The Ashes 2013-14 December 24, 2013

Australia's oldies but goodies aim high

Australia's thirtysomethings remain hungry for success as they aim to return to No. 1 on the Test rankings by the end of next year

It wasn't quite the Choir of Hard Knocks, but there was a definite air of redemption surrounding the Australians who belted out Under the Southern Cross on the WACA pitch last week, beers in hand. For many, it was a chance that might never have come. They had reason to live in the moment, to celebrate the now. But how long can "the now" last? Until February's tour of South Africa? Next summer against India? The Ashes in England in 18 months?

Frankly, that's anyone's guess. For now - the now now - there is a distinct bristling among the older players in the squad whenever the subject of age is mentioned. Ryan Harris, 34, is a vocal opponent of generational change for change's sake. A latecomer to Test cricket, Harris debuted at 30 and while long odds might be offered for him reaching the 2015 Ashes, so they would have been for him playing seven straight Ashes Tests this year, which has happened.

Harris played in two losing Ashes series before this success. So did Mitchell Johnson, 32. Shane Watson, also 32, played in three, as did vice-captain Brad Haddin, 36. The captain Michael Clarke, 32, had played in four failed Ashes campaigns, though he at least had been part of the 2006-07 clean sweep. Then there was Chris Rogers, 36, who thought he would be a one-Test wonder, and George Bailey, 31, whose chances of a baggy green seemed to have passed by.

Not even a Contiki tour features this many thirtysomethings making up for lost years. No wonder Harris wanted to kick on at a Perth casino in the wee hours after last week's victory.

It is also little wonder the players want to maintain the status quo for as long as possible. There will come a time when John Inverarity and his selection panel need to assess the longevity of the group. That may even come after the tour of South Africa, if Clarke's men struggle against the world's No. 1 team, for a lengthy break through the winter follows before Australia play Test cricket again, away against Pakistan.

Australia have dominated this series, denying England room to manoeuvre out of their various predicaments. But the Australians can expect greater resilience from South Africa. In particular, the first-innings top-order holes from which Australia have escaped in every Test in this series, largely through Haddin's fightbacks, have the potential to be deeper against Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander. Counterattacking may be counterproductive.

But the only way Australia can measure their improvement is to take on the world's best. For now, South Africa are No. 1, India No. 2, England No. 3 and Pakistan No. 4. In the next 12 months, Australia will play Test cricket against each of those four teams. If they win the dead rubbers in Melbourne and Sydney over the next fortnight, they will jump above England and Pakistan. Their wish for Christmas 2014 is to be back at the top.

"That's a challenge that has been put to the group," Haddin said. "That's the path we want to take and a lot of hard work has to go into that. At the moment we're doing all the right things to do that. But that was the same as soon as we started this campaign in Brisbane. There was a good feeling and the goal was clear where we wanted to get to and we've got a lot of hard work to do to get there.

"[Playing the top teams] is good, that's a true test of where we're at. You want to play the best and you're not going to get to No. 1 hiding away and not playing the best. You've got to beat the best here in our backyard and in theirs as well. That's a challenge put to the group and we're pretty hungry to achieve that."

It is for that reason that the Melbourne and Sydney Tests remain important to this side, even though the Ashes has already been won. It appears likely that Australia will enter the Boxing Day Test with the same XI for a fourth consecutive Test, the first time in nine years that will have happened. Success breeds such consistency. The long-term question is whether that stability can be maintained beyond this series, or if regaining the Ashes was this squad's zenith.

"Maybe," Haddin said when asked if, given the age of the players, the squad might be at the peak of its powers. "But that's something that we've challenged ourselves to continue on the road and keep challenging ourselves to become better cricketers. There's a lot can be made of age. If we talk too much about age, I wouldn't be standing here. I've been told on a number of occasions I'm too old.

"It's not something we think too much about. If you're performing and keep challenging yourself to be the best cricketer you can and contribute to this group moving forward, we're comfortable with that. Age is not something that the players are worried about."

