2011 Review

Team review

Rollercoaster riders

Australia were compulsively watchable in 2011 - soaring one moment, plumbing the depths the next

Brydon Coverdale

January 5, 2012

Comments: 18 | Text size: A | A

Pat Cummins is all smiles after taking Australia to victory, South Africa v Australia, 2nd Test, Johannesburg, 5th day, November 21, 2011
Pat Cummins: Australia's great new hope and the architect of their finest hour in 2011, the win in Johannesburg © Associated Press
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For Australian cricket, 2011 will always be remembered as the year of the Argus review. The year of change. A new captain. A new coach. A new selection panel. A new bowling coach and a new fielding coach. For the first time, a senior administrator was appointed to oversee team performance. For the first time, there was somewhere for the buck to officially stop.

On the field it was a period of transition as well. Ten debutants were handed baggy-green caps, the most in a calendar year since the days of the World Series cricket walkouts. Not surprisingly, Australia's performances were mixed, although often this was due to the failure of senior batsmen rather than the new boys. A graph of their results would look something like Bart Simpson's haircut, so sudden were their ups and downs.

It was a year that featured the completion of an Ashes failure, the end of a 12-year era of World Cup dominance, a Test loss at home to New Zealand for the first time in 26 years, and Australia's lowest Test total in 109 years. It also included a series win in Sri Lanka, a memorable two-wicket victory in Johannesburg, and a strong Boxing Day victory over India.

By the end of December, there were plenty of causes for hope in the side under the new captain, Michael Clarke. Most encouragingly, two young fast bowlers of great promise had emerged. They were also men who were ready for Test cricket now.

Pat Cummins, 18, became Australia's second-youngest Test debutant of all time when he was given his chance at the Wanderers. He bowled with speed, swing and enthusiasm, and was Man of the Match on debut, but a foot injury meant it was the last time he was likely to be seen in the national team for the summer.

The prospect of Cummins bowling in tandem with James Pattinson in the coming years is tantalising. Pattinson won his debut because of the injury to Cummins, and he too was Man of the Match in his first Test, and also picked up the award in his third, the Boxing Day victory over India. Pattinson's pace, outswing and confident attitude make him the kind of man around whom the attack could be built. At the start of the year, Australia still viewed the inconsistent Mitchell Johnson as their spearhead. By the end of the year, it was a case of Mitchell who?

There was promise in the batting line-up as well. Shaun Marsh scored a century on his Test debut in Sri Lanka and followed it with 81 in his second match, and added stability to the top order. David Warner emerged as a Test opener, and in his second match in the baggy green made a hundred that nearly won Australia the match in Hobart.

Not that it was a good year for Australian batting. Excluding Warner, Marsh and Steven Smith, none of whom played even half the side's Tests in 2011, the only Australian to average over 40 was Michael Hussey. The team's nadir was their 47 all out in Cape Town, where they were lucky to escape recording the all-time lowest Test total, although being bowled out for 136 in Hobart was another low point for the batsmen.

Again, their problem was facing the swinging and seaming ball. It is not an issue that will go away, and will be one of the key challenges for the new coach, Mickey Arthur, to handle. The first non-Australian to be put in charge of the national side, Arthur was one of a number of new faces who joined the Australian set-up after the Argus review.

John Inverarity, 67, was named national selector and was joined by Rod Marsh and Andy Bichel on the panel. The Argus review also recommended the addition of the captain and coach to round out a five-man selection group. It meant the end of Andrew Hilditch's reign, a move that few Australian fans would bemoan.

Late in the year, Marsh was also handed the Argus-based remit of overseeing the national coaching approach and co-ordinating throughout the states, to ensure consistency of coaching methods. The national set-up also gained a general manager, team performance: Pat Howard, a former rugby union international, to whom the captain and coach would report.

 
 
A graph of Australia's results would look something like Bart Simpson's haircut, so sudden were their ups and downs
 

Before the Argus review was completed, the coaching staff gained Craig McDermott as bowling mentor, and his mantra to bowl full and swing the ball appeared to reap benefits for the attack. Steve Rixon was brought in as fielding coach. Troy Cooley moved to the Centre of Excellence and made way for McDermott, and Mike Young's fielding drills are now seen in South Africa rather than Australia.

Young was the first to go, after the World Cup. That was a disappointing tournament for Australia, who had been unbeaten in World Cup matches since losing to Pakistan early in the 1999 tournament. This year it was Pakistan who ended that streak, and India who ended Australia's campaign with a five-wicket win in Ahmedabad, where Ricky Ponting scored a fighting century in defeat.

Five days later Ponting stepped down as captain. He chose to buck the trend among Australian leaders, though, by playing on under the new skipper, Clarke. The first task was a one-day series in Bangladesh, which was won, and success also came during the ODIs and Tests in Sri Lanka four months later.

