Australia have picked their strongest possible white-ball squads for this month’s six-match tour of South Africa in an effort to break their run of nightmare tours of that country.
Australia disintegrated during their last two tours of South Africa, with those fiascos having major impacts on the team.
The fallout from the last tour is still reverberating through Australian cricket. No single incident in the modern era has damaged the game in Australia like the ball-tampering scandal that saw long playing bans handed to Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that the previous tour of South Africa also scarred the Australian team and set them on a negative path.
In late 2016, Australia suffered their first-ever 5-0 whitewash in an ODI series after sending a woefully inadequate team to South Africa.
Australia paid no respect to the ODI format at this time, regularly fielding second-string teams, and it set them back in a big way. This ridiculously casual approach to ODIs was summed up not long after that embarrassment in South Africa by the selection of Sam Heazlett to make his ODI debut before he had even played a single one-day game for Queensland.
That same year Hilton Cartwright was picked to open the batting in two ODIs in India despite not being an opener for Western Australia and having a terrible List A record, with a batting average in the low 20s.
Australia’s refusal to play anything close to their best ODI team across 2016, 2017 and 2018 saw them enter their deepest form slump since the 1980s. From the start of that disastrous tour of South Africa in 2016 through to the end of 2018, Australia’s win-loss record in ODIs was horrendous at 10-24.
The rot started in September 2016 when Australia went to South Africa with what I wrote at the time was their “weakest ever ODI pace line-up.”
Joe Mennie, Daniel Worrall and Chris Tremain were bizarre picks to make their ODI debuts in that series having taken just ten wickets at 49 combined in the previous domestic one-day cup. Together, they owned just 53 wickets at 37 across their entire List A careers. Not one of them deserved to be remotely close to ODI selection.
Yet they were replacing star bowlers Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and James Faulkner, who were sitting out the tour.
That unproven pace trio were supported by Scott Boland, another player randomly thrown into the ODI side and who had struggled badly to that point, averaging 57 with the ball from his ten matches for Australia.
None of those four quicks – Mennie, Worrall, Tremain and Boland – were in the ten best one-day bowlers in the country at the time yet somehow here they were all representing Australia in South Africa.
It was no surprise when they flopped. Together, that Aussie pace quartet took 15 wickets at 46 against South Africa while conceding a whopping 6.7 runs per over.
The South Africa batsmen run amok as the Proteas humiliated Australia 5-0. In the first ODI at Centurion, Australia posted a solid total of 294 only for South Africa to mow that down with nearly 14 overs to spare. Next up in Johannesburg, the Proteas piled up a monster total of 361, which was well beyond Australia.
Then in Durban, Australia bounced back to make a mammoth total of 371. Yet South Africa proceeded to chase that down, too, breaking the spirit of the Aussies, who were tame in the final two matches.
That crushing series loss seemed to suck the confidence out of the Aussie team, who looked very flat as they started the 2016-17 home summer with two thumping Test losses against South Africa.
Australia flirted with their form on that ODI tour of South Africa and it backfired. Eighteen months later they over-corrected, with some players willing to go to any lengths to win in South Africa.
Now Australia return to South Africa with a full-strength line-up and an improved team culture.
This may seem like a random white-ball tour shoehorned into the international schedule, but for Australia, it is a chance for them to begin healing some of the mental scars inflicted on their last two tours of South Africa.