Originally published on RealSport on 13/12/2016.
Australia head in to the first test against Pakistan on Thursday at the Gabba on the back of a mini-revival, but they are increasingly reliant on individual performances to lift and inspire.
On the back of strong leadership from Steve Smith, both on and off the field, Australia have headed in to a period of review and assessment in better shape than could have been expected following five consecutive test losses away in Sri Lanka and at home against the imposing South Africans, with the captain, in particular, showing a willingness to fight, preserve his wicket and score tough runs.
Aussies in formIt sounds odd to suggest that the skipper is ‘in form’ following the first test series in more than two years where he has failed to score a century, but his fine slaying of the Kiwis, including a stunning and record setting 164 at his home ground in Sydney, bely the fact that he faced some very bad luck during the first three tests of the Australian summer and also found himself often fighting a lone stand as wickets fell around him in quick succession. Throw in scores of 117 and 42 for New South Wales in the pink ball day-nighter against the Bulls and you get the sense that Smith is far from out of touch, and that’s not even mentioning his spectacular feats in the field of late.
Alongside the captain, his right-hand man David Warner bounced back from a disappointing test series to record consecutive hundreds against the battered New Zealanders, breaking Ricky Ponting’s record for most one-day centuries in a calendar year in the process. Warner also notched a fine hundred facing the pink ball for New South Wales, suggesting a more settled Warner may hold the key to Aussie success at the top of the order.
More touted for his chirpiness behind the stumps than his glovework or form with the blade so far this summer, Matthew Wade faces the prospect of already having to fight to maintain his role in the Australian test side moving forward. The vibrant Victorian has been solid behind the stumps since his recall to the test arena, but has produced nothing more than short cameos with the bat in hand. Wade, the Victorian skipper at Shield Level, does provide a steady and positive influence in the field and is clearly someone that crop of younger guys can look up to and work with, but he will need to produce more at the crease and ensure that there are no more missed opportunities behind it either.
Mitchell Starc was the man who seemingly set the tone for a magnificent summer’s worth of performances for the Australian side from day one of the first test against the Proteas, when he snapped up four wickets, but despite notching wickets in each of his last six bowling performances across all formats, the devastating left arm quick will need to find a new level of consistency to continue to be the spearhead that his side desperately needs. While he’s under no threat of losing his place in the side, the return to cricket of guys like Pat Cummins, James Pattinson and a raft of up and coming quicks in the mould of Chadd Sayers may well put some further pressure on his broad shoulders in the future.
Few people have faced the speculation and criticism of enigmatic off-spinner Nathan Lyon during his test career, and that certainly continued apace this summer. He appeared bereft of confidence and ideas while bowling to the South African batting line-up, and downright impotent in the face of onslaught from keeper batsman Quinton de Kock, who went after the man affectionately known as “Goat” with aplomb.
Australia’s most successful off-spinner is no stranger to the swings and roundabouts of the test match arena and will need to build on some late promise that he showed in the throes of the Adelaide contest, where he found the turn and bounce crucial to his success at this level to put Australia in position to secure a win in the dead rubber. Five wickets on the same surface wearing the baggy blue in a narrow loss to the Redbacks sees him continue to return to form ahead of a Brisbane return, a venue where he’s notched 24 wickets in just five tests.
In addition to the more experienced players noted, young guns Matt Renshaw, Peter Handscomb, Nic Maddinson and the aforementioned Sayers, if selected, will have crucial roles to play in ensuring Australia return to winning ways in what should be a gripping and exciting three test series against a reformed and deadly Pakistan outfit.