Marcus Harris’ failings with the bat in Test cricket are well documented, but Mark Taylor believes inadequate fielding sealed the Victorian’s fate when the Australian squad was selected for the tour of India.
While Harris was included as a spare batter for this summer’s Test series against the West Indies and South Africa, the left-hander was dropped and replaced by Peter Handscomb for Australia’s visit to India over February and March.
Taylor says he was intrigued that George Bailey, Australia’s chair of selectors, noted Handscomb’s ”exceptionally good” fielding close to the wicket worked in his favour when the squad was picked.
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Harris has spent time under the lid in Test cricket, but it would be a stretch to describe the 30-year-old as a strong fielder.
“The problem with Marcus Harris is he brings nothing else to the table apart from his batting,” Taylor told Wide World of Sports.
“He’s not a great fielder and he’s not a great catcher, and I suspect that’s one of the reasons that he’s not on the tour (to India).”
As a consistent member of the Australian Test side between 2016 and 2019, Handscomb was a threat at silly point or short leg.
Ed Cowan is a sound example of a man who struggled with the bat in Test cricket but was potent for Australia as a close-in fielder.
Taylor suspects Usman Khawaja’s ordinary fielding goes some way to explaining why he’s only played 56 Tests.
“One of the reasons, I think, that Khawaja hasn’t played as many games as he could have is because if he’s not making runs he’s got nothing to fall back on to say they’re contributing,” Taylor said.
“That’s why I think if you’re a batsman, an out-and-out batsman, you’ve got to be a good fielder somewhere. And particularly with catching. The old saying that catches win Test matches is very true.”
But Taylor doesn’t think Harris enjoyed a lucky ride with selectors between 2018 and 2022; the former Australian captain says the opener is a “good player”, and pointed to his record in English county cricket.
Harris compiled 655 runs at 54.58, including three centuries, in the 2021 English county cricket season, and 726 runs at 42.70, including three tons, in the 2022 competition.
Those numbers could secure him squad selection for the Ashes tour of England this year, which will likely be preceded by Australia competing in the World Test Championship final at The Oval.
“I think he was potentially on call if David Warner or Khawaja missed out, but they’ve now both made runs and obviously will open the batting for Australia in India,” Taylor said.
“They don’t really need a lot of cover in the top order anymore, so that’s the reason that Harris is no longer needed.
“And obviously (Matthew) Renshaw, too, has come in as potential for an Ashes tour.
“So there’s a bit of competition going on there, which is a healthy thing.”
Handscomb was axed from the Australian Test side after the 2019 New Year’s Test, but he clawed back a spot in the squad over two prosperous Sheffield Shield seasons.
He tallied a competition-high 697 runs at 49.78 in the 2021-22 summer and has registered an unmatched 571 runs at 81.57 so far this summer.
Taylor is delighted for Handscomb but said the re-selection of the 31-year-old exposed a lack of depth in Australian batting.
“The fact is he’s gone away and made runs and put his name back up there with selectors,” Taylor said.
“It’s disappointing there hasn’t been a younger batsman coming through who could have grabbed that spot. Ideally it would have been nice for a 23-year-old or a 24-year-old to to be that person as the next batter in. So that’s probably the disappointing thing and the worry for Australian cricket … I think it’s a worry of depth of our batting in Australia at the moment.”
Handscomb’s Sheffield Shield average of 81.57 so far this summer is considerably higher than the averages of South Australia’s Nathan McSweeney (43.71), NSW duo Jason Sangha (25.50) and Baxter Holt (28.75), and Western Australia’s Aaron Hardie (26.83).
“A lot of the sides are still relying on those senior players to make most of the runs. If you look at NSW cricket, a lot of those younger guys who have been selected in recent times haven’t made big runs — and that’s of concern,” Taylor said.
“NSW, if I use them as an example, are still looking for Moises Henriques to score the runs.
“Now, ideally, you want to see Baxter Holt, Jason Sangha, these sort of guys making the runs, becoming the next generation of batsmen in Australia. At the moment I’m not seeing that … there’s not a lot of young guys coming through who are belting the door down with big runs in Shield cricket to be that next guy in the Australian side. And that’s a concern with our depth of batting.”
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