Year in Review 2016: Australia looked a team knocked off the perch, but revival is underway

For many people, whether it's because of political leanings or the numerous celebrity deaths, 2016 had been horrendous. It is being deemed as the "worst year ever" on social media.

Australian cricket hasn't been spared from the stains either and 2016 will be remembered as a largely unsuccessful year for the proud team. At the start of 2016, few could have envisioned Australia's startling downward spiral.

After they eviscerated the hapless Kiwis in the Test series in New Zealand, Australia appeared poised to dominate the year again.

Australia have been inconsistent in 2016. Reuters

Australia have been inconsistent in 2016. Reuters

It was still the early phase of Steve Smith's captaincy. Australia had won four out of six Tests (and two draws) since he replaced Michael Clarke as captain, following the Ashes loss in 2015.

Undoubtedly a brilliant tactician, Clarke was a polarising leader and his player-management skills were often under the spotlight. The Clarke era was marred by fractures within the team, which have continued to be a problem. Obviously, all was not right in the team under Clarke.

Conversely, Smith was a younger and hipper leader, who seemed to be a galvanising force for the group he was leading, and it seemed there was much goodwill among the players. On the field, Australia possess a powerful attack, fuelled by a bevy of talented pacemen and batters. The maturing of Usman Khawaja and Bradman-esque batting by cricket sage Adam Voges meant Australia were not totally dependent on Smith and the belligerent opener, David Warner, and their batting looked rounded.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Australia endured a wretched eight-month period starting from another doomed World T20 before finally hitting a nadir during an embarrassing ODI whitewash in South Africa and a thrashing at home against the same opposition in the Test series.

During this forgettable period they had, however, briefly held the No 1 Test ranking – mostly due to the achievements during the early part of Smith's captaincy – before astoundingly nose-diving and losing their next five Tests, including a whitewash in Sri Lanka and consecutive humiliating defeats at home to South Africa.

The continual losing prompted a "full-blown crisis" with almost everyone put on notice both on and off the field. However, only chairman of selectors Rod Marsh resigned, meaning most of Australia's cricket chiefs were still in their places. Marsh's exit, though, meant a recalibration in selection plan, as the new-look selection panel decided on implementing a youth policy in a desperate bid for renewal.

The results were instantaneous with Australia having not lost a match after the Hobart disaster (Australia were bowled out for 85 and 161 against South Africa, losing by an innings and 80 runs), winning three straight matches in both the Test and ODI formats. Australia will enter the New Year feeling decidedly more assured about themselves compared to a month ago, particularly with batting youngsters Matthew Renshaw and Peter Handscomb looking like they could be mainstays in the Test team.

With Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood – who has ascended into arguably being a more valuable player than his more illustrious partner – rising in their stocks, Australia are always likely to be competitive.

Despite another World T20 flop show, continuing Australia's scratchy record in the shortest format, they were once again dominant in ODI cricket with 2016 being bookended by convincing series wins against India and New Zealand at home. There was, of course, the whitewash in South Africa in the later part of the year, although that can be disregarded due to the absences of Starc and Hazlewood. With firepower in all areas, Australia have once again proved that the 50-over format is their speciality - a format they have long mastered. However, for whatever reason, they could translate the success in ODIs to the other formats in 2016.

It all means the future is far from bleak, but still, there are many unanswered questions and uncertainly on the fringes of Australian cricket. To scratch the surface a little deeper, perhaps we need to look beyond the national team and probe the mishmash of a domestic set-up. The Sheffield Shield, once the holy grail of Australian domestic cricket, has essentially become a science lab for Cricket Australia to test its gimmickry. In a prime example, this season, three types of balls will be used: the pink Kookaburra to prepare players for day-night Tests; the traditional red, and the English Dukes ball which will be used after Christmas in a bid to help players prepare better for an Ashes tour that isn't scheduled until 2019.

The first round of the Shield was bizarrely played with the pink ball under lights, and essentially served as a try-out for national selection. Australian Test pace bowlers had restrictions on the number of overs they could bowl fuelling the rising belief that the Shield is losing sanctity.

Due to the rise of the Big Bash League (BBL), which occupies the peak of the Australian summer from December-to-January, the Shield season is a jumble with half of the season held before the Twenty20 tournament and the remaining matches resuming in February. It is scatterbrain fixturing, but perhaps we shouldn't be surprised by all of this considering the hodgepodge of formats being tossed around so hastily.

Simply, Australia in 2016 has been inconsistent – an unwanted characteristic that has dogged them since their glory years ended in the late 2000s. With crux series against India and England looming, 2017 would be a defining year in Steve Smith's captaincy reign. A number of prominent figures in Australian cricket could be feeling the strain if things go badly for them. Australia can ill-afford to have another "crisis" in 2017.

However, one feels these types of schizophrenic performances will not continue in 2017.

Published Date: Jan 01, 2017 13:02 PM | Updated Date: Jan 01, 2017 17:07 PM

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