Looking towards the Ashes

I’ve got a friend who’s a cricket fan, but who’s so depressed with the condition of Australian cricket over the last 12 months that he won’t read a word of what I write about it. I know plenty of others like that, disillusioned and disappointed by the events last year that they still can’t come at the Australian team.
I had a twitter conversation with one of these people recently, a political journalist in Canberra. I understood his perspective completely, I told him, but couldn’t he find a way to support a revamped, and hopefully reformed, Australian team? I urged upon him Tim Paine, a paragon of fair minded and mature leadership and he agreed with me, finally conceding that he would come around to it – just not yet.

No-one was more disappointed than me with what happened in Capetown. I know that’s a cliché, but fair dinkum, the outrage was raw and spontaneous, just as it was for thousands of others. This is something others struggle to understand, and perhaps that’s fair, perhaps there’s some wilful hypocrisy in such belief – but from day dot I was brought to believe there would be no more fearsome competitor than an Australian, but that at end of the day it would remain true to that great Australian dictum ‘hard but fair’. That meant, among other things, that after going at it hammer and tongs on the field all day it was all good to catch up for a social beer after it.

In retrospect I figure those golden days were long gone, and it was all a bit of a fondly held fantasy – though I still believe in the basic principle. While it always made eminent sense to us, to many of our opponents, coming from entirely different cultures, I suspect it was all a confounding nonsense. It was one of those tropes we innocent Australian supporters held dearly to, so that when we were shown to have transgressed it came as a shock to our mentality. That’s why the reaction was so extreme, why the penalties were stiff – they not only betrayed the sport, they betrayed our dearly held notions of Australian self.

I was one of those ready to move on once the penalties were handed down. In fact, I’m happy at the concept of rehabilitation, of – to abuse another famous Aussie dictum – giving the transgressors a ‘fair go’. I wrote in the heat of battle last year that Smith should never play for Australia again. That’s too harsh I think. He has his penalty, once completed he’s welcome to return to the team – though never as captain. I think he was a poor leader regardless of this controversy, but I think this episode should bar him from future leadership. That’s where the line should be drawn.

Now the banned players are poised to become available again, just in time for the World Cup and Ashes tour of England. Smith and Warner should almost be automatic selections, and even Bancroft, given performance. Should be a chance. There’s no doubt in my ever combative Australian mind that we can win both competitions, and that’s what I want.

The availability of these players raises selection questions. Australia finished the summer on a high having easily disposed of a weak Sri Lankan team.

There were some outstanding performances in those tests. Cummins continued his rise superstardom. Head, promising all summer, finally cracked it for his maiden test century. Likewise Khawaja, disappointing much of the summer, got a hundred in what was a virtual dead innings. And Starc finally returned to form with devastating effect.

What was encouraging though was the performance of newcomers. The Australian selectors finally bowed to public pressure and reinstated Burns to the team, and he promptly got a hundred. An injury to Hazlewood gave a fortuitous opportunity to Jhye Richardson, who performed very well. He’s a clever bowler who aims at the stumps and can swing the ball at pace – he’ll be perfect in English conditions. And Kurtis Patterson finally got his chance, and promptly scored a hundred too.

I’ve been a rap for Patterson for a while. I think he’s just the player we need to balance out our line-up. He’s got good technique and a good head on his shoulders. He’s patient too, something we’ve lacked. My only disappointment was that Will Pucovski, perhaps the next great Australian batsman, was denied his chance.

Much can happen before we head off to England, and there’s still a few rounds of Shield cricket to have a bearing on selection – things can change – but here’s my squad:

Warner

Burns

Khawaja

Smith

Head

Patterson

Paine

Cummins

Starc/Richardson

Hazlewood

Lyon

Stoinis

Pucovski

Handscomb/Wade

Worrall/Pattinson

Labuschagne

Harris

There’s a couple too many players there. I think one of Starc and Richardson will be selected in the starting eleven according to conditions and form. I suspect Pucovski won’t be picked. I’ve got one either of Handscombe or Wade will be picked as back-up batting/wicket-keeping. One either of Worrall or Pattinson – Worrall can swing the ball big time, and we know what Pattinson can do if fit. His Shield form will be telling. Tremain is stiff. Labuschagne because he’s an incumbent, and because he’s the only other spinner besides Lyon. And Harris as back-up opener, making way for Warner.

Maxwell might be an option, except the selectors have put a line through him. Will be interested in the final squad selected. It’s a pretty good first eleven though. England beware!

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