Ashes 2019: Feeble Australia have much to improve before facing England this summer

Updated: 20/04/2024

It ended in a damp squib of a draw in Sydney but it is howls of derision rather than rain that is currently pouring down on perhaps the weakest Australian side in a generation.

No play was possible on the final day of the Fourth Test at the SCG but it’s a measure of how far the Aussies have fallen that some would have seen this as a merciful release.

After all, an innings defeat looked the most likely outcome as dawn broke in New South Wales.

Thumped by India

For their part, India had just become the first side in 30 years to make the Aussies follow on in a home Test. It was the final insult delivered by a touring side that was about to win its first ever Test series Down Under. After over 70 years of trying.

Virat Kohli, immediately pronounced it the proudest moment of his career, with the win crowning a memorable 12 months for the world’s No 1 batsman.

The 30-year-old scored five centuries in the calendar year. That’s one more than the entire Australian side mustered over the same period.

England, meanwhile, scored four hundreds in their 4-1 series thrashing of Kohli’s men this summer.

Context and caveats

Australia's captain Steve Smith (R), flankled by teammate Cameron Bancroft, speaking during a press conference in Cape Town as he admitted to ball-tampering during the third Test against South Africa.sensationally admitted to ball-tampering during the third Test against South Africa (Getty Images)

There are, of course, mitigating circumstances during an extraordinary year for those men in green and gold.

The ball tampering incident in Cape Town back in March didn’t so much cast a shadow over the sport Down Under as completely eclipse it.

The absence of Steve Smith – who topped 100 six times in 2017 – and David Warner, who has 21 Test hundreds to his name, left a hole that any side in the world would have struggled to fill.

Long list of problems

But the absence of credible alternatives to this pair will be a massive concern as the Ashes approach, even if Smith is almost guaranteed to resume his Test career once his ban expires on 29 March.

The likes of Aaron Finch struggled hugely against India’s pace attack, averaging just 16 in three Tests. Marcus Harris fared better at the top of the order but the recall of Peter Hanscomb – who was made to look distinctly second rate by an otherwise struggling England side last winter – was a predictable failure.

Read more: Did Australia cheat in the Ashes too?

It’s not as if players are battering down the door in Sheffield Shield cricket either. The number of hundreds per match in Australia’s domestic four-day competition in 2017/18 was 1.4 – the second lowest total in 20 years of First Class cricket Down Under.

The worst was 1.03 in 2012/13, which suggests that this problem is not only a modern one but one that’s not going away anytime soon.

Australia’s bowlers have offered plenty of salvation when the country’s batsmen haven’t performed in the past but even the feared four of Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon failed to offer solace. Only Cummins averaged under 30 in the four Tests against India, thanks largely to his 6 for 27 in Australia’s third Test defeat at the MCG.

Take away his nine wickets in that match and Cummins took five in three Tests at a cost of 58.

What can England expect?

England will be hoping to regain the Ashes in August and September (Getty Images)

These are the kind of stats that should have England fans licking their chops at the prospect of bringing the Ashes back home this summer.

Retaining the Ashes on English soil has proved too much for Australia since 2001, an 18 year hiatus that would have been unthinkable in the 1990s.

Ian Bell has won the Ashes – home and away – more than any other English cricketer bar Ian Bothan and Wilfred Rhodes but despite Australia’s current woes he believes that it’s far too early to put the champagne on ice.

“It’s tempting isn’t it,” he says. “But they will be a different side when they have those players back and available.”

Whether Warner will return after effectively being saddled with the blame for sandpapergate remains to be seen. It’s hard to imagine a scenario that would see him and Cameron Bancroft striding purposefully out to the wicket together at Edgbaston on August 1.

Hard yards ahead

Kohli, meanwhile, has said that Australia will need to leave their egos at the departure gate if they’re to succeed in England.

“You have to curb yourself down and do the hard yards,” he told “Grind it out the whole day, you have to be patient as a batsman.”

How easy that will be for this current crop is anyone’s guess.

Analysis by CricViz, shows that 36 Australian batsmen lost their wicket after being at the crease for between 30 and 100 balls against India, the highest total in the country’s history. Again, it’s a recurring problem with five of the seven highest figures being recorded since 2013.

England’s batsmen were criticised for similar failings but their performances in Sri Lanka suggest that this is an issue that has been addressed.

For the Aussies, the time to rectify these faults is already at a premium.

The Ashes clock is ticking.

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