Mitchell Johnson: This summer provides the perfect opportunity to refresh ageing Australian Test team

Mitchell Johnson
The Nightly
4 Min Read
Spots are up for grabs as the Australian Test team prepares to enter a period of dramatic change.
Spots are up for grabs as the Australian Test team prepares to enter a period of dramatic change. Credit: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP

Some say this is not a big summer of cricket.

I think it is. Every game you play for your country is.

The upcoming Test series against Pakistan and the West Indies may not have the hype and build-up of an Ashes series or the intensity and toughness of playing a series in India.

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It is however an opportunity to compete at the highest level for the baggy green.

Spots are up for grabs as the Australian Test team prepares to enter a period of dramatic change, with eight of the likely XI to face Pakistan in the first Test at Optus Stadium this week aged 32 or older. At 29, Marnus Labuschagne is the youngest player in the expected line-up.

It’s funny remembering back to when I was injured at 30 and trying to get myself back into the team. I was hearing plenty of noise that 30 was too old as a fast bowler and that it was an age when you have peaked or are starting to slide out of your best form.

PERTH, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 03: Marnus Labuschagne of Australia celebrates his century during day four of the First Test match between Australia and the West Indies at Optus Stadium on December 03, 2022 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
PERTH, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 03: Marnus Labuschagne of Australia celebrates his century during day four of the First Test match between Australia and the West Indies at Optus Stadium on December 03, 2022 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images) Credit: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

It’s the building of the future that Australia must be looking at. But as we were reminded this week, there are few topics in Australian sport that raise as much passion as a player’s position in the nation’s XI.

Looking at our current Test team, I would like to see the inclusion of an outright quick bowler. A bit like Mitchell Starc when he came into Test cricket and his raw pace and swing gave us a new edge.

This summer is a great opportunity to blood some young or performing players, especially when it’s against two teams in Pakistan and the West Indies who have struggled in Australia for a decent period of time.

Fast bowler Lance Morris, 25, should be the first of those. With Perth likely to present a fast and bouncy pitch, there would be no better place for the young tearaway to steam in for his Test debut.

PERTH, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 15: Lance Morris of Western Australia bowls during the Sheffield Shield match between Western Australia and South Australia at the WACA, on November 15, 2023, in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)
PERTH, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 15: Lance Morris of Western Australia bowls during the Sheffield Shield match between Western Australia and South Australia at the WACA, on November 15, 2023, in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images) Credit: Paul Kane/Getty Images

Tall left-armer Shaheen Shah Afridi will be one to watch at Opus Stadium. I was impressed the last time he toured Australia having watched him bowl live and his experience and better knowledge of the conditions should be an asset.

He will need to be backed up by his bowling partners for Pakistan to have success and that includes their fielding. The other player I’m looking forward to watching is the captain Shan Masood and that was even before his double century in the tour game this week.

If Pakistan can get all three disciplines right, we could be in for a cracking few Tests. The first Test could determine the outcome of the series.

BENCHMARK FOR A REASON

Perth Scorchers begin their pursuit of a remarkable sixth Big Bash League crown today and I got a reminder this week of just why they have been so successful.

The Scorchers are such a tight unit, with minimal change to the squad each season and genuine belief in their methods.

I was invited to the Scorchers’ Induction evening where players, coaching staff, departing chief executive Christina Matthews and some past players mingled before head coach Adam Voges gave a short speech on the season ahead.

As an ex-Scorcher and part of the championship winning team in 2016/17, what stood out to me standing in that room is just how tight knit this team is.

When the skipper Ashton Turner got up and spoke, the immediate all eyes on him listening with purpose and respect was a great thing to see.

PERTH, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 28: Ashton Turner of the Scorchers bats during the Men's Big Bash League match between the Perth Scorchers and the Sydney Sixers at Optus Stadium, on January 28, 2023, in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)
PERTH, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 28: Ashton Turner of the Scorchers bats during the Men's Big Bash League match between the Perth Scorchers and the Sydney Sixers at Optus Stadium, on January 28, 2023, in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images) Credit: Paul Kane/Getty Images

Lots of teams talk about family and culture. But being out of that scene for a few years now, I could really see that and feel that within that room.

I’m really looking forward to watching this season, especially seeing how young gun Cooper Connolly goes after that magnificent performance in last summer’s final.

There are big wraps on the 20-year-old and this will be a good learning year again for him. Connolly has plenty of experience around him to learn from and a quality coaching staff too.

Paceman Jhye Richardson, all-rounder Aaron Hardie and Turner are others to keep a close eye on.

Turner is a great leader who keeps it simple and gets the best out of his squad along with Voges. His own performances have warranted selection for Australia in Twenty20 and one-day cricket. I’m not sure what more he can do.

Richardson has been on the injury list on and off over the past few years but he is a skilful fast bowler who can do damage at the top alongside Jason Behrendorff, who swings the ball late with good bounce and variations.

The shortened BBL season, with each team playing 10 games rather than 14, will be better for the game, the players and the fans.

The Scorchers look to have another champion squad that will not rest on their past trophies. They always want more and they are driven to succeed.

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