Australia's one-day international squad was embarrassed in a 4-0 series thrashing at the hands of England, but could that prove to be a good thing?
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England has sent Australia home winless in an embarrassing one-day international series, in what looks like an ominous sign ahead of next year's Ashes series.
But despite the gloom there's an argument to be made that Australia's misery on this brief tour could help their chances in the Ashes. Here are six reasons why.
6) It ends any chance of complacency
While losing to England is nothing new for Australian cricket these days, it's worth keeping in mind that the 4-0 thrashing was Michael Clarke's first series loss as captain – in either Tests or one-day internationals.
What's more, the result is Australia's worst ever defeat in a bilateral ODI series.
It obviously puts a serious dampener on thoughts that Australian cricket had turned the corner in the past 12 months. But that is not a bad thing in the long run – it's a brutal wake-up call that the rebuilding phase is far from over.
And if Australia had to cop a thrashing for that wake-up call to happen, then this was the perfect way to do it: away from home, against the world's best team, in a fairly meaningless one-day series. This series will be all but forgotten by the time next year's Ashes arrives – if it sparks Australia to get its act together by then.
5) It shows what we're up against
Unlike Australia, England selected a one-day team that was very close to its Test side, in a bit of a throwback to ODI teams of old. And they were superb. One-day specialist Ravi Bopara averaged 91 with the bat while Test trio Jonathan Trott, Ian Bell and Alastair Cook all scored plenty of runs, and England's pacemen dominated proceedings with the ball.
If nothing else, the series gave Australia's players some valuable experience against a team that will bear close resemblance to next year's Ashes hosts.
4) It gives England a (false?) sense of security
While the one-day series in England was always going to be a helpful learning experience for Australia's new young fast bowlers – most notably Patrick Cummins and James Pattinson – there was some worry the pair would lose their "surprise factor" when the Ashes comes around.
That couldn't be further from the truth now, with England getting a good look at the two young pacemen and deciding they're not so fearsome after all.
How is that a good thing for Australia? For one thing, England still haven't seen Cummins or Pattinson at their best. Injury restricted Cummins to one game while Pattinson only played two, and the pair took just one wicket between them. Both quicks are still raw but have shown in the past 12 months just how dangerous they can be, and are likely to become Australia's long-term new ball partnership. Next time around the two youngsters will have another year of cricket behind them, and won't be playing in England for the first time.
This was also England playing on their home turf, in the middle of their summer, coming up against a team who hadn't played any cricket since April. Should it have surprised anyone that the result was so one-sided?
3) Tests are a different beast
One thing new chairman of selectors John Inverarity has made clear is that the Australian one-day team will be used, in part, to give new Test hopefuls a first look at international cricket.
"We made a decision six months ago that if through lack of form or retirement or injury there was a place in the team, we don't want these blokes making their international debuts at Lord's in a Test match, so we've got them going [in the ODIs]," Inverarity has been quoted as saying. "They've tasted, they've toured, they know the guys, and they're familiar."
Peter Forrest has been the most obvious beneficiary of this plan, getting 13 ODI matches under his belt despite being more suited to the longer form of the game, and George Bailey (Australia's top run-scorer in the series) was another batsman to get his chance in one-dayers with an eye on a Test call-up.
Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle have been arguably Australia's two best bowlers in recent times, and Nathan Lyon is Australia's Test spinner, but all are considered Test specialists and none of the three played in the ODI series. Instead, Mitchell Johnson was given the chance to show he should still be considered at the top level (and didn't quite take it). With Forrest and Bailey getting their chance, short-form specialists like Dan Christian and Cameron White were nowhere to be seen. Veterans Michael Hussey and Ricky Ponting also didn't play, and although there's no guarantee the pair will still be around in a year's time it's also clear that Hussey in particular remains arguably Australia's most reliable Test batsman.
The point is, the Test and ODI teams are two different beasts, and Australia's current selection policy puts the long-term success of the Test side ahead of short-term ODI results, with good reason.
2) Selectors are now more likely to reward in-form players
In many ways, the ODI isn't even the most important Australian tour of England this year. The upcoming Australia A tour will feature a host of Test hopefuls (or regulars) including Ed Cowan, Forest, Bailey, Cummins, Pattinson, Lyon, Johnson, Mitchell Starc, Tom Cooper, Liam Davis and Michael Klinger.
The players selected in the squad already knew the A tour would be an important series, and it's now even more so with selectors more likely than ever to reward form players following the one-day team's failures. The Australia A batsmen, in particular, have the chance play their way into Test calculations with some strong performances on the tour.
A couple of big names not involved in the Australia A squad are Phil Hughes and Usman Khawaja, but both are already in England plying their trade for Worcestershire and Derbyshire and can still impress selectors with big scores in county cricket (the competition that helped produce this all-conquering England side, it's worth keeping in mind). Khawaja's Derbyshire will even play against Australia A in a three-day match later this month, which will be a huge chance for the one-time Test batsman.
1) The Ashes are still 12 months away
A year is a long time in cricket. Australia was the world's No.1-ranked team – and England ranked a lowly fifth – when the Ashes was last played in England in 2009, and everyone remembers what happened then.
With an Australian Test side picked on form, full of players with experience in English conditions, and playing without the burden of expectation against an overconfident host, who's to say a similar upset couldn't take place in 2013?
Wishful thinking? Clutching at straws? Probably, but if now's not the time for Aussie cricket fans to take a glass-half-full approach, what is?