Look ma, it's the Ashes
In 2017, Australia lost a Test to Bangladesh for the first time, and surrendered the Border-Gavaskar Trophy to India.
They were bundled out of the Champions Trophy early, gave up the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy to New Zealand, and were soundly beaten in an ODI series by India.
Across all formats, Australia lost more games than they won in 2017, sitting with West Indies, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe on the wrong side of the win-loss ledger. In fact, the Australians won only two series in 2017, and one of those was a home bilateral one-day campaign against Pakistan way back in January.
Yet Australian cricket will consider 2017 a success. Why? Because Australian cricket holds this truth to be self-evident: that not all series are created equal. In the manner of classic film and book marketing, you could imagine Cricket Australia's PR staff telling the players at the start of 2017: "If you win only one series this year, make it the Ashes." And on December 18, they did just that. The urn again rests in Australian hands, and the Australian public is happy.
Of course, this an overly simplistic assessment. A more in-depth look actually offers some mitigating circumstances for Australia's poor figures. For example, such is the home-ground advantage in recent Border-Gavaskar Trophy history that Australia were never expected to win the Test series in India. That they won even a single Test there - Steve O'Keefe's 12-wicket haul in Pune led Australia to their first victory in a Test match in India since 2004 - was a significant achievement in itself.
And Australia's Champions Trophy campaign was severely hampered by two of their three pool games resulting in washouts. In fact, Duckworth and Lewis themselves wrote recently that Australia should have been declared the winners of their match against Bangladesh and thus qualified for the semi-finals.
Even their Test loss to Bangladesh in Dhaka, though disappointing, was not the embarrassment it might have been ten years ago, so competitive have Bangladesh become in their home conditions.
Australia's cricketers also embarked on that tour underprepared, due in part to the pay dispute that dominated the winter, and in part to their lack of warm-up matches in Bangladesh. The importance of their lengthy preparation for the tour of India, and subsequent victory in the first Test in Pune, cannot be ignored.
And speaking of things that were hard to ignore, let's talk about Steven Smith. If Smith's career trajectory looked like reaching an Everest-like peak two years ago, he is threatening now to touch Olympus Mons levels. For the fourth consecutive time, he passed 1000 runs in the calendar year, the only man besides Matthew Hayden in world cricket to have achieved that feat. That Smith has done so as captain is all the more remarkable. He also joined Ricky Ponting as the only man in Test history to have made six centuries in a calendar year more than once.
Smith finished 2017 as the world's leading run scorer in Tests for the year, and Nathan Lyon as the world's leading Test wicket-taker. Lyon's tally of 63 included a career-best 13-wicket haul in Chittagong, which helped Australia level the series with Bangladesh, and by the time the Ashes arrived, he was so brimming with confidence that he could trash-talk about wanting to end the careers of England players.
Whatever the end result on that front, Lyon certainly contributed to Australia's regaining of the Ashes, as did his fellow attack members Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins. The re-emergence of Cummins is one of the best Australian stories of 2017. He had been afflicted by persistent injuries since his Man-of-the-Match Test debut in Johannesburg in 2011; that he got through eight consecutive Tests in 2017 was a massive breakthrough.
But lest Australia think that with the Ashes in their grasp, and Smith and Lyon atop the Test run and wicket lists for 2017, they now have all the answers, they would do well to remember that cricket is a game of 11 men. And in the batting order in particular, questions still remain. Only two Australians - Smith and Warner - averaged more than 40 (with a minimum of ten innings) in Test cricket in 2017, and no other player in the top seven held his position throughout the year.
The promising young opener Matt Renshaw was gone by the Ashes, replaced by Cameron Bancroft, who started encouragingly at the Gabba but by the end of the year was under pressure himself. Peter Handscomb was dumped mid-Ashes, despite a strong start to his Test career last summer, and wicketkeeper Matthew Wade was also axed for the Ashes. If the Hobart debacle of 2017 was a line in the sand, it was soon washed away - Handscomb, Renshaw, Wade and Nic Maddinson were all brought in after that Test, and all gone a year later.
Handscomb, Renshaw and Glenn Maxwell all scored Test centuries in 2017, but none of them were in the team by the time the Boxing Day Test rolled around. The Marsh brothers, Shaun and Mitchell, were back, and both made Ashes hundreds to suggest they might be in the side for a while yet.
But the biggest surprise had to be the recall of Tim Paine to replace Wade. Australia embarked on the Ashes without a clear wicketkeeper of choice. Wade had struggled in the Test team all year, and in the Sheffield Shield rounds before the Ashes squad was named, none of the other contenders - including Peter Nevill and Alex Carey - grabbed their chance. So the selectors took a punt on Paine, who had not played a Test in seven years, nor made a first-class hundred in 11. He rewarded them with 57 at Adelaide Oval, 49 not out in Perth, and slick work behind the stumps.
Now Paine, like Smith, Warner, Lyon, Cummins, Starc, Hazlewood, Bancroft, the Marshes, and Usman Khawaja, is an Ashes winner. And if a few more wins than losses would have been preferable in 2017, at least Australia won the big one.
Securing the urn in Perth was an obvious pinnacle, but winning the Pune Test in February was so unexpected that it will remain a memorable high for all concerned. O'Keefe was Man of the Match for his 6 for 35 in each innings, but the 109 scored by Smith in the second innings in challenging conditions - the first of his six Test hundreds for the year - was a true captain's knock.
Off the field, the low point was the entire pay dispute that threatened to derail Australian cricket and led to players being unemployed for 34 days.
On the field, it was losing the first Test to Bangladesh in Dhaka. Australia went into the series underprepared and paid the price against a Bangladesh side that has improved significantly in the past couple of years.
New kid on the block
This year was a rarity by recent Australian standards, for only two players - Hilton Cartwright and Cameron Bancroft - made their Test debuts in 2017. The only other year of the past decade in which Australia have had so few Test debutants was 2015, when Adam Voges and Peter Nevill earned their first baggy greens. So this year's new kid on the block is, in fact, a returning kid. Cummins had played only eight first-class matches before 2017; he finished the year with 19, nine of which have been Tests. The prospect of him, Starc and Hazlewood as Australia's pace attack going forward is a delicious one.
Wade was brought in after Australia's loss to South Africa in Hobart in 2016 because the selectors hoped that, as a man with two Test centuries to his name, he would add some batting depth. Instead, he played ten Tests, passed fifty just once and averaged 20.23. Paine's solid performances in the Ashes suggest that Wade's Test career, if not finished entirely, is at least over for the foreseeable future.
What 2018 holds
There are one-dayers against England and a T20 tri-series with England and New Zealand, but Australia's first Test campaign of the year will be their four-Test tour of South Africa in March-April. That is followed by a one-day series in England, and a tour of Zimbabwe that will likely consist only of limited-overs matches. A home Test series against Bangladesh is featured in the Future Tours Programme, before ODIs against Pakistan in the UAE and at home to South Africa. A home Border-Gavaskar Trophy rounds out the year, and along with success in South Africa, regaining that trophy will be Australia's major goal for the year.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo @brydoncoverdale