The annual September ODIs usually convey the general acknowledgement that the English summer is nearly at an end, and signifies England will travel abroad to challenge themselves on drier, much flatter, and more spin-friendly pitches in the not so distant future. England’s series against Pakistan in the UAE will see them avoid the worst winter in 50 years, according to forecasters.
Yet this may be a more figurative role reversal for Australia, who have undoubtedly suffered in both forms of the game during their tour of England, and will now be looking forward to righting the wrongs in Bangladesh. Has the recently concluded tour forced Lehmann into more changes than expected, or is this just the usual post-World Cup transition phase occurring?
Quite frankly, both outlooks hold reasonable credibility. Lehmann would not have expected a cluster of the senior members of his side to retire from representing Australia before the first Test Match in Cardiff. Yet Michael Clarke, Chris Rogers, Shane Watson and Brad Haddin have now disbanded from the side, making a transitional period all the more conducive, especially in Test matches.
Rogers had ensconced himself at the top of the order and allowed David Warner to perform to his bludgeoning best, whilst his century in the Lord’s Test showed his innate ability to accumulate runs. With his retirement however, Australia now have a dilemma in Test matches as Aaron Finch is technically fallible and Joe Burns demonstrated his rudimentary batting style by failing to make any significant runs in the ODI series.
The extent to which the ‘Baggy Greens’ will feel the loss of captain Michael Clarke is yet to be determined, but there is no doubt that they have lost one of the stalwarts of their side. Having played 115 Test matches at an average of just under 50, the pressure of compiling runs, in addition to the captaincy, has been heaped on his replacement Steve Smith.
Two less internationally experienced figures who will also be feeling the heat are Peter Nevill and Matthew Wade, following Haddin’s decision. Nevill appeared extremely resolute with the bat, a 59 at Edgbaston a testament to that, whilst all the batsmen around him demonstrated tenuous resilience. Add the seven catches he took on debut and it seems Nevill could easily adjust to the Test level. However, at the age of 32 he will have to continue in the same vein to produce a meaningful Test career.
Matthew Wade, however, perfectly embodies the current circumstances in Australian cricket. His flamboyant and explosive manner with the bat in the shorter form of the game combined with a couple of blunders with the gloves symbolises Australia’s prevailing transitional predicament. Nevertheless, at 27 Wade will look to excel before the Twenty20 World Cup next year, and further down the line, the next 50-over edition of the same tournament in England.
Despite being well-renowned as an LBW candidate, Shane Watson’s departure, along with Haddin’s, has resulted in a more callow middle order, but the performances of Mitchell Marsh this summer have eased the qualms in the search for a new all-rounder. That is not to demean Watson, as a record of nearly 3,731 runs and 75 wickets is nothing to be scoffed at.
However, Marsh has provided Australia with new impetus in the middle order and, unlike Watson, can be consistently relied upon with bat and ball. Marsh and Wade’s partnership propelled a sluggish Australian batting performance above 300 in the first ODI at Southampton, something Haddin and Watson seemed incapable of equalling immediately before their retirements.
Mitchell Marsh’s brother Shaun will be one of the most aggrieved players in hindsight, with the Trent Bridge Test match his only opportunity to showcase his talent. However, the Kings XI Punjab batsman may now become the linchpin of a newly assembled middle order.
Australia can also look to a deluge of young, exciting and bold talent in their following tour of Bangladesh as replacements. With the impressive Pat Cummins and James Pattinson both capable of clocking 90mph, the Australian selectors dare not agonize over Mitchell Johnson’s age or Mitchell Starc’s fluctuating performance levels.
Peter Siddle has on numerous occasions exemplified the perfect model of a bowler waiting in the wings, seizing his opportunity to possibly revive his Test career with 6 wickets in the Oval Test match. Josh Hazlewood has therefore become a forgotten young pace bowler, but undoubtedly the 24-year-old will learn to stick to his natural instinct of length bowling rather than attempting to swing the ball as a stock delivery. Newly selected Andrew Fekete will also hope to make an impression in Bangladesh to supply the selectors with a plethora of options.
If Steve Smith didn’t believe his frolic days in the Australian side were over, this year has changed all that. Now one of the most prolific run getters in international cricket alongside Joe Root, AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli, his consistency will determine Australia’s success in Test matches whilst the likes of Nevill and the Marsh brothers settle into the side. Initally called up to the side in 2010 to boost team morale, Smith has developed into captain material from a mere charismatic and charming character.
Australia without doubt have enough to tame the Tigers in Asia, particularly in the shorter form. Maxwell gave a glimpse of what a fantastic all-round cricketer he is in the middle order, whilst Aaron Finch will accompany Warner at the top of the order. That does not eliminate the chance of newcomer Cameron Bancroft from making an international bow, but the Test match arena may provide him with a more fruitful stage to further his career.
The season change here in England has signalled yet another revision of a cricketing side. However, this time, it wasn’t England. The victorious World Cup campaign has faded swiftly. Whether Australia can muster another one in 2019 will depend hugely on captain and coach. Over to you Steve Smith.
Photograph: Dan Heap via Wikimedia Commons