As the stumps rattled and the English crowd erupted into medley of song at the MCG, you could sense that Australia now had to start to look forward rather than continue to dismantle the do’s and dont's of matches past.
The obvious question rises as this once great cricketing nation is pulled back to the pack of its competitors as to who will replace the old and outgoing:
Ponting 36 captain, No.3 batsman
Katich 36 opening bat.
Hussey 36 strong middle order batsman
Haddin 33 keeper, may still a few but not many left in him.
Harris 31 and struggling with injury
You could almost put Doug Bollinger in this group of players that have lost a lot of form in the long format of cricket. From spending a couple of weeks of this Ashes summer based in Melbourne and having the opportunity to get up close and chat with a few coaches, it seems all is not lost for Australia. Its U19 program has produced some fine cricketers who’s opportunity I think will come sooner rather than later. The question is whether CA and the cricketing public will give them a chance? Australia has had so much success that to watch it rebuild could be painful, but fruitful all the same.
The captainancy seems to be the difficult one. Based on form alone Ponting would have gone early than his finger gave him excuse for, but is Michael Clarke really the next captain? I personally cannot see it. Clarke is CA poster boy, great with kids, a media darling, blonde and marketable. Yet his own form in question without the badge of honour makes you wonder that too much too soon could have him fall victim to his own cheesy smile. As I see it Haddin would make a great captain, but only for a few years due to age, this it seems would be a good route to go. Let the old dog behind the stumps nature the young as they come though and a suitable captain among the Gen Y is found. Then there is that old line “better the devil you know” – yes he has lost a Ashes series on home soil, a crime fit for a life in exile living on Easter Island, but with no other suitable replacement why not?
Phillip Hughes has to be kept in the system, with all his wrongs there are too many rights. An aggressive opener that punishes anything on off stump will only require opposition sides to focus on bowling good areas. Also the longer he is in the team and around Justin Langer [batting coach] the better he can become. The only other player to push him out could be Shaun Marsh, Swappy’s son who has shown a love for the 50 over game, but like his partner in crime Dave Warner is yet to settle in well enough to the longer days in the sun. An outside look could be Michael Hill, a bias choice I must say having played and grown up in my local area. His ton against a strong English touring side coupled with his 34 runs in only 9 Sheffield appearances says that this product of that U19 set-up is worth keeping an eye on.
Hussey in the middle order is a hard nut to replace, and I hope he goes on to play till he is 40 like Tendulkar. Like a good wine, Michael just seems to get better with age, even when knocked hard by the press prior to the Ashes series. He has plenty of Aussie grit and determination as a batsman, and I think is under rated as one of the best gully fieldsmen I’ve seen. His fielding coupled with his general demeanour makes him a perfect teammate in the Australian dressing room.
His replacement is a difficult one and only brings up a couple of choices of maybe Cameron White, Callum Ferguson or Steven O’Keefe – Cameron to me with his fielding in slips would be a good replacement, his batting is not yet up to the patience of Hussey, but could be over time. Yet it is his personality as well that I think lends him to a good fit within a team that needs positive people.
Haddin’s replacement in my eyes is one of the easier choices to make, Tim Paine has shown to have good gloves and a great bat that will only get better and in my eyes is the next Australian keeper.
I have heard a lot about the lack of bowling stocks as Mitchell Johnson failed to find his feet in Brisbane, but again there is a host of players waiting for a chance, it’s just age and with that comes a lack of over’s. NSW duo Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazelwood form a twin tower attack for the future but at 19 and 20 they seem a little green to be thrown to the Test match wolves, but I’m sure will be given a chance after this series.
Peter George from South Australia has shown a strong improvement bell curve, having also been given the opportunity in India, a mine field for even the best bowlers where I felt his greenness was shown up against the master batsman in the Indian side, yet he too holds a strong future. James Pattinson, brother of the one test wonder Darren, who if not for him trying too hard in the nets while travelling in India, suffering stress fractures would have been given the nod over George during the series. The young Victorian has shown great pace and placement in the T20’s and as an angling left hander with a Niti style swing has proved another great work horse from the Victorian bowling stable produced by Saker.
And then there are the others, Steve Smith a spinning all-rounder or a batting middle order player? Kwaja has been marked early on for great things and showed patience and thought as he played a hard earned 37 on a rain delayed debut, for me the Pakistan born Australian plays in the Ian Bell mould and could bat anywhere from 3 - 6. Alex Keath is another great hope for the future being lured away from Australian Rules Football by Victoria, the right handed batsman making 100 on his Futures league debut and has shown his cloud also has a silver lining.
As an Australian in England during the first two test matches it was hard to see the bright side of life, having had the opportunity to see it firsthand. I have no doubt Australia will walk away from this series a better team. Maybe not in 6 months as the ripple effect will dislodge a few egos, and of course faith has to be put into the selectors to see this talent and allow it to grow within the team.
*Not heard of any of these young guns? Click on the players to bring up their CricInfo Profile.