Kurtis Patterson has added his name to the list of batters vying to be Australia’s next Test opener, with the NSW skipper elevating himself to the top of the order for this week’s Marsh Sheffield Shield clash against Western Australia.
Patterson has beaten at No.3 during the opening four rounds of the Shield season but poor returns from young openers Blake Nikitaras and Ryan Hackney has seen them both omitted for the match against the reigning champions at the SCG, as Daniel Hughes returns after a bout of COVID.
His first innings at the top didn’t quite go to plan, with the NSW captain dismissed for just seven in the first innings off the bowling of Matthew Kelly.
However the left-hander, who opens with Hughes in the 50-over competition where he has hit 178 at 44.50 in four matches this season, has previous experience at the top in red-ball cricket.
He opened for NSW in their penultimate Shield match last season before missing the final game of the season due the birth of his first child Hayden and told cricket.com.au’s The Unplayable Podcast ahead of this summer he was keen to make the move permanent in 2022-23.
The 29-year-old joins a lengthy queue of state opening batters lining up to replace incumbents David Warner and Usman Khawaja, with Tasmania’s new full-time skipper Jordan Silk also adding the Tigers’ left-hand pairing of Tim Ward and Caleb Jewell as the “forgotten” duo in the conversation of who should be Australia’s next long-term openers.
Warner flagged last week that he could be entering his last year of playing Test cricket to prioritize the white-ball formats. Both he and Khawaja will be 36 by the end of 2022.
Former Test openers Marcus Harris and Matthew Renshaw, plus South Australia’s Henry Hunt, are the leading candidates to replace Warner and Khawaja with the trio part of a strong Prime Minister’s XI team that will face the West Indies this week in a match that has been given first-class status.
Harris has been included as a reserve batter in the Australian squad for the opening two Tests of the summer against the West Indies, while Renshaw has returned to the opening position for Queensland and Somerset this year after spending time in the middle-order.
Another former Test opener in Cameron Bancroft also has two Shield hundreds already this season, making for a crowded field should a spot open up in the Aussie line-up.
Patterson said the lure of adding to his two Test caps as an opener – plus the fact it would help bring the best out of his game for NSW – was why he wanted to shift to the top this season.
“I expressed to the selectors that was something I’d be interested in doing this year,” he said.
“(When) you look at that Australian team, I don’t think Marnus (Labuschagne) or Steve Smith are going anywhere for a while (in those) three and four spots.
“But also for how I play my cricket, I know it’s very different format but I just really enjoyed that time in the Big Bash last year just going out there from ball one and being able to play what’s in front of me without any preconceived ideas .
“Probably if I go back and look at a lot of the hundreds I’ve scored for NSW, generally speaking a lot of the time they happen when I’m in early.
“I tend to not score my best runs when we’re one or two (down) for 100 or 150 … generally the less thinking and the quicker I’m out there the higher the runs or the better I play.”
Patterson’s best knock so far this season came when he was in relatively early, peeling off an unbeaten 122 against South Australia after walking to the crease with his side 1-44 in the 18th over.
But he said he was “not absolutely dead set” on opening for the entire season and understood NSW had young batters such as Hackney and Nikitaras in their squad who were specialist openers.
“If they’re in our best six batters and they’re in the team then I’ve beaten at three for most of my career so I can drop to three if those guys are in the XI,” said Patterson.
“I’d like to be up the top of the order if I can, but at the same time whatever works for the team is what we’ll go with.
“Up until this year the way our squad has been put together is we’ve probably lacked a lot of opening batters; we’ve (had) a lot of top and middle-order players in our squad.
“That’s changed a little bit this year particularly with Blake Nikitaras coming on board and getting his first contract.”
Patterson also revealed that a slight technical tweak to his hands and the axing of a trigger movement had been one of the catalysts of his breakout Big Bash season at the top of the order for the Perth Scorchers last summer.
“I got my hands to a lower position and tried to generate a bit more bat flow as opposed to being a bit more stagnant and only being able to kind of jab at the ball and not being able to have a full swing,” he said .
“That was something that I worked on for about 18 months to two years before I got that opportunity last year.
“(There was) a lot of picking up a baseball bat and trying to hit a baseball bat with different weighted balls and just little things like that.
“Along with my hands, I used to have a trigger movement with my feet – I used to go back and across with my feet.
“And it was something that, for the whole eight years of my professional career, it was always this one extra variable that I had to get right.
“For whatever reason, I never wanted to change it, I’d always told myself a narrative that I needed to trigger, all these other players trigger, I need a trigger to be able to move and watch the ball.
“A couple of pre-seasons ago, I just decided to get rid of it, I just thought I’d get rid of that variable and stay still with my feet.
“But it’s very hard without having some sort of pre-movement with some part of your body to then face particularly bowlers that bowl over 140kph and not feel stuck.
“So I kept my feet still and just lowered my hands and then almost tried to use my hands as a bit of a trigger to lift them up at the right time and it kind of feels like I’m now able to adapt between the different formats.”
Silk, who was Tasmania’s Sheffield Shield opener for the first 10 years of his career before moving to the middle-order last seasonsaid there were some great players across the country who could step up as the Australia’s next Test openers.
“I really love the look of our two left-hand opening batters in Caleb Jewell and Tim Ward who are both coming off pretty good seasons last year,” Silk told The Unplayable Podcast.
“I think they may be the forgotten people in all of this discussion around who (Australia’s) next openers are.
“So I’m really bullish on those two and where their careers are heading. I believe that those two are long-term openers for Tasmania, and then even beyond that for Australia and they’re two that are going to be really putting their names forward.”
Ward is the Shield’s second top run-scorer so far this season with 365 at 60.83, while Jewell is fifth with 285 at 47.50. The opening duo will be back in action on Thursday when they travel to Melbourne to take on Victoria at the MCG.
NSW XI: Kurtis Patterson (c), Daniel Hughes, Jason Sangha, Moises Henriques, Matthew Gilkes, Hayden Kerr, Baxter Holt (wk), Chris Green, Chris Tremain, Toby Gray, Mickey Edwards
WA XI: Sam Whiteman (c), Cameron Bancroft, Teague Wyllie, Hilton Cartwright, Sam Fanning, Josh Philippe (wk), D’Arcy Short, Matthew Kelly, Charlie Stobo, Corey Rocchiccioli, David Moody