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No contracts for back-up Test openers, race wide open

3 minute read

George Bailey has indicated Australia's next opener will likely be a specialist, but there is no frontrunner to one day replace Steve Smith or Usman Khawaja.

MARCUS HARRIS. Picture: Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images

The race to be Australia's next Test opener is officially back on, with chief selector George Bailey declaring there is no frontrunner to one day replace Steve Smith or Usman Khawaja.

Bailey confirmed on Thursday that Smith and Khawaja would likely start next summer as Australia's openers, despite an inconsistent start to life together at the top.

Selectors have also made clear the race is wide open underneath them, with Marcus Harris, Matt Renshaw and Cameron Bancroft all missing out on national contracts for 2024-25.

Harris' absence comes after he earned a contract last year, while Renshaw was the reserve batsman last summer and taken to New Zealand.

Bailey said all back-up batters would begin this summer on level pegging, with a proposed A-series of up to three red-ball matches against India likely to be crucial.

"It's open for anyone to jump up and grab the opportunity," Bailey said.

"We were really clear with not only Matt, but the guys who missed out as well, it was a really close decision to take him on that NZ tour.

"But I guess a blank page is a good way of describing it.

"I know Marcus Harris is one who has come off contract but he's firmly in that mix as well and Cam Bancroft."

Khawaja also averaged 34.38 last summer, and will turn 38 midway through next season's Border-Gavaskar Trophy series.

He is yet to set a retirement date.

Smith averaged 28.50 in four Tests as opener this summer, having moved up the order to replace the retiring David Warner.

At age 34, the jury is still out on whether the opening role is the right one after moving up to allow Cameron Green's return to the team at No.4.

But while it's possible Travis Head could open in Sri Lanka in January, Bailey said it was more likely a specialist opener would be the next picked outside of the subcontinent.

"It was a reasonably unique situation in that we had Cam Green out of the Test side. We wanted him back in," Bailey said.

"That's something I hope I've made clear in chatting to the opening batters who missed out, it's not that we don't value the position.

"I would say it's probably likely that the next opportunity goes to a top-order player."

Bailey also indicated that Aaron Hardie, Nathan McSweeney, Josh Inglis and Beau Webster were all potential options as reserve middle-order batsmen.

Hardie was among those to earn a contract on Thursday, with Matt Short, Nathan Ellis and Xavier Bartlett the other big winners.

Selectors have kept faith in Jhye Richardson, awarded a contract despite injuries denying the quick any international cricket since June 2022.

The news was not so good for Marcus Stoinis, Michael Neser and Ashton Agar, who each dropped off the list.

Both Stoinis and Agar remain in the frame for June's T20 World Cup, with spinning Caribbean wickets likely to suit Agar and Stoinis still in the short-form team after being dropped from the ODI side.


Sean Abbott, Xavier Bartlett, Scott Boland, Alex Carey, Pat Cummins, Nathan Ellis, Cameron Green, Aaron Hardie, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Josh Inglis, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitch Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Lance Morris, Todd Murphy, Jhye Richardson, Matt Short, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Adam Zampa.

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