Turmoil: Ball-tampering scandal rocks the nation
Australian cricket was thrust into crisis the moment Cameron Bancroft was caught on camera attempting to scuff the cricket ball with a piece of yellow sandpaper in South Africa. The scandal and public outcry led to year-long bans for Steve Smith (he was also stripped of the captaincy) and David Warner (also banned from ever holding a leadership role), and a nine-month ban for Bancroft. It sparked what was to prove a damning review into the culture of the sport, the resignation of chairman David Peever and sweeping changes at CA. It also hastened the departure of chief executive James Sutherland.
Cameron Bancroft caught by television cameras in the “sandpapergate” scandal. Vision: Nine
Big Bash a big smash
The introduction of a revamped Big Bash League in 2011-12 reshaped the viewing habits of Australian fans, not to mention the game’s finances. The states were dumped and the tournament expanded to eight city-based teams as part of a push by Cricket Australia to win over new fans – mainly kids and women. The league was given its own window, more than two months in some seasons, at the expense of the time-honoured Sheffield Shield, much to the chagrin of traditionalists who feared for the future of Test cricket. The game’s longest format remains strong in Australia but cricket fans now have an extra 43 matches to watch on free-to-air TV during the holiday period, and CA another eight-figure income stream.
On top of the world
Perhaps it’s because Australia had already won four of them before, but the magnitude of the nation’s World Cup success of 2015 has not been fully appreciated. Coming just months after Phillip Hughes’ death, Australia also overcame the controversy over captain Michael Clarke’s fitness and the pressure of being favourite of a home World Cup – a tag that proved too much for Allan Border’s side in 1992. It was a dominant performance by the Australians, whose only loss was by one wicket against co-hosts New Zealand. A world record 93,013 fans poured into the MCG for the final but they did not see a contest. Along with the 2013-14 Ashes whitewash, the tournament would prove the high point for senior men Clarke, Shane Watson, Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson, all of whom would bow out of the international scene by the end of the year.
Australia wins the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup. Vision: ICC Cricket World Cup
Expelled: Aussies fail to do their homework in India
Another dark day – dubbed “homeworkgate” – came on the disastrous tour of India in 2013. During a series that Australia lost 4-0, the flashpoint came after the second Test when four players – Usman Khawaja, James Pattinson, Mitchell Johnson and then vice-captain Shane Watson – were suspended for not completing a written task set by then-coach Mickey Arthur. Watson, who returned home during his ban for the birth of his first child, considered quitting Test cricket. Arthur and then-skipper Michael Clarke considered the penalties as a “line in the sand” moment but the punishments were deemed ludicrous by many. Arthur would last only three more months in the role before he was replaced by Darren Lehmann.
Don Bradman has no peer but for nearly seven magical weeks in 2019, comparisons to The Don were not hyperbole. The urn would not be in Australian hands if not for Steve Smith. Australia won the two Tests in which he scored a century, drew the match he could not finish, and lost the games where he did not play or failed to reach triple figures. In a series dominated by the bowlers, the modern batting great gave England captain Joe Root an insight to what his forefathers in the 1930s and ’40s must have felt playing Bradman, crunching 774 runs at 110.57. Even the parochial English crowds came to appreciate Smith, who was greeted with boos as he came out to bat at Edgbaston in his comeback series after the ball-tampering saga but sent off with a standing ovation at The Oval.
Steve Smith scores a double century in the fourth Ashes Test. Vision: Nine
Player power: The introduction of the WBBL and the rise of female cricket
Australia has a rich history of women’s cricket and world-beating sides since the 1890s, but the advent of the Women’s Big Bash League in 2015-16 has played a key role in many players – led by Meg Lanning, Ellyse Perry and Alyssa Healy – becoming household names thanks to greater television exposure. An acrimonious pay war between CA and players in 2017 led to the first joint deal for women and men, with women’s pay increasing from $7.5 million to $55.2 million over the five-year deal.
Sydney Thunder win the inaugural WBBL championship. Vision: Ten
Ashes to ashes: The fallout of the 2010-11 home series defeat
It had been 25 years since Australia was beaten by the Old Enemy on home soil but the end of a glorious era for Australian cricket was confirmed when Andrew Strauss’ side roared to a 3-1 series victory, retaining the famous urn. The defeat sparked an extensive review, led by former BHP chairman Don Argus. Captain Ricky Ponting and coach Tim Nielsen were soon replaced. A greater focus on high performance, led by former Wallaby Pat Howard, ensued, while a year later the CA board underwent its greatest change in its then 107-year history, reducing the state-based board of 14 directors to six plus three independent directors.
Ashes redemption: Johnson the wrecking ball
“He bowls to the left, he bowls to the right, that Mitchell Johnson, his bowling is shite,” the Barmy Army sang in the 2010-11 Ashes. Three years later, Johnson got his own back – and then some – ripping England apart in one of the most devastating Ashes performances in many years. Others have taken more wickets in a series but few left as big a mark on the opposition as the left-arm speedster in the summer of 2013-14. Kevin Pietersen said he was “petrified” and claimed England’s tailenders were “scared”. In his autobiography, Jonathan Trott compared facing Johnson to being put before a firing squad. By series’ end Johnson had taken 37 wickets at 13.97 and set in motion a chain of events that would shatter the English dressing room.
Mitchell Johnson’s 37th Test wicket at the 2013-14 Ashes. Vision: Nine
Lights out: Channel Nine cedes rights to Seven and Fox Sports
Nine and cricket were as synonymous as barbecues and the beach in an Australian summer but all that came to end in 2018 when Nine poached the tennis rights from Seven, and Seven and Fox Sports secured the cricket. Nine, the owner of this masthead, had broadcast international cricket since Kerry Packer led the World Series Cricket split in 1977, signing the sport’s best players after the then-Australian Cricket Board refused to give him the rights to Test cricket. Fronted by the eloquent Richie Benaud, Nine’s commentary team at its high point was as well known as the players it helped to project into our loungerooms.
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Honourable mentions: Cricket’s pay war, Ricky Ponting’s retirement, 2016 Hobart Test fallout, mental health crisis.
Jon Pierik is cricket writer for The Age. He also covers AFL and has won awards for his cricket and basketball writing.
Andrew Wu writes on cricket and AFL for The Sydney Morning Herald