Australia here and now

The back-to-back Ashes defeats and failure to retain the World Cup ensured Australia were a team in a crisis. With huge media pressures and serious selection issues, something had to give. Unfortunately for him, Ponting knew it was time to step down if not because of his personal poor form, then for the opportunity to add a new vibe to an otherwise fading team. Even after being one of Australia’s most successful captains for an extended period of time, speculation grew over his ability to captain an inexperienced side with the absence of greats such as Warne, McGrath, Hayden, Langer, and Gilchrist.

This criticism arose with the sudden departure of many of these legends. Little did the selectors know the impact this would have on the newly formed Australian side, that appeared to be all but premature. Many commentated on the need of a creative incite to Ricky’s captaincy that was previously not required, this was quickly countered by fellow team mates, however it was inevitable that with the retirement of these greats, came the unveiling of Australia’s lack of strength in depth.

Ponting’s retirement in March 2011 gave way for Michael Clarke to take the reins, however there was speculation over his popularity within the side. It would seem that the arrival of 2012 had a dream impact on the Australian team as the batsmen, both new and old, started scored heavily and the bowlers were certainly in their element. In late 2011 Australia beat Sri Lanka, drew with South Africa and New Zealand and then finally in the New Year thrashed India 4-0. This comprehensive victory came at the perfect time for Michael Clarke, who found a prolific purple patch of form scoring 626 at an average of 125.2; this included a selfless captain’s nock of 329 not out, which certainly raised his popularity, not to mention showing what an outstanding player his is.

Ponting himself also came back into form in the same series and while batting at number four, he made a spectacular return to form, scoring 544 runs at an average of 108.8, including two hundreds and three half centuries. Though he no longer expects to play limited overs cricket, he has once again proven himself in the test arena and will surely retain his place for future tours.

But why the sudden change around in confidence and ability? Have the new members of the squad introduced a new vibe to the team? Or have the selectors finally got it right?

Replacing what is considered to be the best spinner and best seam bowler of all time both was never going to be an easy ask of the Australians, although they have been extremely ruthless in selection. The retirements of these great and inspirational players were the underlying reason for Australia’s selection issues from 2007 onwards. Australia have used a staggering 11 spinners since the retirement of Shane Warne and many feel that the majority of them weren’t given long enough to impress. Were they all dropped because they simply weren’t good enough? Or were the Australian Cricket Board and selectors simply too stubborn to admit that it would be unreasonably difficult to replace Warne’s greatness? Either way they have finally found a young gun that is doing the job for them. Nathan Lyon, having just turned 24, definitely has a bright future ahead of him. He bowls with traditional flight, varying his pace and above all, he spins the ball, something that the previous 11 spinners lacked. Taking 5 for 34 on debut was a dream start and he has continued to cement his place in the side ever since, regularly taking wickets and giving the new captain Michael Clarke control.

With the spin department taken care of, it was down to the seam bowlers, a flaw in Australia’s armour since the days of McGrath, Lee and Gillespie and one that England took full advantage of during the recent Ashes series down under. Unlike Australia, England had been planning and developing their bowling attack for 18 months prior to the series, so much so that they had a full replacement bowling attack, which was called upon to great success during the series. Recently Australia have found some promising new fire bolts that could potentially guide the side through the tough tours ahead.

These names include the young Patrick Cummins and James Pattinson, who have both proved impressive so far, Cummins has real pace and the ability to bowl wicket-taking deliveries on a regular basis, as proven on debut against South Africa, taking 6 for 79. Touted to become the leader of the Australian attack, the selectors have realised his potential and offered him a central contract, at 18 he is the youngest to be contracted since the scheme was introduce in 1998. Pattinson has also put his name forward as the one to watch over the near future and the Australian selectors certainly hold him in high regard as they offered him a contract in 2011 with only six first class matches to his name. On debut he bowled with control at decent pace and got just rewards taking 5 for 27, with his accuracy and strength makes him a promising prospect for the future of Australia’s bowling attack.

These new players have linked well with the old warhorses Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus who are both enjoying very productive summers, and if Australia continue to prosper in this way, then it looks like we may actually get a competitive home Ashes series after all

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