Two old rivals will take the field for four rather different Tests this summer. (AAP: Dave Hunt)
What was it that made you first fall in love with the game of cricket?
It’s a universal experience for most Australians, though the particularities will differ. For some it will be a player, maybe a Border, Boon, Warne or Gilchrist — or more recently Starc or Perry — who caught the eye and convinced them to come back for more.
For others it might be a moment, like Steve Waugh at the SCG in 2002, Dennis Lillee knocking over Viv Richards with the last delivery of Boxing Day 1981, or Peter Siddle’s Ashes hat-trick.
Or maybe it’s just the vibe of the thing, the combination of hot summers, green grass and family gatherings, with a game of cricket simply providing something to congregate around.
But whatever it is, it’s most likely that the eureka moment had little to do with the arbitrary matter of winning or losing, the inevitable end-game that gives cricket its context but not its heart.
Marcus Harris will make his Test debut in Adelaide today. (AAP: Hamish Blair)
All of which brings us to this morning and Adelaide, where perhaps the strangest summer Australian cricket has ever known will properly launch — of course there have been dalliances in the coloured clothes already this season, which only served to prove that if a tree falls behind a paywall, it doesn’t really make a sound.
The changes in personnel have been well-documented, but it’s still hard to tell if the wider public is fully acclimatised to the idea of an Australian team without its best two batsmen.
Regardless of whether the supposed “groundswell” of sympathy towards Steve Smith and David Warner has reached your part of the country, the fact that some have so quickly shifted to calling for an easing of their bans suggests their absence sits a little uneasily.
But team composition is only part of this summer’s general funkiness.
For the first time since Moses wore short pants, punters won’t be turning their televisions to Channel Nine at 10:59am in eager expectation of brass bands and a hearty “bowled him, last ball can you believe that?!”.
Justin Langer has his own ideas as to how Australian cricket should look. (AAP: Dave Hunt)
Instead they will take their pick of Seven’s meticulously compiled commentary line-up or Fox Sports’ star-studded and blinged-out production.
The elongated and incremental nature of Test cricket means our relationship with the sport relies so heavily on its television and radio coverage, so you can expect things to feel a little odd while everyone — viewers included — find their feet.
And then there’s this great cultural shift currently being undertaken by pretty much everything that falls under the “Australian cricket” umbrella. Before a red ball has been bowled, Australia’s desire to remodel, remarket and reinvent itself as a more respectable outfit has caused great rancour, spilling into scarcely believable spats online and on the airwaves.
How this transformation looks in practice remains to be seen. Tim Paine, eloquent and thoughtful but with the hardened edge of a veteran wicketkeeper, seems to be the perfect captain for this moment, though his greatest challenge will be convincing fans and angry ex-players that this isn’t a softening of the team, but a refocusing of its competitive energies.
Tim Paine has the task of leading the Australian team into the unknown. (AAP: Glenn Hunt)
Will the events of 2018 — from Cape Town to the Longstaff Review and everything in between — have a tangible impact on the performance and behaviour of the team on the field against India? It’s a question we won’t have an answer to after one day or even one Test, but the pieces will start to be put into place from the pre-match handshake this morning.
It’s also worth considering the role we — all of us — can play. The disillusionment suffered by cricket fans across the country over the past 12 months is arguably the greatest threat facing the game at present, and while the team absolutely has to earn back the country’s affections, it might be worth returning to the question posed at the top.
If you spend this summer agonising over results, team selections and the strength of a quality opposition, you’re probably in for a bad time. But if you can embrace the newness of it all, enjoy the successes and contextualise the disappointments, there might be more here to love than you would expect.