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Feature

Australia's summer: Cummins has everything he needs, but ageing side has tougher tests ahead

Run machines - check. Pace-bowling depth - check. A gamechanger and an all-round star - check. It was a summer of plenty for Australia

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
08-Jan-2023
Australia had a near-perfect Test summer  •  AFP/Getty Images

Australia had a near-perfect Test summer  •  AFP/Getty Images

Australia's men's summer has ended with a Test tally of 4-0 and, without rain in Sydney, it would likely have been a clean sweep. Bigger challenges are on the horizon for this side, but here's what has stood out from the series against West Indies and South Africa.

Warner, Khawaja, Labuschagne and Smith cash in

Either side of a two-day Test at the Gabba, it was a summer of runs for Australia's top order.
The first innings in Brisbane was the only time they were bowled out and, for the first time, everyone from No. 1 to No. 5 made a score of at least 175. If Usman Khawaja had been able to get his 200 at the SCG it would have been just the second time four batters had scored a double in a season after England in 2011.
Whether David Warner's MCG double is the prelude to a glorious finish to his career remains to be seen - he will have to overcome poor records in India and England - but in Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne and Steven Smith they have three run machines. However, whether we see this top order together in a home Test again is uncertain. Warner may view the Ashes as an end-point and while Smith backed away from retirement talk it is certainly an ageing, though prolific, top order.

Travis Head - a gamechanger at home

The absence of one name above was not an oversight - Travis Head warrants a discussion of his own.
After his pair of stunning Ashes hundreds last season, which earned him the Player-of-the-Series award, he has gone on to have another dominant home season. It says something that even with 99 and 175 against West Indies (chopping on against Kraigg Brathwaite and being run out), he felt he left a few out there. However, his best innings came on the devilish pitch at the Gabba where his 92 off 96 balls stood way above anything else produced in the game.
His game-changing ability is certainly not a flash in the pan. Next for him, though, is turning around a poor record in the subcontinent. If he maintains the same attacking approach, it certainly won't be dull to watch.

The Cameron Green project

It wasn't exactly an unexpected conclusion, but the discussions that went into the balance of the Australia side in Sydney - and the eventual combination they settled on - just emphasised the vital role Green has in the Test side. It had been a curious home season for Green, who, until Melbourne, suffered from a lack of cricket having been involved in the white-ball sides. A maiden five-wicket haul felt like a breakout moment and then his gusty half-century with a broken finger was more worthy than its overall impact on the result. Green will continue to be one of Australia's most fascinating projects over the next few years as he learns to balance workloads and other demands now that the IPL has come calling with their mega millions.

Pace-bowling depth

It felt strong at the end of the last season. If anything, it feels even stronger now. Australia's attack was once again able to seamlessly manage the loss of Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood for the Adelaide Test with the return of Scott Boland and Michael Neser. Hazlewood, meanwhile, reminded everyone of his excellence at the SCG and Lance Morris, capable of 150kph, is now firmly in the mix. Sean Abbott and Mark Steketee remain high-quality domestic performers who may never get their chance but would not look out of their depth. An interesting one is Jhye Richardson, who was bowling superbly in the BBL before another untimely injury. If his body can stand up to the strain he may yet be a tempting option for the Ashes in England.

Cummins ignores the noise

Earlier in the season, Cummins gave the impression, quite rightly, of not being the slightest bit bothered by some of the nonsense reactions to his very measured stance on a few of today's big issues that stretch beyond the cricket field. Given what the opposition served up in the five Tests, this was not the most tactically challenging pair of series for him, but he did not make many mis-steps. Bowling first in consecutive Tests was out of the usual playbook; Brisbane may not have taken much thought, but the decision in Melbourne was a trickier one and it worked out perfectly, albeit with some help from South Africa, when it meant Australia weren't bowling on the sweltering second day. Like the team as a whole, his tenure as captain will be defined by the next seven months.
What about Marcus Harris?
There was the briefest of glimpses of what's next in the Australian batting line-up with Matt Renshaw being recalled in Sydney, although in the end he was limited to 11 balls. Peter Handscomb's addition to the squad was also an indication that he will likely go to India.
Spare a thought, therefore, for Marcus Harris. He travelled around throughout the season before being released back to the BBL midway through the SCG Test. If Renshaw had been subbed out with Covid, it's unlikely he would have been the replacement. He will hope, that when an opening vacancy does occur, perhaps next summer, he remains the next in line. More broadly, though, the tag of next-big-thing in the batting remains up for grabs.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo