What is the road ahead for Australia following the Ashes debacle?
With England winning yet another home Ashes series, the road ahead for Australia looks pretty bleak. Earlier, the series had been set up nicely at the end of two tests with both teams level at 1-1, before England went on to win the next two crucial tests and regain the Ashes, much to the disappointment of the Aussies and particularly Michael Clarke, who soon after announced his retirement from International cricket.
Australia ended their poor Ashes campaign on a high after gaining a consolation win at the Oval test by an innings and 46 runs. However their troubles began even before the start of the first test in Cardiff, when fast bowler Ryan Harris announced his retirement from international cricket citing prolonged injury. Pat Cummins was called in as a replacement for Harris, thus boosting the bowling line-up which also had the likes of Johnson, Starc and others.
Australia were the firm favourites going into the 2015 Ashes, having demolished England in the previous series down under, 5-0, in 2013-14 and having added another feather to their cap by winning the World Cup in their own backyard. Led by their courageous captain ‘Pup’, in what would later be his last test series as player and captain, Australia started off as the more confident and aggressive side going into the Ashes.
The surprise collapse from the Australians
After losing the first test at Cardiff, Australia roared back into the series with a massive victory at Lord’s. After the 405-run win, one must have sensed that Australia were going to retain the Ashes again. But their performance over the next two tests at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge, not only sealed their fate but also raised questions again about Australia’s ability to adapt to overseas conditions.
Throughout the series, the Australian batsmen(with the exceptions of Steven Smith and Chris Rogers), struggled thanks to some exceptional swing and seam bowling from Jimmy Anderson, Steven Finn, Stuart Broad and Ben Stokes. Others too like Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid and Mark Wood constantly troubled the Aussie batsmen and controlled the flow of runs. Moeen Ali in particular, was a standout all-rounder for England, scoring runs at every opportunity and taking crucial wickets with the ball.
Barring the Lord’s test, the English bowlers were successful in bowling out their opponents in all the remaining tests. Stuart Broad was the best bowler of the series picking up 21 wickets, which included his stunning spell of 8/15 in the fourth test to skittle out the visitors for a paltry 60! Australian bowlers, on the other hand, bowled well in patches throughout the series. Mitchell Starc was the leading wicket-taker for the Aussies, picking up 18 wickets, followed by Hazelwood and Lyon with 16.
In the batting department, Australia were on the back-foot on more than one occasion, with their batsmen failing to capitalise on starts and throwing away their wickets at crucial junctures. Captain Clarke turned out to be the biggest disappointment for the Aussies, averaging less than 30 with the bat. Australia’s new captain-elect Steven Smith was the highest run-scorer in the entire tournament scoring over 500 runs, with Chris Rogers not far behind.
Big shoes to fill for new generation
So, what does the future really hold for Australia?
With the retirements of Michael Clarke and Chris Rogers, Australia have some big shoes to fill. Also the likes of Brad Haddin and Shane Watson may never get another chance in a long time due to age and poor form. Australia though have been in this precarious situation before and they would be well aware of the challenges before them.
The most important transition for Australia at this stage will be the captaincy of Steven Smith. The young heir-apparent has to shoulder responsibilities of a team which clearly needs to be more organised in terms of batting order, mindset and the right team combination both in tests and ODIs. Smith’s first full-time role as skipper comes soon after the Ashes, as Australia take on England in the bilateral ODI series. Just like his predecessor Clarke, Smith takes over at a time when the team is undergoing changes and needs a good and composed leader to inspire them to greater heights.
Also young talents like Peter Nevill, Fawad Ahmed, Mitchell Marsh and Australia ‘A’ stars Joe Burns, Usman Khawaja, Sean Abbott, Ashton Agar, Gurinder Sandhu, Travis Head, Matt Wade and others will have a crucial role to play in the coming years and will try to restore the pride and invincibility of the great Australian team.