Every Ashes series is important but the one that kicks off in Brisbane next week will be defining. If Australia lose it will be our fourth straight Ashes series loss.
This is a catastrophe we have not witnessed since the 1800s.
On a personal level, it will be defining for the much maligned Australian cricket captain Michael Clarke.
Regardless of the fact that he inherited a team in decline, his legacy will be forever tainted by a fourth-straight series loss.
While there have been persistent murmurs about Clarke not being suited to leadership due to his selfish and self-obsessed ‘gen-y’ approach, never has it been put more into the mainstream discourse than by his predecessor Ricky Ponting and former teammate Michael Hussey in their recent books.
The criticisms emanating from these two were stinging, not so much for what was said but for who was saying it.
Two more committed and loyal ‘team men’ you will not find.
To add fuel to the fire, Cricket Australia chairman Wally Edwards reminded us recently what a huge mistake it was to drop Simon Katich.
I have always argued that the sacking of Simon Katich was Clarke’s first failure as captain.
Given the fact he had been in great form in the previous twelve months, the only logical explanation for Katich’s sacking was that it was reprisal from Clarke for the infamous SCG incident.
Katich confirmed as much when he commented at the time that he did not expect to be recalled as long as Clarke was captain. From that point on, I questioned whether Clarke would put the team above himself.
The irony of Ponting being the man to put Clarke’s leadership qualities under scrutiny is that he too was heavily criticised as leader.
Unlike Clarke who has not had the cattle, Ponting lost an Ashes series with a side that included, among others, Warne, McGrath and Gilchrist. Ponting got key tactical calls wrong and let games drift too often over his tenure.
In contrast, Clarke is a sharp and creative tactician but has not been able to put his stamp on the culture of the side.
Both men have led by example with the bat. In fact, each has just about been the best batsman of his respective generation.
This led me to question whether we are picking our best batsman as captain regardless of whether they are suited to leadership.
It had worked in the past (Chappel, Border, Taylor, Waugh, etc.) but perhaps we need a new approach.
In the Argus Review and all the soul searching we have done over the last few years, the one issue that has not been dealt with is how we chose our captains. If it agreed that the Test captain is the single most important appointment in a national set up, due to the way on-field decisions can shape the outcome of games, surely it deserves more forethought?
And yet, Ponting and Clarke seemed to be automatic selections because they were the prodigal son who had spent a long time in the Test team before being promoted to vice captain and then inevitably captain.
But I would argue that each man’s shortcomings were patent prior to their appointment.
Ponting the tactical dunce and Clarke the super-ego were hardly revelations.
Moreover, as the international calendar now dominates all else, neither had deep captaincy experience at shield and grade level prior to getting the top job in the nation.
Sporting administration seems to be borrowing more and more from the corporate sector.
And yet in some areas it has failed to learn from it. If it is to be successful, succession must be planned and leaders must suit the challenges their organisation face.
Clarke’s mandate was to rebuild the team, culture and all. Border was able to do it but he was hard as nails.
Maybe it was the very man who Clarke wanted out of the team, Simon Katich, that would have brought the discipline the team needed as it rebuilds.
George Bailey has been rushed into the Test team on the back of strong white ball form.
You would have to think that the selectors are in part starting to think about succession for Clarke as he enters the twilight of his career and endures ongoing back problems.
The long standing rule in Australian cricket has been you pick the best XI and then pick the captain.
Bailey may be the exception. His leadership qualities might have just got him over the line.