing spinner might be enough against middling opposition, it won’t be against global heavyweights. It will be curious to see who Australia turn to, philosophically speaking.

But that’s for later, and this side is for now. Ahead of Australia is just a summer of cricket – the side tweaked here, the side tweaked there, and the hope that Steve Smith and the quicks do the rest.

Australia squad: Tim Paine (captain), David Warner, Joe Burns, Cameron Bancroft, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Matthew Wade, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, James Pattinson, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood, Michael Neser.


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