PERTH: Australia’s summer of cricket starts in earnest on Wednesday as the top-ranked Test side begin a two-match series against West Indies, albeit amid little fanfare after three months of continual white-ball matches across the country.
An eighth-ranked opposition and midweek start are unlikely to help draw crowds to the 60,000-seat Perth Stadium, staging its first Test since 2019. But for the hosts it represents an opportunity to put behind them a failed home Twenty20 World Cup campaign in which they crashed out before the semi-finals.
A slew of uneventful and unattended bilateral series bookended the popular T20 showpiece, which England won earlier this month, creating an unusual situation whereby the pinnacle of the Australian cricket season came and went before the summer had really started.
“There’s a lot of cricket, it’s hard to follow as a spectator. It’s very hard to keep up with it,” former Australia captain Steve Waugh told SEN radio.
“I think the public has almost overdosed on cricket... It’s hard to follow the Australian side because every time they play they’ve got a different team on the field.”
Batsman Steve Smith, 33, averages 166 from five Tests against West Indies and has every chance of filling his boots again, showing signs of his best form in a recent one-day series whitewash against England.
Pace spearhead Pat Cummins has yet to play the islanders in a Test, but the skipper will be hoping for a clinical first outing to shift focus away from ex-coach Justin Langer, who last week said unnamed “cowards” in the team had criticised his coaching style via the media but later denied a rift between the pair.
Cummins hit back at Langer on Tuesday.
“There’s no cowards in an Australian cricket team, not ever,” Cummins told reporters in Perth ahead of the first Test.
“I think it’s disappointing sometimes the focus gets drawn to off-field issues but it hasn’t really affected our team.”
Langer has since backtracked somewhat, claiming he was not referring to players when he used the word “cowards”, a move Cummins said he appreciated.
“I think he had a think about it and clarified it, so I thank him for that,” said the fast-bowler.
The Caribbean outfit return to Australia after their own World Cup prospects ended in a humiliating first-round exit. Although Kraigg Brathwaites Test squad contains only a handful of players scarred from the T20s, his side’s prospects remain dim.
One potential bright spot is uncapped 26-year-old Tagenarine Chanderpaul, son of former world number-one batsman Shivnarine, who put forward his case for Test selection with knocks of 119 and 56 against a Prime Minister’s XI during a tour match which ended in a draw on Saturday.
Another is fiery quick Alzarri Joseph, who will want to push Australia’s batting unit — and the speed gun — to its limit on Perth’s pace-friendly deck.
Australia have not lost at home to the West Indies since 1997.
Published in Dawn, November 30th, 2022