The fall and rise of Australia

ISSUE OF THE YEAR

The soap opera that was the Australian team.

Michael Clarke's team had a roller-coaster ride like no other year. It is basking in Ashes glory once again, wrapping up the series against England in emphatic style after only three Tests. And Australia did it, quite extraordinarily, on the back of a 12-month period in which it not only forgot how to win but went through more drama than any screenwriter could hope to pen.

It began in January with the furore over Mike Hussey's omission from the one-day team after announcing his impending retirement from international cricket. Fractures in the squad were evident from who was and who was not on James Packer's boat the night after Hussey's last Test as Australia celebrated victory over Sri Lanka at the SCG.

But that was nothing on what was to come. Mohali will forever have a place in the black book of Australian cricket, with the standing down of four players for the third Test against India one of the darkest days in the team's recent history. Vice-captain Shane Watson, one of those dropped in the ''homework'' affair, returned home for the birth of his first child but also because he was filthy at the treatment.

A farcical tour of India was tough to beat but David Warner gave it a crack in England in June. His ''glancing blow'' at Joe Root in a Birmingham bar led to him missing the first two Tests, and ultimately cost coach Mickey Arthur his job.

An uncivil war of words between Clarke and Ricky Ponting later ensued around the release of the former captain's autobiography. Somehow, though, under the new leadership of Darren Lehmann, Australia turned it all around, rediscovering the fun of the game to blitz the old enemy on home soil.

THE WINNERS

Australia's comeback kids. Mitchell Johnson and Brad Haddin were meant to be finished as Test cricketers. One had been traumatised by the Barmy Army, the other was a veteran who had left the team to deal with trauma in his family and been seemingly replaced for good.

But with central roles in the Ashes victory, they not only reignited their Test careers but secured legacies as Australian heroes.

There were many contributors this summer yet no one epitomised the fighting qualities of the team that downed England like Johnson and Haddin. Johnson's frightening fast bowling was a throwback to the glory days of Lillee and Thommo and his devastating spell in Adelaide was one of the greatest in Ashes history. Haddin, at 36, saved Australia with the bat in Brisbane and capped his international renaissance with a first hundred in three years in Adelaide.

A special mention to Clarke, who put behind him a tumultuous 10 months without a Test win to not only become an Ashes-winning captain but be named the ICC's Cricketer of the Year.

THE LOSERS

Well, England, which won, then quickly surrendered the Ashes to a fifth-ranked Australian side that had not held them for four years.

But in a local context there were several casualties of Australia's fall and rise - not only Arthur. The rotation policy, of bowlers and of the ordering of batsmen, looks to have bitten the dust.

As for players, Ed Cowan and Xavier Doherty may not feature in Test cricket again, while Usman Khawaja and Phil Hughes will have to bide their time once more and Matthew Wade, Glenn Maxwell and Moises Henriques almost by association with that India series, are back down the pecking order.

Far more seriously, the individuals allegedly involved in the game's latest corruption scandals - principally, in the Indian Premier League - deserve nothing but scorn if found guilty. And still on the subcontinent but on an entirely different note, we're all really losers this year because of the fact we'll never see the great Sachin Tendulkar play again.

THE DROPPED MY BACON SANDWICH MOMENT

When Fairfax Media broke the news online and via Twitter that Arthur had been sacked - 16 days before an Ashes series- we were asked whether we had been hacked. It was barely believable that a head coach could be punted so close to a major Test showdown. Arthur was ushered into a meeting room at a Bristol hotel by team performance manager Pat Howard to be given the bullet by Cricket Australia chief James Sutherland. Several hours later, a shocked Arthur found himself at Heathrow airport before a ball had been bowled against England. Highly commended: Ryan Harris, for the jaw-dropping delivery that rolled Alastair Cook first ball in Perth.

QUOTE/TWEET OF THE YEAR

''Good on Mickey Arthur finally letting the truth be known and proving he was just an escape goat.''

Steven Warner goes into bat for younger brother Dave with an unforgettable twisting of the English language.

NAME YOU DIDN'T KNOW AT THE START OF THE YEAR

Ashton Agar: the 19-year-old spinner was a shock selection for the first Test at Trent Bridge but it was what he did with the bat that was simply breathtaking. His 98 on debut not only rescued Australia's first innings but was the highest score by a No.11 in Test history.

NAME WE'LL BE TALKING ABOUT NEXT YEAR

Travis Head: the South Australian left-hander only turned 20 on December 29 but is already making a successful transition to the senior ranks.

He is in the top six run-scorers in the Sheffield Shield and with the Australian team not getting any younger, a big season could earn him a chance in the not-too-distant future.

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