Whichever way one looks at it, the recent tour of New Zealand by the Australian Under-19 men’s team was an unqualified success and the success was not only due to the fact that the team won three out of four matches played.
Winning is important at any stage in the development process, but ongoing education is much more important. If winning was the only indicator against which success was measured, then the tour would not have achieved as much as this one did.
On that score, Head Coach Stuart Law and his support staff of Assistant Coach Craig McDermott, Strength and Conditioning Coach Andrew Weller and Physiotherapist David Beakley, did an outstanding job.
The coaching staff and management team made it quite clear to the players before the tour what the expectations were for the tour and the players responded superbly on and off the field. It was pointed out that all players would be given opportunities in games and that, while we wanted to win the series, the ongoing education and development of the players would be the overriding aim of the tour.
Every opportunity to educate the lads was taken by each of the coaches and every one of the touring party will better for the care that was shown to them by the coaching group. Not only are they better prepared for the work loads and work ethic required to improve their performances in the future, they now have a better understanding of how best to prepare for matches, what to do during the game and post-game routines. They also know more about the fitness levels that they need to reach, how to do that and even what sort of foods that they should choose to aid in their preparation and recovery.
During the tour different players were given leadership roles and the batting and bowling orders were shuffled around so that players were exposed to a range of experiences. Interestingly enough, the final game, which was lost from the last ball of the game, was the experience from which the group is likely to have learned the most.
Having won the three-day game and having batted first in the first two 50-over games and won comfortably, the team had to defend a modest total in the third 50-over game. With New Zealand seemingly cruising to victory the team dug deep, lifted its intensity in the field and fought hard with the ball to nearly pull off a wonderful victory. Damien Mortimer led his team from the front and inspired his team in the field. The bowlers responded magnificently and really tightened the screws on the New Zealanders, who were very nearly pressured to the point of breaking. It was the number 11 batsman who held his nerve and got his team over the line in the end.
No doubt our lads will find themselves in similar positions during the ICC Under-19 World Cup campaign next year so, with that experience, they will be better prepared to negotiate the challenges with which they will be presented.
Every player on the tour with the exception of Billy Stanlake, who reinjured himself on the first playing day of the tour, had some success on the field. Even Billy, who was consigned to recovery and fitness programs throughout, gained something from the tour. To his credit, Billy handled the setback well and worked very hard with Andrew Weller to maintain a demanding strength and fitness regime while supporting his teammates on game days.
Matthew Short and Sean Willis each made centuries in the three-day match and backed them up with other significant scores in the 50 over series. Damien Mortimer, Jake Doran, Jason Morgan, Ben McDermott and Kelvin Smith all had some success and Cam Valente showed his batting skills in the final 50-over game, which gave us an outside chance of setting a defendable target.
Matt Fotia led the pace attack throughout the tour and troubled all of the New Zealanders with his pace and aggression. Ben Ashkenazi and Guy Walker complimented the aggression of Fotia with some incisive spells, while Valente bowled cleverly with the new and old ball.
The spin duties were handled largely by Tom Andrews and Joel Logan, with each of them having their share of success. Short and Smith both gave some useful support with their off-spin at different times. Matthew Short showed that he has enough ability with the ball to be more than just a support player. With some work he could become a genuine spin bowling option on top of his significant batting skills and athleticism in the field.
Wicket-keeping duties were shared between Ben McDermott, who did the bulk of the work, Jake Doran and Jaron Morgan. The fact that they are all genuine top-six batsmen gives the team an enviable flexibility to get the maximum number of batting and bowling options. Jake Doran may we be the quintessential modern all-rounder. Apart from his batting, wicket-keeping and fielding skills, he offers the team added flexibility by being able to throw in some overs as a left-arm seam bowler.
In time, he may be able to match MS Dhoni as someone who has kept wickets and bowled in the same international game. Rod Marsh will be keen to tell you that he once bowled some overs of off-spin in a Test match in Pakistan in which he also kept wickets. All I can say is that I am grateful that the wicketkeeper who replaced him was not good enough to accept a stumping chance from his bowling or we might never have heard the end of it.
At this stage, the group is well advanced in its development so we can look forward to seeing them continue to progress as their campaign towards the 2014 ICC Under-19 World Cup in Dubai continues to build.
The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Cricket Australia