Selection saga that shames Aussie cricket

 os.nine.com.au  1/12/2019 10:53:26 PM  2  Tim Elbra

January 3, 2017, Matthew Renshaw batted all day at the SCG for 167 against Pakistan.

January 4, he pushed his score to 184 before being dismissed. He was 20-years-old and looked for all money a 10-year Test opening batsman for Australia; a fresh-faced saviour discovered straight after the Hobart apocalypse against South Africa.

January 7, then-Australian coach Darren Lehmann dropped a bomb: he would not guarantee Renshaw a spot on the looming tour of India. Horses for courses, and all that jazz that was fashionable at the time.

“It’s hard to leave a bloke who made 180 out of the side, but we’ve done it before with Shaun Marsh (for Usman Khawaja in 2015),” Lehmann told ABC Grandstand - just one interview where he cast doubt on Renshaw’s immediate future.

“Renshaw made 184, played really well and showed he can up the ante when he needs to. So that’s going to be a really difficult call. He’s a good young kid and you’re trying to give him as much experience as you can.

“We’ll wait until we get the touring squad, see what it looks like and then make a plan from there. The only way you get better is by playing, so that’s the challenge with weighing up the balance to the side with India.”

It was an extraordinary undermining of a young batsman’s brilliant foray into Test cricket. It even sparked a tiff that entertained Australian cricket for the following few days, after former ODI bowler Brett Geeves unloaded on Lehmann.

“Don’t get me started on the mixed messages coming from Darren Lehmann,” Geeves wrote in a column for FOX Sports.

“How can it be that Matt Renshaw — coming off a Test match 184 at the only ground in Australia that still turns, against one of the better spinners in world cricket — is no certainty for the Indian tour?

“That makes me mighty angry, confused, and uncertain about the direction we are taking as a cricket nation.”

Lehmann’s response: “I don’t listen to Brett - he wasn’t a very good player.” And on it rolled. Lord knows what Renshaw was feeling.

Matt Renshaw leaves the SCG on 167 not out, having batted all day. (AAP)

The big Queenslander ultimately played, and did himself credit on Indian pitches; not starring, but batting with resolve far beyond his years to make 232 runs at 29 in four matches, including half-centuries in the first innings of the first two Tests. In the first three Tests, he faced 567 deliveries – more than opening partner David Warner, Indian opener Murali Vijay and superstar Virat Kohli combined.

He out-batted Warner that series. In fact, he out-batted every Australian except for captain Steve Smith, who had an extraordinary series of 499 runs at 71.28, with three centuries.

Renshaw also broke a 119-year-old Australian Test batting record, for the most runs made before age 21; surpassing Clem Hill’s 482 by reaching 538 through three Tests in India.

A couple of modest Tests in Bangladesh later, and Renshaw was dropped. He’s since played just one more Test: the awful Johannesburg match against South Africa that followed the Cape Town ball tampering scandal this year.

Off the back of a poor start to the Sheffield Shield season, rarely a justification for a Test sacking, Renshaw was replaced for the 2017-18 home Ashes series by none other than Cameron Bancroft. The West Australian played the entire series for a barely acceptable 179 runs at 25.57, with just one half-century; Renshaw's 184 the previous summer outdid Bancroft's haul in eight innings. Yet Bancroft was retained to tour South Africa and the rest is sorry history.

Matt Renshaw proved his grit on the 2017 India tour. (AP)

But if Renshaw’s premature exit from the Australian Test team was unsightly, what do we make of his comeback?

The left-hander has been selected for the upcoming two-match series against Sri Lanka while warming the bench for Brisbane Heat in the BBL, far from a natural Twenty20 player. He had not enjoyed a good start to the Shield season, making 199 runs from five matches at 19.90, with one half-century (89). His last Shield game was more than a month ago, when he made 14 and 27 against Tasmania.

He sits 36th on the run-scorers list for the season. Thirty-sixth.

Renshaw’s overall Sheffield Shield record is not yet convincing, though it is comparable to other players handed Test selection this summer. He’s played 28 matches for Queensland, for 1945 runs at 38.18, with six centuries and six half-centuries.

While the calls for a Renshaw comeback this season were understandable, given he was harshly cut adrift, they did not stack up on form. His comeback has only added to the sense that Australian selectors are throwing darts at the selection board six schooners in while blindfolded. If he plays against Sri Lanka and fails, selectors could be accused of setting him up to do so. The cost to a young career could be high.

We can only hope, as former captain Ian Chappell put it, that he makes the most of his baffling reprieve by picking up where he left off. He was unlucky not to have resumed his Test career against Pakistan in the UAE during October last year, copping a concussion while fielding at short leg in a warm-up game.

"Renshaw I thought was probably a bit hard done by in the first place, so he deserves another crack," Chappell told Wide World of Sports.

"He was dropped really on first-class form. I always think you deserve to be dropped on Test form, especially if you've done a bit in Test cricket, rather than first-class form.

"I think he showed a bit when he played Test cricket. I thought he was improving so I'm actually pleased to see him back."

Matt Renshaw drives during his 184 at the SCG. (AAP)

Renshaw’s Test record reads 11 matches, 636 runs at 33.47, with one century and three half-centuries. He also ‘boasts’ a strike rate of 42.48. He is a grafter; something Australia could have sorely used in its series loss to India.

He was even heckled at times during his maiden Test summer on home soil, thanks to his slow scoring, but emerged with the respect of Aussie fans who had become accustomed to batting collapses in recent seasons. Renshaw averages 74.84 balls faced per Test innings; the best for Australia in the recent India series was 66.12 from Usman Khawaja.

We can expect more of the same determined toil should Renshaw get a game against Sri Lanka.

“I love being called boring,” he said after his recall.

“I get called a lot of names and boring isn’t the worst one.

“I love batting and if I manage to bat all day, then your team’s in a good position.

“It’s my role to put the team first.”

Matt Renshaw has ridden the highs and lows of Test cricket. (AAP)

Renshaw said he had come to terms with his unceremonious axing.

“That’s the life of a cricketer – you go in a side and out of a side, that’s just life,” he said.

“I’ve tried to deal with it as well as I can. I’m 22 but I’ve got a long time ahead of me.

“I probably won’t play for the rest of my career (without being dropped).

“You’ve got to get ready for playing when you do play and making the most of your opportunity.”

So, what might the immediate future hold for Renshaw, with an Ashes tour looming this year?

Renshaw has only limited first-class experience in England, but it is compelling. In six county matches for Somerset last year (April-June), he made 513 runs at 51.30, with three centuries and one half-century (best 112).

Warner will be back for the Ashes and Marcus Harris looks a good prospect, but Renshaw may be seen as a valuable squad member if he gets the chance to impress beforehand. Especially as a man who prides himself on occupying the crease, with tantalising results against the swinging Dukes ball in the Old Dart.

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