David Warner has lifted the lid on a 'pact' between himself and fellow Test opener Usman Khawaja as the pair begin to enter the twilight of their cricketing career. After establishing themselves as mainstays of Australia's top order, the pair want to make sure the team remains at the top of the Test rankings when they eventually call time on their careers.
Glimpsing into the past can offer a good explanation as to why Warner says the pair want to stagger their eventual retirement from the Test arena in order to prevent a 'big hole' being left in their wake. It took quite some time for Khawaja to establish himself as Warner's regular opening partner, with the team cycling through the likes of Marcus Harris, Matt Renshaw and Cameron Bancroft before the opening partnership was eventually settled for the long haul with Khawaja.
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Speaking during delays for rain and bad light on day one of the third Test against South Africa at the SCG, Warner said it was important to the pair for the team to have some continuity. Following the retirements of Dennis Lillee, Rod Marsh and Greg Chappell in 1984 it would be four years before Australia won another Test series.
The 2007 retirements of Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Justin Langer also left long-term holes in the line-up, but proved significantly less devastating to the team's overall performance. Regardless, they were still massive losses for the team, and Warner hoped either he or Khawaja could help be a stabilising presence as they move towards the end of their own Test careers.
“We’re going to enjoy the next 12 months, enjoy it as much as we can. For us it’s about not leaving this team with a big hole," Warner said during his chat with Fox Cricket.
“I know through those five-year transition period when a lot of the greats left, they’re big holes to fill with the amount of games you play. We always talk about games played and how much that means into a team’s performance and perspective with experience. You can’t fill that void.”
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While Warner and Khawaja aren't expected to depart any time soon, the two 36-year-olds are at the point in their careers where the question has started to be asked. Warner's memorable double-century in the Boxing Day Test helped him fend off talk of his own retirement after battling for runs for much of the last 18 months.
The aforementioned Harris has been in the Test squad all summer, while Renshaw was set to make his return to Test cricket four years after being dropped, before an ill-timed bout of COVID-19 ruined his comeback at the SCG. Warner suggested both were in a good position to come back, given they already have Test experience and have further honed their craft in domestic competition.
“We’ve got great players coming through with Renshaw now coming back into the fold,” Warner said. “He spoke about learning his lessons from when he first came in, which is awesome.
“Marcus Harris has 15 to 20 Tests under his belt. He’s got that experience, now it’s taking that game to the next level for him and establishing his spot. The team is in a great spot for when we decide to leave, or get tapped on the shoulder.”
Renshaw on Wednesday became the first positive case in Australia's Test group this summer, when he called for hayfever medication shortly after the toss against South Africa. He was then told to separate from teammates during the anthems as per agreed protocols, before taking a COVID-19 test and being told to pack his bags and move elsewhere in the ground after returning a positive.
ICC regulations state Renshaw can continue to play in the match as long he feels well enough, with the option for a like-for-like replacement if he falls too ill. As of Wednesday night, officials were confident Renshaw would be able to hold his spot in the team, as he takes part in his first Test since 2018.
"He's fine," teammate Marnus Labuschagne said. "He's playing on. And if he gets to the point where he can't play then the COVID sub comes in. But at this stage he is certainly nowhere near that and he is fine."
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