Australia’s cricketers had a big 2019, and if the bowling attack stays fit, the future looks bright

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December 31, 2019 05:44:35

With a big Boxing Day Test win, the Australian men’s team capped off a 2019 that ended up being a dream, compared to how it might have unfolded.

Australian men’s team in 2019:

  • Tests: 12 matches – 8 wins, 2 losses, 2 draws
  • ODIs: 25 matches – 19 wins, 6 losses
  • T20Is: 8 matches – 7 wins, 0 losses, 1 no result

A year earlier Australia had been thrashed by India in the corresponding fixture, for a final minor-key chord of a 2018 that had been a disaster from its first week.

The ill-tempered Ashes ending in January had been a vacuum of sportsmanship, the sandpaper debacle in South Africa was a vacuum of leadership. Senior players were banned immediately, senior administrators hung on for months before letting go or being pushed.

On-field thrashings accumulated, the only green shoots coming with Usman Khawaja’s miracle in Dubai and the pace attack outbowling India’s in Perth.

The first week of 2019 conceded India’s first Test series win in Australia, with the home team following on at the SCG and only avoiding a bonus loss thanks to bad weather. A one-day series thumping followed, then two more lost matches in India to start a return series.

By this stage though, new coach Justin Langer had settled into the job, and had been able to create more of a sense of cheer among his players. They turned around the India deficit to win 3-2, flattened a second-string Pakistan side 5-0, then went on to the World Cup.

Considering the mess the one-day team had been so recently, making the semi-finals was better than a pass mark. Although by the finals Australia was playing well enough to have gone further, but blew a chance of topping the league by dropping the tournament’s last game against a struggling South Africa.

Travelling to play England in its Edgbaston fortress was rather a harder task than staying in Manchester to face fourth-placed New Zealand, especially given the Kiwi tendency to crumble against Australia more than anyone else. So a shot at a title was lost.

The Ashes series that followed was another qualified triumph: the trophy was retained with a draw thanks to Steve Smith’s batting and a long-awaited confluence of the country’s four best fast bowlers, but in the third and fifth Tests Australia botched chances to win the series.

Then the home season has seen a return to the dominance that supporters expect, with comprehensive white-ball wins over Sri Lanka and Pakistan before four huge Test margins each achieved within four days.

Worldwide, Australia’s Test year looks great. Marnus Labuschagne and Smith have the most runs, David Warner’s 335 was the highest score, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon topped the wickets, and wicketkeeper Tim Paine made the most dismissals.

More than just results though, the year was about the men’s team winning back supporters and goodwill. Plenty of both had been bled away, and one of the lasting impressions from 2018 was of the team’s cultivated unpleasantness on the field. Whipping out some sandpaper was just one extreme example.

In large part, then, 2019 was the year of the charm offensive. It had to be a balance though, of being sufficiently combative and competitive without slipping over into churlishness. This has been a balance beyond plenty of past Australian teams, but was struck most of the time.

Reform was not absolute — that was always a distant hope with the performance poet Matthew Wade in the side. Smith has had chippy moments with umpires, while Warner has largely tried to avoid trouble by staying quiet.

But Paine for the most part has managed to hold his charges to the standard he has publicly pledged.

Travis Head and Labuschagne have the affability of youth, and the most anti-social thing you might imagine Joe Burns doing is grabbing an acoustic guitar at a party to play Wonderwall.

The team’s best development for the year, both in terms of lessening the chuntering of the past and promising big things for the future, has been the genuine arrival of its full fast-bowling quartet.

Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and James Pattinson were first spoken of as a group nearly a decade ago. All of them lost years to injury, and at least one was missing at any given time. At last, before the first Ashes Test in August, all four were fit and ready.

Cummins used the year to confirm his status as the world’s number one bowler: a wicket every seven overs, 59 of them for the year at 20 runs apiece, and an influence on every match he played.

Starc reshaped his bowling style to brilliant effect, Hazlewood lifted even the high standards he had set, and Pattinson came back from last-ditch back surgery with as much bustling menace as he had when young.

The first three bossed the early matches of the summer, then Pattinson slotted in for Hazlewood in Melbourne.

As New Zealand’s batsmen were monstered, ABC commentator Dirk Nannes praised the relentless attack on the stumps and the edge of the bat, with short balls used only as variation.

“The pressure is constant. It’s fast, the bouncers are on target, it’s intimidating. It’s like being caught in a trap. There’s no way out,” he says.

Australia plays little Test cricket in the next two years: one trip to Bangladesh in 2020, one to South Africa in 2021, five matches each in the intervening home seasons.

But with the home Twenty20 World Cup next year and the chance of a World Test Championship final in 2021, there is plenty to look forward to for a national team in a far more optimistic place than it was a year ago.

That bowling attack, though — it needs the most optimism but it also creates it. Injury stalks fast bowlers for life, and it would be naive to think that current health is predictive.

But if Australia’s four premium quicks can stick fat for the next three or four years, given the level they have reached now, what a time it could be to watch the longest form of the game. Where 2018 came to rest in glumness, 2019 has reached its end in the light.

Tests in 2019 for Australia’s men’s team

OppositionVenueResult
IndiaSCGDrawn
Sri LankaThe GabbaWin by innings and 40 runs
Sri LankaManuka OvalWin by innings and 366 runs
EnglandEdgbastonWin by 251 runs
EnglandLord’sDrawn
EnglandHeadingleyLoss by one wicket
EnglandOld TraffordWin by 185 runs
EnglandThe OvalLoss by 135 runs
PakistanThe GabbaWin by innings and 5 runs
PakistanAdelaide OvalWin by innings and 48 runs
New ZealandPerth StadiumWin by 296 runs
New ZealandMCGWin by 247 runs

2019: 12 Tests, 8 Wins, 2 Losses, 2 Draws

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twenty20,

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