The Ashes 2013-14 December 22, 2013

Australia thrive on new-found stability

The last time Australia played an unchanged XI for four successive Tests was back in 2004. It is likely that the 10-year drought may be broken in the fourth Ashes Test, a significant achievement considering how the team was formed in a chaotic 2013

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • rob on December 24, 2013, 4:07 GMT

    @ Milhouse79: I don't usually agree with much you say but this is an exception. The last thing we Aussies should be doing is getting too far in front of ourselves. You're right when you say our team is likely to change significantly in the next few years and now is not the time to rest on the precious few laurels we've got.

    I think the difference now is that we've finally got some cricketers running our show again. The last 3 or 4 years it was being run by beaurocrats and 'administrators' who can make a computer do just about anything but had no idea how to run a cricket team. That's changed for the better and I'm way more confident about our general management now. Hopefully they will manage the required transitions better than we have been lately and guys like Lynn, Maddison etc will introduced sensibly. Also, don't be surprised if you see Phil Hughes back and THIS time he will do well.

  • Murray on December 24, 2013, 2:29 GMT

    It's nice to have the same side running out to play a few matches in a row. Having Ryan Harris playing what will hopefully now be 8 in a row has been the best news in years. He's a champion who has only played 19 test matches and is 34 yo already........... oh what could have been ? (BTW I know Philander has only played 19 matches and has 17 more wickets, but I definitely wouldn't swap for any match starting in 2 days time) . @Millhouse has a good point though. I hope we are lucky enough to be able to not have multiple changes within a few games of each other along the path. (as of course I hope the newcomers bed in well and quickly).

  • Izmi on December 23, 2013, 21:19 GMT

    It may be a bit too premature on the part of aussie bowling coach Craig McDermott to say that this bowling side is currently the best in the world. The test series against South Africa in February will go a long way to prove whether it is the best and also whether this team is the number one ranked team in world cricket. No doubt England's weakness against good fast bowling was severely exposed but it may not be the same with the Proteas who have the likes of Hashim Amla, Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallia, De Villiers and Faf du Plesis who can weather any storm. During the last tour to South Africa Pat Cummins did run through their batting line up in his debut which helped Australia to win but he has never played a test in three years since then due to injury. If Pattinson, Starc and Cummins don't recover on time from injury we could be in trouble if Johnson, Harris or Siddle broke down from injury. Jackson Bird, Bollinger and James Faulkner will no doubt have to vie for places.

  • Colin on December 23, 2013, 13:37 GMT is 3 Test since you were chopping and changing the batting order as if it was a lottery. BradmanBestEver...mate most of your batting has averaged in the 30s of recent years!!! xtrafalgarx...How long is Rogers, Harris, Haddin going to go on for? What about Clarke's back? Do you think Watson has a lot left? Exactly. Two years is a long time in sport and I think the Aussie team will change dramatically very soon. Enjoy your much deserved success but remember that you have had a very poor year overall and your recent form over the past few years has been patchy at best. I'd hold fire on proclaiming this team as a return to the glory days!

  • James on December 23, 2013, 8:11 GMT

    @Ayurveda: Johnson if very fit, he will play till 36/37. Brett Lee still bowling 145kph in BBL.

    @naresh: We don't rotate anymore mate.

  • Vikram on December 23, 2013, 7:55 GMT

    Let us not lose perspective here. FWIW, Australia have only won tests at home so far. While the Ashes is significant, their worth will be tested in overseas conditions.

  • Peter on December 23, 2013, 7:06 GMT

    Anderson averages 30 - this means he is a serviceable trundler and that is about it

  • Dummy4 on December 23, 2013, 6:59 GMT

    Great set of victories. All good now. But, in 12-18 months, there are 4-6 top Aus cricketers to be retired. Age is the main issue. Mitchell is one of them. The problem is about to open up for Clark.

  • Cam on December 23, 2013, 6:36 GMT

    @Ali_Eorse, you have Anderson in a world 11? He will be lucky to get picked for Englsnd again.

  • John on December 22, 2013, 23:18 GMT

    Australia has indeed done a splendid job and everyone associated with the side, especially Lehmann, should feel very proud. Whatever the furure, this result will be permanently in the record books.

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