Australia have enjoyed five months of cricket nirvana.
From late November until the death throes of the southern summer, they have been almost undefeated. At the completion of the northern summer, they were dishevelled, fractious and down. Heads hung low and thoughts of another inquisition were floated.
The Ashes were with England, the Australian side's veterans were under fire and the neophytes not up to scratch. The new coach’s old philosophies were questioned and the management were packing up ahead of the fatal phone call.
Change of fortunes
On came the U-turn. Australia have gone from fifth in the Test rankings to second, they lost just one ODI and had a 2-1 Twenty20 series against England. They now top the ODI rankings. The number one Test team South Africa were beaten on their home soil. Things are definitely on the up and although Australia haven’t won the World Twenty20, the current side has a chance to change that record.
Australia's top World T20 scorers
In the inaugural World Twenty20, the future of the tournament was assured when India won a thrilling final against Pakistan. The huge television audience generated from that sub-continental clash planted this shortest form of the World Cup deeply into the cricket subsoil.
Australia made the semis despite losing the opener against Zimbabwe. Of that squad, surprisingly four members remain – Shane Watson, David Warner, Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson. While Australia were winning World Cups and were unbeatable in Test cricket, they only managed a single appearance in the final of the Twenty20 edition – losing to England in 2010.
Variation in age
The current squad consists of an eclectic group of players ranging from the raw leg-spinner James Muirhead, 20, through to evergreen Chinaman Brad Hogg, 43. Both may play a significant role given the penchant for turn on Bangladeshi pitches and the batsmen’s inability to pick Hogg’s varieties.
Brad Haddin, at 36, is coming to the end of his most exhausting period of cricket reaching back to the Ashes in England. The selectors, however, feel he has the experience and leadership qualities to be part of the team.
George Bailey may have passed through his Test career in the course of one series but his limited-overs batting has been irresistible. Brad Hodge, 39, seems another interesting selection but his form in the Big Bash and IPL and his hard work has seen him rewarded.
Twenty20 was once touted as a young man’s game but has become what all professional sport eventually evolves into – a sport for people who get the job done regardless of age.
David Warner, too, has played long without a break but his thirst for runs in all formats seems unquenchable. His career began as a 20-over smash merchant and someone who found lofted drives easier to play than forward defence. His ability to come to terms with lifeless pitches will present the biggest challenge to healthy Powerplay starts. If he and Cameron White (or even Glen Maxwell) can score 50-60 off the first six overs, competitive totals will then roll along.
|Glenn Maxwell's brutal hitting can give Australia momentum at the end of the innings [GALLO/GETTY]
Aaron Finch has also been in outstanding form. The top order looks dynamic. The new-ball period may well be the best time to bat and the biggest hitters will be required early and the fiddlers and manipulators may be more effective down the order.
Australia have picked a number of all-rounders but most are seam bowlers. White has reappeared with the ball for Victoria and the Melbourne Stars with some success though. Imagine three wrist-spinners in a Twenty20! Maxell will probably bat high up the order and bowl his off-spinners.
Of the seam bowlers, only Mitchell Starc would be considered a non all-rounder and even he is a handy hitter late in the day.
Dan Christian can bowl numerous varieties of cutters and James Faulkner has the back-of-the-hand delivery as well as the power-hitting ability. Nathan Coulter-Nile has the speed and can swing the old ball. He can clear the ropes too on a good day. Shane Watson may find himself among the batsmen required to counter the slow bowlers and there is perhaps not a more dangerous slog-sweeper than him right now.
The ingredients are there for Australia to be serious contenders but they are in the group of death. They have Pakistan, the West Indies and India apart from Bangladesh. The winner of that group will be favourites for the title and all of the big four are capable.
Winning is a habit, as is losing and the Australians have gone from the depths of despair to the heights of ecstasy mainly in the Test arena but they will benefit from that winning feeling.