Well, what a difference a year makes. Or does it?
This time last year, Australia was also approaching the Boxing Day test facing an opponent who seemingly held little fear for us. The South Africa series that had just finished had offered brilliant cricket with wonderful and brave performances from both sides, but sadly not the series results Australia were after.
However, the Sri Lankans held no such fears and we went into the Boxing Day test match full of, (what was to be), justifiable confidence, and a crushing win prevailed.
The year since has been a vexed one though, and a look at the players who made appearances, just as much as the actual series results, shows 12 months is a long time in cricket.
Australia played Sri Lanka on 26/12/12 with this line up:
Cowan, Warner, Hughes, Watson, Clarke, Hussey, Wade, Johnson, Siddle, Lyon and Bird.
Cowan made way for Chris Roger’s UK experience and I fear that the next call made to a Tasmanian opener will be answered by Jordan Silk, not our Ed, which I think is a pity.
Hughes will sadly be back, despite me seeing him, Hick-like, as a destroyer of First class attacks but not at long term Test standard. Huss moved on, quietly as is his want, but seemingly behind the scenes not enjoying his cricket, a la Gilchrist, and also not enjoying Michael Clarke.
Wade may not come back, despite not doing much wrong beyond simply not being 30 plus and with enough leadership to fill the void made clear after the Indian tour. It is interesting to think what may have happened had Carberry held that chance at the Gabba.
Bird will return, as he represents that Stuart Clarke and potentially Glenn McGrath like metronome nagging length that is needed to balance the pace of a Johnson or, back then, Lee.
But what of the intervening period? Henriques, Agar, Maxwell and Bailey all debuted. Agar I hope isn’t bruised by his early elevation and dazzling start and I think will get a chance again one day, as his all-round performances have been reasonable (without being stunning) for WA. In fact, I can see a Steve Smith-like role for him in future as his batting improves beyond his bowling.
Henriques will represent us in the shorter forms but despite the incredible promise shown at U19 level and early Shield games, is unlikely to wear the whites again. Same for Maxwell, who will share with Jason Gillespie, (whose last test was a nightwatchman double ton), a strange final match having opened both the bowling and batting in the second digs in the final Indian test.
Doherty, Starc (with a Test 99 in the process) Pattinson and Khawaja all appeared during 2013, and it is tempting to think that despite the ODI form Johnson showed in the UK, there’s a chance a fit Pattinson would have seen Johnson out of this Ashes series. And, if we did want a left armer, would a healthy Starc have been ahead of him?
Rogers, Haddin and Smith all returned during the year. All have played roles that befit people getting a second chance and it is that thinking that could see Hughes’s 4 day form and Khawaja’s T20 form maybe see them still in contention.
What therefore will the approach to Boxing Day 2014 look like? Paine in place of Haddin, or Hads still around? Lyon should stay, the quick bowlers look in good nick and we go deep there, assuming Harris may not last another 12 months. Maddison opening with Warner?
Watson seems to save a big innings every time he has been shaky and it would be a brave man to say he won’t spend Christmas in Melbourne again next year.
2014 does though see an early and very big challenge in South Africa, with their brave run chase over the weekend against India showing they are still a brilliant side. Steyn and Philander, not to mention Amla and de Villiers, will certainly be looking forward to matching it with a team feasting on the dying Poms at present.
Twelve months ago, we probably would have expected to be doing well against the English leading into Boxing Day 2013, and the side we have wouldn’t have surprised many at that time.
It’s just that 9, 6 and even 3 months ago, being in this 3-0 position looked extremely unlikely, and it would have been a brave or wise man who, after the Indian or English series, would have seen us dominating the current Ashes as we are.
A year’s a long time in cricket.