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Smith aces Ashes test, Lyon close behind

Steven Smith thumps the Australia badge on his shirt after bringing up his century Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images)

10

Steven Smith

This was the summer in which comparisons between Smith and Sir Donald Bradman became more than idle bar talk. Not only did Smith carry through his insatiable appetite for runs to return the second highest Test series aggregate of his career, but he also played a long game of patience with England's bowlers that had him soak up 1416 balls across the five matches - a feat of concentration and purpose made all the better by the burden of captaincy. In the field, Smith marshalled his bowlers smartly, even if he dropped more catches than usual. And the only tactical misstep to speak of - not enforcing the follow-on in Adelaide - still resulted in victory.

9

Nathan Lyon

In many ways, Lyon's series tally of 21 wickets does not do justice to his impact. For it was in operating as both an attacking and containing option across 260.1 overs, the most expansive stint of his Test career, that Lyon posed dangers for every England batsmen and at the same time allowed Australia's "big three" pace bowlers to be kept fresh and fast. Lyon's dominance was put in context when Smith was asked after the series about whether Ben Stokes might have improved England's chances; he countered that the allrounder's availability would simply have given Lyon yet another left-hander to bowl at. As Moeen Ali can attest, it's no fun.

8.5

Pat Cummins

Back in November, so much of what lay ahead was unknown for Cummins and all those coaches, support and medical staff who have guided him from his teenaged debut through multiple injuries to the present. That he was not only able to stay fit throughout but also emerged as the "impact" bowler all captains crave was testament to Cummins' skill, intelligence and a durability not even he knew he had. His dismissals of Joe Root on day one of the series and Dawid Malan on the fourth evening in Adelaide rank highly on any list of key moments, and with the bat he showed a level of determination and application that no Englishman could match.

8

Josh Hazlewood

Was slightly short of his best to begin the series in Brisbane, but was fully firing just in time for the final day in Adelaide, where he bowled arguably the most important spell of the series to knock over Root after a sleepless night for every member of the Australian team. Hazlewood was always threatening, allying considerable accuracy to steep bounce and a level of pace that appeared to catch England off-guard. Expecting Cummins and Mitchell Starc to be the quickest, they were set back on their heels by the fact that Hazlewood, too, could rev up his speed into the 148kph region.

Shaun Marsh

"We hope we've got him at the right time." These were the words Australia's coach Darren Lehmann used to explain the selectors' decision to recall Marsh for the Ashes in the same year they had dumped him from the list of central contracts. As it turned out, they had indeed picked him at the right time, just as his state coach Justin Langer had implored. Starting at No. 6 and then moving up to 5, Marsh showed his game to be in excellent order, his judgment of what to leave outside off stump just as valuable as an array of orthodox shots capped by the glorious straight driven six off Stuart Broad in Adelaide.

7.5

Mitchell Starc

No-one sounded a pre-Ashes warning quite like Starc, with two hat-tricks in the same Sheffield Shield match for New South Wales, and his speed and variety were a constant danger to England when the fate of the urn was still to be decided. If there is a criticism to be made it is that Starc remains more assured in ripping out an opposition tail than he is in finding ways past better batsmen, but his left-arm variation also served to aid Cummins and Hazlewood in mixing up the angles, while his right foot dug helpful footholes for Lyon. His absence with a bruised heel was keenly felt in Melbourne, underlining the importance of getting him right for South Africa.

7

Tim Paine

No Australian selection was more contentious than the decision to hand the gloves to Paine despite the fact he had not been doing the job for Tasmania. When he dropped James Vince off Lyon on day one of the series in Brisbane, critical tongues wagged still further, but from there Paine found his feet to enjoy just the sort of series the selectors were after. Neat with the gloves, assertive behind the stumps and commendably reliable with the bat, Paine fulfilled the promise he had first shown in India in 2010. The wicketkeeper's spot is now his to lose.

Mitchell Marsh

Eagerness to recall Marsh was written all over the decision to slip him into the team for Perth after he had made only the most rudimentary return to the bowling crease after shoulder surgery. But it was as a middle-order batsman that Marsh made a tremendous impact, hammering a pair of centuries in Perth and Sydney, either side of a determined rearguard opposite Smith on the final day in Melbourne - illustrating the technical and mental progress he has made while working with Scott Meuleman in the winter. Marsh's bowling looked a fair distance short of his best but, as he has said, runs are now his prime currency.

6

David Warner

Partly through England's unsubtle plans to restrict his flow of boundaries and partly through Warner's determination not to get out through impatience, this was an unusually restrained series for Australia's vice-captain. Save for the 2013 India tour it was his slowest in terms of strike rate, and there were no hundreds to speak of until the Ashes battle had been decided. But the way Warner was able to occupy so much of England's thoughts and still make a contribution was worthy of praise.

Usman Khawaja

Unlike each of the past two summers, Khawaja did not get off to a fast start, lbw to Moeen in Brisbane, but worked his way steadily into the series and gained strength and poise from repeated bouts with the English bowlers. His SCG hundred, effective against both pace and spin, was evidence of considerable evolution, and also a pointed plea to be included in Australia's batting line-up all over the world. It is clear that his time out of the team in Asia last year hurt, especially when, unlike Vince, Khawaja has well and truly proven his ability to make big scores in a pivotal position.

4

Cameron Bancroft

Started the series well, formed an effective union with Warner, and impressed all with his appetite for hard work and learning. Even so, Bancroft will not last too much longer in Test cricket if he cannot find ways around the obvious technical deficiencies he showed against balls of a fullish length around the off stump. Highly regarded within the team, Bancroft now must address the fact that the ball Broad bowled him with at the SCG will likely be repeated ad nauseam in South Africa.

3

Peter Handscomb

Handscomb's unorthodoxy was always likely to face a concerted test from the accurate James Anderson and Broad, and so it was to prove in finding himself out of the team after two Tests. He did play one significant innings in Adelaide on the first evening under lights, even if it seemed more through good fortune than good management to survive through until the second day.

2

Jackson Bird

England always felt there would be a chance if one of Starc, Hazlewood or Cummins fell over through injury, and in Melbourne, the contention was given traction by the fact Bird was unable to pose much of a threat. It should be noted, though, that his one game took place on the most lifeless pitch of the series, and he will remain a part of the reserve battery for the time being.