So, Australia has a new test captain (with the last still playing in the team), young bowling stocks abound and some promising batsmen are kicking around. Looks like Australia will have a bumper season kicking off with a test series in Sri Lanka, then to South Africa and the summer hosting India and New Zealand.
Wait, didn't we just lose an Ashes series? How did we lose that again? That's right, we had no spinner (well, noone that could bowl spin), our quicks couldn't penetrate a cardboard box and our batsmen couldn't fight their way out of a paper bag; save Watson, Hussey and Haddin. England played exceptionally well and no doubt fully deserved the series win and the margin by which they won. So is there any reason to be hopeful?
Yes there is. There are some great quicks doing the rounds in Starc, Copeland and Pattinson with some promising batsmen in Ferguson, Khawaja with Shaun Marsh injury free. Hughes looks to have worked on his technique and developed more patience so he'll be considered a chance for an opening spot before the summer finishes. I think Marsh is a key as he also opens and can be incredible damaging. Unfortunately his summer was ordinary which limited the options CA had. Tim Paine is obviously in the selectors sights as both the national wicket-keeper and a future captain. I fear Haddin may well get a nudge well before he's ready to call it a day. The quick trio are vital to Aus starting the long road back to the top of the test tree. It will be a long time before Aus invokes the fear it did from 1993 to 2004 (perhaps it never will) but you get busy trying or.....
We learnt last summer that Hilfenhaus is indeed mortal, Bollinger has a weaker ticker than we thought, Siddle could excel but rarely will (although he is a good stock bowler), Harris will forever be plagued with injury, Johnson is not 'back' and Aus has no single spinner worth picking. 'What about Hauritz?' I hear you (yes you) ask. If he's fit, I'd concede it's worth giving him a chance; perhaps Clarke will better manage him than Ponting. But if we're brutally honest who would disagree that Beer, Doherty, McGain - the list goes on - just are not up to the standard required for test cricket? A grounds keeper who quietly asked if he could bowl to the redbacks since he had nothing to do may well find himself in a baggy green before too long. Nathan Lyon has impressed all with his control and flight and with the revolving door policy for Aus spinners who knows?
The future may not be sparklingly bright admittedly but hell it looks interesting. The funny thing is that if Aus' middle order can develop more spine; in particularly Ponting and Clarke, some pressure can be taken off the bowlers and they may be able to attack more. When you've got 230 on the board and bowling day 1 it's pretty hard to keep slips in and men around the bat once some runs start to flow. The thing that Clarke can bring to the table is a plan B. When you think about where Cook got his runs in the Ashes, how many shots between cover and mid-off do you remember? Not bloody many I bet because his weakness is supposed to be full on/outside off and that's where Aus thought we'd get him out - but he'd tightened his technique - leaving the ball alone unless it was short enough to cut or straight enough to drive. We had no other idea of how we'd see the back of him and about 25,000 runs later still don't.
While finding a spinner that can at least keep things tight will aid the attack immenesley, our quicks have to be more consistent. The reason greats like Warne and McGrath got results was because they were always at the batsmen. Never giving a batsmen width, half-volleys or long hops builds pressure by limiting the scoring options they have. Even in test cricket batsmen will sooner or later try to release the shackles, thereby taking a risk and potentially offering an opportunity. However, when a batsman knows that he'll 'get at least one every over' all he has to so is wait. Siddle improved greatly over the summer by reducing his bad balls but with Johnson at the other end all this good work is entirely undone. Batsmen get their eye in, build condfidence and before you know it you're getting hit too. Hilfenhaus became too predictable and with no swing he was far less dangerous. Bollinger may well come back but at the same time may not be forgiven for Adelaide. Let's hope Harris can find the form he burst onto the scene with because someone has to mentor the Starcs of this world.
My friends, the outlook is not entirely bleak, but it's bloody far form being bright.