South Africa’s tour of Australia, 2016
This could well be a watershed moment in Australian cricket history. Surely Steve Smith must have contemplated uprooting a stump after being destroyed in the Hobart Test, burning it, mourn the death of Aussie cricket and preserving the ashes in an urn to begin a new famous rivalry against the Proteas that would last many decades. Their performance, to be fair, has merited this sort of overdramatic hyperbolic act of “declaring demise”.
Instead, in an act that signals the advent of an administration’s undue influence on the game, Cricket Australia has gotten out the kitchen mop. Losing five Tests in a row is terrible for any team, and almost unthinkable if you’re world champion and the best cricketing team of the last two decades. Australia’s standards have been high, more so in Tests, but they have also endured far more defeats than they would have liked in the last six years.
Here are some talking points before the third and final Test – a day-night one – at the Adelaide Oval:
We saw it coming after the immediate resignation of chairman of selectors, Rod Marsh, in the wake of Hobart’s humiliation. But to actually see it happen in between a series, in between two matches – as opposed to between two series the last time it happened back in 1984 – is surreal, and perhaps the most desperate act by a board in the last decade.
Six changes were made to the squad that lost the series in Hobart. Six changes, and this isn’t even a football team looking to “conserve” energy in the domestic league before a big Champions League game. Everyone but four had been sent back to play a Sheffield Shield game (Australia’s Ranji-equivalent) after the Test, and those who performed well in this match would be retained. It became as short and ruthless as one 4-day game. Only Usman Khwaja scored a century out of the batsmen, which is why he was retained for the last Test.
Trevor Hohns, now the chairman of selectors, now in charge of “cleaning” up the trash to ‘make Australia great again,’ axed one-match old bowler Joe Mennie and poor Callum Ferguson, players who hadn’t even gotten a change to complete their first ever international series. He also axed wicketkeeper Peter Neville, all-rounder Mitchell Marsh, batsmen Joe Burns and the incumbent Adam Voges (concussed during his Sheffield exam). Spinner Nathan Lyon retained his spot.
20-year-old Matt Renshaw, an English passport holder who has also lived in New Zealand, is a batsman primed to make his debut. The Queensland opener is also an old family friend of English batting sensation, Joe Root. Guess who he was supporting during the famous 2005 Ashes series?
Another British passport holder, batsman Peter Handscomb, Sheffield Shield’s highest scorer in the last year, has also been included.
Royal Challengers Bangalore big-hitter and ‘enigma’ Nic Maddinson has been included too, three years after he made his T20 debut for Australia. He is the captain of New South Wales.
The new bowler is 29-year old Chadd Sayers, the highest wicket-taker in domestic cricket for the last four years. He was part of Australia’s squad in New Zealand earlier this year, but didn’t play a Test. Along with Jackson Bird, who returned to Test cricket earlier this year against the Kiwis after making his debut in 2012, Sayers will be the backup bowler to the lead pair of Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood.
The new wicketkeeper will be old Matthew Wade, who was last seen on Australia’s 4-0 defeat to India in 2013.
Steve Smith’s wish of captaining a young, inexperienced team has been fulfilled, with most of his support staff on notice. None of them will even care about the “Mint-gate” controversy, with South African captain Faf du Plessis being docked his match-fee for being found guilty of “tampering” at Hobart with his mint-flavoured saliva. This will seem like dark humour to a team looking to arrest their slide, just as Faf and his men were trying desperately at this time last year.
Possible XI for Adelaide: Warner, Renshaw, Smith, Khwaja, Handscomb, Maddinson, Wade, Starc, Hazlewood, Sayers/Bird, Lyon
Almost all the new arrivals will play at Adelaide – something unheard of, given that the next Ashes is in 2017, before which Australia face a grueling four-Test tour of India again. With India running riot since 2015, Smith’s men have nowhere to go but lower. And lower.