What a difference a year makes in sport. In January last year, the men's Australian cricket team had smashed England in the Ashes series on home turf to retain the famous little urn. However, twelve months on the side have just lost 2-1 to India, the first time India have ever won a series in Australia. Although all the celebrations are about India (and rightly so), there's a focus on what on earth has happened to the Aussies?
Australia are a side who have got not only problems on the field, but off it too. Undoubtedly the biggest factor in Australia's recent form is the ball-tampering scandal in March last year when the side faced South Africa. Young opener Cameron Bancroft was caught rubbing the ball on a small scrap of yellow paper on the field and was questioned by the umpire. This led to captain and batsman Steve Smith admitting there had been a plan to cheat by sandpapering the ball. Bancroft, Smith and Vice-captain David Warner were flown back to Australia in disgrace. Bancroft served a nine month ban and is currently playing for Perth Scorchers in the Australian Big Bash League. Smith and Warner are still serving twelve month bans but are playing in the Bangladesh Premier League.
Arguably, the ball tampering scandal has had knock on effects for Australian cricket. Firstly, Australia have lost their top batsmen in Smith and Warner. Prior to the scandal, since 2015, Smith has been ranked as the top batsman in the world according to the ICC rankings. Losing his ability has been a colossal blow for the Aussies who haven't been able to find a suitable replacement for their number three. Furthermore, the loss of veteran David Warner has also meant Australia have struggled to find another strong batsman in their side. The loss of two experienced players in one hit has damaged the team incredibly.
As if this wasn’t enough for the Australian side, their bowlers have also struggled as a result. Mitchell Starc had a difficult test against India, with his economy rate averaging around 3.23. His worst innings came in the final test, where he took one wicket for 123 runs in 26 overs with no maidens, scoring an economy rate of 4.73. Considering Starc was taking wickets left, right and centre before the scandal, his form in the India test series was disappointing.
2018 was a mixed year for the Aussies, a nation who take great pride in their cricket team. There are glimmers of a light at the end of the tunnel for the side. After Smith stepped down, wicketkeeper Tim Paine took the captaincy role with the aim of making the Aussie side a bit tamer, a difficult task considering the side have taken the mantle in recent years of being notorious for their sledging. Paine has done a good job so far, his tamer sledging of Rishabh Pant going viral during the India test showing a softer side to Australia. What’s more impressive about Paine is the fact that until the 2017/18 Ashes he hadn’t played international cricket for seven years, and is now taking on the captaincy role.
In addition to this, Australia have recovered well from their defeat to India. They have recently been playing Sri Lanka, winning all their games. Starc’s form has improved drastically, in the second test he took five wickets for 54 runs in the first innings then took five wickets for 46 runs in the second innings. Bowler Pat Cummins had a very good series against Sri Lanka, taking an impressive six wickets for 23 runs in the first test. Australia’s batsmen are also performing well at the moment. Although inconsistent, if the top order aren’t performing, their middle order will perform and vice versa, meaning that runs are put on the board either way. Furthermore, the prospect of Smith and Warner returning to the test side in time for the 2019 Ashes in England means that Australia are well on their way to dragging themselves up from rock bottom.