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Match Analysis

Australia reassert age-old dominance of England at home

Even with a make-shift bowling attack, they were able to see off the visitors' threat

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
20-Dec-2021
Cricket Australia/Getty Images

Cricket Australia/Getty Images

Let's start by going back a few days. Josh Hazlewood had been ruled out of the second Test with a side strain and then on the morning of the match captain Pat Cummins was deemed a Covid close contact. Australia had lost half their first-choice bowling attack and their captain. Even with home advantage and a brittle opposition, it would have derailed many a team.
After the drama of the Cummins news, Steven Smith walked to the middle for the toss wearing the full-time captain's blazer. Yet from the moment the coin went in the air and landed in Smith's favour he and 'his team' - as Cummins told him it was - were ahead of the game. Might it had been different if England were able to bat first and put pressure on the new-look attack? Perhaps, but don't bet on it. Their fight on the final day made it harder work to secure victory than appeared likely on 86 for 5 but the eventual margin did not flatter Australia.
It is a vindication, if any were needed, of the decision to appoint Smith as the deputy. There wasn't really an alternative route for Cricket Australia to take, but if they had looked at another option, being thrust into this position on the morning of a Test might have been overwhelming. It was not the situation envisaged by the Cummins-Smith joint ticket - although was certainly not implausible in the current climate - but while it was unexpected for Smith he had plenty of experience to fall back on.
Despite the fighting final day, the gap between these teams remains wide. There isn't the brutality of the Mitchell Johnson-inspired 2013-14 thrashing but the margins are still massive. Since Andrew Strauss' famous tour in 2010-11 it is 11-0 in Australia's favour and there are plenty who believe it will be 14-0 by the end of this series. It was quite the statement when, before play had finished in Adelaide, Australia had confirmed an unchanged squad for the rest of the series.
Australia's attack has been a very hard group to break into - to an extent that the question has been asked whether it has been to detriment of the team - so the last few days in Adelaide could have been a very useful exercise, not just in how they coped with the upheaval but as a proper glimpse at those below the first-choice unit.
Michael Neser was steady - his first Test wicket was one of the moments of the match - but Jhye Richardson was superb in England's second innings having been expensive in the first. Australian quicks are traditionally tall, but Richardson's skiddy trajectory provides a different challenge although he would probably not have envisaged a hit-wicket in the manner of Jos Buttler's. However, with Cummins back and Hazlewood potentially available, it might be five and out given the fast-bowling riches.
The performances of the two remaining senior bowlers, Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon, was immense. Starc's match figures of 6 for 80 was among his finest Test performances as he lifted in the absence of his two sparring partners while Lyon's match - another fine return in a day-night contest - made a mockery of England's decision not to field a spinner regardless of the debate as to whether they have one good enough.
Between them Starc and Lyon had match figures of 11 for 193 with both continuing strangleholds over England batters they have started to dominate: Starc vs Rory Burns and Nathan Lyon vs Ollie Pope (Cameron Green vs Joe Root has been an unexpected bonus). Starc, who was a missed catch away from also getting Buttler for another duck, began the series with some questions over his place in the team - more vocal from certain quarters than others - while Lyon's wait for 400 wickets was becoming a lengthy one. Both those issues now feel a long time ago.
Australia have ticked a lot of boxes in the first two matches. Green's bowling has provided another dimension to the attack with him twice removing Root when he was set. There is still caution being taken over his workload; it was hoped he would not be needed on the final day before England's resistance changed that. He is not in the best of form with the bat - England were going through the motions as he helped himself to a not out in the second innings in Adelaide - but there is only up-side to his game.
Alex Carey has looked a ready-made keeper-batter after the late changed caused by Tim Paine's resignation - which is no real surprise given his experience - although he did blot is copybook when he missed the edge off Buttler. His work up to the stumps against Lyon has been excellent.
David Warner has gone from a bruising to a battling opener, grinding two 90s in the series, which is a notable example that it is never too late for a player to adapt from what are perceived to be their natural instincts. Both his innings have set up Australia for the dominance that has followed.
The only question mark is his opening partner, but by naming a 15-player squad for the rest of the series Marcus Harris has been backed in by the selectors although Usman Khawaja remains an option should Harris' returns make it untenable to retain him. Whether he is the long-term solution is uncertain - if he gets the five Tests there is more likely to be an answer. There is an argument that a winning, confident team is a good environment to look to the future, but conversely it is the luxury of such a side that if one player is struggling they have longer to prove themselves.
Though England took it deep on the final day it never felt they would deny Australia. It reinforces how special the performances have been over recent decades when sides have toured the country and found success. Barring a spectacular turnaround the odds favour the Ashes being sewn up in Melbourne (at least the series is alive on Boxing Day thanks to the schedule tweak). If so it will continue a dominance at home that, barring when a great England side and an Australia one in decline coincided 11 years ago, dates back to the early 1990s and, if anything, has become more one-sided in recent times.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo