Australia enters 2018/19 summer of cricket with new-look Test outfit
Heading into its infamous Tour of South Africa in March of 2018, the Australian Test cricket side was ranked third in the world. As they kick off their 2018/19 summer with a two match Test series against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates, they likewise find themselves the third ranked teams in the ICC Test Rankings. The circumstances surrounding the series’, however, and the teams which they will field, could not be more different.
Australia entered the four game Test series against the then second ranked South Africans with high hopes. Though beating South Africa on their home turf is an extremely difficult task, they had shown an ability to do it before - with the two sides sharing the peculiar habit of generally beating one another away from home - and were coming off a 4-0 drubbing of England in their home Ashes series over the summer.
After splitting the first two tests one apiece though, the series took an unexpected turn when Australia’s Cameron Bancroft was caught illegally fiddling with the ball in the field. He was subsequently suspended for nine months, while vice-captain David Warner and captain Steve Smith were each suspended for a year for their respective involvements. Following the incident, coach Darren Lehmann also stepped down from his post.
As a result, the outfit they will field in the UAE, as well as for much of the summer, will be vastly different. Indeed, it’s fair to say it will be significantly worse, despite the similar rankings held by the two sides. Where Smith and Warner, captain and vice-captain respectively during the South African Tour, have been two of the best batsmen in the world for a long time, their replacements in Tim Paine and Shaun Marsh have been two much-maligned players throughout their careers, only establishing their places in the side within the last year or so.
Where Warner had previously opened the innings as a player as dangerous as he was steadfast, as talented an opener as there was in world cricket, his replacement in Aaron Finch will do so in this series as a talented limited overs batsmen who has never been able to replicate his one-day heroics in the longer form of the game.
Where Smith would come in at number four as a man averaging an absurd 61.37 over his 64 career Test matches, Travis Head will now enter the fray in his debut Test with a first-class average nearly half of what his predecessor has managed at the highest level.
To make matters worse, injury has also ravaged the remnants of the talented side which toured South Africa which wasn’t suspended after the ball-tampering contest. In that series, Australia boasted arguably the best fast bowling lineup in the world, with the trio of Mitch Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood offering no respite for opposing batting lineups.
Starc has suited up for this series, but both Cummins and Hazlewood will miss it with back injuries, leaving the experienced - but almost 34 years of age - Peter Siddle, as well as Jon Holland - an inexperienced 31 year old providing a second spinner for the dry pitches of the UAE - to replace them.
Certainly, all of the replacements are talented in their own right, as is generally customary for players getting games at the Test level. There is, however, no doubt that they are players of significantly less quality than those they replaced, and as a result the Australian Test side currently looks thinner than it has in many, many years.
There is every chance they will surprise and put in a performance which belies their lack of experience and, if we’re being honest, lack of talent, at least relative to the team which they are replacing. With almost half of their best XI missing however, including arguably their four most important players, it’s difficult to see a situation in which Australia are able to hold onto their current third-placed ranking for long.