September is a strange old time for cricket in Australia.
Without a definitive start to the season like the football codes, the sport sputters into life, building slowly with domestic one-dayers, then four-day cricket, some T20 internationals and finally Test cricket. To whet the appetite, I’ve compiled a list of seven things to get excited about this summer.
1. A generational pace quartet
After months of UK cricket where nuance and subtlety can often win out over raw pace – although Jofra Archer may disagree – we return to the dry, barren lands down under, where there’s only one thing that matters: pace.
A fit Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc present Australian cricket fans with possibly their best ever pace quartet. Sure, Australia’s had incredible duos. Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson are the two that first come to mind. There’s been amazing trios: Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee and Jason Gillespie, for example.
But have we ever had four bowlers of this ability available for selection at one time? Unlikely.
Naturally, all four won’t be picked in the same Test match. And with Cummins and Hazlewood the now premier pacemen, it appears the selectors could rotate Starc and Pattinson in bursts throughout the summer. Heady days.
2. Steve Smith
There’s not really much more to say about the Australian run machine. It’s a joy to watch his idiosyncratic style dominate a sport which, at least in this country, was wedded to an almost cast-iron way of playing.
Smith crabbing across the crease and whipping a fifth-stump length delivery through backward square leg might just be the enduring image of 2019 for Australian cricket fans, who are only just returning to a sleeping pattern resembling normality.
Smith is a marvel – a player whose presence at the crease allows one to leave the couch anxiety-free. Because upon returning, he’ll still be there batting, and batting. He loves it, and us him.
3. Women’s T20 World Cup
This is a summer without a showpiece series or tournament for the men. For the women, however, the world is coming to town as Australia plays host of the T20 World Cup for the first time.
Going in as favourites, the Aussies will look to translate their dominant T20 form into further success. Since the start of 2018, they’ve played 23 T20 internationals and won an incredible 20, picking up the 2018 T20 World Cup along the way.
Importantly, the usually cluttered cricket schedule is deliberately open during the tournament, which runs from February 21 to March 8. With the men’s team in South Africa and the BBL concluded, the World Cup will have its best chance breathe, and garner maximum eyeballs.
4. Babar Azam in Australia
If Virat Kohli is the best white-ball player in the world, then Babar Azam is surely number two. Averaging an astonishing 53.6 and 54.2 in ODI and T20Is respectively, Babar is the new darling of Pakistan cricket.
And for good reason. A faultless technique and unflappable temperament has some already predicting the 24-year-old as a future great.
More immediately, his place in the touring Pakistan side this summer is a boon for cricket fans on these shores. Yet to prove himself in the Test arena, he’ll have few better examinations than Australia’s strong bowling line-up on home soil.
5. Kane Williamson in Australia
Speaking of cricketing darlings, you’re hard pressed to find a more likeable player on the international circuit than New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson. He received credit worldwide for his sporting response to this year’s heartbreakingly cruel World Cup final.
More importantly for cricket lovers, he’ll likely be the biggest stumbling block in Australia’s quest for success in the three-Test series against the Black Caps.
Last summer it was Cheteshwar Pujara’s stoic, unflinching concentration at the crease that won over Aussie cricket fans. Could Williamson be that man this time around? Last time he was here, in 2015, he scored 428 runs at 85.6, including centuries in Brisbane and Perth. An ensuing battle with Pat Cummins – who he has never played at Test level – could well be the best of the summer.
6. Better pitches
This one is more a hope than something we can definitively look forward to. I mean, they’ll be better right? Right?
For two summers we’ve sat through several tedious sessions of Test cricket, the worst of them at the MCG. We’re told advancements in the drop-in process will lead to better wickets. We can only hope lessons have been learnt.
7. A condensed BBL
Starting a week before Christmas, the BBL will be done and dusted by January 27. This is a good move by Cricket Australia, and pleasing to see they’ve been proactive on fan feedback.
It’s likely they would have received some complaints from broadcasters about the condensed season – 54 days down to 42, with the same number of games – but pushed on with the changes nonetheless.