If the World Cup and the Twenty20 tournament were the night before, yesterday’s announcement of the Australian Test squad was the beginning of the hangover. Mornings after the night before often start with a dull ache and a slow realisation, and bleary eyes opening to this new dawn of Australian cricket will do so knowing that life without Warne and McGrath begins now.
It is a truism that bowlers win Test matches. Shane Warne and Glen McGrath, with 269 Tests and 1271 wickets between them, won more than any others. Their departure leaves not so much a hole as a yawning chasm in the Australian line-up.
In the short term, at least, this will mean Australia wins fewer Tests and draws more. Even in this era of hyper-accelerated scoring rates, it is necessary to take 20 wickets to win a game. Without McGrath and Warne, that simply won’t occur as often.
Their replacements are likely to be Mitchell Johnson and Stuart MacGill, although the selectors kept all options open by including Shaun Tait and he of the disconcertingly active tongue, Brad Hogg, in the squad of 13.
Whichever way the team lines up, the bowling attack looks much less imposing than it did 12 months ago. Apart from Johnson and Tait, all are over 30. Stuart Clark has had a stellar start to his Test career but it remains to be seen whether he can become the “next McGrath” now that the “old McGrath” is no longer playing beside him. Brett Lee’s age and bowling average are both 31. He has always been more dynamic in the shorter form of the game.
It is Warne, though, who – for reasons in addition to his skill with the ball – will be hardest to replace. The tactics, the taunts, the bogan street smarts … we will miss them. So will Australia. Stuart MacGill would have been a star in any other era but the feeling that his greatest exploits are behind him is palpable.
The selectors must feel it too. Why else was the effervescent Chinaman from the West would not have been named in the squad?
As for the batting line-up, no one will be surprised at Phil Jaques’ inclusion. He has made big runs and deserves his chance. It is unlikely, of course, that he will partner Matthew Hayden as effectively as the retired Justin Langer — after all, the pair were statistically (and perhaps actually) Australia’s best ever opening pair. This will place pressure on a middle order accustomed to entering the arena with runs on the board.
The loss of Australia’s champions will inevitably bring them back to the pack. The real question is: can the pack take advantage of it?