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A Goodbye to Australia’s Golden Generation

Near the start of the Ashes in England, ESPNCricinfo published a graphic asking viewers to compare the 2023 team to the legendary 2005 team, the original ‘golden generation’, the greatest Australian team there ever was. Of course, most people chose the 2005 team. But that the comparison can be suggested at all speaks volumes about the quality, experience, and grit of the 2023 team. It is a testament to the strength of today’s team that Pat Cummins and Steve Smith can stand toe-to-toe with all-time greats like Glenn McGrath and Ricky Ponting. For this second golden generation, with their long and storied careers that now draw to an end together, 2023 has been a year that they can look back fondly upon as a satisfying capstone achievement.

Australia have made three major achievements in 2023. First, they won the World Test Championship, beating India in the final at Lord’s. Second, they retained the Ashes, playing against a revamped, Bazballing England in England. Third, and the greatest achievement, they defeated India- in India- to win the World Cup. But within this larger, team story, are so many smaller stories of the individual players. This is truly a second golden generation, and the stories of much of this generation are drawing to a close. In their stories, 2023 will be remembered as their swan song.

The truest, sweetest swan song will be for Usman Khawaja. Khawaja is the runt of the litter, having spent over half a decade shuffling in and out of the Test team, never truly having found his feet. He spent two years out after the 2019 Ashes, and admits he gave up on ever coming back. But return he did, and remade himself into the best opening batsman in the world in his career’s dying moments. At 36, he has made himself a legacy he can be unqualifiedly proud of. In the Ashes, he ended up with a match-winning century in the first Test, and ended the series as the highest run-scorer. 

The very first to retire has already announced his plans, leaving at the end of this Aussie summer. David Warner’s departure will probably be welcomed by many, given his poor performances in recent years. But the 37-year-old’s contribution to Australia’s batting over the years is incalculable. For well over a decade, he has been the best red-ball batsman after Steve Smith, and the best white-ball batsman too. He showed his white-ball talent in this World Cup too, slamming two magnificent hundreds and becoming Australia’s top scorer. His retirement heralds the rest of his generation.

And probably closest to following him will be Steve Smith. Smith is, in my opinion, the true heir to the title of the ‘best since Bradman’. It is a testament to his quality that I consider his Test summer in England pretty average despite having scored two centuries in six Tests. He is 34 and his unremarkable 2023 hides the fact that he has been Australia’s premier batsman for over a decade, and when he retires, he will be universally acknowledged as the greatest Test batsman of the last 80 years.

Rounding out this set of batters is Glenn Maxwell. The 35-year-old made a name for himself by playing aggressively and recklessly, and this World Cup was most clearly Maxwell’s World Cup. In a group stage match against the Netherlands, he smoked the fastest 100 in a World Cup, off just 40 balls. In another match against Afghanistan, he produced a scarcely believable innings, dragging his team single handedly from near-collapse at 91/7 to victory at 292/7. His innings of 201* is, in my opinion, the greatest ODI innings ever played. It is the only double hundred to be ever scored in a chase. In the middle of his innings, he began cramping and spasming from the heat and humidity, and fell to the ground, twitching in pain. He could barely walk, yet he told the physio he would battle on. And in doing so, he produced an innings of sheer will, forcing himself to hit sixes and fours on one leg, hobbling for runs where he could get them, and beating his body into submission. His 2023 is the year that has put him firmly in the history books as Australia’s greatest ever finisher. 

Although Australia are famed for their fearful fast bowling, Nathan Lyon has been tiring away at bowling spin for the last thirteen years. For any Test spinner from Australia, comparisons with the great Shane Warne are inevitable, and everyone is expected to perform at his unattainable standard. Lyon is not like Warne. Lyon doesn’t turn the ball as much, he doesn’t produce the same pressure from an end, he doesn’t conjure up the magic of Warne. But he’s been consistent and dependable, amassing nearly 500 wickets over 100 consecutive Tests. He’s done the dirty work, and bowled the hard overs as spinners are expected, making the needed breakthroughs. Lyon is now 36, and he can look back at his 2023 Ashes as the finality of a great career, ably holding his own in the vacuum that Warne left behind.

Mitchell Starc is fast bowling personified. He saunters in his run-up, loads up like a shotgun, and releases the ball in one smooth, elegant motion, sending a ball that careens into the stumps with all the pace and grace that only the truest fast bowlers can summon. Starc’s consistent performances in the Ashes earnt him Man of the Series for his 23 wickets, and although he didn’t replicate his legendary 2015 or 2019 performances at the World Cup, he performed well enough. Starc is now 33, and given the shorter shelf-life of fast bowlers, doesn’t have long left. He will be missed by all, who will remember him as Australia’s greatest ever white-ball bowler. 

Of Australia’s fast bowling trio, Josh Hazlewood stands out as the truest all-format talent. He is the archetypal metronomic bowler, banging in the ball on the same spot ball after ball, over after over. His contributions are not flashy, and he will never have the highlight reel of a Starc. But he bowls the hard yards, breaks the back of the opposing batsmen, and provides the crucial groundwork that makes this trio work. He was in and out of injury recovery since 2021, but made himself available just in time for the 2023 season. Without this final effort from the 32-year-old, Australia may not have made it to where they are now.

Starc’s Test counterpart is captain Pat Cummins. Cummins is the pace prodigy, the perfect bowler, the red-ball equal to the great Glenn McGrath. Where Starc is a shotgun, Cummins is a sniper. Cummins is also the youngest of this golden generation, at just 30. Unlike the rest of this generation, he still has some career ahead of him. His story hasn’t yet ended; he’s the bridge between the golden generation and the younger boys. Yet Cummins can still be proud of this year, a year where he’s led his team to winning a World Test Championship, retaining the Ashes, and winning a World Cup. Cummins has proven himself to be an all-time great for Australia, not just as a bowler, but also as a captain. 

This golden generation, four batsmen and four bowlers, represents the highest heights that Australia cricket has seen since the 2007 World Cup. 2023 is the year that they have all chosen to put themselves in the history books, and cement themselves as Aussie greats. Their heroic efforts and never-say-die attitude are what have produced a memorable 2023 for Australia, and a year where they will be remembered as champions of the world.

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