It had been a turbulent four months. The release of the Cricket Australia contract list in June featured one notable omission, the opener Simon Katich, who had been a stabilising presence at the top of the order since 2008. Without saying as much, Hilditch's out-going panel decided that three men aged 35-plus - Katich, Ponting and Hussey - could not be maintained in a side that needed to rebuild.

Katich was livid. In a press conference of breathtaking candour, he slammed the selectors for their inconsistent policies over the past few years, and Cricket Australia for allowing it to happen. A few months later, he expressed his belief that he would not return to the Australian team while Clarke, the man he grabbed by the throat in the dressing room after a Test win in 2009, was captain.

And Clarke proved himself a fine captain. He was adventurous in his bowling changes, developing Hussey's gentle medium-pace into a partnership-breaking weapon, and taking a sympathetic approach to Nathan Lyon's offspin. He tried unusual things in the field, often employing a leg slip - rarely seen in recent years. And by the end of 2011, he had still not lost a Test or ODI series as leader.

Australia's success in Sri Lanka was followed by the humiliation of Cape Town, victories in Johannesburg and Brisbane, and the devastating loss in Hobart. Boxing Day ensured a positive end to a tumultuous 2011, a year that began with an innings defeat at the SCG, where England secured a 3-1 Ashes victory and indirectly encouraged Australia to commission the Argus review. That had been Clarke's first Test in charge, as he was filling in for the injured Ponting.

He wasn't the only new captain Australia had this year. Cameron White took charge of the Twenty20 side after Clarke quit the short format in January. Under White, Australia won two T20s and lost four.

The year was all about change, off the field and on it. Australia used 21 players in nine Tests. By the end of 2011, a core group was being developed, and there were reasons for hope among Australian supporters.

Their schedule for 2012 features the conclusion of the India series, which has started well, a Test tour of West Indies, and home Tests against South Africa and Sri Lanka next summer. It has the potential to be a good year for Clarke and Co.


Michael Clarke at Australia's net session, Brisbane, November 30, 2011
Clarke: no series lost as captain during his first year in charge © Getty Images
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New kid on the block
There were a number of strong candidates this year: Pattinson, Cummins, Warner and Marsh among them, while Test debuts were also handed to Michael Beer, Usman Khawaja, Trent Copeland, Mitchell Starc and Ed Cowan. But for sheer unexpectedness, the title goes to Lyon, the groundsman-turned-Test offspinner, who has taken his rapid rise in his stride. Exactly a year ago, Lyon, a member of the Adelaide Oval groundstaff, walked out onto the field to make his state debut in a Twenty20 match for South Australia. He finished 2011 as a man who had played eight Tests, taking 23 wickets at 27.47 - his first ball in Test cricket was a wonderful offbreak that caught Kumar Sangakkara's outside edge - and was trusted by the selectors as the spinner of the future. Lyon gave hope to every club cricketer in the country who has dreamed of a sudden rise to the baggy green.

Fading star
While Ponting's struggles throughout the year made headlines, another veteran had a very disappointing 2011. It is said that the wicketkeeper is the barometer of the side, and Brad Haddin was this year for Australia, with the bat as much as with the gloves. In their two disastrous batting displays, in Cape Town and Hobart, his dismissals were the epitome of the problem, as he threw his wicket away with loose, irresponsible strokes when patience was required. He averaged 20.93 in Test cricket. At 34, Haddin was fortunate his immediate back-up Tim Paine spent much of the second half of the year injured.

High point
Within ten days of the embarrassment in Cape Town, Australia, set 310 to win in Johannesburg, reached their target late on the fifth day with two wickets in hand. The 18-year-old Cummins, who had already taken seven wickets, hit the winning runs and became a national sporting hero.

Low point
Together Johannesburg and Cape Town encapsulated Australia's up-and-down year. At 9 for 21, they seemed destined to rewrite history. Australia's batsmen gave up their wickets with grim inevitability, as if they were lemmings jumping off the nearby Table Mountain. The lowest total in Test cricket, New Zealand's 26, was in danger of being outdone, before the last pair pushed Australia to 47. Fortunately, things could only improve - the loss to New Zealand a few weeks later notwithstanding - and the year ended on a much more positive note.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by Meety on (January 6, 2012, 7:07 GMT)

@RandyOZ - Arthurs is not on the NSP - so therefor has not "persisted with Marsh & Haddin. @ roarster - I agree100%. Oz have made for fantastic viewing (good & bad). I think this is the most exciting Oz team in 30yrs. You never know what they are going to do!!! == == == Team/squad for the 2013 Ashes 1. Cowan, 2. Warner, 3. Ponting, 4. Hussey, 5. Clarke, 6. Watson, 7. Wade, 8. O'Keefe, 9. Siddle, 10. Pattinson, 11. Cutting - 12th Cummins, 13th Lyon, 14th Cosgrove, 15th Hilfenhaas, 16th Coulter-Nile. I'd get Hartley to play some county cricket & be on stand by as reserve keeper!

