Ashes team has tough road ahead

Australian cricket has had its share of false dawns in recent years. Remember the series win in South Africa in 2009 that was supposed to usher in another golden era of Australian domination? Or the whitewash of India in 2011-12 that proved to be more of an Indian summer than the start of a new era?

Opportunities abound for Australia in the next 12 months to show the achievements this summer are not just another dizzying high in the Test team's recent roller-coaster ride.

Returning to No.1 was a key aim of the Argus Report, which set a 2015 deadline, though Mickey Arthur was more ambitious when he assumed the reins in late 2011.

''We had set ourselves three years from the start of my time to get there,'' says Arthur, who was ousted as coach this year.

It may not necessarily be reflected by the ICC's Test rankings, but Australia, despite having spent much of the year with the bitter taste of defeat, could by the end of next summer make a credible claim to being the world's best team.

Next up is a three-match away series against titleholder South Africa, followed by Pakistan in the Middle East in October, before the chance to seek vengeance against India for the humiliation of earlier this year.

Win all three series and Australia will have beaten every other team in the top five.

''Despite the points table they use these days, all we can do is beat the good countries, then we've really got something to beat our chest about, I would have thought,'' says Trevor Hohns, the former chairman of selectors who presided over the bulk Australia's last glory period. ''It's a crucial 12-month period.''

Hohns likens Australia's success this summer to the 1989 series when a team containing Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh, David Boon, Geoff Marsh, Dean Jones and Ian Healy, who all blossomed simultaneously, came of age. Most played key roles in Australia's success in the decade that followed.

But this Australian side, which Ricky Ponting characterised as a team on the rise, is far from fresh-faced, with only four men in their 20s.

Australian cricket has dug a hole for itself in recent years disposing of players due largely to birth dates rather than form, though the horrors encountered after the retirements of Ponting and Michael Hussey is an indication of the pitfalls if generational change is not managed soundly.

At some replacements will have to be found for Brad Haddin and Chris Rogers, both 36, and Ryan Harris.

Hohns and Arthur both believe there is not as much urgency in the pace bowling stakes where young guns James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins are waiting in the wings.

Rogers' position is safe for now but he has acknowledged he is only a form slump away from it all ending.

Arthur is emphatic that Phillip Hughes, averaging 61 with three tons in the Sheffield Shield this season, should be first in line to replace Rogers as Test opener.

''Phil Hughes replaces him, no doubt,'' says Arthur, who was part of the selection panel that recalled the left-hander against Sri Lanka last summer.

''Rogers has done a great job, everything we've selected Rogers for he's done, which is great to see. If Rogers is playing well he could go for another year, year and a bit.''

Hohns listed five batsmen capable of rising to Test level depending on the opening made available - Hughes, Joe Burns, Alex Doolan, Nic Maddinson and Shaun Marsh.

''All these blokes can do is keep belting the door down with runs, which is what players had to do in the past,'' says Hohns.

Haddin's position in the team is as safe as it has ever been and he may yet end up being one of the few cricketers who decides when to retire rather than being tapped on the shoulder. His contribution on and off the field serves only to highlight the void he will leave behind.

Arthur would like to see the man he backed then dropped, Matthew Wade, get another crack, but believes Tim Paine will push him close for the right to succeed Haddin.

''Certainly in my time Wadey was with me virtually the whole time, that's 14 months of experience into Matthew Wade which you can't throw away - that experience is invaluable,'' Arthur says. ''The next keeper will come from Wade or Paine but I think Wade with the amount of experience he's got into him, provided his form warrants it, could be the next guy.''

But those decisions will not have to be made before the tour of South Africa, which is shaping as a litmus test for Australia.

''When you can go on the road and win away from home you then have significant claims to being the best team in the world - that's the secret to getting to No. 1,'' Arthur says.

But Hohns believes Australia can head to South Africa with high hopes it will end better than their last two Test tours abroad.

''There was a period there in the last 12 months where there was no confidence, everyone was shit-canning everything that was going on, but now at least you're winning it makes a hell of a lot of difference to everyone involved,'' Hohns says.

''We can't get carried away, we've won the Ashes which is fantastic, but the next test is not to let it slip this series then go to South Africa. That will be one of the hardest series they've had in some time, that will be the tester.''

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