“Watching Australia against England, how well will the Aussie batting hold up against the South African pace battery? Not too well if they go in with the confidence of having thrashed a mediocre and below average England line-up. This Australian line-up is average, make no mistake”.
The Ashes scoreline and the mood in the England camp suggests how well the Australians have brushed aside their opponents in the home series and regained the Ashes. There was the brilliance of Steven Smith, the belligerence of David Warner, the composure of Shaun Marsh and the X-factor in Mitchell Marsh but it was their bowling attack that won them the Ashes.
Pat Cummins – 5 matches, 23 wickets @ 24.65
Mitchell Starc – 4 matches, 22 wickets @ 23.54
Josh Hazlewood – 5 matches, 21 wickets @ 25.90
Nathan Lyon – 5 matches, 21 wickets @ 29.23
All four of the top wicket-takers in the series were Australians. They had relentlessly attacked the English, pushed them to a corner and made them battle it out every single time they took the field. The three-man pace attack with the sensational Nathan Lyon was unforgiving. They never let the England batsmen off the hook and with the kind of totals England were putting up, they stood no chance against Steven Smith’s flamboyance.
Joe Root appeared lost, Alastair Cook hit a double-hundred on a flat pitch but his fishing woes returned along with Mitchell Starc returning to the Aussie line-up. Moeen Ali stood dazed against Nathan Lyon’s wile and was dismissed by the off-spinner seven times in nine innings. Ben Stokes was named in the ODI team but pulled out and is named again in the T20I team.
To put in short…England were desperate for their superstar all-rounder to return. Their Ashes hopes had drowned the moment Nathan Lyon shot down the stumps with his accurate throw in the first Test to catch James Vince short. Vince never looked in great touch since then. That Dawid Malan, an uncertain starter before the series, was their best batsmen suggests a lot about England’s plight.
But how good were Australia?
Were they so good like in 2013 when Mitchell Johnson scythed through with a hair-raising bowling display? The short answer is a big NO.
No doubt, the hosts had swept away the English. But it needs to be considered how good England were before judging how good Australia were. This England side had little self-belief, even lesser inspiration and looked baffled the moment they set foot in Australia.
That they stuck to their core group of players (in particular, Moeen Ali, who was shoddy) despite losing big time shows that they had little confidence in their backup players.
Starc, Hazlewood, Cummins and Lyon were menacing, threatening and bowled sizzling spells. But England’s batsmen gift-wrapped their wickets and provides the much-needed oomph to this bowling attack. The nightmares of Mitchell Johnson had seemingly not vanished as most of the visiting batsmen were stuck onto their back-foot and ended up playing away from the body with little intent.
Joe Root couldn’t solve his conversion issues, walked out to bat on the final day, dehydrated and fatigued, went back for lunch and never returned. He couldn’t even do a Graeme Smith and hobble out to the middle courageously to get a standing ovation. England wanted this to be over. They lost by an innings twice. They conceded 600+ in an innings 6 times away from home since January 2016. Between 1955 and 2003, it happened a meagre five times. This England team had landed in Australia to lose.
Of course, one could look back at the series and suggest that the Australian juggernaut was just too good, that their selections, which had seemed bizarre before the series, all clicked. The Marsh brothers reunited and made runs with the easiness and comfort of playing in their backyard as school children. They were barely tested.
Except for James Anderson who bowled his heart out in the series, none of the England bowlers competed well enough. Even when games swung this way and that, it was more of the visitors failing to grasp the game by the scruff of the neck than Australia doing the same.
The overpowering presence of the exceptional Steven Smith aside, Australia were average, just average. Not great, not brilliant, just average. But this England team was abysmal. They were in dire straits and screamed out to be thrashed and beaten to defeat. Australia did that. But does that make them good? No, it doesn’t.
As Australia’s so-called fearsome bowling attack and indomitable batting line-up caged England at Sydney, miles away, a four-prong seam attack in South Africa had batsmen dancing to their tunes. All four of South Africa’s seamers were different. Vernon Philander seamed it, Kagiso Rabada offered the spice, Dale Steyn swung it and Morne Morkel produced the extra bounce and aggression. It was a dream bowling attack, one that Mike Holding rated better than the West Indian attacks of the 1980s. Australia play them next in South Africa. Watching Australia against England, how well will the Aussie batting hold up against the South African pace battery? Not too well if they go in with the confidence of having thrashed a mediocre and below average England line-up. This Australian line-up is average, make no mistake.