With two T20 World Cups on the horizon, the bitter disappointment of a red-ball disaster against India must quickly turn to the busy calendar Australia will face in the coming months.
In the aftermath of Australia’s embarrassing fourth-innings performance at the SCG, many have looked for a scapegoat to blame.
Heroic performances by Ravichandran Ashwin and Hanuma Vihari – on one leg! – have been overshadowed in the Australian media by the home side’s inability to take more than three wickets on a day five pitch.
Some have called out Nathan Lyon for his inability to exploit a home pitch he took ten wickets on last year against New Zealand.
Others have turned on Australian skipper Tim Paine, for putting down three very gettable chances – the first two off Rishabh Pant, the third off the bat of Ashwin.
Many, however, are turning their heads once again to look at Mitchell Starc, who went wicketless over 20 overs in a Test innings for the first time since the 2013 Chennai Test, when he was dropped for a Xavier Doherty recall.
Starc has long been a lightning rod for Australians fans, who target his inability to take middle-order wickets with the old ball when not in form.
In the Sydney Test, he struggled to maintain his radar, frequently losing control at the most critical time of the match. Starc’s loss of accuracy was so bad that skipper Paine declined to give him use of the second new ball, a weapon he normally puts to deadly use.
Now, I’m not saying that Starc hasn’t been a great bowler, or that he won’t return to bowl many more great Test match spells into the future (although not in England).
I’m saying that match figures of 1/127 don’t reflect a bowler inspired with much confidence for the decisive Test of the series, especially at a wicket in Brisbane where accuracy is crucial with new ball and old.
There are other fast bowling options in the Australian squad with skills perfectly tailored to the conditions – and no, I’m not talking about Sean Abbott.
I’m talking about Michael Neser. The perennial 12th man from Queensland, this Australian generation’s Andy Bichel.
Neser has been in and around the Test squad since the Sandpaper-gate saga of 2018, but has remained stuck at around second or third in line for a fast bowling spot, behind the likes of James Pattinson, Jhye Richardson, and even Peter Siddle at various stages.
In the Sheffield Shield this year, 30-year old Neser has remained his usual consistent self, picking up 10 wickets at 24.40 in three games.
In bowling averages, he is behind only Sean Abbott, Trent Copeland and Scott Boland (another man probably unlucky not to be near the Test squad).
After being picked in the first Australia A game against India, he displayed what the selectors already knew and loved – the ability to extract swing with the new ball, and bowl consistently with the old.
Across the two innings, he picked up four wickets – all top order batsmen, including the prized wicket of Cheteshwar Pujara with a “jaffa”, nipping back off the seam to take the Indian first drop’s off peg.
He also gave us a brief glimpse of the batting ability that saw him pick up his first Sheffield Shield ton at Park 25 against a Tasmanian attack featuring former and future Test rivals Jackson Bird, Peter Siddle and tearaway Riley Meredith.
Keen followers of the Australian team will recall how Chadd Sayers, Neser’s immediate predecessor, was not picked until a year past his peak, despite an enviable Shield record.
Despite taking the prize scalp of AB de Villiers in the first innings of a forgettable Johannesburg Test, Sayers was taken to the cleaners by Faf du Plessis in the second and was subsequently discarded.
At a time when Australia desperately need accuracy and control from a frontline paceman, we must not let Michael Neser stand by on the sideline.
He should be selected for the decisive Gabba Test.