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News Analysis

What the Ashes told us about Australia's Test team

They were rarely challenged by a woeful England side, but a number of new and younger players stood tall

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
17-Jan-2022
Australia came into the Ashes with a number of questions around their Test line-up. After a 4-0 victory, which was one wicket away from a whitewash, how many have been answered?
Warner's opening partner
Marcus Harris was the player given the chance at the start of the series but he did not complete the five Tests, although that was as much to do with Usman Khawaja's stunning return as his own failures. Harris did not grasp the opportunity with both hands, but his 76 in Melbourne was vital and in what was a tough series for openers - the lowest overall average for an Ashes in Australia since 1887-88 - he did not look out of place. Whether Khawaja, who had the misfortune of being asked to open in spicy Hobart conditions, will stay alongside David Warner remains to be seen. It might be the only spot available to him. Warner himself faded as the series went on, rounded off by his second pair in the Ashes in what may yet have been a final duel with Stuart Broad, but his two 90s in Brisbane and Adelaide, while owing something to luck, were agenda-setting. It's largely up to him if he wants to make the 2023 Ashes.
Head start (and finish)
If you had been asked to pick a Player of the Series before a ball was bowled, it's fair to say Travis Head's name would not have been high up the list. It was a close call whether he or Khawaja would take the No. 5 position. However, he produced what should be a breakout performance, a fulfillment of talent and stroke play that many have recognised before but have waited to come to fruition. A thrilling century-in-a-session at the Gabba ensured there was no way back for England and, having missed the SCG Test due to Covid, he outdid himself in Hobart having walked in at 12 for 3 with the ball moving everywhere. His batting will often be a high wire act, and a few questions remain against the short ball, but he can be a gamechanger.
Green giant
The allrounder position was never a question of personnel coming into the series, but it was always going to be fascinating to watch Cameron Green's development. And what a statement he made. Firstly it was with the ball as he claimed key wickets - including Joe Root twice in the first two Tests - with his bowling returning to something close to what it was before his back injuries. Then confidence was restored with the bat through hard work in the nets after England's quicks had challenged his off-stump defence. He broke free in the second innings in Sydney and then played his best Test innings to date to turn the opening day in Hobart around. He was the first Australian player to score more than 200 runs and take at least 10 wickets in a men's Ashes since Shane Warne in 2005 and before that it was Steve Waugh in 1986. There will inevitably be bumps along the road but the cricketing world is at Green's feet.
Carey for keeps?
Elevated into the side only a week before the series after Tim Paine's resignation and decision to step away from the game, the final day in Hobart was a timely confidence boost for Alex Carey. He rode his luck to make useful runs then grabbed a couple of superb catches - the one off Chris Woakes was a blinder - diving to his right where he had missed a few in earlier matches. It was not a debut series that said, without doubt, that he is the long-term option but it would be a huge surprise if he did not keep his place for the Pakistan tour. Carey is also admired for the leadership qualities and calmness he brings to the side.
Beyond the big three
A lot of the pre-series talk had been about how Australia would use their quick bowlers. Through injury and Covid they were forced to delve into their much-vaunted depth and it stood up spectacularly. The story of the series was the performance of Scott Boland who took himself from a fringe candidate to someone who is difficult to leave out. Josh Hazlewood's absence after Brisbane with a side strain was barely noticed while Pat Cummins' late withdrawal in Adelaide due to being a close contact was handled with ease. Jhye Richardson came in and took a five-wicket haul, then did not play again in the series as he picked up a niggle and Boland stormed into the side. Mitchell Starc was the only frontline quick on either side to play all five Tests and was outstanding in the first three matches. Meanwhile, Cummins finished as the top wicket-taker to lead from the front in every sense.
Captain Cummins
And on that final point, it is a credit to Cummins (although also a reflection on the feeble opposition provided by England) how seamless the transition to his leadership has been. The new structure with Steven Smith worked well and was immediately called into action in Adelaide. If Cummins did make any missteps they came in Sydney and were fairly minor in the grander scheme of things. The fact England were blown away for under 200 in six of their 10 innings (and under 150 three times) meant there weren't many long days in the field and those will come at some point. However, with a five-strong attack at his disposal there will always be a fresh bowler to call on. As Australia finally return to Test cricket overseas after more than two years, how he and his team evolve will be worth watching.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo