Aussies well placed for return Ashes series

Date: August 28, 2013 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

On face value, Australia’s 3-nil Ashes series defeat does not bode well.

In essence however there is much to take from this series ahead of the return encounter starting in Brisbane in late-November.

There were two glaring facets that hamstrung Australia.

The first was Ian Bell and the second, Australia’s inability to win the big moments that mattered.

While the pre-series talk centred on Alastair Cook, Jonathon Trott and Kevin Pietersen and their match-defining capabilities, it was Bell who proved to be the main thorn in Australia’s side with respect to England’s batting line-up.

He was clearly the stand-out batsman throughout the series with three centuries and two half-centuries contributing to an aggregate of 562 runs at 62.4.

Meanwhile, the three nominated as the biggest threats pre-series had a lean time.

Cook, England’s greatest compiler of Test centuries could manage a best of just 62 and an average of 27.7.

Trott looked a shadow of his normal self and was held to 293 runs at 29.3, while Pietersen, despite his century at Old Trafford, averaged 38.8.

Those figures all represented wins for Australia and have given the trio something to consider ahead of the return series.

Australia played musical chairs with its batting line-up throughout the series but the centuries to Shane Watson (176) and Steve Smith (138no) at The Oval has perhaps provided us with the top five for the Gabba.

Chris Rogers (367 runs at 408) showed his experience and will certainly stride to the middle at Brisbane at the top of the order.

His one area of weakness was his inability to conquer the off-spin of Graeme Swann.

David Warner was, of his own making, unavailable for the opening two Tests and his returns were modest when he did enter the fray (138 at 23.0).

But, unless something dramatic happens in the early part of the Sheffield Shield season it is hard to see him not being given the opportunity to open in the first Test.

Skipper Michael Clarke once again led the series averages for Australia with his 381 runs at 47.6, heavily influenced by his crisp and commanding 187 at Manchester.

The last piece of the batting jigsaw is at number six.

During the series Australia tried Watson, Warner, Brad Haddin and Phil Hughes in that position.

James Faulkner’s impressive debut (6-98 and innings of 23 and 22) will have in the frame for the first Test of the summer but Haddin at six does seem a gamble.

Given the opening encounter is at the Gabba it is more likely Australia will play three genuine quicks plus Nathan Lyon which will see the need for one more specialist batsman.

Apart from his unbeaten 81 in the first innings of the opening Test, Hughes had a shocker, scoring just two runs in his other three innings.

He will need some hefty scores early in the domestic summer to warrant yet another go.

That leaves the door open for the likes of Shaun Marsh and Alex Doolan to force their way in if they can peel off some early season runs.

It is time that the selectors looked towards some continuity with its batting order and hopefully, barring a colossal bottoming out by a batsman, it would be nice to see the same top-six held at least through until the fourth Test on Boxing Day.

Australia’s bowlers performed well, as was expected, with Ryan Harris leading the charge.

Overlooked for the opening Test in favour of Mitchell Starc he was the bowler of the series after taking his spot in the side at Lord’s.

He was ever threatening with a combination of aggression and control to claim 24 wickets at 19.6, striking at a rate of 40.5.

The fact that he could string together four consecutive Tests would have certainly buoyed Clarke and the selectors.

His 18 Tests, compiled over an injury ravaged three-and-half years, have produced an outstanding return of 71 wickets at 22.3.

It is crucial that his body survives the summer.

England will be very wary of him throughout with his seven Tests against the old enemy to date netting 35 scalps at a mere 21.4.

Peter Siddle gave his usual lion-hearted performance and set the tone early with his eight wickets at Trent Bridge, although his effectiveness waned towards the back-end of the series.

Mitchell Starc was in and out more often than a fiddler’s elbow.

As is often the case, he bowled some excellent spells and some lacklustre ones.

In some ways he mirrors another left-hander, Mitchell Johnson in that respect.

He claimed some important scalps in his 11 wickets from three matches but he still has to work on his consistency.

The loss of James Pattinson, who while not at his best before succumbing to a back injury, was still significant.

He is unlikely to be ready for the Brisbane Test but he and the selectors will be keen for a  return during the series.

Jackson Bird was unlucky on two counts – he played only one Test and was unable to return due to his own back injury.

Given his fine debut last summer against Sri Lanka, he is another who will be eagerly monitored.

After Ashton Agar stole the show at Trent Bridge with his batting it was not long before it became apparent that, while the teenager has a bright future ahead of him, he is best served at present honing his craft at domestic level.

Lyon forced his way back in for the Third Test and his performances were encouraging.

He will certainly be in the squad for Brisbane but the search for the next wrist-spinner will remain a priority.

England’s bowling got the job done with Swann (26 at 29.0) the most productive.

He was aided in particular by the struggles of both Rogers and Usman Khawaja who looked at time all at sea against him.

History indicates however, that Swann is not likely to have the same sort of effect in Australia.

Muttiah Muralitharan and Harbhajan Singh, with over 1200 Test wickets between them both averaged over 70 runs per wicket in Australia.

Swann’s five Tests down under have produced 15 wickets at 39.8.

Australia has seldom been a happy hunting ground for visiting off-spinners.

England produced many of its pitches in this series so as to maximise the gulf between Swann and Australia’s two spinners.

The tourists will not have the same luxury this summer which will dent England’s arsenal.

Traditionally, reverse swing has not been such a major factor in Australia as elsewhere and given the England attack – James Anderson in particular – are fine exponents of the craft once again their effectiveness may be dulled.

Australia twice let itself horribly down in this series – its disastrous 9-117 start to its first innings of the series and its equally as horrible collapse at Chester-le-Street where chasing 299, it imploded from 0-109 to be all out for 224.

Those stunning demises were seminal moments in the series.

When the statistics are analysed there is nothing – other than Bell’s effort – that truly jumps off the page to give evidence of why the result ended 3-nil in England’s favour.

Man for man, most players cancelled each other out.

The big difference was a couple of incredibly poor sessions at the crease by Australia.

If it can eradicate instances like that this summer it is a very realistic chance of regaining the sport’s Holy Grail.

All is not lost despite the lopsided look of this series’ score line.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 27 August 2013