Australia waltzed through the Ashes 4-0 under Justin Langer but their patchy Test form prior to that was part of what made Langer vulnerable to the internal and external criticism that ultimately contributed to his exit. Australia have started brightly under McDonald with a 1-0 away win in Pakistan. It was Australia's first Test series win in Asia since 2011 and their first away series victory anywhere since 2016. McDonald is keen for this current Test team to be known as Pat Cummins' team and one that he will simply support. But the strategy that he helped implement paid off in Pakistan, and Australia now have the challenge of replicating it in Sri Lanka in July and India next year if they want to play in the World Test Championship final.
The only thing harder than winning a T20 World Cup is defending it and Australia face the unique challenge of needing to do it just 12 months after last year's triumph in the UAE. The advantage is that it comes in home conditions. The challenge is that Australia will need to improve again. There are questions surrounding the form of captain Aaron Finch, but McDonald is in no doubt he is the man to lead Australia at the World Cup. The emergence of Josh Inglis in the middle order, while the form of Nathan Ellis and Sean Abbott in Pakistan, as well as the possibility of using Tim David as a lower-order hitter, creates both options and headaches in terms of what is the best team structure and strategy for Australia to win the title in Australia. Preparation may also be an issue given their best side might not play much together ahead of the tournament. But that wasn't an issue last year.
ODI cricket was the least prioritised format during Langer's tenure. Australia struggled in the lead-up to the 2019 ODI World Cup but found a way to be very competitive in the tournament only to be blown away by a far superior England side in the semi-final. From then on it was an afterthought. The ODI team has played well during the pandemic but has largely used second-choice players as Australia's stars rested for key Test and T20I assignments. But Australia now only have 18 months to prepare for an ODI World Cup in India. They did have an extraordinary ODI series win in India in 2019 courtesy of a magical chase in Mohali. But they have lost four of their last five ODI series there and were bounced out of the 2011 World Cup in the quarter-final. The brand of cricket Australia played in 2019 was behind the times. McDonald and Australia need a refreshed strategy ahead of the 2023 tournament.
At the end of the 2023 World Cup, even before that, there could be a big turnover of players in all three forms. Finch and David Warner are unlikely to continue after the 2023 World Cup. Nathan Lyon and Usman Khawaja will be 35 and 36 respectively at the end of the 2023 Ashes. Matthew Wade could also finish his international career at the end of the 2022 T20 World Cup while a host of other players will be heading towards their mid-30s. McDonald and the selectors will need to manage all of the exits carefully while getting younger players up to international level quickly in order to keep producing results heading into the second half of his four-year contract.
Langer did rest for three series during his four-year tenure, although one, the 2021 T20I tour of New Zealand, only came about because the simultaneous Test tour to South Africa was cancelled. Australia have a relentless schedule coming up over the next 18 months and it will be impossible for McDonald to coach every assignment. He has already put in place a strategy with CA to rest for certain white-ball series in that period and wants to elevate assistants and consultants during that time to increase the depth in Australian coaching. The idea is a good one, the execution is the challenge.
Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo