Less than an hour after Michael Clarke had lifted the World Cup above his head on Sunday amid a blizzard of golden ticker tape, the tractor engines at the Melbourne Cricket Ground were chugging into life, poised to remove the drop-in cricket pitches and ready the playing surface for Australian Rules football.
The MCG has had only four days to prepare for Carlton versus Richmond on Thursday night, the curtain-raiser to the AFL season and for the 200-plus ground staff and contractors working on the stadium’s transformation, every second counts.
If time does not stand still in Australian sport, then their uncapped cricketers can at least draw comfort from the fact age appears of little consequence to the selectors.
In naming their 17-man touring party for the Ashes series in England, and the two-Test series against West Indies that precedes it, the message was clear: the numbers on the scorecard mean more than those on the birth certificate.
To that end Australia are set to make the 35-year-old Adam Voges their second oldest debutant batsman following a Sheffield Shield campaign in which he racked up 1,358 runs in 11 matches for Western Australia at an average of 104.46. The right-hander, who leaves Middlesex scrabbling to find a replacement overseas player this summer, is in the form of life.
“Pure weight of runs, and the way in which he got them, you could see Test player written all over him,” was how their national selector, Rod Marsh, explained the use of Voges, eschewing any suggestion he was a temporary Band-Aid. Six centuries in 20 innings – including 249 against South Australia in February –make age somewhat irrelevant.
Just ask Brad Haddin who, fresh from displaying an adolescent lack of respect for his fellow veteran Daniel Vettori in Sunday’s World Cup final with New Zealand, ploughs on behind the stumps at 37. He is joined by a trio of golden-oldie fast bowlers in Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle and Ryan Harris, with the latter, aged 35, missing the West Indies leg to attend the birth of his first child.
Another to profit from the absence of age discrimination is the 33-year-old Pakistan-born leg-spinner Fawad Ahmed, who gets the nod over Ashton Agar – 12 years his junior – after topping the domestic wicket charts with 48 first-class scalps. In total there are 10 players into their fourth decade, with the 37-year-old opener Chris Roger, who was replaced by Voges at Middlesex in 2013 following his own Ashes call-up, the most senior.
The fast bowler James Pattinson may yet boost their ranks to 18 should he recover from a hamstring tear but rookies such as the Queensland batsman Joe Burns, who played two Tests against India over Christmas, or Pat Cummins, the tearaway fast bowler who took 6 for 79 on his debut against South Africa three years ago, and the World Cup winners James Faulkner and Glenn Maxwell will all have to wait their turn.
It is hard to imagine England, who have not given a debut to a batsman over 35 since Chris Balderstone in 1976, going down such a Dad’s Army route. Only three English cricketers this century – Martin Saggers in 2003, Shaun Udal in 2005 and Jon Lewis a year later – have started Test careers after their 20s. Daryl Mitchell of Worcestershire, Alex Gidman, then of Gloucestershire, and Hampshire’s Jimmy Adams and Will Smith may have all topped 1,000 first-class runs last summer but, by virtue of being uncapped 30-somethings, will likely never feature in the selection debate.
The emphasis instead remains on the development of youth, with the average age of the 16 cricketers heading to the Caribbean on Thursday under the captain Alastair Cook sitting at 28 years and 79 days, nearly three years less than this Australia platoon of veterans. When two men come head to head, such as Joe Root and Nick Compton before the 2013 Ashes, the younger man tends to win out.
This is not to suggest England’s approach is wrong, just different. They are simply more interested in investing for tomorrow, while their Australia counterparts are more willing to consider “late bloomers”. The net result is both squads average roughly 31 Test caps of experience per man.
It is still hard to escape the fact that while some in England use Kevin Pietersen’s 34 years as one of many ways to dismiss the prospect of his international return, Australia would take no such issue should his runs column merit it. For the holders of the Ashes, it is clear the here and now is what counts.
Australia squad for West Indies tour and Ashes series: Michael Clarke (c), Steve Smith, Fawad Ahmed, Brad Haddin (wkt), Josh Hazlewood, Ryan Harris, Mitchell Johnson, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Shaun Marsh, Peter Nevill (wkt), Chris Rogers, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc, Adam Voges, David Warner, Shane Watson.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010