Australia news – Shane Watson backs Cameron Green as Test match opener

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Former Australia allrounder Shane Watson believes Cameron Green has all the tools to be successful as a Test opener and says previous experience at the top of the order isn’t required as Australia’s selectors continue to mull over their options to replace the retiring David Warner for the West Indies series starting in mid-January.

Coach and selector Andrew McDonald first raised the prospect of Green coming in as Warner’s replacement in an interview on SEN back in November, although at that time he suggested that the order could be reshuffled with Marnus Labuschagne being pushed up to open and Green slotting into the middle-order. He specifically cited Watson and Simon Katich among others as successful Australian Test openers that started their careers down the order.

But Usman Khawaja, who has become one of the most successful Test openers in history after starting his career in various middle-order positions, suggested Labuschagne should remain and No. 3 while Travis Head and Mitchell Marsh have both stated they would prefer to stay where they are, which has raised the prospect of Green opening the batting.

“There’s no question in my mind he can [open],” Watson told ESPNcricinfo. “Australia needs to get Cameron Green into the team and the opportunity that you’ve got right now is for him to open. They’ll just have to manage his bowling, for sure, like with my bowling when I was opening the batting. But he absolutely has got the skill, the run-scoring ability and the understanding to be able to make the most of being an opening batter for sure. It might take him a game or two just to be able to work out exactly what his game plan is. But he’s definitely got the game and the mentality to make the most of it.”

McDonald and captain Pat Cummins both confirmed last week that all options are on the table for Adelaide, including picking one of the best three Sheffield Shield openers in Cameron Bancroft, Marcus Harris and Matt Renshaw. But both said they are not against picking someone without first-class opening experience for the role if he is in the best six batters.

Picking Green to open would be a left-field option given he has never batted higher than No. 6 in his 36 Test innings and has never opened in first-class cricket, although he has opened in T20Is for Australia. But it also might be the least disruptive option for the selectors to get him into the Test team given the settled nature of the middle order.

Watson went through the same experience in the 2009 Ashes where his only avenue back into the Test team was to open. He did it with great success, playing the best cricket of his Test career over the next two years, averaging 43.67 in that period and passing 50 in 17 of 45 innings, with two Test hundreds.

He did not believe prior experience opening the batting in first-class cricket was a pre-requisite for the job as he had hardly opened before doing it at Test level, although he had been very successful opening the batting in ODI cricket. Watson cited his former opening partner Katich and Khawaja as examples of how middle-order players can adapt to the role. They are two of only five Australian openers in Test history to have averaged more than 50 with more than 2000 runs.

“If you’re scoring runs even slightly lower down the order, you’re facing new balls at times whether you come in early or facing a second new ball, so you’re very well equipped to be able to deal with a brand new ball opening the batting,” Watson said. “We have seen it a number of times. Uzzy and Simon Katich are great examples.

“It just comes down to what the game plan is and then having the right mindset to be able to capitalise on the technical skills that you do have. I certainly didn’t serve an apprenticeship in Shield cricket opening the batting but it suited me down to the ground when I got the opportunity to do it Test cricket, just with my technique but also with my mindset that was created because of it.”

Watson wrote in detail about the mental battles he had during his professional career in his book, Winning the Inner Battle, where he said that opening had put him in the best mindset of his international career.

“I started to bat in a way that I only ever dreamed of and this was all because I had no fear from ball one,” he wrote. “I let go of all of that care and pressure that I had been putting on myself and just took the bowlers on from ball one in every format that I was batting in.”

Green himself has suffered with nerves and has struggled with waiting for long periods batting down the order, having been a top-order player as a junior and having had most of his Shield success batting at No. 4. Watson felt his move to the top of the order completely changed his mentality.

“For me, it just gave me no time to think,” he added. “As soon as the last wicket went down then it was, get my pads on and get out there. Whereas when I was batting at No. 6, there was so much time to overthink things. Opening, I felt like I had nothing to lose. It really freed up my whole game just to be able to stand there and react with intent.”

Several middle-order batters have been successful in moving to the top of the order in Test cricket, but Watson is one of the very few pace-bowling allrounders in the history of the game to have opened the batting regularly in Test cricket with success. In the 25 Tests where he opened, Watson averaged 41.05 with the bat and 27.90 with the ball.

Watson said Green’s bowling loads would need to be managed carefully by Cummins as Ricky Ponting had done with him. “It did reduce the number of overs that I bowled during a Test match at times,” he said. “But I would still bowl around 10 overs per day. But he would do everything he could for me not to bowl when we were trying to get the last couple of batters out, just to give me the chance to not be overly fatigued going into opening the batting.”

Alex Malcolm is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo

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