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How to manage an ageing Australian Test team

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Roar Guru
18th January, 2023
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In the lead-up to the Test tour of India, Australian cricket looks in good shape. Convincing series wins over the West Indies and South Africa, plus four batters and three bowlers in the ICC top 10 world rankings, suggest that the Australian team is perhaps in as good a place as it’s been for a number of years.

However, there are some headwinds starting to come. The following table looks at the average age of the Australian, India and English cricket teams. For Australia, I have used what I consider to be the selectors’ No.1 choice for the national team, whilst I have utilised the team list from the last match played for both India and England.

There are any number of methods we could use to arrive at a team list, but the underlying result is the same.

AustraliaAgeIndiaAgeEnglandAge
Warner36Gill23Crawley24
Khawaja36Rahul30Duckett28
Labuschagne28Pujara34Ahmed18
Smith33Patel28Stokes31
Head29Kohli34Pope25
Green23Unadkat31Root32
Carey31Pant25Brook23
Cummins29Iyer28Foakes29
Starc32Ashwin36Robinson29
Lyon35Yadav35Wood33
Hazlewood32Siraj28Leach31

Average age: Australia 31.3, India 30.2, England 27.5.

The Australian Test team is ageing. Not quite Dad’s Army yet, but it’s an issue that needs addressing shortly. India have a similar problem, but seem to have a lot more tested depth at their disposal. England, on average, are more than three years younger than Australia.

Using 35 as the guide, and leaving aside the rumours about Steve Smith, Australia have three players 35 or over who are likely on the cusp of retirement: David Warner, Usman Khawaja and Nathan Lyon.

We have seen before how mass retirements can impact a team. Greg Chappell, Dennis Lillee and Rod Marsh all called stumps in 1984. I’m not saying that Warner, Khawaja and Lyon are in the same class, but the fallout was dramatic.

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Australia didn’t win a Test series for the next four years, and didn’t really click again until the Ashes series in 1989, when Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh cemented their spots in an improving team.

Australia arguably had greater depth in 2007 when Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath retired, but series losses to India, South Africa and England occurred over the following three years.

Retirements are part and parcel of sport, but need to be carefully managed. There have been comments made around Warner and Khawaja not leaving the Test arena at the same time but no arrangements, at least publicly, have been announced.

Andrew McDonald needs to be on top of this, trying to ensure a gradual process.

Warner should be the first to go, although he seems almost a lock for India and England. In terms of his replacement, Matt Renshaw seems to be the obvious. He’s only 26, has been around the Australian set-up for a while and was arguably harshly treated when he was axed in 2017.

Ideally, Khawaja would hang around for a further 12 months, as his form is still top notch. Henry Hunt and Bryce Street would probably be in the mix at present, but young openers would have the best part of two years to make an impression.

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The same goes for Nathan Lyon. His time will probably come over the next two years. Todd Murphy appears to have the inside running, and it may be time to blood him in a Test against Pakistan or the West Indies next summer.

With regard to Australia’s pace bowling, there is real depth with Scott Boland definitely in the mix for top XI selection. At 33, though, he is not a long-term replacement. Jhye Richardson and Lance Morris are both in their mid-20s and will likely find themselves leading the pace attack in a few years’ time.

Nothing should take away from what has been a dominant summer from Australia. They will go into the toughest environment in world cricket with plenty of confidence next month. Following that, we will see whether Bazball works against what is now clearly the best bowling attack in the world.

However, with an ageing team, Australian team management need to start working now to ensure the transition, with a number of retirements likely, is as seamless as possible.

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