Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo
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When Australia won the T20 World Cup in 2021, there was feeling that they had finally secured that one global trophy that had long eluded them. But the reality is there is another trophy, albeit newly created, that quite literally slipped through their fingers in 2021.
Australia missed the 2021 World Test Championship final because they were docked points for slow over-rates. Pat Cummins, Australia's captain, admitted on the eve of the first home Test of a new summer - and the first of nine Test matches leading into the 2023 WTC final - that his side didn't realise what they had missed out on at the time.
"I think being new, it probably didn't hit us until the game was actually played and you saw over there New Zealand did well and you wish you were there," Cummins said on Tuesday in Perth. "So it feels like second time around it's got a little bit more on it. It felt like a big missed opportunity that first one. So it certainly gives a bit more context to every series now, something big to play for."
While there is a general malaise about Australian men's cricket right now for a variety of reasons, with fears the Perth public are unlikely to turn out in droves to watch the first Test played in this city since 2019, every Test match has meaning now for this Australian team.
"The big series, say Ashes or India series where you play four or five Test matches are obviously big battles, whereas the more common series where you play two or three in a series, it gives them a bit more global context and something a bit extra to play for," Cummins said.
The Australian public may not fully realise it, still yearning for a clash with the West Indies of old, but this two-Test series has a lot riding on it. Australia currently leads the World Test Championship table and are in pole position to make the final in England next year.
For the first time too, Cummins and a few of his teammates have begun talking about the significance of the next eight months of Test cricket for a group of players that are closing in on the end of their Test careers.
David Warner, Steven Smith, Usman Khawaja, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon and Josh Hazlewood are all in their 30s, with Warner, Khawaja and Lyon on the other side of 35, having formed the backbone of the Australian Test side over the past 10 years. Alex Carey and Marcus Harris, who are also in the squad, are also 30 plus, while Cummins will be 30 in May next year.
Warner has already hinted this could be his final 12 months in Test cricket, although he walked those quotes back in the lead-up to the Test in Perth, while Khawaja admitted the team would head into a transition phase sooner rather than later, something Cummins hoped would be later but confirmed was on the horizon.
"In the next six or seven months we have got 15 Test matches, hopefully, there won't be any turnover before that but of course, it is coming," Cummins said. "To be honest it is the most stable team I have played in ever. You could probably have picked the side 12 months ago. I feel like we are in a good spot."
An eight-month stretch of Test cricket, featuring 15 Tests against West Indies and South Africa at home, India and England away, and the WTC final if they get there, is a golden opportunity for a group that hasn't collected as many major Test trophies as perhaps their collective talent warrants, despite being ranked No.1 in the world at present. There is a sense that those 15 Tests could cement a legacy as a great Australian team.
"I think it is such an exciting opportunity for our group, to play four of the biggest series you are ever going to play as an Aussie Test cricketer within six or seven months, that is a once a career opportunity," Cummins said. "That's all ahead of us, that's exciting. Obviously, a home summer is always big, with a World Test Championship, that's something big to play for. We get a few wins here it pretty much guarantees our spot in London. We have all come here fresh. We know it's a big block of cricket and we are excited for it."
But they cannot afford any slip-ups as they did in 2021. They have already let moments slip in Test cricket this year that could have put them in an even stronger position on the WTC table. They failed to close out the fourth Ashes Test in Sydney in January, as England survived nine-down, and did likewise in Karachi in March when they dropped a number of catches as Pakistan survived 171.4 overs in the fourth innings. They also lost by an innings in Galle, having been 204 for 2 on day one against Sri Lanka after winning the toss.
Anything short of winning all five Tests at home this summer against West Indies and South Africa could leave them vulnerable to missing the WTC final again, given they have a tough four-Test tour of India to negotiate in February and March, having won only one Test there in 14 since the 2004 series triumph.
Neither opponent at home will be easy to navigate, with West Indies undefeated in Test cricket in 2022 while South Africa sits second on the WTC table despite losing their last two Tests in England midyear.
Australia are acutely aware of the opportunity that presents itself. They now must take it with both hands.