England v Australia, NatWest Series, Old Trafford July 10, 2012

Australia make sacrifices to focus on Test rebuilding

A 4-0 beating by England will not go down well at home but Australia's ODI fortunes pale in significance when set alongside the Ashes

During an era in which the Test team slipped to No. 5 and the Ashes were humiliatingly lost at home, Tim Nielsen spoke with pride of retaining Australia's No. 1 ODI ranking. Whenever he did so, Nielsen sounded rather like a sea captain happy to reach home port in a lifeboat after his ship had sunk.

The final time Nielsen said it, in Sri Lanka last year, he had already paid for the Test team's decline with his job. Apart from the former Cricket Australia chairman Jack Clarke, few in Australian cricket appeared to derive any satisfaction whatsoever from remaining No. 1 in the one-day format. Of itself, the ranking meant little, particularly when it was no longer validated by retention of the World Cup. Its value, relative to the equivalent perch in Test matches, is minor.

Ten months later and the team's heaviest ever defeat in a bilateral ODI series will cause plenty of ugly headlines and a spell of navel-gazing about how much ground has actually been gained on England since the last Ashes. Yet it is possible to conclude that this tour is less a sign of Australian cricket's malaise than a side-effect of the national team's more streamlined priorities. While Nielsen's successor, Mickey Arthur, has raged against how his "submissive" team have been "bullied" by England and not shown enough "mongrel", their 4-0 drubbing has taken place at least partly because much of the team's focus and resources have now been funnelled more directly into the development of the Test XI.

The Argus Review made patently clear that greater prominence had to be given to Test cricket, from a "premium" of payments given to Test players to the prioritising of continuity in selections and coaching appointments for Tests over ODI or Twenty20 assignments. In fact, some passages of the review suggested that ODI and T20 matches be used as a proving ground for players of the future, and the squad chosen for these five matches against England had a decidedly developmental slant.

The selection panel, led by John Inverarity and including the captain, Michael Clarke, resolved last summer to use the ODI team as a way of testing the abilities of players who may then graduate to the Test team. They were chosen ahead of others who might be better suited to Australia's ODI XI but with flaws more likely to be exposed at Test level. Earlier in the series, Inverarity stated his intention.

"We made a decision six months ago that if through lack of form or retirement or injury there was a place in the team, we don't want these blokes making their international debuts at Lord's in a Test match, so we've got them going," he said. "They've tasted, they've toured, they know the guys, and they're familiar."

This is why a plodding batsman like Peter Forrest has been given an extended run in limited-overs games, for his deliberate approach may one day prove useful in Tests. George Bailey and the recently recalled Steve Smith are another two to find themselves in the ODI team with an eye on future contests in other formats. Perhaps the most obvious casualty of this new priority is Callum Ferguson, who is likely to be waiting quite some time to add to his 663 ODI runs at 41.43 due to a technique deemed unsuitable for five-day examinations. Cameron White's card seems similarly marked.

"Returning the Test team to No. 1 in the world and regaining the Ashes sit well in front of the ODI rankings in the national team's priorities"

Of the more speculative choices on tour, Bailey has fared best by a distance, rounding off his efforts with a sparky 46 from 41 balls to ensure the visitors had something to bowl at in the gloom at Old Trafford. He will follow it up by staying on for Australia A's matches against the England Lions, and further decent scores there will go a long way to pressing his case for an Ashes tour berth. So too will his continued exhibition of leadership skills befitting the man chosen as Twenty20 captain.

In the bowling attack there has been a similar sense of asset management. Three of Australia's best-performing Test bowlers over the past year have been Peter Siddle, Ryan Harris and Nathan Lyon. Yet none have been considered for too much ODI duty in recent times, preferred as five-day weapons. It is a point of considerable contrast with England. Inverarity said earlier this year that he wanted to let Siddle loose in Tests. "He was lionhearted and wonderful [against India] and we look forward to him returning," he said. "But he's not in our short-term ODI plans."

Instead of showcasing Australia's first-choice attack, limited-overs games are now also being used to re-introduce players to the national squad after injury, as has happened with Mitchell Johnson. While his role in the three formats will become clearer with time, Johnson has reacquainted himself with the team and their support staff on this trip, which will help him to be more settled next time he is chosen, even if his bowling has looked some way short of the level required.

The overall standards of Australia's cricket are now assiduously monitored by the team performance manager, Pat Howard, in concert with the selectors and coaches, and he will not be happy with the displays put on against England over the past two weeks. At times the batting, bowling and fielding has reached similar depths to those explored during the 2010-11 Ashes series, much to the mirth of English spectators in London, Durham and Manchester.

Yet the difficulties encountered in England have been faced with future goals in mind, and a wider plan afoot. Returning the Test team to No. 1 in the world and regaining the Ashes sit well in front of the ODI rankings in the national team's priorities. The next World Cup lies three years away; the next Ashes series begins a year today. Australia's ODI team has been poor so far in 2012, but if the urn is regained in 2013 it will be considered a worthwhile sacrifice.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Sharon on July 13, 2012, 21:19 GMT

    @Yevghenny - yes completely agree. @wombat - you never allow nonsense! :-)

  • G on July 13, 2012, 9:47 GMT

    India get criticism because of the level of ineptitude and embarrassment they achieved against England AND Australia. Honestly, it was a disgrace to test cricket

