Last night was meant to be day four of the Trent Bridge Test.
Instead Australia are wading through the carnage of the Ashes debacle. Since 2005, England have won four of the past six Ashes series’, including four straight at home. Expect stats nerd and English fans to be reciting these numbers over the coming months.
Fortunately, Michael Clarke’s retirement solves one headache. The last thing Australia needs is a “will he/won’t he” saga dragging on. Clarke can enjoy his Oval farewell, hopefully make some runs and then move on.
Who will join him?
Coach Darren Lehmann is safe. Boof is popular among his team, the media and the public. Usually the coach is the first to go (just ask any former NRL or AFL coach) but Lehmann has enough credit points to keep him in the job. He brought Australian cricket back to parity after Mickey Arthur’s “homework-gate” mess, so he deserves more time.
Shane Watson, Adam Voges, Brad Haddin and Shaun Marsh are not so lucky.
Watto’s card was marked after the Cardiff Test. He can finish his career on the Twenty20 circuit and plunder meaningless runs.
Despite a second innings fifty, Voges won’t survive. He was unable to convert his strong Windies series to the tougher Ashes environment. At 35, he was probably picked too late. At least he can go back to carving up Shield and County attacks.
Brad Haddin – for all his great work and courage to play on despite his personal dramas – has been replaced by Peter Nevill, who has shown great promise. Like Voges, Haddin can go back to domestic cricket and finish his career in style.
Shaun Marsh may have run out of chances. He’s played just 12 Tests since 2011 for two hundreds and three fifties. Younger brother Mitch has more potential as Australia’s next great all-rounder.
Chris Rogers is likely to go, but at least he has the dignity of retiring on his terms. Rogers has been the perfect foil for David Warner, happy to play the patient accumulator while Warner blazes.
The bowling attack is likely to stay intact. Mitchell Johnson and Nathan Lyon are safe, while Mitchell Starc has done enough to keep his place. His six-wicket haul in a lost cause at Trent Bridge was commendable. The third seamer spot is still Josh Hazelwood’s barring injury or poor form.
So what went wrong for Australia?
Simply put, the gulf between their best and worst cricket was too wide. While they won by 405 runs at Lord’s, they lost by 169 runs (Cardiff), eight wickets (Edgbaston) and an innings and 78 runs (Trent Bridge). Their highest score at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge was 265.The Aussies missed Ryan Harris terribly. His dependable bowling, useful lower-order batting and experience could have prevented this disaster.
So what’s next for Australia?
It starts with the Oval Test. Yes it’s a dead rubber, but Australia has a lot to gain. Play well and it will restore some confidence and give Clarke a nice farewell. When Australia were dominating in the the nineties and early naughties, England usually stole the dead rubber. If Australia win, the series will be 3-2 England’s way. Much more respectable from a historic viewpoint.
Then there’s the limited-over series. While it may seem inconsequential, Australia are World Cup champions, so pride – and some fresh players – will help the Aussies. Remember the Ashes 2013 limited-overs series, where Johnson began his comeback and planted the Gasha Seeds of 2013/14.
Following that is a two-Test tour of Bangladesh. The Tigers are no longer minnows, but Australia will still fancy themselves. It’s a good chance for Steve Smith to put his mark on his team and give guys like Fawad Ahmed experience.
The home summer is six Tests against New Zealand and West Indies and more chances to rebuild and prepare for the 2017/18 Ashes. They did it after losing 3-0 in 2013, they can do it again.