ON paper at least, it appeared Australia’s worst Test cricket team for many years, possibly since the early days of Allan Border’s captaincy in the mid-1980s.
No Steve Smith. No David Warner. No Pat Cummins and no Josh Hazlewood. All of whom, if available, would be front-line contenders for any World XI.
Throw in Cameron Bancroft and Matthew Renshaw and the talent pool looked shallower than a farmer’s drought-stricken dam, and after the first innings against Pakistan in Dubai, the outcome appeared a fait accompli.
The Aussies trailed by 280 runs. The pitch was starting to turn, as evidenced by their capitulation in losing 10 wickets for 60 runs.
This was likely to get ugly, fast, and reaffirm the theory espoused this week by the great Shane Warne: “By the time Smith and Warner are ready, Australia will be pleading to have them back. They are two of the top five best batsmen in the world.”
Maybe so in the case of Smith. There is little doubt his return will be welcomed when he has completed his 12-month suspension for the ball-tampering brain explosion in South Africa.
Along with Bancroft, the fallen skipper had a cleanskin image prior to the madness of Cape Town, and as such few would begrudge either of them reinstatement to the national side.
Warner, conversely, is a more vexing proposition, whose claims to sympathy are at best tenuous.
For all his ability with the bat, which has delivered over 12,000 international runs and 35 centuries across all three formats, Warner has featured in more than his fair share of embarrassing incidents, regularly bringing a so-called gentleman's game into disrepute.
He has been a serial offender throughout his career.
In particular, in 2013 he was stood down and fined for punching England's Joe Root at a Birmingham night spot, then in Durban this year he had to be restrained in the players' tunnel after a verbal confrontation with South Africa's Quinton de Kock threatened to erupt, again incurring a financial penalty and suspended ban.
Just three weeks later he was on his way home from South Africa in disgrace.
People make mistakes and deserve an opportunity to redeem themselves, but the ball-tampering affair represents Warner's third major strike, and his most tactless indiscretion, in amongst myriad minor episodes of sledging and other questionable conduct.
By all accounts the infamous piece of sandpaper was his idea, and he has since provided little clarity about whether it was the first time he had attempted to change the condition of the ball to obtain an unfair advantage.
That raises the issues of how many second chances he should get, and can anyone feel confident that he will not transgress in future?
Moreover, by the time the Australian squad leaves next year for England, where the World Cup and Ashes will be staged, the big-hitting opener will be 32, and if his age is not a concern, his record in the Old Dart might be.
In his eight Ashes Tests on foreign soil, Warner is yet to post a century and averages only 37.06 – well below his impressive career average of 48.20.
His highest one-day international score in eight games in England is only 59, at Southampton in 2015.
In other words, while Warner has bullied the Poms on the flat tracks Down Under, he will hold few fears for the likes of Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad with a Duke's ball in their hand and overcast conditions.
Regardless of whether Warner's tarnished reputation counts against him, the best-case scenario for Australian cricket might well be that he has represented his country for the last time.
That will mean the player, or players, who have been promoted to replace him have capitalised on their chances and consolidated their positions. If there is no need to recall Warner, then the Aussie team will presumably be in a good place and the men facing the new ball are delivering runs by the truckload.
All of which would appear the case after the great escape in Dubai.
Chasing 462 for victory in the fourth innings was never a realistic prospect. Even surviving almost 140 overs to salvage a draw was likely to be an impossible dream.
But for Australia to fend off defeat with two wickets intact was an inspiring effort and owed much to the makeshift opening combination of debutant Aaron Finch and Usman Khawaja.
Finch, for so long considered a white-ball specialist, made 62 and 49, Khawaja 85 and a career-defining 141. Between them, they produced opening stands of 142 and 87, and were instrumental in saving the game.
It would be easy to form the view that Khawaja is capable of dropping down the list to accommodate another opener, be it Warner, Bancroft or Renshaw.
But in four Test innings at the head of the order, he has now scored 450 runs at an average of 150, enough to raise the question of whether he should be retained for an extended period.
To cut a long story short, if Finch and Khawaja continue producing the goods, there may be no pressing need for David Warner’s name to even rate a mention in selection meetings before the World Cup and Ashes squads are announced.
If that is how it eventually plays out, he surely has nobody to blame but himself.