  • John on July 13, 2012, 8:41 GMT

    @TheBengalTiger on (July 12 2012, 13:02 PM GMT) Despite what JG says? Not at all. Eng get labelled green top bullies or "only good in home conditions" all the time.Personally I'm with Meety in that it basically takes a different kind of skill to perform on different surfaces and we've recently seen in tests that Eng struggled to bat in UAE and in India in ODIs and we've seen India struggle in Eng and Aus but India batsmen found it ok in India and Eng and Aus batsmen found it ok in their countries because respective batsmen are more used to playing in certain conditions. This is why I don't use the Flat Track Bullies myself.But it's kind of strange that you still say that India are thee only side to get labelled with their "home conditions" tag when you yourself were saying about Australia's "Tailor made conditions". If you're going to complain about being labelled as a "home conditions" side then it's wrong to label the others the same? Please publish

  • Andrew on July 13, 2012, 1:21 GMT

    @TheBengalTiger - prior to the consecutive away whitewashes, India were unfairly labelled flat track bullies. I really dislike the term "flat track bully" as the undisputable fact is, if Indian pitches were easy to bat on, why don't all foreign batsmen excel there? They don't, there is a skill required to play on those pitches (bat & ball). I don't like Indian pitches - as IMO, there is not enough bounce, so a lot of cross bat shots out of play, & pace bowlers are hampered. I believe that the type of pitches India have, mean that they will always underperform away from home. This will forever perpetuate the "flat track bully" phrase. India did have one of their best away periods prior to the whitewash v England. The subsequent whitewash in Oz though, means that India do not have much credibility away from home & it will take a while to get it back.

  • Andrew on July 12, 2012, 23:35 GMT

    @RightArmEverything - I think the theory was okay, although it was really the 3rd ODI series in a row it was done & I think it is wearing a bit thin. In isolation, the squad v England was okay with the "blooding" premise in mind, but they "blooded" players in the WIndiies & Oz recently as well. So I would certainly hope, that Tests are not in the equation for the series v Pakistan.

  • Martin on July 12, 2012, 22:41 GMT

    @Bhavesh Patwal on (July 12 2012, 08:28 AM GMT) - An excellent clear and unbiased comment. There is a lot of misrepresentation on this England V Australia thread coming from certain people. We tend to be unrelenting on such posters - but when we see a comment like yours - then we see the true side of Cricinfo Conversations. Thank you!

  • Matthew on July 12, 2012, 13:52 GMT

    I think the selectors decided to take on a selection policy for the Aust ODI team that they knew would not be popular but that they see necessary at the moment. I'm certain it's temporary. Some people don't like it, some find it 'repugnant'. We'd all like to see the best possible team play at all times, but I think many are overreacting. Some of the names I've seen mentioned as more worthy of selection based on performance, with good reason, will either be retired (by choice or not) or nearing it by the time the 2015 World Cup arrives e.g. Voges, Hopes, Ponting, Rogers. I'm sure there are some others that could have been in the squad that were unlucky e.g. Ferguson. I'm sure the selectors will have adjusted their policy to pick the best team possible well before the WC. With the Ashes are a year away, giving potential test players a taste of English conditions against some of England's best players isn't a bad idea, even if you don't like it.

  • Mike on July 12, 2012, 13:02 GMT

    5wombatz- I didnt realise we were couinting series against Bangladesh/West Indies/ New Zealand, teams that, with all due respect, rarely put up a challenge. India have a;lso beaten all these teams away, it doesnt stop people saying we only win at home etc etc. My overall point is that every single team in this current era is playing poorly in unfamilier conditions. Yet, despite what jg2704 says, India are the ones who get labelled flat track bullies etc etc, when our record in unfamilier conditions over the past decade is much better than Englands. We dont even produce rank turners any more, which i believe we should.

  • Martin on July 12, 2012, 12:45 GMT

    @Piyush Nigam. LOL, LOL, LOL. So - winning an ODI series in South Africa is "inconsequential" is it? How insulting to the South Africans. IF india had EVER won anything in South Africa they would be on here trumpetting about it and it wouldn't be inconsequential then. The answer to your question is in the last year, one Vs Sri Lanka. Now, here are some questions for you, and just to make it easy for you we'll supply the answers. How many Tests did india win in either Aus or Eng in their last series? 0. How many Test series have india ever won in either SA or Aus? 0. How many ODI series have india ever won in SA? 0. How many ODI matches did india win in England last year? 0. If india are so great - then how come there are so many zeroes? What makes you think we need to take we need to dismissive comments like yours seriously? please publish

  • Dummy4 on July 12, 2012, 8:28 GMT

    @Piyush- ENG have won series in SL & Pak in 01 before losing series(s) there in 07 & 12( UAE ) & in India,they lost in 02,but drew in 06 by 1-1 & then lost in 08 by just 1-0.However, at the same time Asian teams`record away from sub-continent is even poorer as IND,SL,Pak have never won test series in SA or Aus which ENG has. And as far as WC goes-ENG struggled all through 90s & early 20s in ODIs, last year they lost to finalists SL & were depleted after the loss of KP,Broad,Shehzad-it was really a 2nd string team. Since then ENG have performed quite well, except 5-0 loss against India, they have won everything and do not ever forget that when ENG won that T20 game at Kolkata, they won the trophy too while India failed to win even a single game in England. ENG are great at home like any other great side, they win in Aus,NZL,SA,Windies away too but struggle in Asia, but even Gr8 Aussie side of late 90s/early 20s won in IND,SL,Pak( in UAE) after 2-3 attempts,then ENG have just started.

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