“In the absence of Warner and Smith, Australia’s best Test batsmen at present, it will be a challenge for the visitors to put a great fight in Johannesburg. Players like Renshaw, Burns, Marsh brothers, Usman Khawaja and Tim Paine cannot get a better platform to prove that even without the best, the team can still survive”.
When the flight was passing over the international waters and clock struck 12 midnight, Matt Renshaw would have made a small and quiet toast for himself for turning 22. There were mixed emotions; I’m sure, the youngster was confused too about his feelings: whether to be happy to return to the Test side or be sad for the reason behind it.
When the ball-tampering incident unfolded in Cape Town, thousands of kilometres away, in the other side of the world, Renshaw was playing for Queensland in the final of Sheffield Shield 2017-18. Australian captain Steven Smith confessed to the wrong-doing and said, he and his deputy David Warner had asked the eight-Test old Cameron Bancroft to tamper the ball on the third day of the Cape Town Test. After the bitter confession, Cricket Australia banned the two senior batsmen for a year, while they handed Bancroft a ban of only nine months.
Regardless of the situation, the show had to go on. When Cricket Australia confirmed the inclusion of young Renhsaw in the Johannesburg Test, the 21-year-old was batting in Brisbane. He scored a match-winning 81-ball 83 and took Queensland to their eight Shield title. When Renshaw was three games into this season of Shield cricket, no one had expected him to finish as the top-scorer with 804 runs at an average of 44.66 in 11 matches. Going back to the tough November of 2017, Renshaw had managed only 70 runs from the first three matches of the domestic tournament. Courtesy of his scores of 17, 16, 1, 19, 16 and 1 and an average of 11.66 lost him the opener’s place from the Test team.
Prior to the domestic season 2017-18, Renshaw had played in Australia’s series against India and Bangladesh. While he made two fifties in eight innings in India, he failed to reach the fifty-run mark in the two Tests against Bangladesh. The fact that he had scored runs in adverse conditions was not enough to get him selected, Australia was looking for the consistency factor. Which is why his performance at the domestic level was more crucial ahead of the Ashes 2017-18. He once again failed with the bat and Cameron Bancroft was picked ahead of Renshaw to open the innings with David Warner.
During the time when Renshaw was axed from the team, the youngster was asked to go back to First-Class cricket and push his name forward with the selection panel through scoring big runs. In the next four months, he did exactly, that. While the Australians had a jam-packed schedule in the next couple of months, Renshaw had only one goal ahead of him – score runs for Queensland.
There were absolutely no surprises that Renshaw turned tables around and how in such a small span of time. His debut happened as a 20-year-old kid, partnering the Bull, Warner. While his partner was more of intimidating and aggressive, Renshaw calmness and textbook style play brought a perfect balance in the opening department. He made his debut during the Day/Night Test against South Africa in 2016 at Adelaide. His first innings was not very impressive but he remained unbeaten on 34 in the final innings where Australia chased a mere total of 127 runs.
Renshaw finally showed his potential when he scored a 71 against Pakistan at the Gabba in his second Test, and then at the SCG in his fourth Test batted throughout the first day to score his maiden Test century. The SCG match described the pairing of Warner and Renshaw at the best. While Warner went knocking at the century doors before lunch, Ren, on the other hand, hand remained patient before he took his tempo to another level in the next half of the day. He was eventually out for 184 – the highest Test score for Australia by a player so young.
Reshaw then became an automatic inclusion in Australia’s squad that would tour India in the beginning of 2017. India has always been a tricy place for batsmen from outside the sub-continent. However, Renshaw was one of those rare players who hardly took time to get accustomed to those tough spin-friendly conditions. In his maiden innings in India, he top-scored with 68 off 156 balls. He played well in the first two Tests then lost the touch in the final two and that was one of the factors for Australia’s struggle in the latter half in the series.
Now that Australia’s both openers, Warner and Bancroft, won’t be playing, Australia will have to bring in another opener apart from Renshaw. They have also included Renshaw’s Queensland teammate Joe Burns in the squad. It is most likely that Burns will open the innings with Renshaw in the fourth Test, starting Friday. Out of the 11 matches in Shield this season, Burns played seven and opening the innings in all the matches. He even scored a double ton against South Australia and despite not playing all the games, he still finished as second behind Renshaw with 725 runs.
In the absence of Warner and Smith, Australia’s best Test batsmen at present, it will be a challenge for the visitors to put a great fight in Johannesburg. Players like Renshaw, Burns, Marsh brothers, Usman Khawaja and Tim Paine cannot get a better platform to prove that even without the best, the team can still survive.