5 THINGS AUS­TRALIA HAVE LEARNED FROM THE ASHES

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - RACING - CRICVIZ AN­A­LYST

1HAIL STEVE SMITH

It’s not any­thing par­tic­u­larly new, but this tour has reaf­firmed one thing — Steve Smith is a ge­nius and the best Aus­tralia have had since Don Brad­man.

It’s not just his series tally — 744 runs at an av­er­age of 110.57.

It’s a to­tal that has only been beaten twice in his­tory for a man play­ing four Tests in a series.

It’s not just the fact his ca­reer av­er­age has gone up again, from 61.37 at the start of the series to 64.56 now.

It’s the fact English crowds have gone from boo­ing his ev­ery move­ment in Birm­ing­ham to ap­plaud­ing him from the field at The Oval.

The level of con­trol he dis­played through­out the series, edg­ing or miss­ing just 13.3 per cent of the de­liv­er­ies he faced (ob­vi­ously the fewest of any player on ei­ther side) was stag­ger­ing, and you couldn’t help but be in awe of how ef­fort­lessly he slid back into in­ter­na­tional cricket. Un­like ….

2DAVID WARNER’S AWAY FORM

While Steve Smith re­turned from his ban as if he’d never been away, the same couldn’t be said for his part­nerin-crime from Cape Town. David Warner av­er­aged 9.5 across this series; no opener has bat­ted as of­ten in a Test series and av­er­aged less.

Warner has al­ways been more dom­i­nant in Aus­tralia than he has been on the road.

Across his ca­reer, his av­er­age in home Tests is 59.64, but that falls to 34.50 away from home.

That’s un­der­stand­able. Aus­tralian pitches are among the flat­test in the world and most play­ers see a drop in their av­er­ages away from fa­mil­iar con­di­tions.

A more con­cern­ing is­sue for Aus­tralia is that the pat­tern is get­ting more ex­ag­ger­ated. Since the start of 2016, Warner’s ac­tu­ally be­come even more dom­i­nant at home (av­er­ag­ing 64.16), but even more vul­ner­a­ble away from home (av­er­ag­ing 25.89).

3‘ FAB FOUR’ ARE NOW ‘DE­STRUC­TIVE DUO’

Aus­tralia were al­ways keen to ro­tate their seam­ers more this sum­mer, aware that they have a slightly deeper pool of tal­ent to draw on than they have in re­cent years — and with ques­tion­able in­jury records for at least three of the seam­ers in the squad, it made sense.

The Fab Four of Starc, Ha­zle­wood, Cum­mins and Lyon was never go­ing to play as the de­fault in the way they did through­out 2017/18.

This strat­egy worked be­cause of the bril­liance of Pat Cum­mins and Josh Ha­zle­wood.

Across the series, Ha­zle­wood and Cum­mins took 49 wick­ets at an av­er­age of 20.53. Peter Sid­dle, James Pat­tin­son and Mitchell Starc took 16 wick­ets at 36.75.

It’s not a crit­i­cism of them. They were asked to play dif­fer­ent roles and each bowled good spells for no re­ward, but the dif­fer­ence in in­ten­sity when the main pair re­turned to bowl was sig­nif­i­cant.

With the sum­mer ahead, Aus­tralia are likely to con­tinue this pol­icy of ro­tat­ing play­ers, but the les­son of Eng­land is that un­less they are show­ing sig­nif­i­cant signs of fa­tigue or fragility, the de­struc­tive duo both have to play.

4BATTING DEPTH STILL AN IS­SUE

While the sur­prise suc­cess of Mar­nus Labuschagn­e and the bat­tling Oval cen­tury from Matthew Wade has soft­ened the blow some­what, Aus­tralia’s bat­ting was poor through­out this Ashes series. Only Labuschagn­e (pic­tured) and Smith were able to av­er­age more than 40, with the rest of the bat­ting or­der ei­ther strug­gling, or dropped.

In 2015, Aus­tralia’s bats­men were un­able to cope with the mov­ing ball, and sub­se­quently a num­ber of changes were made in do­mes­tic cricket, in­clud­ing the in­tro­duc­tion of the Dukes ball.

There may be some­thing to say for the in­flu­ence of th­ese changes, but still Aus­tralia were un­able to fully cope. In this series, they played a false shot — that is to say, an edge or a miss — 20.2 per cent of the time, the most they have played in any Test series since … the last Ashes series in Eng­land.

Aus­tralia won this series thanks to Smith and the bowlers be­ing elite through­out. Their bat­ting, with a few brief ex­cep­tions, has not im­proved from the last time they toured Eng­land.

5TIM PAINE’S CON­TRI­BU­TION

There may be mit­i­gat­ing cir­cum­stances for the per­for­mance of Aus­tralia’s cap­tain (the in­ten­sity of an­other high­pro­file series, a thumb in­jury to­wards the end of the series that could have ham­pered both his keep­ing and his bat­ting), but it was con­cern­ing nonethe­less.

A bat­ting av­er­age of 20.00 across the sum­mer is not good enough for a No. 7 bats­man and only once since 1997 has an Aus­tralian cap­tain av­er­aged less over a five­match series. That was Michael Clarke in 2015 — and he re­tired im­me­di­ately.

His wick­et­keep­ing was not im­pres­sive, ei­ther. His catch suc­cess per­cent­age for the series (82 per cent) was lower than his op­po­site num­ber Jonny Bairstow, an oft-de­rided keeper who still hung on to 91 per cent of his chances. The dif­fi­culty of the chances clearly var­ied and Paine took a few ex­cel­lent catches, but if your bat­ting is go­ing to be so tooth­less, then your keep­ing surely needs to be flaw­less.

While Paine has been an in­flu­en­tial fig­ure in the Test team’s re­cov­ery in the wake of the ball-tam­per­ing scan­dal, his in­di­vid­ual con­tri­bu­tion in terms of runs is a con­cern.

He has been in charge for four series, win­ning one. The nat­u­ral tran­si­tion point may be when Steve Smith’s cap­taincy ban elapses, but any slip-ups this sum­mer against Pak­istan and New Zealand and the pres­sure will come.

Aus­tralia’s Matthew Wade grounds his bat as Eng­land bowler Stu­art Broad looks on at The Oval. l. Pic­ture: Getty

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