Australia thrive on new-found stability
Darren Lehmann wondered out loud on Sunday when Australia had last chosen the same XI for four consecutive Tests. Nobody could fill him in. Lehmann should remember better than most, for it has not happened since the final four Tests of his career. Not since Australia beat New Zealand in Brisbane and Adelaide in November 2004, and then took a 2-0 lead against Pakistan in Perth and Melbourne the next month, has the same team taken the field for Australia in four straight Tests.
It is possible that Lehmann's first four home Tests as Australia's coach will break that near decade-long drought, for the selectors will be loath to tinker with a winning team when the Australians take the field at the MCG on Boxing Day. Provided the fast bowlers, Ryan Harris in particular, have recovered well from their win at the WACA, it is unlikely that changes will be made; the resting of bowlers to prevent injury appears a distant memory.
Already Chris Rogers, David Warner, Shane Watson, Michael Clarke, Steven Smith, George Bailey, Brad Haddin, Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle, Ryan Harris and Nathan Lyon have achieved more than most people believed possible, considering the way they were thrust together in an otherwise chaotic 2013.
They are hardly the equal of the last XI to achieve the feat - Justin Langer, Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting, Damien Martyn, Darren Lehmann, Michael Clarke, Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne, Jason Gillespie, Michael Kasprowicz and Glenn McGrath - but their 3-0 triumph so far in the Ashes series has raised the question of how long this side can stick together, given that seven of them are aged 30-plus. After the remaining two Tests against England, a three-Test tour of South Africa follows in February-March.
"You judge it on each series," Lehmann said in Melbourne on Sunday. "From our point of view, you'd love them to play as long as they can, but also you're realistic about that. What we have to do is have them keep playing well so that they can stay in the side. That's what they have to do individually and collectively.
"We don't look any further ahead than this Test match and then we'll make our assessments at the end of the Test series and see where we go from there. But at the moment, the side is doing the job and, as I've always said, you try to pick the best XI each and every time to win the Test match."
It helps that every member of the side has contributed through the series, though some have offered more than others. Chris Rogers spoke on Saturday of his concern that he was the only member of Australia's top five who was yet to score a century in this series. Given he is 36, that might otherwise have placed him under pressure to hold his place, but Lehmann said Rogers had been a valuable contributor in Australia's opening partnerships, even if his partner David Warner had outshone him.
"He, with David Warner, has had some good opening partnerships for us, which we didn't get in England," Lehmann said. "That's a pleasing thing for us. It doesn't expose our middle order and that's what every team tries to do. [There was] the 150 they put on the other day in Perth when we had a lead but we had to start well, Brisbane I think we were 0 for 65 at stumps on day two, which was a really important opening partnership for us to take control of the game, so he has contributed."
The first innings at the WACA was less pleasing for Rogers, who was run out for 11 from nine balls when he attempted a suicidal single to midwicket and was well short when James Anderson hit the stumps at the bowler's end. Rogers knew it was an opportunity missed on a good pitch.
"I like to think I'm a smart guy, but that was very dumb," Rogers said. "I think sometimes instinct takes over and I hit it harder than I thought I did and you don't expect one of the best fielders in the world to be hanging out at mid-on, so I'll try not to do that again."
And first-innings runs from the top order is one of the areas in which Australia should be aiming for significant improvement in the remainder of the series for, too often, Brad Haddin has needed to rescue the team from shaky situations.
"We were 6 for 132 in the first Test, [4 for 174] in the second Test and five for a hundred and something in Perth," Lehmann said. "Our top order know they've got to make some more runs, and one of the big things is making them in the first innings. We need our guys performing straight up on day one if we bat first."
The Australians gathered in Melbourne on Sunday after a few days in their home cities, and they will train at the MCG over the next three days as they aim to take a 4-0 lead. Nathan Coulter-Nile and Doug Bollinger will again be with the squad as reserves in case any of the fast bowlers are unable to back up from the Perth Test.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here