With Australia getting annihilated in the fourth test of the Ashes at Trent Bridge by an innings and 78 runs to meekly surrender the Ashes 3-1 to England with a match to go, here’s a look at some major issues that the team needs to resolve in order to become a force away from home.
The loss means that Australia have not won a series in England since 2001 and have lost all four Ashes played in England in the last decade. Michael Clarke, who announced his retirement from test cricket, has been a part of all four losses and has now led Australia to defeat in 7 Ashes tests, the most for any Australian captain.
England were missing their spearhead and all time leading wicket taker in test cricket James Anderson, who picked up 6 wickets in the previous test at Edgbaston. Many felt that the absence of Anderson would tilt the scales in Australia’s favour, but they were bowled out for a paltry 60 runs on the first day, with Stuart Broad relishing the role of attack leader and ending with career-best figures of 8-15 as Australia were bowled out in 18.3 overs. Extras were the top scorer with a tally of 14.
Joe Root then showed why he is number one in the ICC test rankings as he played a composed innings of 130. He was supported well by Jonny Bairstow who scored 74 in the second test after his comeback. Ben Stokes impressed again as he picked up 6 wickets for 36 runs and was well supported by Mark Wood, who replaced Anderson, and ended with 3-69 after opening the bowling. Here’s a look at some of the major problems that Australia need to find a solution to:
The fact that 37 year old Chris Rogers, who is going to retire after the Ashes, is Australia’s highest scorer this series with 437 runs, and one of their only two centurions, shows the kind of trouble that Australia’s batsmen have routinely found themselves in. While Rogers and Warner have been steady and have generally provided good starts, the brittle middle order has failed to back them up.
Warner has scored 4 half centuries in 8 innings this series, but has not carried on to make a 100. The problem for Australia is that there is no clear replacement for Rogers, and with Warner now being named vice captain, it would be interesting to see how he copes with the additional responsibility.
Joe Burns and Usman Khawaja were the two openers in Australia A’s recent tour of India. However, both men have been provided opportunities at the highest level and have had middling returns so far. Among the openers who got the most runs in the Sheffield Shield last year, Rob Quiney and Ed Cowan have already played at the international level without much success. On the other hand, Cameron Bancroft has only played a couple of first class seasons and it might be too early to select him in the national team.
Australia have to find a few answers to the Rogers conundrum. Shaun Marsh, who replaced the injured Rogers in the West Indies, might have already played his last test.
Middle order muddle:
Australia have had only 1 century and 3 half centuries from their numbers 3-7 this Ashes series. While Steve Smith has played a couple of good knocks, Brad Haddin and Shane Watson were jettisoned after 1 test each and we might well have seen the last of them. Adam Voges, Peter Nevill and Shaun Marsh made the Ashes squad after having solid runs in the Sheffield Shield last season. However, all three of them have struggled to cope with the swing generated by the England pacers and average less than 25 this series, though Nevill and Voges have scored a 50 each. The retirement of Michael Clarke is another major void that needs to be filled. Australia is not exactly teeming with replacements. Michael Klinger and Callum Ferguson are two that come to mind. While both of them are over 30, they have been consistent in domestic cricket for a long time.
Lack of a quality all rounder:
Ever since Keith Miller retired, Australia have struggled to find a quality pace bowling all rounder in test cricket. Shane Watson flourished briefly before injuries and technical glitches caught up with him. With Watson seemingly being dropped for good and Mitchell Marsh not yet a finished product at test level, it would be interesting to see how Australia copes, especially in the subcontinent where they might have to play two spinners with Marsh being the third seamer. Moises Henriques is the only other seam bowling all round option that Australia have as of now.
Australia have a lot of answers to find if they want to be the force they once were, and start winning away from home again where their weaknesses get magnified.