Signs of development but much to do
Harris arrived in England as an ageing, injury-prone selectors' gamble, but he leaves as Australia's undisputed best fast bowler, and among the top handful in the world. Concern about whether Harris would last the distance during this series were underlined by his omission from the team for the Trent Bridge Test, but from the moment he nipped out Joe Root and Kevin Pietersen on the first morning at Lord's he has been consistently the most vexing opponent for Alastair Cook's men. Other memorable spells at Old Trafford and Durham should have been rewarded with victories. Harris also threw himself around the field and fought hard with the bat. Nearing 34, he looms as a pivotal player Down Under over the forthcoming Ashes bout; Australia will preserve him for as long as they possibly can.
There is nothing so reliable in Australian cricket as the sight of Siddle steaming in, giving his all for the national team and searching batsmen's reserves of technique, application and courage. Unlike previous Ashes series, he has also done so with exceptional skill as well as persistence, his use of the crease a particular highlight. On the first day of the series it was Siddle who set the tone for Australia's bowlers by plucking five wickets and showing England's batsmen could be restricted. He has kept fighting every innings since, even if his returns have tailed off slightly due to the accumulated fatigue of five Tests. Among the pacemen, only the exceptionally durable James Anderson has bowled more overs. He can expect to more of the same this southern summer.
Handpicked for English conditions after waiting what seemed to him an eternity for a proper chance at Test cricket, Rogers has not let Australia down, placing the highest price on his wicket and consistently forcing the hosts into second and third spells to dislodge him. Save for a poor Test at Lord's, his quality has been demonstrated by a range of innings from a startlingly fluent 84 in Manchester to a wonderfully dogged first century in Durham. Rogers has also been largely adept at his use of the DRS to escape close calls. Problems against Graeme Swann have been noticeable, and will be the major hurdle for him to overcome between now and the return series, where he will continue a remarkably late blooming Test career.
Not chosen in the initial squad because it was felt his technique would not stand up to English pitches and seam bowling, Smith found his way into the team via a combination of Michael Clarke's dodgy back and his own strong scoring for Australia A. His contributions have been spotty at times, but have consistently improved, from a handy half century in Nottingham to a stirring first century at the Oval. Smith's legspin provided three surprise wickets at Lord's and he has fielded with typical enthusiasm. Most importantly, he has shown as a young player that he is learning how to cope with top quality bowling. A prospective leader now guaranteed to bat in the top six at the Gabba, Smith is the major long-term positive to arrive for Australia this year.
Took his omission from the first Test team with rare grace, a reaction that would look all the more admirable when he did finally get the chance to bowl in the third match of the series. With the help of Clarke's empathy and tactical sharpness, Lyon has steadily developed into an offspin bowler of high quality, and to watch him duel with Kevin Pietersen at the Oval was to see that he is far from outmatched in such rare company. For his sake it is to be hoped that Australia's selectors recognise this and cease second-guessing him, as they did in India and again at the start of the Ashes.
Called into the team as Clarke's best lieutenant and also an accomplished performer in each of the past two Ashes series, Haddin very nearly stole the Trent Bridge Test from under English noses with a fearless innings on the final morning. That he did not weighed heavily on the vice-captain, and his batting contributions were not so strident thereafter. However, he caught well with one or two exceptions, surpassing the selector Rod Marsh's record for dismissals in a series, and provided a valuable leadership presence both on the field and off it. Towards the end of the series he stated his desire to keep playing until the 2015 World Cup; if he can keep scoring runs it is a realistic goal.
Whether cracking a century at Old Trafford, leading with typical alertness or catching most chances at slip, Clarke performed creditably at the head of a poorly performing team. But he has also shown signs that the batting mastery of 2011-12 has faded, as much because of an increasingly dodgy back as England's considered plans for him. Stuart Broad was a consistent source of trouble, while James Anderson also saved his best ball of the series for him at Trent Bridge. A desire to bat at No. 5 forced numerous shuffles around him, and he ended the series at No. 4 anyway. Clarke has looked crestfallen at times on the tour, as he did in India, for he knows that however he performs individually, the team's results will define his legacy. The home summer affords an opportunity to ensure it does not slip away.
