Cameron Green could hardly be blamed if he was feeling a little like he was damned if he did open the batting in the Adelaide Test and damned now that he is batting at No.4. The Western Australia allrounder says he is excited and grateful to make his Test match return against West Indies having not played the format since losing his place for the first time in his short Test career during the Ashes last July. But his presence in Australia’s XI this week has oddly raised the ire of some fans. Had he replaced David Warner at the top of the order, which was a possibility he was preparing for until as late as last Wednesday, he would have been seen as an unworthy, large square peg trying to fit in a bespoke round hole, given he has no opening experience at first-class level. Now that he isn’t, some believe he still hasn’t done enough to warrant batting at No.4 while Steven Smith moves from his prolific middle-order post to the top, despite Green averaging 65.09 in 24 Sheffield Shield innings at No.4 and 66.03 in his last 38 Shield innings overall. “I don’t feel any pressure,” Green said. “Obviously replacing someone like Steve is pretty tough. But I’m just going to play my own way. But I’m obviously grateful for him putting that in his mind and thinking of me. I think he’s super excited to be opening. I think it’s a win-win.”
There was a moment in March last year when it would have been inconceivable that Green wouldn’t be playing in Australia’s Test team just 10 months later. In the fourth Test against India in Ahmedabad, he made his first Test century. A chanceless 114 against an attack featuring Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel. He has more Test hundreds in India than David Warner, Marnus Labuschagne, Travis Head and Mitchell Marsh combined. It was just his second innings back from a badly broken finger, and just his second Test since he took his maiden Test match five-for against South Africa. At the end of the Ahmedabad Test, Green’s 20th, he averaged 37.64 with the bat and 34.30 with the ball. After 20 Tests, Jacques Kallis averaged 31.73 and 33.34 respectively. In the same week in early March 2023, Mitchell Marsh – eight years Green’s senior and averaging 25.20 and 38.34 respectively after 32 Test matches – was playing his first first-class match in 18 months and just his fourth in four years after missing three months of cricket due to ankle surgery. He didn’t bowl in the match against Tasmania but made a stunning unbeaten 108 off 111 balls to lift his career Shield batting average to 29.98. Four months and just four Tests later, Marsh had taken Green’s Test spot. Green’s performances in the World Test Championship final and the first two Ashes Tests were underwhelming and unsurprising given he had come off a full IPL where he had played 16 matches and scored 452 runs at 50.22, striking at 160.28, including a 47-ball century. Marsh, incidentally, scored 128 runs in nine innings with one half-century in the same IPL having gone home mid-tournament to get married.
Green turned up to England unprepared, having never played cricket in the UK at any level, and having just a week of nets to acclimatise. A hamstring niggle kept him out of the third Ashes Test at Headingley after scores of 6, 25, 38, 28, 0, and 18 and five wickets at 45 apiece. Marsh took his chance making a stunning century at Headingley. He backed that up with a half-century and an unbeaten 31 at Old Trafford to outperform Green, who was playing in the same team. Green was then left out at the Oval when Australia picked just one allrounder. “It was pretty obvious,” Green said reflecting on his omission. “There wasn’t really a need to explain. I think Mitch is playing some incredible cricket and has done for a few years. I totally understood where they were going with that. But at the same time, I was grateful to be with the team so I could still work on my own craft and try and put my name back in the hat.”
Green was aware too that his brutal schedule, which included the IPL in between the Test tours of India and England contributed to his form in the UK. “I always knew it was going to be a tough year,” Green said. “But also at the same time it’s a great opportunity to learn and improve my game and see different environments and different coaching staff as well. “I’m grateful I went through it.” Those four Tests have dragged Green’s averages with bat and ball, respectively, back to 33.59 and 36.03, which his critics will suggest aren’t worthy of his feted to return to No.4. But Ben Stokes was also averaging 33.21 and 37.84 after 24 Tests, something Australia’s coaching staff stressed to Green privately after his axing in England. Chair of selectors George Bailey is adamant he is in Australia’s best six batters, something Green was appreciative of hearing. But he is aware words aren’t the be-all and end-all. “It’s always nice when you get that from the coaching staff and the selectors,” Green said. “But you’ve got to also showcase on the main stage.”
He returns to the main stage refreshed and rejuvenated having spent more time at home this summer than he did all of last year. And despite only playing twice since the ODI World Cup, he is ready to take on the responsibility and familiarity of No.4. “What I like is that I’ve got a bit of time,” Green said. “I’ve always felt maybe a touch rushed at No.6, especially after Heady [Travis Head], he makes it look a bit too easy at No.5. I’ve always felt like I’ve maybe had to push the game along where I feel like No.4 is my natural game, where I can take my time and get myself in.”