Turns out winning the Ashes back was the easy bit. The hard bit is deciding which past series to compare this one to. Is this like the 1989 Ashes, where a much criticised captain decided it was time to get mean, or 2005, when a team decided it had had enough of this losing stuff and wanted to see what it was like to win for once? Or is this like 2006/7, the last hurrah of an aging group of players? Obviously this Australian team would like to avoid the 06/07 comparison, and instead hope to emulate either of the other sides. Its interesting that both the ’89 and ’05 series wins didn’t announce the emergence of great Test outfits. On both occasions it would take another five years till either side, with largely a completely different group of players, reached greatness; the 1995 tour of West Indies for Australia, the 2010/11 Ashes for England. Given that we are looking towards the 2015 Ashes, that means Australia has rather less than two years to achieve the same result.
This is where the biggest problems lie. Obviously. Winning the Ashes doesn’t mean Australia now miraculously has a wealth of batting depth to call on; it’s batting stocks are as low as they were before the series began. The difference, though, is that batsmen can now be properly integrated into a winning outfit, rather than just randomly picking whichever player scored the most runs in the last round of Sheffield Shield fixtures. Or at least that’s the theory anyway. Of the current lineup one, Chris Rogers, probably won’t make the 2015 Ashes. There are a heap more over which there are serious questions including George Bailey, Shane Watson, and Michael Clarke, whose dicky back could potentially give out at any point. Bailey is still untested, and the tour of South Africa in February will probably show better where he’s actually at. Watson is likely to decide to give up the red ball stuff at any time really, in preference to concentrating on the limited overs cricket he is infinitely better suited to. Stepping down from Test cricket to concentrate on the 2015 ODI World Cup wouldn’t be a bad idea really. For everyone’s sake.
The problem is there is only one recognised talent ready to come into the team. And everyone should know who that is by now. The one guy who is the answer to every crisis Australian batting has faced over the past four years. The man with nerves of steel and an impeccable Test record to his name. Yeah. The only obvious inclusion into this team is Phil Hughes. He will be opening the batting in 2015 alongside Warner.
It’s far from impossible that Darren Lehmann could turn Hughes into a proper Test batsman; far stranger things have already happened in this past month and a bit. The problem is that Hughes really has to work this time. Australia can afford one major change to their batting lineup, but really no more than that. After Hughes there really is no-one out there. England might complain about their lack of depth, but it’s nothing compared to Australia’s batting woes. Unless someone emerges from nowhere over the next year or so, their best bets are giving players such as Alex Doolan, Cameron White or Adam Voges an extended run to see if they make the grade, but the reality is Australia will probably head into the 2015 Ashes with at least one, maybe two, question marks over their batting line-up.
The only other definite replacement out there is James Faulkner for Shane Watson. A switch that probably wouldn’t lose Australia a whole lot in terms of performance (Faulkner is the future baby), but would mean another rejig of the batting order, and another desperate search for a Test no. 3. Some things never really change.
Brad Haddin, who has already declared he wants to play in the 2015 ODI World Cup, probably won’t be backing up for the Ashes later that year. He may well retire from Test cricket at the end of this series. There are two obvious choices to replace him: Tim Paine and Matt Wade. Wade is marginally the better batsman, Paine infinitely the better ‘keeper. Should be an easy choice that. Peter Nevill (who was a backup in the West Indies tour last year) will probably emerge as an outside choice.
This is the easy bit. Ryan Harris (who will now go down in Aussie folk-lore as one of their greatest ever Test bowlers) could well retire at the end of this series. Even if he doesn’t he won’t be around in 2015 anyway, and retiring earlier is probably the better option because he is another player who would be well served trying to shove himself into Australia’s ODI team ahead of the World Cup. Mitch Johnson will be 34 in 2015, but as long as he is still performing he deserves another crack at winning a series in England. Siddle will still be there, leaving banana skins all over the dressing room floor and making Kevin Pietersen look stupid. If KP is still playing that is.
The replacements, even (sensibly) discounting Pat Cummins, are numerous. James Pattinson should be a like for like replacement for Harris, Mitchell Starc can continue to be an understudy for Johnson, and there are a wealth of backups, in the shape of Jackson Bird, Nathan Coulter-Nile and Chadd Sayers to come into the mix if needed. Australia ought not to have issues with its fast bowling stocks in 2015. Well managed they probably ought to be the best in the world by that stage.
The spinners position is, as always, less clear. Everyone loves Nathan Lyon, even the selectors kinda do these days, but that still doesn’t change the fact that he is, well, not brilliant. Pretty good, but not exactly brilliant. Australia doesn’t really do ‘solid’ spinners, and so while Lyon will hold at bay the Test prospects of other off-spinners, like Steve O’Keefe, if a talented leggie emerges on the domestic scene, Lyon’s spot will once again be placed under immense pressure. Cameron Boyce is one such prospect already kicking around, and Fawad Ahmed is still out there somewhere. Watching. Waiting. Expect the Australian squad in 2015 to have one dark horse leggie in it, if only to purely make Lyon feel as uncomfortable as possible.
Australian XI to play England in the first Test 2015: Hughes, Warner, Doolan, Clarke*, Steven Peter Devereux Smith, Bailey, Paine+, Johnson, Pattinson, Siddle, Lyon. 12th man: Faulkner. 13th man: Mystery Spinner Dude.