Sydney – Australia’s humbling series defeat to India left selectors to pick through the rubble on Tuesday as they face tough decisions with two Tests looming against Sri Lanka and then an Ashes tour of England.
Their 2-1 capitulation – the first time India has won a series Down Under in 70 years of trying – stemmed from batting failures and a bowling attack that struggled to tame some of the world’s top players.
The squad to play Sri Lanka in the first Test later this month in Brisbane is expected to be announced on Wednesday, with few standout performances to offer much encouragement.
With the banned Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft all missing for the India series, it had opened the door to a host of fringe Test cricketers including Aaron Finch, Travis Head, Marnus Labuschagne and Marcus Harris.
Harris, handed his debut in Adelaide, was the only one to categorically demand future consideration.
Senior players like Usman Khawaja failed to consistently stand up while the Marsh brothers, Shaun and Mitchell, again disappointed.
There are also question marks over Mitchell Starc, long Australia’s main strike bowler but who didn’t perform as expected.
The Australian broadsheet lamented a “summer of lost opportunities” after the curtain came down on a rain-affected Sydney Test, where Australia was forced to follow on at home for the first time in 30 years.
Despite the doom and gloom, skipper Tim Paine said selectors’ options were limited, with few people knocking on the door.
“In an ideal world, yes (there would be more players coming through), but that’s nothing we as a playing group can control,” he said.
“All we can control is how hard we are working. We’ve said numerous times we are trying our absolute backsides off. We’ve got what we’ve got and our playing group are working as hard as we can to improve.”
Paine and coach Justin Langer have often spoken of the need to pick and stick to try and build a settled team, but the pressure is mounting.
Names being touted in the media as possible contenders include Matthew Wade, Joe Burns, Matt Renshaw and even Bancroft, who has only just returned from his ball-tampering ban.
There has also been a push by several former top players to hand all-rounder Marcus Stoinis a chance.
Paine insisted there has been something to gain from the loss to India.
“It’s the experience at this level that those guys have got now that they wouldn’t have got,” he said.
“If we get to the Ashes and Marcus, Travis and Marnus are playing they understand now the pressure and magnitude of the situation on them.
“You don’t experience that anywhere but when you walk out in Test cricket. For them to have the experience they now go away, train and know what to expect and know where they need to improve.”
Former England captain Mike Atherton, writing in The Australian, laid much of the blame for the batting woes on a degrading of the importance of the four-day domestic Sheffield Shield competition, once the envy of the world.
This used to be where Test batsmen honed their skills but few have time now to play, with an explosion of the limited overs game.
“A lesson from afar is that you tamper with your premier competition at your peril,” he said.
Another ex-England skipper Michael Vaughan was more brutal in his assessment of Australia’s problems.
“If you think Australia’s problems will be solved the moment Steve Smith and David Warner are available for selection again then you are wrong,” he said in a column for the Sydney Morning Herald.
“They have issues that run far deeper than two players. Batting, bowling, selection and tactics were poor against India, and Australia have to admit they were just not good enough.”