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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
December 24, 2013
Challenging ourselves for No.1 ranking - Haddin
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 hereFeeds: Brydon Coverdale
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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