To judge Australia's swift Super Series resurgence it's necessary to go back a month to The Oval and the Ashes. Politicians talk-up the recessions they had to have, Australia did the same with their England tour. And it's worked.
In September the Australians suffered a devastating, morale-sapping series defeat and the death of the past decade's most successful side was being called. Old, unable to adapt and tormented by the moving ball, they also contained a bowling attack reliant on two men, one of whom suffered uncharacteristic and unlucky injuries. Four matches later, Ricky Ponting's evolving band showed it was not the end of the road, but merely the end of the world.
The first signs of revival came in the field during the one-day matches and looked like over-acting. By the end of the Super Test the squad's wilder celebrations were as real as their gains and they will become a measure of the side's health throughout Ponting's rule. Other changes included the reappointment of a fielding coach, a couple of fresh faces and a directive to lift intensity at training and in matches. Each project had immediate results.
Even Ponting's leadership, which was criticised for its lack of direction in England, showed successful spark and thought mixed with the usual dose of confidence. The past two weeks will become the point where he made the crucial step from caretaker to commander, adding to the positive signs for the upcoming summer of three Tests each against West Indies and South Africa. The second series will give Australia more of a guide to their restorative powers while the contest starting in Brisbane next month against a side including Brian Lara must be used to further the experiments.
Shane Watson deserves half a season to settle as an allrounder and a promotion to No.6 needs to be considered to determine whether his batting, which is his prime role at first-class level, is of Test standard. It took almost 40 matches for him to become comfortable with his one-day game and the results were stunning: two Man-of-the-Match displays in the Super Series one-dayers and contributions with bat and ball.
More importantly, Watson's inclusion allows for Australia to trial playing Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill at Australian venues that don't start with S. Sure the SCG spun, sure the World XI's batting was poor, sure the pair hasn't always felt comfortable in the same team. The West Indies tour under Steve Waugh's first leadership assignment, when MacGill was preferred to Warne in the final Test, was six years ago and the double act craves more airtime after regular carnage in tandem. The partnership will provide a mix off attack (MacGill) and aggressive defence (Warne) that can cover the exuberance of Brett Lee and the development of Watson.
The batting order is a greater problem than the juggling of an attack with few fast bowlers pushing from outside. A new middle was tested in Sydney - Michael Clarke at No. 4 followed by Simon Katich and Adam Gilchrist - and the lack of candidates prepared to play a long and stubborn role in a troubling situation was evident during the collapse of 9 for 47 in the second innings. Katich suffered most and a finger fracture fielding a Shane Warne full toss on Monday was another poorly timed injury for a player who has suffered from harsh selections.
However, Katich has failed to seal his place in the middle order this year and Trevor Hohns, the chairman of selectors, will spend time pondering the claims of Brad Hodge and Michael Hussey against the West Indies. The Pura Cup season began yesterday with Queensland playing Tasmania and the national players will have rare opportunities to turn out for their state. The first-class breeding ground has a chance to confirm the prospects of a couple of contenders, although the domestic opening batsmen are again sitting down following Matthew Hayden's patient return to consistent run-making.
Over the next month the spring of exhibitions make way for the usual summer and the future of Australia is again bright instead of lukewarm. The World XI performed badly over the past two weeks but Ponting's side deserved praise for the quick injection of energy following their greatest disappointment. The kingdom was diminished over the winter yet the rulers retain most of their power.
Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo