What to make of Australia?
It’s easy to pour cheap lager on yourself and run down a street naked when you win a Test like this. But John Inverarity, Mickey Arthur and the rest of the new selection team don’t have time to moisten themselves and sing fiercely parochial tunes. Arthur may not even know the words to “Under the Southern Cross I Stand”, which once upon a time would have meant he was not qualified for the job.
This new-look management team has to work out who plays for Australia against the Kiwis, but even before that they have to first work out where Australia is at the moment. That isn’t so easy.
This is a team that drew with Pakistan in England, should have drawn with India in India, held level with England for three Tests before falling apart, and then worked really hard to edge past Sri Lanka. In South Africa they gave it everything. Inspired bowling, non-existent batting, impotent bowling and gutsy batting. Somehow, at the end they drew a series with South Africa.
There is every chance that South Africa were confused into this loss. It’s hard for your analysts to give you a dossier on a team like this. You can’t get your head around a team that can’t make 50 one test but can chase 300 the next. This is the most schizophrenic Australian side I’ve ever seen.
Schizophrenia is a terrible disease; personally I’ve never really mastered one personality. However, schizoprenia in a cricket team means wonderfully entertaining moments for viewers. For Australia that includes the Headingley, Mohali, Perth, Galle and Cape Town Tests. Australia is responsible for laugh-a-minute non-stop entertainment in Test cricket of late, although probably not on purpose.
Whether you’re a fan of Australia or hate them with every drop of bile you can summon, they give you something almost every Test they play. Close finishes, brilliant collapses, awesome comebacks, excellent narratives, and in this last Test, the look on Nathan Lyon’s face at the end was worth whatever you pay for the TV subscription.
As a selector or coach you don’t want your team to bring something new every Test. Inverartity and Arthur don’t want entertaining and farcical, they want military precision and predictability, two things it’s hard for a team to produce with Brad Haddin and Peter Siddle on the staff.
This team can be the plucky mob from Perth that was carried by the professionally inconsistent Mitchell Johnson and the occasionally fit Ryan Harris. The hardworking Clarke-inspired team that all pulled together to find a way to defeat Sri Lanka in Galle. And the team that had the strength to force South Africa to the turf, only to watch them bounce back up and beat them to death in Cape Town. That’s not even including whatever the team did to win this last Test. Which involved luck, a teenager, and veterans coming good.
Somewhere in the notes of Inverarity and Arthur you will find an ageing batting line-up that still gets rolled for freakishly low totals, including a trifecta of sub-100s (88, 98 and 47) in their last 13 Tests. A bowling attack that sways between hardworking and hardly working. A 34-year-old wicketkeeper who gets most of his headlines for playing terribly odd shots. A young offspinner who has to fight for survival every Test. An opening batsman who wants to move down the order. A former captain in a potentially career-ending form slump. And a new captain who is learning how to lead on the job.
Yet Australia still win Tests. Despite their obvious fall from grace they seem intent on hanging around, not fading away. Patrick Cummins is enough to get a nihilist singing show tunes. Mitch Marsh, Nic Maddinson and James Pattinson are around the corner. Michael Clarke just played his best Test Innings. Shane Watson is taking wickets. This team works as hard as any Australian team of recent eras. And they are fun to watch - sometimes in a good way.
Right now Inverarity and Arthur are trying to work out what team to pick for the Gabba, but really they’re trying to work out how to treat the team they were given in the first place.