So where do the Aussies go from here? The Australian cricket team has just dropped to fifth on the ICC Test rankings for the first time. There is sure to be some substantial rumblings about the ills of the team, and no shortage of advice for the quick fixes.
Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes for a team that has simply come back to the more competitive pack. A whole generation of Australian sports viewers has been completely spoilt with a cricket team that was easily the best.
Steve Waugh’s all-conquering squad was good enough to rival any team to have previously played the game. His lot took over from Mark Taylor’s superb team, then they were succeeded by Ponting’s first troupe of players that was equally as fearsome for opponents.
It should be no real surprise that the Aussies have returned to being merely competitive with the other powerhouses of Test cricket, especially as it was widely predicted by most experts when Warne, McGrath, Gilchrist, Hayden and others retired from the game in rapid time.
This is, however, cold comfort to those who are not used to seeing Australia regularly beaten, or for that matter even out played for three or four sessions in a row. Surely any nation’s sporting teams’ success should ebb and flow, following a conventional cyclical nature, like a stock or property market.
From the early 90s the Australian team has more resembled the Sydney property bubble. Their team’s recent burst after years of nothing but highs has left most fans feeling deflated and dejected.
Recently while watching the Test series in India, which I thought actually quite gripping and well-contested, I found myself defending the Aussies and Test cricket in general to a number of friends who were close to disgust that the Aussies were not dominating. One comment that still rings in my head was “we can’t even beat India anymore …”
I pointed out that we were playing the number one ranked team in the world on their home ground and that in effect we were just one wicket away from a win.
I could still only see the face of a baby deprived of their lollipop.
The Test team to play at the Gabba won’t change much form the most recent side. This is not my opinion of what should be the case; just what I think will happen. There may be one sacrifice, either North or Hauritz, but other than that (and the replacing of George with a fit Bollinger or Harris) the selectors will keep the faith for the first Ashes match.
The vast majority of complaints I have heard during the last two years of Test cricket have been regarding the Aussie’s middle order. It is probably true that if the middle order had fired more consistently our bowlers’ results would look better (as would the captain’s, no doubt).
Extra valuable runs from Hussey, Clarke and North would more than likely have won us a few more Test matches.
When you look at Clarke’s average of 52+ over the last two years he doesn’t seem to deserve the criticism, I think some might be confusing his T20 form with his Test form. Hussey and North (and to a lesser extent Ponting), have just simply not been up to the very high standards that Australian middle orders have set themselves.
The Australian conditions should suit us better, and it is likely the selectors think stability is the way to go rather than to blood a younger player in an Ashes contest. I mentioned early that there is no quick fix, so I won’t dare contradict that and offer one. But I do want to point out that not all is bad with Australian cricket.
Quite the contrary when you scan through the lower rungs of our system.
Without wanting to raise the ire of Victorian readers, it is heartening to note that as always NSW has a terrific amount of young and exciting talent. Without doubt a number of them will be pushing for selection in the national side in the next couple of years.
There is a chance that over this summer, even after including the team’s high national involvement, NSW may field a team brimming with youthful ability such as any combination of the following 14 (age in brackets): Openers- Hughes (21), Maddison (18); Middle order/all-rounders – Khawaja (23), S. Smith (21), Rohrer (28), Forrest (25), Warner (23), Henriques (23); Keeper- D.Smith (28); Spin- O’Keefe (25); Pacebowlers- Copeland (24), Hazelwood (20), Starc (20) and Cameron (at 29, the oldest).
This list is not exhaustive but all of these players named have had very solid starts to their representative careers, whilst some have been spectacular.
In my calculations, at least, four will be pushing very hard for the next Ashes tour in 2013, and I could not count out any of these with 100 per cent certainty.
Add to this list, impressive performers from other states yet to be tested in the premier format, such as Ed Cowan, Michael Klinger, Nathan Rimmington, and the Marsh brothers. Not to mention Cameron White who is yet to get a crack a Test cricket as a batsmen and Callum Ferguson who, before injury certainly looked able to mix it with the rest of the cricketing world.
It is also important to note that the Sheffield Shield (thanks for bringing the name back Weet-Bix), is still the best breeding ground in the world, and one of the reasons why we forged such formidable sides over the last 15-20 years, and the main reason why fans should be supremely confident for a steady turn of fortunes for Australian cricket.
Currently there are many positives and I doubt whether it will be long before Australia is back to the top of Test cricket.