“Yes, yes, yes!” screamed Michael Neser as he called Cameron Green through for a single. Green, on 99, had nudged Ravichandran Ashwin to backward of square leg and, with Mohammed Siraj haring at the ball, hesitated to run. Neser was nearly halfway to the danger end when Green belatedly set off and a desperate dive was not enough to save the South Australian. Green threw his head back in dismay as the Indians celebrated, Neser lay sprawled face down on the deck, run out, and the highly anticipated century celebrations were put on hold.
In a way, Neser’s eagerness to get his teammate to the milestone represents Australian cricket’s desire to see Green in the Test side. The buzz surrounding his talent and form in the lead up to the Test series against India has been palpable and only grew louder when he brought up his fifth first class ton – in just 20 matches – a few balls after the runout with the crispest of cover drives off Umesh Yadav.
Green’s presence at the crease is formidable, and only partly because of his considerable height. At one point during his innings he pulled the ball hard into the stomach of Prithvi Shaw; when he walked over to check on the diminutive fielder it presented the image of a giant reaching down to pat a child on the shoulder. At times he was peppered with bouncers that would have been called no balls if they were bowled to many batters.
Far from being a hindrance, Green’s height does not prevent him from having a certain gargantuan elegance at the crease. He is remarkably balanced whether playing off the front or the back foot, he is unflustered playing the short ball and, when India’s spinners bowled tightly, he was incongruously light on his feet as he danced down the pitch to dispatch them.
There is little fidget or flourish in Green’s batting but his technique is immaculate. He is a Ronseal batter; every shot does exactly what it says on the tin. He is solid and calm, with an organised defence and the patience to time his attack to bowlers who tested him in a variety of ways; Umesh Yadav bowled particularly well, Siraj had some impressive spells and both Ashwin and legspinner Kuldeep Yadav were difficult to get away. While watching Green flourish on this lively pitch it was easy to forget that he is only 21 years old.
That Green has been able to display his prowess in a genuinely competitive match, against a high-quality bowling attack on superb pitch that has offered bounce and seam to bowlers and challenged batters is a welcome consequence of a schedule condensed by the pandemic. The three-day fixture at Drummoyne Oval has been exactly what a tour match should be; two impressive sides containing genuine contenders for the upcoming Test in instructive conditions. Such a sight is rare in modern international cricket, where touring teams often prefer centre-wicket practice to games against sub-standard opposition on pitches that are flat or, at times, virtually unplayable. Who can forget the dangerous Blacktown pitch offered to New Zealand in 2015?
Green displayed his all round capabilities by dismissing the Indians’ opening pair of Shaw and Shubnam Gill on the final day. Both batters played poor shots, but it was a reminder that Green comes with valuable added extras, although for now his batting is his golden calling card.
Before David Warner sustained a groin injury in the second ODI between Australia and India, much of the selection speculation centred on the prospects of either incumbent Burns or tearaway Will Pucovski for the remaining opening spot in the first Test. Warner has been ruled out, and Pucovski’s recovery from a head knock at Drummoyne will be monitored closely, while Burns’s poor run of form continued in the tour match. The opening contenders are now far from certain, but the intriguing puzzle that remains is where the outsized Green jigsaw piece could fit into the Australian picture.
Coach Justin Langer has made it clear that it should be more difficult to lose your place in the Test side than it is to be ushered in. Gone are the days of the revolving door spitting out the next shiny new toy and the established batters have done little to allow criticism of their places in the XI. Matthew Wade has been in rich form for the past two years and his seniority in the national set up was highlighted with his selection as captain of Australia’s T20 team in the absence of the injured Aaron Finch. Cricket Australia has invested heavily in Travis Head and his returns, both for Australia and for South Australia in the first round of Sheffield Shield games, suggest that investment has been justified.
Australian cricket may have to show more patience than Neser did in his eagerness to elevate his teammate, Green by name but also in international experience. One thing is certain: he looks like a Test cricketer. One question remains: when will he become one?