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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Before you ask, “Is this guy still topped up from New Year’s Eve?”, look at all the positives and opportunities that have come out of 2018.
The first and most obvious has to be the achievements of the Australian women’s teams, which are playing some outstanding cricket highlighted by a great World Cup win. More to the point, they’re playing with great style, flair and sportsmanship. There’s no doubt 2018 was a triumph for the women’s game in Australia.
Australian men’s cricket needed a reality check, and it happened in no uncertain terms in 2018. Rather than treating this as a total catastrophe, there has been a lot of good to come from that incident in South Africa.
For one, player behaviour has been called into question and a new set of standards developed and applied.
The Longstaff review was like a breath of fresh air because it pointed fingers at both players and administrators, and it also sought to provide some positive direction moving forward for the game. A result of that review is the demise of Cricket Australia administrators like David Peever, Pat Howard and James Sutherland, who were identified as having roles creating a toxic culture within our game.
Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers Association are now trying to work together rather than being at each other’s throats, and the side has a new coach and a fresh approach, which can’t be a bad thing after Darren Lehmann’s four-and-a-half-year reign.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, players found out what can happen when you take the sport you love and your livelihood for granted.
Tim Paine became Australia’s captain and has shown real ability in this role. He’s set the standard on the field with his approach and has instilled in his team the need to fight hard for results. The efforts in the drawn Test in the UAE and some of the individual performances in the current Test series have been world class, which seems to show the side’s not far away from being very competitive once more.
Australia finished the year fifth in the Test rankings, sixth in the ODIs and fourth in the T20 rankings. Rather than dwell on the negatives, Cricket Australia should be treating this as a wake-up call. They should be working with the players through the ACA to improve so we’re competitive again in all three formats.
Above all, Cricket Australia has to treat this as an opportunity to bring Shield cricket back to the forefront of the Australian summer and to balance out the cricket calendar so guys can rediscover their techniques and the temperament needed to play four and five-day cricket.
The Australian public has shown it wants to support the side, with tens of thousands turning up to watch the Tests in some very oppressive conditions in both Adelaide and Perth. The 73,000-strong crowd on the first day of the Melbourne Test shows people want this side to do well.
Overall 2018 was not a great results year for Australian cricket – the women’s game excluded – but it was positive for all the things that had to happen to bring the game back to where it should be. As the old song goes, the only way is up.