An Uneasy Transition

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In January 1984 Rod Marsh, Dennis Lillee and Greg Chappell retired. This spiralled the Aussies into a massive hole until the 1987 World Cup and 1989 Ashes wins.

Following almost two decades of dominance, Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Justin Langer retired after the 2006/07 Ashes sweep. Again it took Australia almost a decade to fully recover.

Queensland fast bowler Mitch Johnson – who announced his retirement today (Tuesday November 17) – was crucial in the resurgence, with 37 wickets during the 2013/14 Ashes.

Australia is enduring another transition phase with Johnson’s departure. Ryan Harris, Michael Clarke, Chris Rogers, Brad Haddin and Shane Watson all left before, during or after the Ashes loss. This exodus had an air of inevitability. Harris pulled the pin before the series started after injuries caught up with him. Clarke was clearly out of sorts. His retirement announcement after the Trent Bridge loss was a relief. Rogers suffered dizzy spells during the Ashes, prompting his retirement. Haddin only played one Test before family concerns took over and Peter Nevill took the gloves. Watson was dropped after the first Test, already a laughing stock for his clockwork LBWs and misuse of DRS.

Johnson had a relatively modest Ashes tour and was rested before the home summer. Turning 34 in November, the selectors would have wanted to squeeze a few more Tests from him. Johnson’s form against New Zealand, including 1/157 in the first innings at the WACA, indicated the end was closer than expected.

The good news is Australia should recover quickly after losing six key players in six months.

Gradually, Johnson has been overshadowed by fellow left-armer Mitch Starc, with the New South Welshman backing up a strong Ashes series with 26 wickets in the Matador Cup.

Josh Hazlewood is doing a fine job and Mitch Marsh is a penetrative fifth bowling option, not to mention Nathan Lyon, who’s become the reliable spinner Australia craved after Warne retired. Johnson’s retirement also removes a potential headache for selectors, with plenty of debate about Johnson and Starc bowling together.

It could give an opportunity to Peter Siddle. He’s been playing Shield cricket for Victoria and probably deserves one more chance. With 57 Tests and 198 wickets, he is reliable and will give selectors some breathing space to find Johnson’s permanent replacement.

Losing so many players in a short timeframe is never easy, but Australia have been rebuilding since the Oval Test, so it’s not as big a shock as 1984 and 2007. Steve Smith has seamlessly taken over from Clarke and already stamped his authority by scoring runs and reprimanding Starc after his Gabba tantrum.  Johnson can enjoy retirement knowing Australia – while still rebuilding – is in good hands.

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