Walking past Manuka Oval on one of Canberra’s many circular avenues, with the heat still thick and the sun prominent at 7pm, you could hear chanting and shouting in the low thrum of men’s voices spilling through the low grandstands to compete with passing traffic in the street beyond.
It was a toss of the coin as to whether those voices belonged to the Australian Test team or the Manuka ground staff, groups who had equal reason to feel a mixture of triumph and relief after Australia had finished up against Sri Lanka with a 2-0 series win played out on a very decent surface. Both groups were under pressure coming into the match, and both acquitted themselves well.
The coach Justin Langer had brought his players onto the outfield an hour earlier, seated in a circle by the boundary in the shade of the western stand to soak up the moment in each other’s company. A bit of semi-inebriated chanting wasn’t an unlikely conclusion to this scenario: Langer is the kind of character who loves that sort of bonding, with all his talk of brotherhoods and fellowship. It can be a bit cringey, but it’s also effective; there’s no doubt that team sports require cohesion in whatever fashion it can be brought about.
Like the ground staff, the cricketers had done what was necessary. The result was significant after a year hobbling from disaster to disaster. The Australian men’s team had been smashed in South Africa and in one-dayers in England. Beaten by Pakistan in a 20-over tournament in Zimbabwe: a sentence that would make Steve Waugh’s head explode if he tried to say it out loud. Smashed by Pakistan again in the UAE, by South Africa again at home, then by India across all three formats. A series win of any sort mattered.
So it was for Mitchell Starc. History will not be rich with songs about his 10-wicket match; he has taken nine-fors that were more influential and against stiffer opposition. This performance got going with a batsman chopping down his own stumps, and was marked by a parade of tailenders. The quest for the 10th was comical, Starc hastily brought back as Jhye Richardson and Pat Cummins gobbled up the available rabbits. Starc was frustrated as he kept beating the hapless Vishwa Fernando before finally detonating the No 11’s stumps.
But there were brilliant balls amongst the rest, proper pace and hints of swing beating far better players. What really mattered was that Starc got the feeling of running through batsmen again, of swinging it and hitting stumps and having the chance to celebrate. “When he wasn’t at his best we kept reminding him of how important he is to our team and how we think he is one of the best bowlers in the world, and eventually I think we got through to him,” said his captain, Tim Paine.
It was a similar story for the four centuries scored by Australia after the entire first-choice Sri Lankan pace attack was ruled out after the first Test through injury. As many hundreds in one match as the team had scored in 13 months of Test cricket before it. There may be tougher scenarios, but there’s still the pressure of delivering in front of an audience with your future in the team on the line. Joe Burns, Travis Head, Kurtis Patterson and Usman Khawaja did that in sequence.
Where this leaves this team is now the question. It’s early February, and the next Test engagement is in Birmingham on the first day of August. That’s a long time to size up the next encounter. As diplomatic as Paine has been about playing a struggling Sri Lanka, one line let something slip. “I’m happy now that we’ve got this out of the way, I can put everything into it,” he said.
“Every Australian cricketer can’t wait to go and play an Ashes series, and particularly in England, it’s something that I’ve certainly dreamed of as a kid. I didn’t think I’d be going over as the captain, but in the back of my mind I’ve been thinking about it, I’ve been watching England, keeping a really close eye on them. I can’t wait to get over there.”
There is a monsoon’s worth of water to flow under this particular bridge until then, though. Two limited-overs tours for the Australian team through February and March, while the players left back home finish the Sheffield Shield season. Then a World Cup whose preparation will start in May for those who make the squad, and plenty of long-form games for Australia A or for English county sides to occupy those who don’t.
Not to mention the likely returns from suspension of David Warner and Steve Smith, two batting pariahs who are, as far as we know, still the country’s best cricketers.
But the absence of Tests in the interim will mean the distant prospect of the Ashes will lend an overtone to every performance of note, and every failure. As for England, they’re doing their best to raise the intrigue with their own carnival of self-destruction in the West Indies.
A few months ago, England thought they had sorted out their problems away from home by going to Sri Lanka and galloping to a 3-0 win. Now, things have gone drastically the other way. Bowled out for 77 could have been an aberration, but rolled twice in the second Test for under 200 is something else. Especially when the Caribbean batsmen have shown how to scrap out a score in tough conditions when they’ve had the chance to reply.
It might clear the schedule if we just decide the Ashes based on who beats Sri Lanka by more. But then, don’t forget that Sri Lanka utterly wiped the floor with Australia 3-0 last time the latter team toured in 2016. At the moment the Ashes look like a contest between two brittle batting sides, with more than a hint of lottery about who’ll come out on top. But at the rate things change, February’s news won’t mean much to August at all.
Source link : https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2019/feb/05/significant-win-for-australia-after-year-spent-hobbling-from-disaster-to-disaster
Publish date : 2019-02-04 21:29:21