5 THINGS AUSTRALIA HAVE LEARNED FROM THE ASHES
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