Andrew Hilditch, the selector accompanying the Australian team in Kuala Lumpur, lavished praise on Mitchell Johnson after his stunning four-wicket burst against India, but insisted there were no second thoughts over the decision to send him home midway through the tournament. With two league matches left, Australia are set to rely on more experienced hands, with the likes of Matthew Hayden, Andrew Symonds and Brett Lee coming back into the XI.
"We made a decision at the start of the tournament to bring a larger group than normal," said Hilditch. "We brought 18 players. We've got long- and short-term goals for Australian cricket, and we took the opportunity to have a look at some very exciting young players. The tour group is too large and we told them in advance that they'd be playing only the first two games.
"We're thrilled with how they've gone. Obviously, Mitchell Johnson's performance last night was fantastic, a big moment for Australian cricket and for him. But now we get on with the rest of the tour. We've got Haydos [Hayden] coming back, which is exciting for us and for him. Michael Hussey will captain tomorrow, and Symonds and Lee come back into the team."
When it was suggested that the move might halt Johnson's momentum, Hilditch disagreed. "There's a much bigger picture. He was told what he had to do, and he's taken his chance. That's all you can do in cricket. This tournament is pretty unique in that we've not had any international cricket for about five months. We planned pretty carefully to get the best out of it for the players and Australian cricket. It's probably a one-off, but there were a lot of players we wanted to see exposed to international cricket."
After the Ashes last year, there was an opinion that the Australian team was past its best, and too dependent on an ageing core. The decision to blood youngsters was a conscious one, done to ensure that there would be no downswing similar to that caused by the exits of Greg Chappell, Dennis Lillee and Rodney Marsh in 1983-84.
"The Australian side's been a great side for a long period of time," said Hilditch. "Some of the players that are going to leave Australian cricket are legends. Part of the process is to get these younger players around the senior players and learning from them."
The biggest concern following the Ashes defeat had centred on the pace attack, and how it would cope in Glenn McGrath's absence. The emergence of Johnson, and the return from injury of Shaun Tait now gives the selectors enviable options ahead of the Ashes. "I think we've made a fair bit of progress," said Hilditch. "We've got a lot of good fast bowlers still not in the squad. Jason Gillespie's there, one of the greatest bowlers Australia's produced with over 250 Test wickets. He's going to push hard for the Ashes. Tait's an exciting prospect, and Mitchell's seizing his opportunities. His progress over the last six months has been quite amazing. And we have Stuart Clark, who played really well in South Africa."
He said that Tait had been close to selection for this tour, but "he's still got a bit of a shoulder issue that stops him throwing full distance". And while appreciative of the variety that Johnson gave the attack, Hilditch wasn't of the view that being a left-arm bowler gave him any special status. "I think the Australian cricket team's at its best when it's got its best players on the paddock, whether they're left or right-handed," he said. "Left-handers obviously have certain advantages, if they can swing it. But if a right-hander swings the ball, he's got advantages too."
He paid tribute to the system that nurtures talent - "We've got a very good identification programme, a very good academy, and we've been following Mitchell's progress for five years really" - and he reckoned that sterling performances from young players didn't necessarily upset the selection aims. "If a young player takes an opportunity, it doesn't complicate things, it's just good," he said. On Saturday's evidence - Shane Watson smashed 79 from 74 balls, before Johnson stole the show - it was hard to argue with such an assessment.
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo