The cricketers who have tied up every imaginable loose end this summer have grown into adulthood together in the Australian team.
None of those careers proceeded in a straight line, with fluctuations in form, fitness and probity disrupting, and erupting, at different times. Cummins and Paine were out of the team for long exiles. Smith and Wade went through role transformations. The fast bowlers always needed back-up. But over that eight-year period, a unity of purpose evolved, and the cricketers who have tied up every imaginable loose end this summer are content in each other’s company, having grown into adulthood together in the Australian team. The transfusion of new talent, most stunningly in the form of Trans Tas-man of the series Marnus Labuschagne, has been an added bonus.
It should be acknowledged that some of the decision-makers who were lampooned and discarded in those hard years were responsible for sowing the seeds of this long-term project. The Australian coaches during that transformative period were Tim Nielsen and Mickey Arthur. The chairmen of the selection panels were Andrew Hilditch and John Inverarity. Greg Chappell won arguments in the selection room in support of unproven talent. These men carried the criticism for the poor results of that period, and some had their reputations trashed, but they might now reflect with satisfaction on their ability to identify and promote players who would eventually become a very good, if not yet great, Australian team. Today’s hierarchy are reaping the harvest.
There was little real contest over the last day in Sydney, but still room for memorable moments. Warner’s fluent 24th Test century set up an early declaration, his strike rate, as usual, freeing his captain’s hand. Catches by Lyon and Pattinson on the last day could make any highlights reel. The fast bowlers bent their backs on a wicket that gave nothing back. For New Zealand, there was a chance to acknowledge Ross Taylor’s achievement as his country’s highest run-scorer in Test cricket. Taylor has played 400 international matches, hundreds more domestic games for franchises and provinces of every stripe, and in Test cricket has made 1700 more runs than his mentor, the late Martin Crowe, at a better average. He deserves to be at the top of that tree.
But cricket can move quickly, and minutes later Taylor was walking off, his off-stump clipped by the kind of unplayable delivery that Cummins has made routine through this summer. A major headline for New Zealand cricket history, Taylor’s contribution was a footnote to the day.
That swift flow of events will now carry the Australians to India for a one-day series. It won’t mean much, other than that India can now tell Australia where to be in January. In cricket terms, this is just a teaser. The big event will take place here, next summer, where an Australian expedition a decade in the making will make an attempt on cricket’s summit.