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Opinion

Not only is the sky not falling, this Australian Test team is really good!

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Expert
19th January, 2021
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Given the hysterics this summer, if you were none the wiser, you could be mistaken for thinking Australia was anchored to the bottom of the world rankings, getting beaten by an innings every match, embarrassing the country with their on-field performances.

The summer of 2020-21 will be remembered for a number of truly amazing reasons, but it may have also been the season that the cricket fraternity completely lost their marbles.

The overreactions, hot takes and panic button-pushing has been plentiful, and has created the ill-informed illusion that our team is woefully underperforming, with sweeping changes needed across the board.

Wow.

A few people need to drink a cup of green tea, put on some Enya, get a hug from a loved one, lie down, and calm the farm a touch. Or a lot.

Let’s take a deep breath and rationally unpack things.

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Australia has three batsmen ranked in the top ten in the world, with Steve Smith second, Marnus Labuschagne fourth, and David Warner tenth.

When you include promising youngsters Will Pucovski and Cameron Green – who have both demonstrated the potential to succeed at Test cricket – you have the makings of a sensational top six, with just the number five spot a major concern.

Will Pucovski of Australia bats

Will Pucovski (Photo by Cameron Spencer – CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images)

When we move to the bowling ranks, Australia has the best attack in the world, with all three quicks ranked in the top ten: Pat Cummins first, Josh Hazlewood fifth and Mitchell Starc at eight.

Meanwhile, Nathan Lyon is rated by many as the best spin bowler in the world, though currently ranked behind Ravi Ashwin. Any way you look at it, Lyon is world-class, as is the entire quartet.

Then we move to the last position in the XI, currently occupied by Tim Paine. A lot has been said about the Tasmanian, but he’s the best pure wicketkeeper in Australia and it’s not even close.

So Australia has a very good top six (when healthy), including three batsmen ranked in the top ten in the world. The bowling attack is rated the best in the world. And the best wicketkeeper in the country takes the gloves.

Um… and the sky is falling? Why? Because we lost one series to an incredibly gutsy Indian side?

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To be fair and balanced, it’s worth diving into things.

On the batting, our opening partnerships have been diabolical, so I can understand why it’s a concern. However, when everyone is fit, there’s no issue. Warner and Pucovski excite me as an opening duo, and I can’t see any reason not to pick those two for the immediate future.

At three and four come our best two bats. Labuschagne hasn’t been in great nick this series, but has still scored heavily, which is a great sign. Smith started the series with a few low scores, before showing his class. This part of the middle order picks itself for some time yet.

Green at six averaged 34 in the series, and showed enormous potential. At the moment he’s a little bit ‘block or boundary’, but as he learns to rotate the strike, and have more gentle shots in his armoury, he’ll be a fantastic asset. I certainly wouldn’t be dropping him.

Cameron Green

Cameron Green (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

That leaves the number five spot, for which Travis Head and Matt Wade simply haven’t done enough to make the position their own via sheer weight of runs. Even more troubling is that they both keep getting out the same way. This is definitely an area of concern and the one spot I’ll allow the Negative Nancys to have legitimate issues.

Personally, I’d pick Glenn Maxwell or Moises Henriques here and not stress at all. Both are good bats who deserve an extended chance, while also adding some variety to the bowling, and bringing good fielding to the side. In fact ‘good fielding’ is an understatement in describing what Maxi brings to the table.

In the bowling ranks, the ‘big four’ looked a little tired at times this summer, but Cummins and Hazlewood were absolutely brilliant. In fact, they’ve produced some of the best fast-bowling I’ve ever seen.

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In hindsight, a rest for Starc at some stage may have been warranted, but it’s also a big call to change the best bowing attack in the world, so you can understand why selectors were gun-shy.

Lyon wasn’t at his best either, but he was also unlucky, with several catches not going to hand, particularly in Sydney. In any case, his success over a sustained period of time buys him some leeway.

So adding a fast bowler into the rotation is certainly something to look at.

For reasons that bemuse me, Paine is a polarising selection in the team. I’m sure many will disagree, but Paine is an excellent gloveman and a good bat.

He’s not perfect, as none of us are, even at his primary skill of keeping. Yet people act like wicketkeepers never drop catches. Spoiler alert: they do. He’s had some (infrequent) bad days behind the stumps, but even Bradman got out for a duck.

His batting does lack the dynamism of Adam Gilchrist and other dashers, but there’s more than one way to score runs in Test cricket. He’s got the second-highest average of any Australian wicketkeeper in history, and his Test average is one run lower than Alex Carey’s first-class average – the player often offered up as the natural alternative to Paine as a keeper-batsman.

If you want Paine dropped because of his keeping or batting, it’s a flawed case.

When it comes to his captaincy, he has come under fire – some of it warranted, some of it ridiculous. However, the skipper is always a lightning rod for criticism when things aren’t going well, which leads to the lazy narrative of ‘bad tactician’ being presented, when often the real issue is poor execution.

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Tim Paine of Australia reacts after dropping a catch

Tim Paine (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

However, I’ll meet the critics halfway and admit that at Paine’s age, it’s worth having a succession plan for the captaincy, along with a strong opinion on who the next keeper should be.

So after all doom and gloom, Australia needs to find a five, add a fast bowler to the rotation, and have an eye on the next keeper and captain.

That’s not a cause for too much panic.

Australia lost one series against an Indian team that deserve credit for playing great, hard, tough cricket.

Without making excuses, it’s also worth remembering that we shouldn’t underestimate the impact ‘bubble life’ for many months may have had.

By all means learn from this experience, get better from it, and make any necessary changes from both A personnel and tactical point-of-view. May I humbly suggest to simply bowl at the stumps more?!

However, it’s important to keep things in perspective: this remains a very good cricket team, with the potential to get even better.

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