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Opinion

Australian cricket has come a long way in a short time, but most defining challenge awaits

Ahan new author
Roar Rookie
19th January, 2022
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Ahan new author
Roar Rookie
19th January, 2022
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There is no doubt that Australian cricket is in a far better spot since the Newlands scandal, and since last summer’s disastrous Border-Gavaskar Trophy.

George Bailey has injected a breath of fresh air when it comes to selection philosophy, backing players and giving them peace of mind over their spot in the side, allowing them to focus on their game.

He has also shown adaptability and a horses for courses approach in the selection of Scott Boland and Usman Khawaja, who both had exceptional records at the respective grounds they were initially picked for. He has also discovered some sorely needed fast bowling and batting depth along the way.

One of the most respected and likeable characters in Australian cricket, Bailey’s appointment as Chairman of Selectors and Pat Cummins’ appointment as captain have given this side a much needed refresh and boost.

However, while this Ashes was certainly a thrashing, it was predicted they would win. They were hardly challenged and put under pressure for long periods of the game by the Englishmen. Cummins couldn’t put a foot wrong, mainly because England could never force him to put a foot wrong. A series win was the expected and predicted outcome.

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This all changes when Australia head down to the subcontinent. Australia will enter a world of cricket that is everything but predictable, with tours of Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India as part of the World Test Championship.

The ball spins. It is stinking hot. The ball goes soft quickly, and can turn miles. But it can also devilishly keep low, honing in on the batsman’s front pad. The abrasive subcontinent surfaces with minimal grass can lead to reverse swing. The type of reverse swing you find on Robelinda’s YouTube channel, with blurry footage of Wakar Younis swinging it back miles. That type of reverse swing.

The Tour of Pakistan presents an intriguing and historic challenge. Test cricket only recently returned to Pakistan, so the conditions are still fairly uncertain. Conventional thinking says it will spin, but pace bowlers average 29.61 since the start of 2015, and spin bowlers average 39.41 since then.

Cummins, Mitchell Starc, and Josh Hazlewood have decent records in the subcontinent and can get it to reverse late in the innings. Lyon is a proven spinner, who will make use of every ounce natural variation in the pitch.

Mitchell Starc of Australia bowls during day four of the 3rd Test match in the series between Australia and India at Sydney Cricket Ground on January 10, 2021 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Jason McCawley – CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images)

(Photo by Jason McCawley – CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images)

Mitchell Swepson is still a question mark as he is yet to make his Test debut, but Yasir Shah’s success in their recent series against South Africa will hint that he can be effective. Bailey will have quite the selection decision on his hands.

Sri Lanka and India present their own unique challenges, as well. The Galle pitch is known to spin from day 1, and Embuldeniya and the Sri Lankan spin attack will challenge the Australian batting line-up. They know how to operate in their home conditions.

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Sri Lanka will be challenging, but India is a different animal. We all have seen plenty of visiting sides, with New Zealand being the most recent, enter the dust cauldron of hell. Rarely does any touring side come out unscathed.

Two world-class spinners in Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, and Axar Patel, dry, dusty pitches, with every delivery met with squeals and shouts from Rishabh Pant and co. It is without doubt, the hardest place to win a cricket match in the world and the toughest place to bat.

However, if anything, this is an opportunity for Australia to show they have advanced and progressed from a side that dominates at home with the occasional away series win in New Zealand or West Indies sprinkled in. It is an opportunity for Australia to take a massive step in their journey to world cricket domination.

But it is also an opportunity for Australia to show progressive thinking when it comes to selection and tactics.

How will they navigate difficult and foreign conditions? Do they pick players like Matthew Renshaw and Peter Handscomb on the basis that their techniques are more suited for spin? Do they pick an accurate off-spinner in Matthew Kuhnemann or Ashton Agar, or a big turning leg-spinner like Swepson?

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Do they sweep Ashwin?

These are just a handful of questions the conditions on the subcontinent present.

As a cricket fan living in the United States, the subcontinent fails to inspire many fond memories, except for a lot of late nights and waking up to Australia being 5-120 at stumps. My dad always used to tell me that, “The subcontinent is where boys are separated from men.”

He probably was being hyperbolic, but he is partly right. Little do we know who will appear as unlikely heroes like Steve O’Keefe and Ajaz Patel did. Or which part-timer will take figures they could never dream of, like Joe Root and Michael Clarke did.

Maybe Swepson announces himself to the cricketing world with his massive leg breaks and viper googly.

Right now we can only speculate, but the unpredictability is part of the fun. Australia’s tour of the subcontinent will no doubt be their biggest challenge since Newlands.

But the greater the challenge, the greater the opportunity.

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