Progression happening earlier than expected for Australia.
Things are happening thick and fast for Australian cricket. After the tragic death of Phillip Hughes a couple of weeks ago and the dramatic final session victory over India in Adelaide on Saturday the team already has a new (stand in) captain and half a new bowling line up for the second Test against the Indians in Brisbane.
With the clouds circulating over the future of incumbent captain Michael Clarke, who underwent major hamstring surgery on Tuesday. Steven Smith was named Australia’s 45th Test captain for at least the final three Tests of the summer.
While most of us expected previous vice-captain Brad Haddin to take over the helm of the side in Clarke’s absence – As he was lined up to do so when there were worries over Clarke’s fitness for the originally scheduled first Test of the summer at the Gabba, rearranged due to the death of Hughes – The seriousness of Clarke’s injuries and the lack of a timescale for his comeback has led the selectors to promote Smith ahead of schedule.
Although Smith is a good choice as captain and his appointment has been well received by ex-Australian captains Ian Chappell, Kim Hughes, Allan Border, Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting – Even he must admit that his promotion is way ahead of the expected schedule.
It helps that alongside David Warner, Smith is now the side’s premier and inform batsman. Since the start of the home Ashes series last summer he has scored 984 runs at 61.50 and now looks like replacing Clarke as the sides middle order rock. He has also already moved himself up into Clarke’s number four batting spot as he looks to take more responsibility with the captaincy.
Elsewhere the lineup is starting to evolve much sooner than many expected from the side that dominated England over five Tests just a year ago.
At the end of that whitewash series players such as Chris Rogers, Brad Haddin and Ryan Harris had stated their wishes to continue on to be able to defend their Ashes crown in England next summer and although that might yet happen – things are starting to look less certain now.
The 2015 Ashes tour of England was supposed to be end of a cycle as far as a few Australian players were concerned, but with form and injuries taking over at the present, that day looks like it could be happening rather sooner than expected.
Taking a look at the current side, there remains plenty of questions over the mid-to-long term future of many players. Starting with the top order I take a look at the immediate and long term future of those who’s places could be under threat throughout the next year of Test cricket.
Chris Rogers – Despite a recent from slump which has seen him not pass fifty in his last eight Test innings, he received reassurances from the selectors over his immediate future in the side. Despite not scoring as much as the selectors would have liked, the fact that he has had a huge affect on the development of Warner as a world class opener has earned him some credit in the bank. Another reason for the selectors leniency towards Rogers is the lack of other opening options.
IThe likes of Ryan Carters and Ed Cowan have been amongst the runs in the Sheffield Shield. While Carters could do with at least another season batting at the top of the order after spending more of his early career in the middle order, returning to Cowan would be a backwards step after he was largely found wanting during his previous spell in Test cricket.
The main challenge to Rogers at the top of the order was of course Phil Hughes – Who in an ideal world would have replaced the 37-year-old at the conclusion of next summers Ashes.
Someone else who could possibly replace Rogers in the future is Jordan Silk, 22, but the Tasmanian batsman is currently averaging just 25 during the first part of the Shield campaign.
With no more Shield cricket to be played during the Test summer due to the Big Bash it’s unlikely that Rogers will be dropped even without a significant score and the chances are his vast experience in English conditions will earn him an Ashes swan song next summer.
Allrounder Shane Watson’s place in the side also seems up in constant question. With the inclusion of Mitchell Marsh as a second allrounder batting at six, Watson has not had the same workload of bowling as he once had and can now fully concentrate on his batting.
Like Rogers it has been a long time since Watson made a significant score in Test cricket and with a brittle body that seems to break down after every other match it looks like Watson could be on thin ice if Shaun Marsh makes runs at number five and Clarke returns to the side for future assignments next year.
On top form he remains a lock in at number three for the next couple of years but with the injuries and his inability to make hundreds when they matter the most, Watson’s days could be numbered if an adequate replacement batsman shines through in Shield cricket.
Michael Clarke’s recent back and hamstring injuries a becoming a far greater concern than first feared a couple of months ago, so much so that after hobbling out of his sides victory in Adelaide, Clarke told reporters that he could have played his final cricket match for his country.
