The Ashes: What Australia need to do now

ONE blistering spell of bowling by Stuart Broad and the Ashes were won.
Ian Bell's centuries proved crucial for England. Picture: Nigel Roddis/ReutersIan Bell's centuries proved crucial for England. Picture: Nigel Roddis/Reuters
Ian Bell's centuries proved crucial for England. Picture: Nigel Roddis/Reuters

The heartbreak for Australia of 14 runs at Trent Bridge and the bad luck for rain to thwart their victory push at Old Trafford meant nothing, mere footnotes to a series that has teased but never really tantalised as it should.

Considering the paucity of quality in the Australian squad it probably wouldn’t have needed a soothsayer to predict that before the start of the series. They have showed promise in areas and been absolute rubbish in others.

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Where now though for both teams as they move to the Oval for the final Test of the summer and then the winter Down Under?

England can be satisfied but only cautiously so. They won and, in spells, played some good cricket. But it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that better opposition would have embarrassed them.

Ian Bell has been outstanding with three centuries. It is a notable achievement but his highest score has been 113. His consistency has been exceptional, though, and his total is more then 200 runs ahead of any other England player. He is the only man in the series to average above 50 and all his innings have been pivotal.

No one else from the England line-up can really be pleased, though. Captain and opener Alastair Cook and No.3 Jonathan Trott have laboured, partly frustrated by Australia’s tactics for them and partly unfortunate. Joe Root, the other opener, scored a wonderful 180 at Lord’s and nothing else, and even that innings could have been a failure as Brad Haddin dropped a simple catch when he was on eight.

Kevin Pietersen, possibly sensing the series needed a little glamour and stardust, has made one century while Jonny Bairstow and Matt Prior have struggled in the middle order.

So the line-up has been very reliant on Bell at No.5.

The Australian bowlers have been excellent, more so since they returned the clever but unsung Nathan Lyon to the spinner’s role. Ryan Harris has a good case for being the bowler of the series and Peter Siddle has been his usual, economical, hard-working, wicket-taking self. But the back-up has been weak and Shane Watson has hardly taken a wicket despite 
bowling reasonably well in the last two matches.

The truth is the Australian bowlers against the England batsmen has been a proper contest with only Bell able to claim bragging rights.

It is in the reverse contest where the series has been decided. The Australian batsman have failed and, until they settle on a proper top six and those selected are able to stay at the crease for long periods, there is little hope for them. Quite simply, crash-bang-wallop 50s do not get the job done in Test cricket.

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Australia’s current plight has been some time coming. For two years they have relied on captain Michael Clarke and, when Mike Hussey retired last Christmas, he lost his last senior partner.

The challenge now is for David Warner to put together a sequence of scores and partnerships at the top of the order with Chris Rogers. Then the likes of Usman Khawaja and Phil Hughes have to prove they are worthy of international cricket – all of which would alleviate some of the pressure on Clarke.

Time is not on their side with the next Ashes series starting in November. The batting line-up needs to find some toughness of charcater and replace some of the celebrity Indian Premier League glamour traits with some good, old-fashioned Aussie “mongrel”.

The bowlers certainly deserve that. What they need is for the batsmen to compete and they will win Test matches.

Probably not this week, though, as they need to go home and regroup away after the shellshock of the past two months.