Australia’s Patrick Cummins celebrates after removing England’s Dawid Malan in the Second Test of the Ashes. (AAP: David Mariuz)
So iconic, so central to our national identity has the Australian cricket team been, that it has never acquired one of those quaint names that suggest its informal, colloquial persona.
The Australian Rugby League team came to be known as the Kangaroos, though as the purists will rapidly inform you, the name traditionally only applied while they were on tour.
Of course, in an age of saccharine alliterative names for sporting franchises long-divorced from the communities they once represented, our cricket team still stands lofty and aloof from such populist nonsense. Replete with its sacred Baggy Green cap it has made few concessions to crass fashion.
Sure, the odd beer or airline label has inveigled its way onto the shirt or the sweater at Lord knows what price. But the Aussie team needs no catchy shorthand tile like the Wallabies or the Opals. It simply is.
But if we had to rename them…
However, if I am ever given the opportunity to attend one of those Cricket Australia marketing sessions at a rural retreat in Victoria (full disclosure — I already have), then I am going to lobby to adopt an Australian fauna name for the cricket team.
They should be called the Wombats.
They have become the ultimate nocturnal creatures. They seem to stalk their prey at night and to thrive after dark.
They remain undefeated in the day/night format having accounted for New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan and now England.
Their latest victory was somewhat streaky, amply abetted by a very odd decision by England skipper Joe Root to offer first use of a benign wicket to the Australians who could scarcely believe their good fortune.
England skipper Joe Root provided stubborn resistance on day four in Adelaide. (AP: Rick Rycroft)
England never really recovered. That they managed to take the match into the fifth day was tribute to their resilience and their ability to exploit conditions reminiscent of their familiarly moist and cool Central Midlands.
It was an absorbing Test Match, which produced some delicious cameos. Shaun Marsh scored an elegant century underpinned by grit and resilience. Jimmy Anderson showed why he is the greatest wicket-taker in English history with a beautiful spell of swing and seam bowling on Monday night that revealed the batting weakness barely obscured by the genius of Steve Smith.
These are two moderate teams. But Australia has genuine menace in its pace attack and in Nathan Lyon an off-spinner of the first rank. That combination will ensure the Ashes are recovered. And based on England’s recent record, 2-0 seems likely to deteriorate into a whitewash.
The wombats’ new prowess
Not so long ago, Australian cricket was in crisis.
Indeed, under the lights of Adelaide last year, serious questions were being asked about selection and high-performance policy following an abject capitulation to South Africa in Hobart.
But the Wombats came out to prey on the Proteas and saved considerable dignity.
Victory absolved the selectors of accusations of panic.
But remember that Australian line up in Adelaide last November? Of the Australian batting order that capitulated for 85 runs in Hobart, Callum Ferguson, Adam Voges, Joe Burns, Joe Mennie and keeper Peter Nevill were purged. It was one of the most extensive changes to an XI since the days of World Series Cricket.
You could film an entire series of “Where Are They Now?” about that cohort.
In their stead came Peter Handscomb, Nic Maddinson, Matt Renshaw, Jackson Bird and Matthew Wade.
To me, Nevill seems to have been most harshly dealt with, though his usurper Tim Paine had as much cause for grievance at being overlooked, when his fortunes were at the flood early in his career. He will take some dislodging from his slot now, especially from a winning line-up.
Sadly, Renshaw seems to have lost his confidence in response to his omission — he is in wretched form, and apparently quite emotionally scarred as well. It is easy to lose one’s way once dropped from a first-class team.
The disrupted Sheffield Shield season and the loss of prestige of the major domestic first-class competition also makes the road back doubly difficult for a player who is experiencing a lapse of form and confidence.
Behind the Adelaide win
The selection of this Australian team was controversial. Yet the most contentious selections both had splendid matches. To think just one of the five who played such a role in Australia’s recovery from its nadir last November was in this year’s day/night Test may be a tribute to the genius of the selectors, and the depth of the gene pool in Australian cricket.
It would be churlish to dismiss either explanation for the intact, unbeaten record of The Wombats. But they were the beneficiaries of the worst decision upon winning the toss since Nasser Hussain shot Australia in Brisbane in 2002.
England never really recovered from that blunder despite some subtle seam bowling from Anderson and Broad and a decent cameo from Root.
There is not the sense of rebirth around Australian cricket that there was after victory against a credible opponent under the lights, in Adelaide last year. But we were good enough.
And if history is any guide, we now have both hands firmly on the urn.