Since then he has undergone major surgery on his hamstring injury and has said his future is now in the hands of the medical team. It remains likely that he will return to Australian colours sometime next year and despite the usual two month recovery for such surgery, the World Cup seems to come too soon for him – Perhaps a return to the side for next June’s tour of the West Indies remains more likely.
Both the Marsh brothers, Mitchell and Shaun have yet to secure their places in the side with any real authority as of yet. Although the young allrounder Mitchell has impressed with his exciting batting style and tight bowling in his three Tests to date, he has yet to score match changing runs or take any vital wickets.
Shaun has been in and out of the Test team since make his debut over three years ago. His two Test centuries have both contributed at difficult times – 141 in Pallekele on debut and 148 in Centurion last February. Despite these two impressive overseas knocks, he has only passed single figures in five of his other thirteen innings.
If he can find some consistency between the all or nothing part of his game then there is likely going to be a spot available to him in the middle order with the futures of Watson and Clarke in doubt.
Despite being over looked for the captaincy Brad Haddin remains the current incumbent wicketkeeper. While he has failed to score more than 22 in his last eleven innings, his exploits in last summer’s Ashes have likely earned him one last chance to win a World Cup on home soil as well as an away Ashes. The shoulder injury he picked up in the UAE perhaps remains a concern for a man of 37 but without Clarke in the side for the next few months, Haddin’s experience will be vital for new skipper Smith.
When the time comes for Haddin to step aside, likely to be after next summer’s Ashes, Matthew Wade remains the front runner to replace the New South Welshman.
Alongside Wade, Peter Nevill and Sam Whiteman will be talked up by many, with Nevill’s current Shield form currently edging him ahead of the younger Whiteman.
With his exclusion for the ongoing Test at the Gabba, Peter Siddle has now been dropped twice in the past year. Although the 30-year-old still remains in the picture, he is increasing finding his place more threatened by his younger and quicker counterparts. First in Cape Town he was replaced by James Pattinson and now by Josh Hazelwood.
It has been clear since his axing in South Africa that he has been down in pace and with younger men such as Hazelwood now staking an impressive claim to be in the side, he must accept he is now just a squad bowler and not the spearhead he once was. It’s very unlikely that a man with 192 Test wickets will be disregarded so quickly yet though.
Elsewhere across the quick bowling corps Mitchell Starc has remained performing in ODI and Sheffield Shield cricket earning him a recall to the side for the second Test match despite an ordinary outing in his only match in the UAE. He has yet to play back-to-back matches and remains slightly unconvincing at Test level.
Jackson Bird and Pat Cummins have recently returned from long term injuries to represent their respective State sides Tasmania and New South Wales. But it will be a while out yet for either of them to return to the Test side without decent match practice beforehand.
Another impressive young quick bowler in James Pattinson remains on the sidelines after a series of serious injuries. The 24-year-old last played for his country in the final match of their 2-1 Test series victory in South Africa back in March before a reoccurrence of a back stress problem put pay to his 2014. He has since remodelled his bowling action and hopes to make a return to Shield cricket with Victoria before the end of the summer after playing as a batsman only for grade side Dandenong in recent weeks.
Ryan Harris, when fit, still remains a world class bowler, but following knee surgery in March he is now likely to be managed even more cautiously than last summer – Where it was a minor miracle that his knee managed to make it through five Tests on the bounce.
He will fitness permitting be on the plane to England next Summer where it is expected he will wind down his international career. A career that started when he was already 29-years-old and has crossed between him being a world class opening bowling and a regular member of the physio table.
Mitchell Johnson’s resurgence in the past twelve months has seemingly added a couple of years onto his international career and he will likely remain as the spearhead of the Australian bowling whilst the inexperienced men find their feet.
At least the critical vultures will now be off the back of spinner Nathan Lyon – Who’s twelve wickets in Adelaide have earned him some patience in the side after a disastrous tour of the UAE. His place in the side could have been under threat had his fellow New South Wales colleague Steve O’Keefe impressed more on his Test debut in Dubai, but for the next year at least he will remain the number one tweaker.
Much will be determined by the ongoing series result against India and the performances of those involved as to who will make the tours of West Indies and England next summer, while the final Sheffield Shield matches to be played at the conclusion of the Big Bash tournament in February will also be a chance for those on the outside to claim a place on the plain new year.
Will the the new cricketing cycle start earlier than expected? We will have to sit back and see how the summer unfolds to find out.