Australia’s played 10 Tests in 2016. They won four, lost five and drew one. In ODIs, they played 29 matches, won 17 and lost 11. One match was a no-result. In Twenty20 Internationals, they played 12, won six and lost six. If one has to look at the win-loss ratio, it was positive in ODIs and equal in T20Is.
What the statistics do not reveal is the decline of Australia in Tests and their general decline across all formats. In Tests, their win-loss ratio was 0.8 in 2016. It was only the third time in the last 28 years that Australia have had a negative ratio. The statistics do not reveal the struggle Australia faced. In fact, it was this year that they came face-to-face with the term whitewash, something which they inflicted on other teams regularly at the height of their dominance.
In 2016, Australia were whitewashed 3-0 by India in a three-match T20I series in January. It was the first time in over 140 years of cricket that a nation had whitewashed Australia in any format at home.
It got worse when they arrived in Sri Lanka in June. Having not lost a Test to the Lankans in 17 years, Australia succumbed to the guile of Rangana Herath as they were whitewashed 3-0.
It was Sri Lanka’s second series win against Australia since 1999. The Aussies continued their horror form in Asia, where they had lost 4-0 to India in 2013, and 2-0 to Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates in 2014.
In October, they were whitewashed 5-0 in an ODI series in South Africa. It was the first time Australia were at the wrong end of such a scoreline in ODIs. Things did not improve in November when South Africa secured a hat-trick of series wins in Australia, beating them 2-1 in the Tests. For Australia, they have faced whitewashes in all formats. Anything that could go wrong did go wrong.
REST AT THE WRONG TIME
During his tenure as Australia coach in 2012-13, Mickey Arthur followed a policy of resting key players for some matches. This was to prevent them from getting injured and avoid burnout in a tough international calendar. In 2016, Australia rested some key players for some big series but this drew flak.
During the Sri Lanka series, skipper Steven Smith decided to take a break during the ODI and T20 series. Darren Lehmann, the coach, stated, “We just wanted to make sure that he’s fresh and ready to go for the big summer. It was well planned and well thought out.” Although Australia won the ODI series against Sri Lanka 4-1 and the T20Is 2-0, it highlighted the fact that the players were facing up to the issue of burnout.
Come the South Africa series, Australia rested Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood. The team took an inexperienced bowling line-up and was hammered in all the five ODIs to suffer the first whitewash against the Proteas.
Following the series defeat, Smith again highlighted the demands of a gruelling schedule. “With the schedule these days and the amount we play, it’s impossible for fast bowlers to bowl at a good pace for long periods of time.”
With Australia struggling to find the right balance in all formats, the challenges for this team heading into the New Year are immense.
FUTURE NOT BRIGHT
Heading into 2017, things are not looking bright for Australia. They play four Tests in India from February to March. The very thought of facing an Indian team which did not lose a single Test in 2016 is a daunting prospect. Australia have not won a Test in India since 2004, and in their last 10 Tests, they have lost eight and drawn two.
To compound matters, Cricket Australia announced a bizarre schedule in which the team plays a T20I against Sri Lanka at home a day before the start of the first Test against India at Pune. The clash of the T20 and Test is an indication of the tight schedule faced by cricket boards in modern days.
Scheduling issues, batsmen not being able to play spin, lack of a match-winning spinner, injuries stretching the team’s resources, Australia have a tough 2017 ahead of them.