After a handful of defeats, Australia have started to pick up positive results from Test encounters.
With the outlook now more positive for Australian cricket, Sports Mole caught up with former captain Ian Chappell, who was speaking following the ESPNcricinfo 2013 awards which recognises the best individual batting and bowling performances in cricket over the calendar year, to discuss the future of his nation, as well as other major issues from the cricketing world.
Mitchell Johnson was recently voted as ESPNcricinfo's Best Test Bowler following his performances against England and South Africa. Is that a deserved award?
"He's certainly very deserving [of the award]. It was a bit of a surprise, I must say. He's done some things to turn his career around. He's looked a lot fitter and stronger and the fact that his pace was still up, even at the end of the South African series following a hard summer, suggests that he was fitter and stronger."
What have been the major factors behind his upturn in fortunes?
"Michael Clarke's captaincy had a big influence on Johnson. Clarke dealt with him in the right way. In the past, people have been trying to get him to swing the ball and correct his action. Clarke, basically, has told him to run in and bowl fast, rather than worrying about too much else. That has clicked with Mitch."
Did you believe that his Test career was over?
"In a lot of eyes, there were people who thought that his Test career was over. He had some sessions with Dennis Lillie, which worked well. Dennis asked him how much long distance running he was doing and Johnson's reply was "not much". Dennis made him do more running and that has had a very positive impact. I know how much of that Dennis did himself when he played – he considered it to be very important.
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"He has also bowled better when there is a bit of bounce on the pitch. The fact that he didn't play the most recent Test series in England perhaps helped him. Playing in Australia and South Africa, where there is more bounce, that was always going to suit him."
Would he not have enjoyed this renaissance had he featured during The Ashes in England then?
"Who knows? We've seen before that his confidence can drop very quickly, so if he had have gone to England and had a poor series, that could have hampered him. He didn't, though, and it has worked out well for him."
Also honoured at the ESPNcricinfo was Sachin Tendulkar, who picked up the Generation Award ahead of Shane Warne and Jacques Kallis. Was the Indian batsman the correct winner?
"All three contenders were very worthy, but if you look at everything that Tendulkar did over such a long period of time, you cannot quibble with that at all. If either of the two had won it, you'd have to say that they deserved it, but I think that Tendulkar was the most deserving."
Were England right to drop Kevin Pietersen, or because of his talent, should he have been kept in the squad?
"It's a ludicrous decision, particularly to come up with the excuse that they are trying to bolster the captain by getting rid of the best player - that is ridiculous. Any England players that weren't exasperated by Alastair Cook's captaincy, they are the ones that should have been demoted, not someone that was querying it."
Does that mean that you believe England need a new captain? Who could replace Cook?
"Ian Bell has maybe got the potential but I'm not convinced that he would want the job. This may sound stupid, but Pietersen was probably the right man to get it, although they were never going to do that. That is arguably part of the reason Pietersen become exasperated because it was clear that England were not going to go anywhere the way that Cook has been going about it.
"If five times out of five you have the opposition five or six down for 150 and you cannot turn even one of those into a match-winning situation, you've got to query the captain. Despite that, there isn't another alternative for them right now, which is a problem. If Clarke is still fit and playing for Australia in 2015, I can't see any way that Cook can get over the top of Clarke's captaincy."
Another big name leaving the sport in a playing capacity is Graeme Smith. How much will South Africa miss their captain?
"He's been a strong leader, but he wasn't a very good captain, probably not much better than Cook. He was very conservative and we've seen that conservative captaincy isn't going to cut it against the aggressive captaincy of Clarke and the aggressive bowling and batting that Australia have produced. Conservative captaincy has been shown up for what it is against that sort of opposition.
"They will miss Smith, though. What he did in the dressing room – the South African players were prepared to follow him anywhere. What he did through difficult times regarding the political problems, he did extremely well to come through all of that. However, as a tactician on the field, there were times when he probably hurt South Africa. I felt that it was time for them to move on."
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Is there a standout candidate to take over the responsibility from Smith?
"The way he plays the game, I'd like to see AB de Villiers get the job, but he can't keep wicket and take the captaincy. That may not be a bad thing because he should be batting at number four anyway. If they gave the gloves to Quinton de Kock and AB moved up the order, that would be the best solution.
"The only query that I have against AB is when he said that he didn't know if he wanted the role. If you don't want the captaincy, you are better off giving it to somebody else. If he wants it, he's the best candidate to take it."
It's obviously a good time to be a fan of Australian cricket. What does the future hold for your country?
"Mitchell Johnson was obviously a big factor in Australia turning it around, but he is at an age where you are not sure when he might lose his pace. When his pace does go, that will make a big difference. The good thing about Australia is that they have got James Pattinson, who is a quick bowler. Pat Cummins, if he can overcome injuries, as well as Mitchell Starc are also good quickies waiting in the wings. From that point of view, it's pretty encouraging.
"Batting wise, though, there are still some queries. Number three is still a big black hole for them and Alex Doolan probably isn't the answer, nor is Shaun Marsh. Also, there are no young guys in first-class cricket that are hammering the door down, so number three is their biggest concern and it's such a crucial position. They cannot become a powerhouse until an aggressive number three can be found."
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