The win in Brisbane may have been their fifth straight one across formats, but in the week following it, Australia faced questions normally reserved for the losing side © AFP
There’s always that one.
That present, brightly wrapped, perched under the Christmas tree looking so inviting. Surely, after all your niceness, Santa has delivered the latest, greatest doovalacky thingamajig you’ve been dying to get your hands on all year.
You’re so convinced that, when you rip through the tinsel and paper, the disappointment is all the greater when it turns out to be a pair of grey socks and some cotton checked handkerchiefs from your great-aunty Sheila.
Such has been the demeanour of the Australian team in the wake of their great escape at the Gabba.
Wait. That should read their great victory at the Gabba, right? Because that’s what each member of the Australian team to speak publicly since the match has emphasised. For no matter how gutsy, how defiant, how inspirational Pakistan’s chase was, the cold, hard fact is that it didn’t succeed. And, perhaps understandably, it seems to have irritated the Australians that, after such a dismal run in Sri Lanka, South Africa and Perth, which reached its nadir in the Hobart humiliation, their second consecutive Test victory with a new line-up – and five wins across two formats – has received only muted and qualified praise. Enjoy your socks and hankies, boys.
All week the Australians have fended off, a little defensively, questions normally reserved for a losing side. Does it worry you that you struggled in the fourth innings? How much confidence can Pakistan take out of that match? Are your quicks going to be able to back up after spending so long trying to crack the tail? Are you really going to stick with Nic Maddinson? The Grinch hasn’t so much stolen Christmas as it has stolen Australia’s thunder.
So it was perhaps a statement within itself that Steven Smith announced an unchanged team on Christmas Day, a full 24 hours before the Boxing Day Test begins. When the Australian captain veered from the normal practice of laying his player cards bare and went for a poker face in Adelaide and Brisbane, it was a sign of hesitancy brought on by the run of losses and the blooding of several new players. Now the message is clear: you don’t change a winning team. Just in case you forgot, Australia won.
It’s also a show of confidence in Maddinson who, after returns of 0, 1 and 4 in his first two Tests, would dearly love to discover some runs under the tree.
“Look, obviously he hasn’t started the way he would’ve liked” said Smith. “I was really proud of him in the second innings at Brisbane, to come out and do the thing for the team, try and score quick runs, have a crack.
“That’s what we want from our team, to have unselfish players like that. I thought he did a good job to come out and do that. Hopefully he can have a good Boxing Day Test match.”
Maddinson’s inclusion is also a show of faith in the fitness and durability of Australia’s pace attack, coming at the expense of the uncapped allrounder Hilton Cartwright. Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood each toiled with little reward for 56 overs in Brisbane and Smith admitted the group has discussed the tactics used in the final innings.
“We brought in the allrounder into the squad because the bowlers had a pretty heavy workload,” said Smith. “But they pulled up well and they’re confident they can get through. It’s a reward for hard effort.”
“Yeah we’ve had a couple of chats. I think the red ball out here is going to be a little different to the pink ball. It will probably stay harder for a lot longer so we’ll be able to generate that bounce and carry that we couldn’t do for long periods of time with the pink ball.
“So we’re in a good place. All the bowlers came in ready to go. I know Mitchell Starc is extremely excited, this is his first Boxing Day Test match so he’s excited to get out there and play. Hopefully we can see a good Test match from him.”
While even the Grinch could hardly grumble about Smith’s batting there have been plenty of muttered bah-humbugs over the tactics employed by Australia’s captain during Pakistan’s phenomenal run chase, derided as being too defensive.
“Look, people are open to criticise me all they like,” said Smith. “In the end we won the Test match and I’m happy with that.
“You can always learn from different things and look back and reflect and see if you would’ve done anything different. So, you know I’m really happy we won the Test match and that’s five wins in a row for Australia so we’re heading in the right direction.”
There it is, in case you forgot. Did you hear? It’s Australia on a winning streak, it’s Australia one victory away from securing the series.
And if they succeed, they’ll happily put up with all the hankies and socks that great-aunty Sheila can supply.
Melinda Farrell is a presenter with ESPNcricinfo
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Source: ESPN Crickinfo