The former Test opener has returned to the top of the order in his last three innings for Somerset having not opened in a first-class match since December 2019 when he was dropped from Queensland’s Sheffield Shield team and needed to take a break from cricket.
Since then, he has re-established himself at No.5 in Queensland’s side and won a place in the Australia A team against England Lions last summer where he ended up batting at No.3, a spot he remained in for the Bulls for the rest of the summer.
But his successful return to opening for Somerset with scores of 48 and 129 in his last three innings has showcased his versatility as a player, something Australia’s chairman of selectors George Bailey has noted.
“He could probably fit anywhere, certainly given his development over the last couple of years,” Bailey said. “We know he can open, he’s scored [a Test hundred] so there’s a skillset that he has there. He got back to batting No.3 at the back end of the season for Queensland. He’s had some good success at No.5.
“As I said to him in the last couple of days, it’s great to see him back at the top over in England.
“Looking at scarcity of resources and where the hardest places to bat are you’re on the lookout for guys who have the ability to bat at the top of the order and hopefully stay there for long periods of time as far as tenure goes.
“I think the learning that he’s gone through, to go down and feel like what it feels like and how he has had to change his game to bat at No.5 will help him and he’s gone back to the top and he said it’s taken a little bit of adjusting and it’s a bit of a different feel. Because after a couple of years at No.5 he was starting to get used to it. But he’s enjoying the challenge.
“For him, like any batter, it’s about scoring a mountain of runs, and then if the opportunity arises, he’s probably got a nice little advantage at the moment that he’s got that flexibility in his game.”
Usman Khawaja has proven that flexibility is a valuable asset after he scored twin centuries at No.5 for Australia in the Sydney Ashes Test before being moved up to open following the return of Travis Head and dominating the Pakistan series at the top of the order.
“It’s an important consideration because those guys have committed to big chunks of time getting some great experiences over in England,” Bailey said.
“We just wanted to make sure that the skillsets were fitting and where we see Ness at the moment, he’s actually in the right place. We see his skillset as being really well-suited to English conditions, as opposed to probably not as much at the moment in subcontinent conditions, where we found in Pakistan, that little bit of extra air speed can be quite crucial.
“Not saying that Sri Lanka is going to be exactly the same as Pakistan, but certainly for Ness going forward and we’ve been really clear to him on this, one is that the fact that we’ve been out on smaller squads, so we’re not carrying those extra players, which is great because it means he gets to continue playing and putting performances up over there.”
Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo