On July 21, less than six months ago, the idea of writing this would have been preposterous.
This date marked the nadir of a chain of events that made Cricket Australia the laughing stock of the cricketing world. Of course, different fans will have different low points, but this was the day Australia had been out-classed at Lord’s.
Beaten by a near incomprehensible 347 runs. England were 2-0 in the Ashes and Ian Botham’s arrogant 10-0 prediction remained a possibility.
It was the low point of a seemingly random selection policy that saw an untried 19-year-old spinner wow the world with the bat before flattering to deceive with the ball. Before that, they had been listless during a Champions Trophy campaign that saw a star batsman swing at a baby-faced Englishman in a Birmingham bar and they had been humiliated on a tour of India that saw four players, including the vice-captain, suspended for failing to complete a homework assignment. There was talk of dissent in the ranks and 17 days before the Ashes began, they changed their coach. To cap it all off, their infamous twitter account had, just a couple of days earlier, tweeted “That decision sucked ass #bulls**t”, when a decision went England’s way.
Cricket Australia were officially a joke.
Somehow, in just 169 days, everything has changed.
Australia has beaten, broken, bullied and battered an England team that just 18 months ago stood atop the world rankings. Fine careers have ended and potentially permanent scars inflicted. Once the best drilled team in world cricket, England’s fielding had descended into farce, no batsman had managed 300 and their bowlers couldn’t find anything near the right length. Their most experienced players looked mentally drained and physically shot and questions are being raised about their coaches, their extensive troupe of support staff and the environment they have created, all of which surely contributed to the mother of all horror tours.
Australia on the other hand can do no wrong. Every decision made in the intervening six months appears to have gone spectacularly right, from the top level to the bottom rung.
First, the hiring of Darren Lehmann. When things were going wrong, this appeared a hopeful appointment at best and was written off as desperate by most. Sure, ‘Boof’ possesses one of the finest cricketing brains about, but the manner in which he has captured the imagination of a divided and immature dressing room, not to mention a disaffected cricketing public, has been staggering. His famed laid-back approach could not be in starker contrast to an English system so regimented that their cookbook was longer than their diplodocus-esque tail. One player suggested last winter that they felt watched when using the urinal.
Next, the retention of Michael Clarke as captain to partner Lehmann. After that ill-fated India tour, Clarke had a dicky back, appeared to have lost the dressing room and his “funky fields” weren’t providing results. Formerly a divisive figure accused of not playing for the Baggy Green, he has become a respected leader whose record with bat and brain speak for themselves.
There have been inspired selections, too. Chris Rogers had just a single cap, five years earlier, when he was recalled for the Ashes. He ends the ten Test marathon with more runs than anyone else and three Test tons.
Brad Haddin’s international career looked over, but he has taken more than 50 catches across the two series and a batting performance in the second leg that would make even Adam Gilchrist salivate.
No one thought Ryan Harris could play nine Tests, on the bounce. But he has, and he’s been brilliant.
David Warner could easily have been permanently vanquished. A slap on the wrists sufficed and Australia has reaped the rewards.
And then, of course, they recalled Mitchell Johnson. We knew he could bowl that fast, but we didn’t know he could bowl that accurately.
All of a sudden, Australia are a team who don’t need a top order to get big first innings leads, set nominal targets at will and put fielders where they want as hapless batsmen pick them out. They do what they want.
Of course, many of these decisions were made before Australia reached their lowest point, but let’s give credit where credit is due. Australia have played a blinder.
Sure, tougher challenges lie ahead. There’s no escaping the fact that England have been abysmal. South Africa next month will provide a far better barometer of where Australia are at this point in time. A South Africa shorn of Jacques Kallis remains a very good South Africa.
Somewhere, Graeme Smith is excited about the prospect of taking on Johnson and Harris armed with the new ball, Vernon Philander is laughing at Warner’s deficiencies against the moving ball and Dale Steyn is sat in a large chair, stroking a purring, fluffy cat contemplating Bailey’s technique, or lack of, outside off stump.
For now, though, it is time to recognise that Australia has enjoyed five special Test matches, inspired a nation and laid the platform for greater things to come.