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Cricket Australia former captains Steve Smith and Michael Clarke

Where to next for Cricket Australia?

Now that the dust has settled on the ball tampering scandal that rocked Cricket Australia, we have two months to lick our wounds.
But then, an arduous year of cricket looms where we will be without the suspended Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft (for the first nine months).
Australia faces Test matches in Zimbabwe and Pakistan as well as home series against Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka that will severely test the depth of our squad.
It will also test our resilience to respond to the recent cheating scandal and claw back some credibility.
Thankfully, in the limited overs arenas, we are well served by Aaron Finch as skipper and boast plenty of talent to replace the suspended Warner and Smith.
But in the Test arena our stocks have been stripped lean and we also face a leadership drain. How will Australia respond with a new look outfit and such a demanding schedule ahead?

The top six batting order for Cricket Australia

Cricket Australia will rely heavily on Joe Burns and Matthew Renshaw

Joe Burns and Matthew Renshaw barely had time to celebrate their Sheffield Shield win before being selected by Cricket Australia

This is where the major headaches are occuring. Not only have we seen Smith, Warner and Bancroft ripped out of the top order, but a significant dip in form from other players.
Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh and Mitchell Marsh's returns would ordinarily have them on shaky ground if not for the controversy.
Matt Renshaw and Joe Burns failed on their return to the Test arena, but can you blame them? They jumped on a plane the same night as the Sheffield Shield final wrapped up and played two days later.
You couldn't ask for worse preparation. Peter Handscomb had better prep work but failed to deliver as well.
But all three should be given chances against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. Glenn Maxwell was also parachuted into South Africa, but did not play the final Test. He provides experience and power, but his role in the team remains up in the air. Can Maxwell and Mitch Marsh occupy the same top six?

The Michael Clarke conundrum 

The major x-factor has been the announcement that former skipper Michael Clarke is prepared to come out of retirement to help Australia through its darkest days.
He said he would play for nothing and wants to give back to the game.
"I’ve never cared about age. Brad Hogg played at 45," the 37-year-old said.
"I can’t just sit here and do nothing. I feel I owe the game too much."
Clarke amassed 8643 runs in 115 Tests - including 28 centuries - but hasn't played in three years and was hampered by back injuries at the end of his career. While his leadership could be a boost for this team, could he still cut it at this level?

The bowling stocks

Cricket Australia has a settled bowling lineup

Cricket Australia has a settled bowling roster with Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins

Thankfully, we are well sorted here.
While Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc didn't have the best returns in South Africa, they were both coming off a long summer.
Starc was bowling on a fractured leg in the end and will need time to heal.
Pat Cummins was Herculean and emerged as the leader of our pace attack, while Nathan Lyon toiled his heart out as per usual.
No need to re-invent the wheel here, but Hazlewood and Starc certainly need rest and could miss the Zimbabwe tour.

This could pave the way for bowlers coming back from injury like Jackson Bird, Jason Behrendorff, Nathan-Coulter Nile and James Pattinson. Chadd Sayers made his debut in South Africa and remains an option. The door also cracks open for young talents like Jye Richardson and Billy Stanlake. But bringing back a veteran like Peter Siddle would be a backwards step.

There is no doubts, injury or otherwise, over offspinner Lyon. But in the wings lies veteran Steve O'Keefe, Jon Holland, Fawad Ahmed and young Queenslander Mitch Swepson who recently toured India with the Test side without playing a matc

The leadership

The absence of Warner and Smith rips a combined 138 Tests of experience out of this squad and both the captain and vice-captain positions.
Constant injuries and rotations effectively rule bowlers out of captaining Australian sides while the batting order is far from settled as well.
That means Tim Paine, almost Steven Bradbury like, has fallen into the captaincy role as last man standing.
It has been a remarkable ascendency for a man who was contemplating retirement prior to his shock recall for the Ashes.
Already, he has shown he is a capable leader and is ready to do it his way. His decision to shake hands with the South African players before the fourth Test commenced showed class.
It seems likely he will lead Australia for the next 12 months at least, although Clarke's announcement does throw a cat amongst the pigeons.
Other candidates could include Tasmanian veterans George Bailey and Matthew Wade (in a batting role), but they would be outside chances only.
For the sake of stability, Paine seems the logical option.

The road ahead

Australia has an arduous Test schedule over the next 12 months while Smith and Warner are suspended. Here is the full schedule:

June 13-28: England v Australia (5 ODI matches and 1 T20)
June-July: Zimbabwe v Australia (1 Test, 3 ODI matches)
July: Australia v Bangladesh (2 Tests, 3 ODI matches)
October: Pakistan v Australia (5 ODI and 1 T20)
October-November: Australia v South Africa (5 ODI and 3 T20)
November-January 2019: Australia v India (4 Tests)
January-February 2019: Australia v Sri Lanka (2 Tests, 3 ODIs)
February: India v Australia (5 ODI and 2 T20s)
March: Pakistan v Australia (3 Tests)

About the Author Josh Alston

Josh Alston is a hack with over 12 years industry experience, covering sport across all codes for newspapers and online agencies. Known to frequent grade matches because of their cheap tinnies. Eventually graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism and a Masters in sitting on the hill when the local cricket side was playing. Softball premiership winner, rugby league legend in Year 10 and no stranger to Doomben Racecourse.

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