Year-Ender 2018: Australia team review: Ball tampering, losing streak reflection of 12 dark months
Australia were marred by ball tampering scandal which had a severe effect on their performance.

2018 was a year no Australian cricket fan would want to remember, but also one they won’t forget easily. By the first two months, everything seemed to be heading north for the five-time World Champions. They had reclaimed the Ashes with a 4-0 win over England and had their sights set on a high-profile series against South Africa.

…which is where Australia‘s slide began. The Australian tactic of pulling out all the stops took a dramatic turn when a visual of Cameron Bancroft slipping a piece of sandpaper down his pants used to alter the conditions of the ball in Cape Town surfaced. What transpired triggered the beginning of a dark period for Australian cricket. Steve Smith – who was enjoying a Bradman-esque summer – and David Warner were slapped with 12-month-long bans, while Bancroft was suspended for nine. Visuals of the former captain and vice-captain breaking down was tough to watch. At that point, you couldn’t help but have your heart reach out to them, but the damage was done, a severe one at that. Australia were always known to play the tough brand of cricket but the culture of cheating in the name of winning shook the bedrock of Australian cricket.

A change in guard was imminent. Tim Paine, who had made his Test debut with Smith in 2010, succeeded him as the captain of a wounded Australian team, a year after he was contemplating retirement and having a hard time getting a game for Tasmania was given in charge. Darren Lehmann, who had no idea what was going in in that locked room on that dreaded day, stepped down as coach during another emotional press conference and replaced by his former teammate Justin Langer.

For those who believe sports and politics are not inter-related, think again. The turmoil caused within Cricket Australia resulted in many bigshots departing, including the chairman David Peever, just days after being re-elected after review committee found Cricket Australia “arrogant” and “controlling”. Australia’s TV rights hit a billion dollars when CA signed a AUD 1.182 billion with Fox Sports and Seven Network.

The void caused by Smith and Warner’s absence was big, and Australia paid the price on the field. Following a 0-5 drubbing against England, Australia slumped to their lowest ICC ranking in 34 years. They were slightly better in the tri-series against Zimbabwe but were outclassed in the UAE in the shortest format despite a heroic draw in the Dubai Test.

In November, Aaron finch replaced Paine as captain in limited-overs, and although Australia broke their record seven-match losing streak against South Africa but were hammered in the decider with Faf du Plessis and David Miller handing their team a first series win in Australia in the country after nine years. Capping off the year was Australia not able to reclaim the Border-Gavaskar Trophy following defeats to India in two of the four Tests, where their fragile batting leaves behind ample questions ahead of World Cup defence.

2018 record

Tests: P10 W3 L6 D5

ODIs: P13 W2 L11

T20Is: P19 W10 L8 NR1

High

Led by Usman Khawaja, Australia eked out an epic draw batting for the longest time in the fourth innings against Pakistan in Dubai, finishing on 362/8. Set a target of 462, or likelier 137 overs to survive, Australia were carried heroically by Khawaja’s 141 as he batted almost through the entire fourth innings on a wearing surface. Tellingly, Khawaja’s block-a-thon came after Australia had lost three wickets for no runs on the fourth evening, with the debutant Finch (49) and Shaun and Mitchell Marsh out for zeroes to pace bowler Mohammad Abbas. With another debutant, Travis Head, Khawaja put on 137 for the fourth wicket and then came a partnership of 79 in 36.2 overs with the captain Tim Paine (61* off 194 balls) as Pakistan were thwarted almost through the final session.

Low

The Cape Town cheating scandal, described by Cricket Australia chief executive a “WTF” moment. With the series levelled a 1-1, on Day 3 of the third Test in Cape Town, the cameras showed on the big screen Bancroft using a yellow sandpaper and scrubbing it on the ball. Both South Africa and Australian commentators felt his actions looked suspicious. Later, in a stirring revelation, Smith and Bancroft admitted to ball tampering, while adding that the “leadership group” knew about it, meaning Warner was in fray too. Immediately, Cricket Australia handed out bans to the three players involved, taking the sheen off an engaging Test series between the two nations.

Top Performer

Nathan Lyon

The mentioned of Nathan Lyon has 335 Test wickets would puzzle you at first. Then again, he isn’t called the “GOAT” without a reason. Standing up in Australia’s new ear, Lyon was a heavy performer throughout the year. In four Tests against South Africa, Lyon accounted for 16 wickets before Australia went seven months without playing a Test. They lost in the UAE, but twice Lyon picked four wickets in an innings in four digs. The offspinner continued to impress in the high-profile series against India where he already has 17 wickets including two five-wicket-hauls – 6/122 in Adelaide and 5/67 in Perth which they won.

Fading Star

Mitchell Marsh

The younger of the Marsh brothers, Mitchell, has had a woeful year with both bat and ball. Marsh returned to the Test squad midway during the home Ashes series and had celebrated that by hitting centuries in consecutive Tests. However, since scoring 96 in the first innings of Durban Test in March, his form has taken a nosedive. He was part of the Australia squad for the UAE tour where they faced Pakistan in a two-Test series but the allrounder mustered a mere 30 runs across four innings against Pakistan. He was subsequently dropped for a home ODI series against South Africa and didn’t play in the following T20I series against India. However, he did return to form while Sheffield Shield scoring 151 for Western Australia before being recalled to play the third Test against India ahead of Peter Handscomb, a move not received well by the crowd. In addition, Marsh has received heavy criticism, noticeable from former Australia fast bowler Geoff Lawson.

One to watch

Out nursing injury for most part of the year, oppositions will need to watch out for Pat Cummins, who has also shown signs of being a promising prospect with the bat. Cummins picked up 22 wickets in eight innings with a best of 5/83 before a stress fracture on the back put him on the shelf. His 17 wickets from three Tests against India, including career-best figures of 6/27 to go with a fighting half-century has made him a fearsome force and he is likely to replicate that success in ODIs, provided he is able to avoid injuries.

Lined up for 2019

January – 1 Test and three ODIs against India and host Sri Lanka for two Tests

February/March – Travel to India for five Tests and two T20s, and UAE for five ODIs against Pakistan

June/July – World Cup 2019

July/August/September – Travel to England for The Ashes

October – Travel to Bangladesh for three T20s and host Sri Lanka for three

November – Host Pakistan for two Tests and three T20s

December – Host New Zealand for three Tests and three ODIs