Even for a figure as polarising as Watson this was a more enigmatic series than most. Starting as an opening batsman, ridiculed for his lbw frailty, demoted to No. 6 while bowling steadily, injured and recovered then clattering his finest Test century at the Oval, he was never far from a headline. Despite that final innings, Watson's series was largely disappointing because when the destination of the Ashes was still to be decided, he was nowhere, repeatedly betrayed by his ever-so-prominent front pad, more often than not by the undersung Tim Bresnan. But he has learned valuable lessons that he may be able to use during the return matches in Australia. Watson will start at No. 3 in Brisbane on the strength of his Oval knock, and Australia will hope he can repeat it with the urn on the line.
He may not appreciate it now, but Mitchell Starc is being steadily groomed for a long and fruitful international career. His bowling can be extraordinary at times and decidedly ordinary at others, and he retains the ability to remove the best batsmen. Australia have maintained a policy of playing him in alternate Test matches, something that has so far kept him from too much injury harm while also allowing him to grow gradually more consistent. The improvement has been more incremental than dramatic thus far, and he will hope to push on during the home summer, where he flirted with a match-winning display on the first morning against South Africa in Perth last season before losing his form dramatically in the second innings. Whether Starc does graduate from alternate to permanent next series or not, there is plenty to work with.
An innings of a lifetime in Nottingham made Agar an instant celebrity, before his embryonic left-arm spin was shown to be a long way from the finished article. Given the loose-limbed elegance and poise he showed in the aforementioned 98, it was possible to wonder whether Agar is more likely to develop as a batsman rather than a bowler. Either way, he has plenty of talent, but it was fair to conclude that his call-up had arrived a little too soon. Agar is unlikely to figure in the return series, as he fashions his game in domestic competition and decides where exactly in the team his future may lie.
The curious selection decisions that have surrounded Hughes' still young career continued when he was dropped a Test match after a most composed unbeaten 81 at Trent Bridge, in the Michael Hussey middle order role he had prepared for in the lead-up matches. While Hughes' technical pops and ticks are well known, he thrives most of all on confidence, and having gained plenty in Nottingham, it ebbed away again as he sat on the boundary's edge for three Tests. It remains to be seen whether he is still part of the selectors' plans for the home summer, but Hughes has reason to feel a little hard done by on the flight back to Australia.
Before the series Pattinson was billed as the leader of Australia's attack, his older brother Darren's unhappy and brief England career a potent backstory. He seemed somewhat overawed by the task with the ball in his hands at Trent Bridge and Lord's, bowling one or two excellent spells amid many rather more indifferent ones. But his desire to succeed could never be questioned, and his doughty batting at No. 11 in both matches won plenty of admirers. A back injury then curtailed his tour, but he remained a part of the squad on tour, and if fit will be a central part of the team to line-up in Brisbane.
Finally granted the sorts of opportunities he had been waiting for, under the wing of a coach he admires in Darren Lehmann, Khawaja failed to take them. There was one horrible shot followed by a substantial knock at Lord's and one ghastly decision to end his innings at Old Trafford, but the overall impression was of a batsman looking at home but then finding ways to get out. His departure at Durham, missing a straight ball from Graeme Swann, may be the last glimpse of Khawaja at Test level for some time, until he can regain the habit of making hundreds.
A pair of firm innings at the top of the order have probably shored up Warner's position as Rogers' opening partner when the Ashes contest resumes in Australia, but they served also to remind observers of what the tourists had lost with his hare-brained swipe at Joe Root in a Birmingham bar. He can never be so wasteful again or risk an international career that should be punctuated by the sorts of shots he reeled off in the second innings at Chester-le-Street, when he momentarily filled England's bowlers with rare doubt.
A worthy back-up to Harris, Siddle and Pattinson, Bird delivered some decent bowling stints in Durham but will be remembered most for being coshed for crucial runs by Bresnan on the fourth morning. His seam and swing is decent enough but he may need to find another gear in future - this may be provided in the short-term at least by the pacier pitches he will have to work with in Australia. He ended the tour complaining of back pain, but will remain part of the team's impressive and important pace bowling depth.
Straining for a chance all series, Faulkner finally had one at the Oval where he did much as would have been expected. He batted unselfishly, bowled serviceably and spoke punchily, but overall looked fractionally short of the top rank. A little like Bird, Faulkner's bowling record has been inflated by Australian domestic pitches malleable to his art, meaning he may be more dangerous to England at home than he was on the other side of the world.
One Test match, a bad stomach bug, a pair of heedless cover drives and a swift removal from the side was not how Cowan would have envisaged his Ashes. His hard graft in India seemingly forgotten, Cowan seems unlikely to be called upon again unless he can sway the selectors in the manner of Simon Katich by compiling record tallies of domestic runs.
This feature is in association with Tourism Australia.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here