Australia struggling but have few positives ahead of Ashes
Steve Smith and David Warner set to return, while Marcus Harris looks unfazed at Test level
By David Ruse
Last Updated: 08/01/19 3:33pm
That was the highest individual score by an Australian batsman in the 2-1 series defeat to India. The tourists notched five centuries, the hosts none.
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Even if you take into account that India possess possibly their finest pace attack ever - "relentless and lethal" is how Virat Kohli described Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma - and that Australia's best two batsmen, the banned Steve Smith and David Warner, are currently playing Twenty20 cricket in Bangladesh, those are damning statistics.
It's not just with the blade that the Baggy Greens are flailing - Mitchell Starc has taken 20 wickets at 46.50 since destroying South Africa in Durban in March, the left-armer bagging match figures of 9-109 in the first Test of a series that will forever be remembered for the ball-tampering scandal.
Shane Warne and Mitchell Johnson have even called for Starc to be dropped: "I think he is still the best bowler if he is fit and bowling well, but I don't think he has bowled well for a long period of time," Warne told Fox.
Only once in the last nine Ashes series has the away side emerged with the urn and you'd be hard pressed to find too many predicting a change in that trend in the latest England versus Australia series this summer. If you're backing 5-0, there's only one way it's going.
"I have faith that the guys we have around the team are the right guys. We just have to keep putting some faith and trust in them," said Australia skipper Tim Paine, whose side will host Sri Lanka in a two-Test series - their last before the Ashes - later this month.
"We've got what we've got and the playing group is trying as hard as we can to get better. They are learning on the job a bit, but I think we'll get there."
This Australia, however, is not the Australia that England will face at Edgbaston on the first day of August, with Smith and Warner, currently representing Sylhet Sixers and Comilla Victorians respectively in the Bangladesh Premier League looking increasingly certain to be in the line-up.
I cannot see Australia beating England this summer unless they assess themselves brutally. Every facet of their Test team has to improve. They are kidding themselves if they think everything will be rosy when Smith and Warner come back.
Michael Vaughan, writing in the Telegraph
If there was ever any doubt of that, it has been eradicated by the Baggy Greens' inability to score consistent runs - they have only hit 300 or more three times in 14 Test innings since Smith and Warner's removals.
The duo who have amassed over 12,500 Test runs combined, though, will return once their suspensions elapse on March 29, starting with a comeback into Australia's struggling ODI team, albeit that their malaise in that format started well before the suspensions came into effect.
Smith and Warner will be joined in Australia's Test top four by Usman Khawaja and, most likely, opening batsman Marcus Harris, the scorer of that chart-leading 79.
Khawaja is the only man to score a Test ton for Australia since he and the Marsh brothers, Shaun and Mitchell, reached the milestone against England at the SCG in January 2018 as the hosts completed a 4-0 Ashes win.
His century was a cracker, too - Khawaja showing tremendous patience and fortitude to bat for 302 balls and 522 minutes in intense heat against Pakistan in Dubai in October and help the tourists escape with a draw, somewhat ending the notion that he couldn't play spin bowling.
Harris, meanwhile, got a gig at the top of the order against India with Cameron Bancroft also serving a ball-tampering ban and Matt Renshaw failing to press his case with runs in Sheffield Shield cricket and the 26-year-old has not looked fazed, with two fifties in four Tests.
In his 79 in the first innings at Sydney, Harris was diligent outside off-stump - something Australia most definitely were not when they last toured England in 2015 - and then picked off anything directed into his pads.
The left-hander is not devoid of buttery drives either, evident in his maiden Test fifty at Perth in Australia's only victory of the India series.
Then there's Pat Cummins, arguably Australia's Test MVP of 2018. That might not be saying much but he has impressed nonetheless.
After ending the Ashes as top wicket-taker with 23 scalps having bagged eight in the final match in Sydney, he went on to claim 44 in the calendar year from just eight games at an average under 20.
Cummins also stood up when things were collapsing around him, taking nine wickets in Johannesburg in the Test after the ball-tampering affair and also scoring a half-century to prevent a 492-run defeat from becoming even heavier.
The 25-year-old, fast becoming a banker at No 8, then took on India almost single-handedly in the Boxing Day Test - bagging 6-27 having seen his batsmen skittled for just 151 and then notching 63 in Australia's second knock to extend the game for longer than expected.
Spin bowling is not an issue for Paine's men either, with Nathan Lyon now on 339 Test wickets - placing him fourth on Australia's all-time list behind Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Dennis Lilee - after a 2018 in which only Kagiso Rabada and Dilruwan Perera picked up more than his 49 wickets.
Warner, Harris, Khawaja, Smith, Cummins, Starc - if he can rediscover his mojo - Josh Hazlewood and Lyon looks a strong eight for Paine to call on. But the key for Australia is clear. Runs, and lots of them, which Kohli says will only come if they bat without "ego" and respect the swinging Dukes ball.
Seventy-nines just won't cut it.
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