“You can spend all your time consumed about being picked in the first Test team and a lot of the time when that pressure is taken off, you know you’re in the team, that can break the shackles,” said former Australia vice-captain Brad Haddin, an assistant to national coach Justin Langer until last year.
“I think that’s one thing they’d be hoping to happen.”
Whether Burns plays at Adelaide Oval from Thursday is a decision for Hohns and Langer, who can avoid having to include two new openers and potentially tear up the rest of their batting order if they stick with him.
Selectors have pointed towards the incumbency factor all along and Burns opened with David Warner in Australia’s five Tests last summer. The question is whether there is light at the end of the tunnel for Burns and, even then, whether he is near the end of it.
A between-innings deviation in his stance in the second Australia A game didn’t reap dividents in his last pre-Test outing. He rolled the dice and exposed his leg stump, getting his head over the fourth stump line and forcing Jasprit Bumrah to bowl wider to him. The ploy was short-lived, though, as Mohammed Shami sprung him lbw with one that straightened and which he tried to clip through midwicket.
Was the mid-match change-up evidence of a scrambled mind from a batsman Allan Border believes is “shot”? Or sign of a player trying to think on his feet to dig his way out of a deep hole?
Mark Taylor, who endured one of the game’s most famous form slumps with 20 innings without a half-century in 1996-97, told Nine on Monday Burns needs a break, saying: “I don’t think you can pick Joe for Adelaide”.
Haddin sees it differently, although he acknowledges Burns has work to do. “The last few [innings] that I’ve watched, the biggest thing I’ve noticed is he seems like he’s lost the off stump and he’s feeling for the ball a bit,” the former Test wicketkeeper said.
“But he’s got the perfect person to talk to there with Justin Langer. He dealt with these things time and time again when he played and always came out on top.”
Chris Rogers, the former Test opener and Victoria coach who was on the Australia A staff in Sydney, noticed Burns looked less rigid in his brief second innings in Sydney, moving towards the bowler and generally appearing more free. But Rogers knows it’s hard to sugarcoat such a string of low scores.
“You throw balls to him, you watch him in the nets, and he looks like he’s playing pretty well. But then he’s got out in the game and just made mistakes,” Rogers said on SEN radio.
“It’s a tough one for him because the other thing you start to do is you think too much and once you start thinking too much it can quickly spiral in the wrong direction.”
It seems much longer than a month ago that selectors were facing the choice between Burns and Will Pucovski partnering Warner. Now, as specialist openers, they are left with just Burns and Harris, who has been tried before with only modest results and hardly set the world on fire at the SCG, reproducing a get-out shot of his as he flicked Shami around the corner.
Hohns was seen with his mobile phone to his ear the moment Burns was dismissed in the second innings but while it was presumed he was ringing Langer, we don’t know for sure he wasn’t ringing his wife or the bank manager for that matter.
What we do know is the selectors place great store in batsman’s track record of making centuries and having done that at the top level four times in 21 Tests (Harris has two fifties in nine Tests), there is an argument for Burns at least being given the chance to lose his belt in the ring. Langer also brings his own experience as a player, flourishing under the faith shown in him by Steve Waugh.
“The one thing for him is he’s scored Test hundreds,” Haddin said. “He’s a free-flowing scorer, he moves the game forward. He’s maybe just trying too hard to get in the Test team.
“Maybe when the Test team gets announced and he knows he’s playing, he can relax a bit, just worry about the contest between bat and ball and clear his head.”
Chris Barrett is Chief Sports Reporter of The Sydney Morning Herald.