Posted by GerardB on (January 6, 2012, 2:23 GMT)

Agree about Haddin. His ongoing selection is a disgrace, it shouldn't matter that Paine is currently injured, Wade is ready now and a far superior option with bat and gloves to Haddin.

Posted by smudgeon on (January 5, 2012, 22:10 GMT)

Jonesy2, Mitchell has always had the potential to be a great bowler, but he's been poor in tests for a long time, with little indication he can turn that form around. Anyways, now he's going to have to work pretty hard to leap-frog Pattinson, Cummins, Siddle, Hilfenhaus, and a stack of talented kids in domestic cricles. I can't see it happening - and he's already 30, when he should be at his peak. Happy to have him in pyjamas (I am actually a fan of Mitch, which makes it all the more frustrating), not sure he's got the goods to make it back into whites.

Posted by pj3000 on (January 5, 2012, 20:32 GMT)

Beautifully written Brydon - a perfect summary of our year that was. As Redneck says (Jan 5, 6:16am), hopefully 2011 will one day be remembered as the year that we turned the corner. Hard to believe, considering the 2011 New Year Test at the SCG against England was a deadset nadir. While the batting has some way to go, Pattinson, Cummins and Lyon have the goods to form the core of our attack for the next 10 years. Here's hoping that by the next Ashes tour, our line-up looks something like: 1. Watson 2. Warner. 3. Khawaja. 4. Clarke. 5. S Marsh 6. Christian. 7. Wade. 8. Pattinson. 9. Cummins. 10. Copeland. 11. Lyon. 12th: M Marsh. (I reckon Christian and Watson can play in the same team: Christian taking some of bowling pressure of Watson means the latter can stay where he belongs - opening the batting).

Posted by hhillbumper on (January 5, 2012, 19:11 GMT)

Mitchell Johnson is crap.

Brad Haddin is a great wicketkeeper and keeps the uk laughing out load

Red neck yes we will polish the ashes trophy so we don't get it mucky for when Strauss holds it up next year once more.You won't get back to number 1 for a while and given the ability to lose wickets that easily I would be slightly less chopsy.

AS they say see you next year and lets see how many bowlers you have left.

Posted by butterhandsfingers on (January 5, 2012, 16:48 GMT)

@redneck: lol, can I have your autograph please, Mr McGrath :-)

Posted by   on (January 5, 2012, 13:49 GMT)

Pattinson did not win his debut due to Cummins injury. Starc would have been the one to miss out if Cummins had been fit. @ jonesy 2 I don't know why you think so highly of Johnson. He WAS a terrific player a couple of years ago but has fallen away badly since.

Posted by roarster on (January 5, 2012, 13:00 GMT)

A fine review of a fabulously entertaining year of cricket from Ozzie! I have, however, one small point of order, You kindly provided Mr Inverarity's age but didn't follow it up with the relevant data for messrs Marsh and Bichel in the same sentence! I have pulled the information from their respective Cricinfo profiles (Rod, 64, and Andy, 41). Hopefully this add on will enhance readers enjoyment of a great piece!

Posted by harshthakor on (January 5, 2012, 12:20 GMT)

They have been very erratic but at their best have pulled of some great wins.They lack the resources in batting and particularly bowling of the recent champion Aussie teams but still posess the same fighting spirit.Overall they contribute to exciting ,combative test cricket which is most positive.Even if they have had some sensational batting collapses it has contributed to great cricket overall.Overall on par with South Africa and India ,with England the only dominant test match team.

Posted by Matt. on (January 5, 2012, 12:18 GMT)

come on @jonesy2 you need to wake up! opposition players and fans are crying because mitchell johnson may no longer play for australia. batting averages around the world will drop, batsmen now need to spend more time honing their technique in the nets. wait a minute....are you playing for the other side?...are you an england supporter?

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Brydon CoverdaleClose
Brydon Coverdale Assistant Editor Possibly the only person to win a headline-writing award for a title with the word "heifers" in it, Brydon decided agricultural journalism wasn't for him when he took up his position with ESPNcricinfo in Melbourne. His cricketing career peaked with an unbeaten 85 in the seconds for a small team in rural Victoria on a day when they could not scrounge up 11 players and Brydon, tragically, ran out of partners to help him reach his century. He is also a compulsive TV game-show contestant and has appeared on half a dozen shows in Australia.

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