Australian cricket stumbled at Cape Town in March 2018, when sandpapergate struck. Thereafter, it has lurched like a boat with a hole in the bottom. The ball-tampering episode in South Africa blighted the set-up, causing problems to be sucked in faster than they could be addressed.
In Steve Smith and David Warner, Australia had world-class talent that stepped in when Ricky Ponting was in the final phase of his career, and a number of his fellow world-beaters had called it a day. Sandpapergate saw Smith and Warner and Cameron Bancroft being cast aside with bans.
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The team took a hit, as did the rebuilding process. The numbers are telling, especially in Test cricket.
Since 2007, Australia has handed out 58 baggy greens, its famed Test cap. Left-hand batsman Marcus Harris is latest owner of the baggy green, joining the list at 456. Compare this to how hard it was in the preceding years to earn the baggy green. Between 2000 and 2007, Australia had only 15 Test debutants.
The increase indicates that the selection committee, led by national selector Trevor Hohns, is trying to zero in on a list of durable Test players.
The baggy green selections are plentiful because "Australia is searching for quick fixes", says wicket-keeping great Ian Healy. "The selectors are not sure who is going to be good enough, so they keep trying options. It is not good enough. Australia is operating similarly to the mid-80s, when we had retirements and South African rebel tours. We have not lost as many players this year, yet we still do not seem to know who is good enough to create a (Test) career," Healy tells Sportstar .
The Queenslander, who characterised the tough as nails Australian spirit in his career spanning the '80s and the '90s, believes the return of Smith and Warner will help alleviate some troubles of the current side.
"When your two best players return, everyone's confidence lifts and they play closer to their potential," says Healy, who shone with 366 catches and 29 stumpings in 119 Tests. He also amassed 4356 Test runs with four centuries.
On the 1-2 series loss against India, and if he saw captain Tim Paine as a long-term option, especially with the Ashes in August-September, the 54-year-old remarked, "Paine was very good as a leader and kept his game going well too. It required great energy and that’s what he gave it.
"He just couldn’t get his batsmen to believe they could do the job needed. He would have realised just how tired he was a day or two after the series!"
The Maxwell conundrum
Another topic of debate has been the Test future of all-rounder Glenn Maxwell, who was left out of the squad for a two-Test series against Sri Lanka that starts later this month. Maxwell hasn’t played a Test since Australia’s 2017 tour of Bangladesh, but Healy hopes "he is close" to getting selected.
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"The captain doesn’t seem to use his bowling when he is in the side and his batting can let you down. His consistency in Tests hasn’t been good enough to be playing (number) 6 in Tests so far. His Indian hundred (2017) was one of the best though," says Healy.
After the Test series loss to India, Ponting said Australia had shown "no desperation" . Healy concurred with Ponting's assessment, but added, "This team had no confidence. They don’t look desperate because they are anxious too often. Batsmen getting starts then batting not getting easier and bowlers not building pressure to create collapses.
"Everything seemed difficult for them. They probably don’t know how to play with clear heads and execute their plans properly, let alone be desperate."