Opinion: A 'new era'? No, just a rubbish team

Australia

The phrase 'transitional period' is a linguistic device designed to distract from the fact that your team is currently rubbish. It implies a temporary state; something outside the norm; a bridge between two eras of relentless success

"This is a new era because it has to be that way," said Alastair Cook this week, echoing Andy Flower's words from back in December. England's then coach had referred to "the ending of a certain era for this team," but if that's the case, what have we been enduring between the Ashes and now? Doubtless it has been a transitional period.

The phrase 'transitional period' is a linguistic device designed to distract from the fact that your team is currently rubbish. It implies a temporary state; something outside the norm; a bridge between two eras of relentless success.

"Once we're through this transitional period, we'll be sweeping all aside, don't you worry," is the subtext. But it doesn't always work like that. Sometimes a transitional period takes root and refuses to shift. Ask the Windies about that.

Or for an alternative view, ask Australia. The team that brushed England aside in late 2013 was in a transitional period until… well, until about a fortnight before, actually. How did they emerge from their malaise? Well let's return to that in a minute.

The problem with viewing your cricket team's performances in terms of eras is that it encourages the notion that the old and the new are somehow unrelated. If so-and-so's from the old era, he needs to be discarded so that we can hurry towards the new era and get started early.

Young players are always the future, but you can't accelerate time. Fall far enough behind the required run-rate in a 50-over match and settle for batting out the overs and you can certainly slow time considerably, but you cannot accelerate it.

More than one player has been stigmatised by poor international performances when prematurely selected and it can be hard to overcome that later in your career, when you're genuinely worthy of selection. Perceptions endure, which is why a headlong rush towards the future can be counterproductive.

Part of the reason why we try and take shortcuts to the future is because older players can become stigmatised too. Despite countless examples of players bouncing back stronger from adversity, fans and selectors are still liable to mentally draw a line under the career of a player in their early 30s if they've had a bad year.

This is especially true if the team in question has also had a bad year, because that encourages that view that it's the end of an era and that it's time to move onto the next one.

If you want some specific examples, many are keen to hurry Jonathan Trott and Matt Prior out of the England team, while bit-part players like Michael Carberry, Nick Compton and Chris Tremlett are similarly regarded.

None has performed particularly well of late, but with Kevin Pietersen and Graeme Swann already having departed, team rejuvenation is underway anyway. Why the compulsion to do more? Has replacing half a side with inexperienced youngsters ever really worked?

Which brings us back to Australia. Their transitional period was characterised by so many experimental selections that absent-mindedly spinning an apple in a supermarket could have earned you a call-up at one point in time. The future arrived daily, only to be replaced by an entirely different future the day after.

But the new era, when it came, what did that look like? Which players finally dragged Australia out of transitional period purgatory?

There were 36-year-olds, Chris Rogers and Brad Haddin. There was David Warner, suspected of being a Twenty20 batsman and repeatedly pushed aside for disciplinary reasons. There was the drinks carrying spinner, Nathan Lyon, who had always been considered second-best to someone… anyone. There was the ravaged body of Ryan Harris, 34 years young, except for his knees.

And finally, there was Mitch. Mitchell Johnson is perhaps the standard bearer for 'whoa there, hold your horses, let's not discard people too hastily.'

It feels like there have been more Johnson returns than the J section at the tax office, but yet somehow, at the age of 32, he delivered passage out of Australia's transitional period. For Australia, it was the most familiar of players who ushered in the new era.

<b>Alex Bowden</b>

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