So far, so good for Australian cricket team
So far, so good. Only a few days into Darren Lehmann’s tenure as Australia’s new head coach and the signs are encouraging.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. The simple “on” switch to victory in the Ashes doesn’t exist, let alone been found and pressed by the former South Australian left-hander.
An England victory in the series is still the most likely result, with a clean-sweep a distinct possibility for the home side. Australia are definitely not favourites.
One thing we can take from the tour match against Somerset, however, is the fact that the players, initially at least, seem more comfortable under their new coach and, even if it does not yield immediate results, will bode well for the future.
The Australian team has approached the first three days of the tour match in Taunton with confidence, energy and a relaxed approach that has been missing for some time.
It may just be due to the honeymoon period of a new coach, of course, and this will obviously not last, but positives can still be gained and used by players to their advantage for future performances if they choose to embrace that form and get themselves in the right headspace.
Not least of these is Shane Watson.
Watson was perhaps the most decisive figure among the playing group in the recent Indian disaster, voicing his opposing opinion publicly on the decision of the Mickey Arthur regime to suspend him and three other players, and ultimately relinquishing the vice-captaincy.
The fact that he felt the need to do this spoke volumes about his displeasure at the time with those above him. From the outside, it may be said that it was petulant, selfish and somewhat akin to a baby crying over spilt milk.
Much commentary at the time centered on the fact that our top cricketers are highly paid, pampered players that possibly think too much of themselves and should just get over it.
This may or may not be the case, but what cannot be underestimated is the worth those same players place on leadership and their proximity to the most sought after top job in the country – the Australian Test captaincy.
It is often said that the two most important positions in Australia are the Australian Test captain and the Prime Minister, with the Prime Minister second (the events in Australian politics this week have perhaps never drawn this more sharply into focus).
No player would relinquish a chance at this position lightly, and relinquishing it is exactly what Watson did. With Michael Clarke’s ongoing back problems an increasing issue, the likelihood of the big right-hander captaining his country in some of the most important matches to come in his career was very real.
For him to pass up this chance obviously meant that, to him at least, something was very wrong.
Now that the dust has settled from that tour and the remarkable events earlier in the week, it seems those wrongs may have been righted and, whatever your views on Watson as a player or person, he is important to any chance of Australian success in the coming series.
With experience generally lacking in this team, his may prove invaluable.
Lehmann has already shown his intelligence as a coach by publicly stating that Watson will open. This has not only given the 32-year-old a clear direction and simplified his role in his own mind, but also gives him confidence in knowing he will be batting in the position in which he has had the most personal success.
For the moment, at least, it is working. 90 runs from 93 balls against Somerset, with 80 of those coming in boundaries, is just what the doctor (or coach) ordered.
Other players too who have been much maligned have played well so far in this match, Phil Hughes among them. Hughes’ 73 not out was as fluent and carefree as Watson’s innings in an unfamiliar batting position at number 5.
Hughes had as disastrous a tour of India as anybody, looking all-at-sea against the home side’s bowlers. He is at his best, as Watson is, when playing aggressively and this is just what Lehmann has said he wants to see. Aggressive, entertaining cricket.
This is a clever move. Not only will it bring out the best in his players, it harks back to the days when Australia was dominating the world with this very same type of play, a time when the coach himself was part of the team.
His credibility in this respect cannot be faulted. The players know this and will take it on.
Another important point to note is that Australia clearly intend to win the tour game against Somerset, not simply use it as a practice match to gain form for individual players. The Australian declaration only one run ahead of the home team’s first innings total is evidence of that.
The habit of winning and the confidence it brings is invaluable for a side that has been down for some time.
This side has been down on the field and a shambles off it, so any move towards a clearer direction and mentality can only be good, if not for immediate results in the coming Ashes series, then for the future of our cricket team.
And while we, as fans of Australian cricket, should not by any means get ahead of ourselves, we should also not dismiss those positive signs when they do occur.