Joe Burns, Kurtis Patterson and Travis Head may have shone in Tests this summer, but their Ashes prospects will be heavily influenced by their performances in the Sheffield Shield, which re-starts tomorrow.
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With yet another batting collapse, handing India the ascendancy and essentially undoing most of the good work and gritty stoicism shown thus far this series by Australia’s inexperienced top six, questions much now be asked about what, if anything, can be done to stop the rot.
With a team so outclassed and with so little pedigree it is hardly surprising that we have come to this point, and yet with so much on the line and after such an improved showing in Perth with bat and ball, this most recent collective failure is still a bitter pill to swallow.
At the start of this series there was the usual optimism from the broader public as well as the usual throwaway lines of confidence. Australia was to be playing back on their own turf, conditions and the pitches would play into their hands, there would be struggles and moments of failure, but in the end they would reign supreme over an Indian side not used to consistent success on these shores.
The cracks would be papered over once more, the Australian side and public would resume normal transition with results going their way and the selectors could pat themselves on the bat and tell themselves that everything was okay.
Yet Australia are sitting on the precipice of a series loss most thought impossible, even with Australia’s two best batsmen sitting on the sidelines through faults completely of their own doing.
But with the dread and carnage that follows a wholly unexpected calamity such as that the Australians are facing at the MCG – and will most likely face in Sydney going on current form – there are some silver linings. They will certainly not make up for a loss, but they might just push us into a new way of accepting the mediocracy that has plagued this side for too long.
Disaster and heartbreak lead to panic and rash decisions – see Hobart 2016 as a prime example. But now the Australian selectors have an opportunity to almost wipe the slate clean. Yes, this has been tried before, and with mixed results, but results are arguably no longer the priority for the medium and long-term success of this team. Rebirth is what is required.
The issue lies with the recycled enigmas that have so long been carried by their much more talented former captain Steve Smith and vice-captain Dave Warner. Yes, there is a severe lack of consistent individual performances in the Sheffield Shield in recent years, leading to uncertainty in who can make the jump from promising to Test quality, but as the old adage goes, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Shaun Marsh, Mitch Marsh, Pete Handscomb and co may be the ‘best’ perceived options Australia currently has, but it does not make them the right ones for the current situation, and sending them back into the fray time and time again only to fail due to a lack of confidence, technique and uncertainty over their long-term futures is insanity, and public patience is wearing thin.
There are, however, some shining lights from what has been a tumultuous year in Australian men’s cricket. Tim Paine is a refreshing captain who is affable, relatable to the broader public and, most importantly, stoic. Marcus Harris shows promise, albeit with a somewhat rash approach, and Travis Head has shown glimmers of what could be a solid career if he can manage to mature, knuckle down and put away the stupid, irresponsible shots. There is indeed some hope, but only a small amount where batting is concerned.
Even if Australia manages to scrap and fight their way out of this series with a level result – or, more unlikely, a series win – they would be better off to learn from past mistakes and not pretend everything is rosy while the summer ends and public minds wander to the winter sports. A fresh approach is required in regard to picking and sticking with youth. There must be more emphasis on technique analysis in different conditions and, most importantly, a move away from flogging dead-horse selections.
There will still be dark days, collapses and some public dissent, but a new approach may just kickstart a career or two, which might lead to a new dawn of Australian cricket.