The selectors might worry about it at some point. But not just yet.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on December 25, 2013, 12:28 GMT

    Chicks 1983 that is a very bad line-up unless those guys suddenly improve in two years which they might or might not.look these blokes in the team now did the hard work.Rogers could bat till 40, harddinn has 2-3 years too,Johnson is an athlete probably 2-3 more top test years.just relax too many people obsessed with age.misbah has had his best years in late 30s so has chandrapaul

  • glenn on December 25, 2013, 6:10 GMT

    Posted by SkyBlueAndy on (December 24, 2013, 13:25 GMT)

    About as often as England (have a look at the recent records)

  • glenn on December 25, 2013, 6:09 GMT

    Posted by InsideHedge on (December 24, 2013, 18:56 GMT)

    Mate I don't want either of those guys back - Khawaja maybe but he's not having a stellar season and Hughes (who is killing them at shield) will snick to second slip against all good bowlers. And I agree that Rogers, Watson and Bailey are not world beaters. It will be interesting to see all three playing in a better team though. Watson and Bailey can destroy teams in a session as the English saw in Perth.

    And there are some excellent young guys on the rise at the first class level - both Batsmen and bowlers - that you will see in the IPL and one dayers before making test debuts. Cummins, Pattinson are very good. Burn, Doolan, Silk, Maddison are scoring runs.

  • Azfar on December 25, 2013, 2:49 GMT

    England must play Finn, he is the only one who offers pace and bounce.

  • Dummy4 on December 25, 2013, 1:29 GMT

    My prediction before the series was Watto, Warner and Smith to have big series... so far half good....both need big matches in Melb and Syd. My remaining doubt tho is that this is not yet a top flight team, they are not yet topflight test batsmen, nor is Rogers.So a return to the wobbles is not out of the question.That said, a 5-0 result would remove a lot of doubts.Confirmation will come in South Africa of where we really stand.Am still a P Hughes fan... hope he gets a berth back to S.Africa.... believe he is bit like Hayden and S Waugh before that... will go on to have a stellar career... only 24 and more than 20 first class hundreds...a la Haydos.Other talents on horizon include Maddison, Silk and Lunn.. let them cut their teeth in fc, on Aus A tours and off to england for a season or two in county forget Wade as a test keeper... is way down pecking order... Paine is next keeper after Haddin is my player of series... also rated him before last Enland series

  • Dummy4 on December 25, 2013, 0:14 GMT

    actually Paul Rone-Clarke: Australia's record isn't as bad as you make out during the last two years! they beat Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka in late 2011 (something England haven't done since 2001). got a very respectable 1-1 draw in South Africa a month later. pushed South Africa very close at home in the return series. Unlike England who were totally outplayed by the Proteas and would have lost their home series 3-0 but for Kevin Pietersen's "selfish" century at Headingly.

  • Derek on December 25, 2013, 0:11 GMT

    Most players particularly batsmen are at their best in their thirties. Spin bowlers are at their best and seam bowlers become more controlled and canny when they reach thirty. A good team generally has a good spread of ages in it. The trick with this current Australian team is feeding gradually into it the right players based on performances not youth and potential. Pomersbach now that Lehmann is coach and did great things with him at Queensland could easily step in to the side provided he continues to perform. There are others I`m sure but they do have to have the ability to dominate at test level.

  • Dummy4 on December 25, 2013, 0:03 GMT

    Inside hedge: you are forgetting about the next crop of Australian fast bowling talent (who would be pushing hard for selection now if they were fit). Pattinson, Starc and Cummins are the future of the team. and all are in their early to mid-20's.

  • Dummy4 on December 24, 2013, 23:51 GMT

    Australia is extremely hard to beat at home. If SA is the top team in Tests right now I don't believe they would have beaten Australia here this summer any more than England. Probably may have performed better than England though. There still seems to be lots of support for Phil Hughes. He's had more escapes than Harry Houdini! Phil seems to be an excellent player at Shield level but can't make the transition to Tests. He really doesn't belong in the Australian side. Isn't there anyone else (batsman) putting up their hand to be picked?

  • Dummy4 on December 24, 2013, 22:17 GMT

    Rogers should play on until the 2015 Ashes, retire then, Phil Hughes comes in bats at 1 for a decade plays a hundred tests.

    Our bowlers all have natural replacements. Jackson Bird and James Pattinson the brightest of the bunch. Matt Wade can come back in when Haddin retires.

    Australia suddenly has not only a champion team but a great succession plan.

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