A disastrous series for David Warner against South Africa could expose a problem with Australia’s batting depth, according to former skipper Ian Chappell.
The left-hander has already raised the possibility of retirement from Test cricket within 12 months, but a poor record over the last two years could force selectors to act earlier.
The 36-year-old’s most recent Test century came in his final innings before COVID-19 struck. Since then, he averages 28.45 with just four fifties from 23 innings, well down from his career average of 46.29.
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Australia will play three Tests against South Africa starting in Brisbane on December 17, followed by a tour to India (four Tests) and the Ashes in England (five Tests). Warner has struggled in both India and England throughout his career, averaging 24 in India and 26 in England. In 41 Test innings in those two countries, his highest score is 85.
His 2019 Ashes campaign was calamitous, with the opener averaging just 9.50 across the series.
“Warner is quite smart, and I think he will understand all those things. It will be up to him to know himself,” Chappell told Wide World of Sports.
“He’ll probably get a better idea after they play South Africa. He’ll be facing a really good pace attack.
“If that is a flop, well, Keith Miller had the best take on retirement that I’ve heard, he was asked why he retired, and he said he wanted to retire when people were saying, ‘Why did you’ rather than , ‘Why don’t you’.
“That could be a question for Warner before he goes to England, or even before he goes to India, if the South African series is a disaster for him.”
Chappell added that Warner had earned the right to make the call himself.
“It’s up to Warner to realize that. I think they’ll take him to India and England if he makes himself available,” he said.
“I’ve always said the easy thing with selection is to drop a guy, the harder thing is to find someone better.
“That is definitely the case with Warner.”
The former Australian captain noted the lack of an obvious replacement, pointing out that four of the top five runscorers in this year’s Sheffield Shield were 30 or older.
The exception is Tasmanian opener Tim Ward, who has impressed since making his debut in April 2021, but only has one century from 15 matches.
“The problem for Australia right now is identifying the next generation of players. They’ll be fine with the fast bowlers, there’s a few to choose from there,” Chappell pointed out.
“But the problem is batting and spin bowling. We haven’t really gone anywhere in a few years.
“If you look at the leading runscorers in Sheffield Shield that doesn’t help you, because it’s the same guys who’ve been around and tried before.”
Chappell dismissed the claims of the current spare batsman in the Australian squad, Marcus Harris.
“In terms of a potential replacement, Warner has the history of playing well, the others don’t,” Chappell added.
“Matthew Renshaw is a better player than Harris, by a mile, in my book.”
A potential issue for Warner is the fact he recently turned 36, while opener partner Usman Khawaja will celebrate the same milestone in mid-December.
Selectors will likely be keen to ensure an orderly transition, avoiding the problem of both openers disappearing within a short space of time.
Khawaja averages 87.18 from eight Tests this year, with four centuries, figures that could spell trouble for Warner if selectors are looking to stagger their departures.
“If you are thinking like that, then yes, Khawaja could provide a bit of a problem for Warner,” Chappell said.
“But it won’t surprise me one little bit if Khawaja has problems in India, and it won’t surprise me one bit if he has problems against South Africa either.
“If you bowl in the right place to Khawaja, he shouldn’t make a pile of runs, and certainly not as an opener.”
Chappell says only Warner will know when his time is up.
“To me retirement was very easy, I just knew straight away,” he explained.
“The thing for me was to retire straight away once I realized that.
“I think David is smart enough to say, ‘That’s it’ if it does hit him suddenly, because to me retirement is the one decision that is selfish. You make it for one person, and one person only.
“If you suddenly realize it’s all over, you’re best to say it’s over right now.”
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