Looking at the possibility of a five-nil whitewash there’ll undoubtedly be people sitting back and muttering things about wishing things were more competitive.
Which, of course, is balderdash, unless you’re an England supporter.
Five-nil is the score line that, in some cases, suggests that there probably aren’t too many things that could have been done much better. It means you’ve probably got most things right, but the important question involves where we go from here.
Taking our prompt from this article (Australia eye unforeseen clean sweep) there are a couple of points that need to be emphasised.
Brydon Coverdale (for mine, one of the best cricket writers going around) nails things pretty well towards the bottom of the piece when he offers the following Stats and trivia:
• Should Australia win in Sydney it will complete their third 5-0 Ashes clean sweep, after 1920-21 and 2006-07
From which, one would suggest that if the whitewash does fall into place, rather than wishing things were more competitive, you should enjoy it. It doesn’t happen very often.
• If Australia name an unchanged side it will be the first time they have ever used the same XI throughout a five-Test series
Which is interesting on two counts. First, it suggests that we’ve got our strongest side on the paddock, and have managed to keep it there without issues involving injury or loss of form. That’s remarkable in its own way, but also suggests we don’t have players on the fringe of
Test selection sticking their hands up. There are still question marks over much of the batting order, and there’s no one in the top six who looks to have cemented a place in the long term.
Warner and Rogers look like a reasonable opening combination, though Rogers isn’t going to be there next time England tours here. He may well be missing when we head across to defend the urn.
Watson remains a question mark at Three, and the question of whether, and how much, he bowls remains.
Clarke is only there until his back goes and isn’t going to be able to play every Test of every series in the meantime. That doesn’t mean he’s going anywhere soon, but every Test and every series could be his last.
Smith needs to become more consistent, and Bailey needs to translate limited over success into long form consistency, and probably needs to do it very quickly.
Haddin has is no more than a medium-term prospect with the gloves, and Wade has slipped down the pecking order.
This fast bowling trio is only going to last as long as it takes for one of them to break down.
Ironically, that means the best long-term prospect in this eleven is possibly Nathan Lyon, who is coming along very nicely.
• In the event of a draw or an Australian win, Australia will jump from fifth to third on the ICC Test rankings and England would drop from third to fourth. An England win would leave England third and Australia would move up from fifth to fourth
And this one, folks, is the one that matters.
Win this Test and we still have to overcome India and South Africa, and we’ll need to do it home and away. We’ve got a huge reality test coming up next month with three Tests in South Africa.
A glance at the Future Series/ Tournaments page on Cricinfo shows nothing on the Test front before the next Australian summer and World Cups in both short forms this year (T20) and next (ODI).
So, in some ways, we’ve got a bit of time to catch our breath and take a look around.
As far as the short forms go, we’ve got five ODIs, a PM’s XI game and three T20s against England before that T20 World Cup, and the rest of the Big Bash to keep us amused in the interim.
We should be looking to make the semi-finals in that T20 World Cup. After that everything is pretty much in the hands of the cricketing gods.
We should be competitive in the 50 over version as well, and should be looking to make the final there.
But the key issue, as it always will be, involves getting to #1 in the Test rankings and, once we have, staying there.
That means, for mine, getting to the point where we’ve got our strongest side on the park, with adequate cover for each position and allowances for differing playing conditions.
If there’s one lesson to be learned from the position England currently find themselves in, it’s the need to have a reasonably strong squad with adequate and reasonably experienced reserves.
Using this eleven as the basis for that squad, we want two backup openers, someone who could slot into Three or Four, someone for Five or six, cover for the ‘keeper, three backup quicks with a couple of roles covered between then, a reserve offie, a potential leggie (bearing in mind that it might be Smith) and a left arm tweaker other than Clarke.
Do a head count out of that lot and you’re looking at a group of around twenty, drawn from six Shield squads, which would number somewhere between twenty and thirty players. Say one hundred and twenty regular first class players, and that’s one in six playing, on the verge of playing, or with an outside chance of playing, for Australia.
One in six, or thereabouts.
So, if we’re looking to go on from here, hit the top of the rankings and stay there, we need to ensure that the Shield is the strongest competition we can organise. It has to be hard fought, and it needs to be played on surfaces that aren’t too far removed from Test cricket.
Shield cricket should have batsmen amassing substantial scores against bowlers who are looking to insert themselves in the pecking order when it comes to Australian selection. They need to be doing that on wickets that offer pace and bounce on Day One, flatten out on Days Two and Three and start to take turn on Day Four.
We should be taking a serious look at playing Shield games over five days.
Ironically, one thing that will make that possible is a continuation of this season’s major innovation, playing the interstate one-day series in a block in one capital city. It doesn’t always have to be Sydney, and it probably doesn’t actually need to be a capital city, but the notion of the interstate one-daters as a pre-season comp has definite merit and is worth persisting with.
It serves as a warm-up for the Shield, which runs nicely into the Test series, and since we’re going to be burdened with a Big Bash into the foreseeable future, at least it slots nicely in towards the limited overs side of the international calendar.
And, as far as the emerging players are concerned, we need the up and coming quicks to be working on their batting through that time when their bowling workloads are being strictly managed.
We need to have all batsmen working on being able to bowl something reasonably well. Doesn’t have to be particularly flash, just an ability to land something reasonable on a fairly consistent basis, hopefully with a variation thrown in.
Every player in every squad under the age of twenty-five should also be working towards gaining professional, academic or tradesman qualifications so that they have definite prospects for life after cricket. These things should be a conscious effort on the part of the various State bodies as a way on ensuring the talent isn’t being drawn away by the football codes, which can offer bigger money at an earlier stage in the athlete’s career.
And, whatever we do, when all that starts to sound a little bit too close to routine and mundane, and we’re tempted to do something fancy, we need to give ourselves a pinch, and adopt a constant mantra of Keep it simple, stupid.
Oh, and nothing resembling a thirty-eight page document outlining the dietary requirements, thank you very much.