I drafted this post some time ago but rapid recent developments have stolen my thunder. Several times in the past 12 months, Steve Smith has joined David Warner at the crease and each time I have said to anyone who would listen, ‘These two are the future of Australian cricket’. And while it was already obvious that Smith and Warner, along with Clarke had become the mainstays of the Australian batting, it is now official that Steve Smith is the future of Australian cricket and I applaud the selectors.
While the road ahead looks rosy for Smith and Warner, it is hard to say the same for many others in the Australian team. Australian cricket has rallied in the past twelve months, arresting a decline in stocks that had lasted for several years and hit rock bottom in early 2013. That was not very long ago. The turnaround was brought about by astute decisions about leadership and wise selections, and the unexpected (to many) resurgence of Mitchell Johnson. It is important to note that some of those selections involved the introduction, or reintroduction of veteran players to provide the experience and maturity to steady the ship. To that end, Brad Haddin and Chris Rogers have done a great job. In fact, last summer, Haddin was almost superhuman. But it must have been always expected that those players had a limited shelf life.
If you run through the list, it is obvious that the selectors will need to be proactive and prudent in their actions. This has now been somewhat complicated by Clarke’s long term injury. I think they have handled the captaincy situation well. However, Clarke will be missed as a batsman as much as a captain. His replacement is anything but a sure bet. Shaun Marsh himself says this is his last chance and he needs to take it. I believe that the selectors will take action. This was shown by the dropping of Siddle. With two changes forced through injury it would have been tempting not to make further changes but the selectors did.
Let’s have a run through the team:
Chris Rogers: 37 years old and in scratchy form. Whether or not he scrapes out a 50 in his next Test, the selectors need to move on – Rogers’ best days are in the past. It is painful but it needs to be said: If he were still with us, Phillip Hughes would have been taking Rogers place in the team very soon. I don’t know who the alternatives are.
Shane Watson: I wouldn’t like to make any predictions about what will happen with Watson. All things being equal, I would suggest that Watson doesn’t belong in the present or the future plans. But things have never seemed equal when it comes to Shane Watson and matters of selection. I thought the emergence of Mitchell Marsh would have seen the end of Watson. For me, Watson has reached the stage where his bowling contribution is minimal and his batting average is still just 36. But he has been an automatic inclusion in the side (when fit) for more than a decade and that situation may exist until he announces his retirement.
Shaun Marsh: He said it himself: This is his last chance. I have no idea what he will do. As always, it could be a century or a duck and I wouldn’t like to guess in what order. However, the fact is that Shaun Marsh might be part of the future and his destiny is in his own hands.
Mitchell Marsh: The jury is still out. There is no question that he has potential. Perhaps he will help his brother and we will enter the ‘Marsh era’.
Brad Haddin: I am a big fan of Brad Haddin but after his incredible Ashes series, the runs have dried up somewhat (he has not made it to 25 in the six Tests since). He can’t go on forever and he knows it. I don’t know who would replace him. I would think that part of the rationale in promoting Smith to captain, effective immediately, would be uncertainty around Haddin’s place in the team, even in the short term. If Tim Payne were back and in form, he might have been joining the team this summer. For those of you who don’t know, Payne is back but has been recently dropped from the Tasmanian team on batting form.
Peter Siddle: The past. He has a big heart and has been the leader of the attack in troubled times but I suspect this omission might be permanent.
Mitchell Johnson: The present. Long may the present last. I would nominate Johnson’s form in the past 12 months as the single most important reason for Australia’s turnaround. The are other factors such as Lehmann and the key players already mentioned but I don’t think anyone, not even Shane Warne or Craig McDermott, could have banked on what Johnson has achieved and the impact it has had on Australian cricket, and for that matter, world cricket. He is now 32 years old and is in fantastic physical shape but how long can he keep it up?
Ryan Harris: Harris is the perfect foil for Johnson and the past twelve months have been a purple patch. Not because he bowled better than in the past – he has always been a very destructive bowler – but because he stayed on the park for a long string of matches. Having finally succumbed to serious injury, his comeback has lasted just one match. And while this appears not to be a serious injury, commonsense says that he is getting older and someone who has always been injury prone is not likely to get less injury prone with age. Quite the opposite.
Nathan Lyon: It seems strange to say but I would have to say that Lyon must be part of the future. He is young, the selectors are finally sticking with him and he is bowling well. I even go as far as to say that we can stop calling him ‘Gary’ and use ‘Nathan’. There are a couple of promising leg spinners around and they represent the the main threat to Lyon’s long term place in the team.
Josh Hazelwood: Who knows? An unknown quantity but he looks the goods and is the correct age.
Mitchell Starc: I have doubts that Starc is going to cement his place in the team. He has had a few chances now and while never doing badly, has never stood out in the Test arena. And do you really need three Mitchells in a team?
Pat Cummins: He’s not in the frame but it seems essential to include him whenever possible when Australian cricket is concerned. I don’t know the plans are for him. They have him focusing on the short form of the game but I hope he has a place in the future of Australian Test cricket. It is clear that he has slipped down the list for the moment.
I have no doubt that Australia will defeat India in Australia. They may steam roll them on and pacey Brisbane pitch. But looking at the roster above, there is much uncertainty, the team is still rebuilding and don’t be surprised if Australia struggles in the 2015 Ashes.