At an empty Manuka Oval on a working Monday in early February, an Australia cricket team sheepishly gathered around a trophy comprising two disembodied hands as Queen belted out over the tannoys.
We Are The Champions would have been a stretch, so the ground’s PA mixmasters settled for Don’t Stop Me Now. Perhaps having won its first series since all that sandpaper business last March, it’s a sentiment Australia will share.
But despite the upturn in form and results, a rest will do everyone some good. There are six Test cricket-free months coming up, an invaluable break for the weary players and equally exhausted wider cricketing public.
It’s been a long summer, the implications of which won’t completely make themselves clear for some time yet, but this last little fling with the Sri Lankans has at least ensured it has ended with a trophy and a smile.
There have been no shortage of people eager to point out at various times through these two Tests that Australia’s opponent has been “just Sri Lanka”, a fact designed to temper enthusiasm and contextualise success. Those people are correct of course, but perhaps missing the point a little.
The India series was chastening, a reminder of just how far away Australia is from the truly elite Test teams in the world and how thin on the ground the reinforcements are. That disappointment could easily have spilled over into the final third of this home season, especially with so much focus being put on the road ahead.
It meant the series was a kind of weird reverse free hit for Australia — nobody really cared, unless the team was to do badly.
But, to Tim Paine and his side’s credit, they refused to let these become wasted days and have come out the other side of the series the better for it.
The selectors may have taken the most convoluted and precarious road imaginable, but they reached something resembling their destination in the end. The process may still be faulty, but the belated inclusions of Joe Burns, Kurtis Patterson and Marnus Labuschagne sparked something in the team, that little bit of freshness and boldness that may have been missing in the months previous.
Even with the ever-present qualifier of “just Sri Lanka” in mind, it’s fair to say Burns and Patterson took their chances, the former reminding Australia of his capabilities and the latter proving his. Most of the predicted Ashes teams rattling around social media at the moment contain both of those names, proof that even if the standard of opposition was lower than earlier in the summer, runs are runs and Australia has been starved of them.
Another to emerge with reputation enhanced is Travis Head, adding punch to his promise with two excellent innings that were befitting of his elevated position as vice captain. There’s no question he is one of Justin Langer’s favourites, something that is sure to stand him in good stead. If he continues to bat like he did in Canberra, nobody will be complaining.
Mitchell Starc ended a disappointing personal summer with his best showing in months, his second innings five-for here even better than the one in the first. He hit the stumps three times on the final day of the summer, a sure fire sign that his radar is calibrated and he is either extracting enough movement or bowling at an express enough pace to beat batsmen.
Pat Cummins was the man of the series, taking 14 wickets at an average of a little over seven. He is a remarkable cricketer, growing in stature with every passing game, looking more and more the kind of player around which Australia could once again build an empire.
Only five Australians in the history of the game have taken more wickets after their first 20 Tests than Cummins. On Twitter, Michael Vaughan said he would one day win an Ashes series on his own, and it didn’t even feel like hyperbole. If Botham and Flintoff can have an Ashes, why not our Pat?
There was a much-needed Usman Khawaja century, some runs and the odd wicket for Labushagne, and an impressive introduction for swingin’ Jhye Richardson.
Indeed, the only players not to really take something from the two Tests were Nathan Lyon, who was barely required and has nothing more to prove, Paine, who selflessly sacrificed a run at personal glory with an early declaration on day two, and Marcus Harris, who might be feeling a little twitchy.
So the ups outweigh the downs and the happy faces outnumber the nervous ones. A few weeks ago, as India danced across the SCG in celebration of its historic feat, that was most certainly not the case.
Sure, Australia was playing “just Sri Lanka”. Greater tests in greater Tests will come. But, just in case this is as good as it gets for a while, we’re all entitled to enjoy the success while we can.