Where should axe fall after Ashes batting flops?

The Ashes are coming home to Australia. But the wait for a series win in England continues. Across six weeks of thrills and spills cricket both batting orders failed with alarming regularity, while the bowling attacks of both sides provided much more in the way of quality.

Steve Smith was undeniably the significant point of difference, Australian skipper Tim Paine grateful to be able to call on the finest batsman of his - or possibly any - generation, even for just three and a half Test matches

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Four burning questions for Australia to ponder on their long flight home.

 

WHO SURVIVES FOR THE HOME SUMMER?

Australia retained the urn on the back of three men really, the superstar that is Steve Smith and the powerhouse bowling efforts of Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood.

 

Marcus Harris did not look like a Test quality opener at any point during this Ashes series.
Marcus Harris did not look like a Test quality opener at any point during this Ashes series.

 

Marnus Labuschagne entered the series late but his four half-centuries were better than most a batting outfit which leaves several players looking to the start of the Sheffield Shield season for runs to keep their Test careers on track. Both Cameron Bancroft and Usman Khawaja were jettisoned before the series got to the fourth Test and Marcus Harris didn't perform after he came in.

At 32 and having had 44 Tests to cement a place, Khawaja is anything but a lock to return. But he has opening potential too and given the lack of obvious up-front options, Usman could be the man there.

But the only batsmen who can feel real safety in the line-up for the first Test against Pakistan in November are Smith and Labuschagne, with David Warner, despite his disaster, retaining strong support too.

 

David Warner has runs in the bank but his failure in England was so emphatic his place is in doubt.
David Warner has runs in the bank but his failure in England was so emphatic his place is in doubt.

 

Travis Head remains vice-captain, but it's not a title that offers any guarantees, as his axing for the final Test showed, and Mitch Marsh's effort in his place showed worth with the ball, but no batter has played more often at number six in a career and averaged less than his 25, making it clear he's not quite the all-rounder his team needs.

So Australia needs another opener, and a number five and maybe six batsmen, with captain Tim Paine going nowhere after achieving something - taking the Ashes home from England - that none of his predecessors had for 18 years.

 

HOW ABOUT MATTHEW WADE?

The pugnacious left-hander was the only batsman other than Smith to score a hundred in a series where batsman, particularly those holding the bat the same way he does, struggled.

His fighting 117 in the second innings at The Oval, when no-one else could muster more than 24, which included fending off a sustained and serious attack from Jofra Archer, came after seven scores under 34, having started with 110 in the series opener at Edgbaston.

At 31, his game is at its peak and going back to Australia he could be expected to make more runs given his 1000-plus in the Sheffield Shield last season.

Mike Hussey's Test career didn't start until after he turned 30, and that turned out pretty well. Wade's constant chirp when fielding is also dividing, but probably not a real determinant to his place in the team. It's likely only now an injury would keep him out of at least starting the home summer.

 

CAN AUSTRALIA BUILD AROUND THE BOWLERS?

Australia started the Ashes, and the World Cup for that matter, which an armoury of top-shelf fast bowlers which was only improved with the recovery from injury of Jhye Richardson who is ready to rip in as the domestic season starts.

It's an abundance of fearsome free fast men that gives selectors multitude options for getting through a six-Test home summer with a batting order that remain a work in progress.

When you include the world's best spinner, Nathan Lyon, it's hard to find a country in world cricket so well placed for bowlers.

 

In Pat Cummins and Steve Smith Australia can boast the world’s best bowler and batsman to build upon.
In Pat Cummins and Steve Smith Australia can boast the world’s best bowler and batsman to build upon.

 

When Mitchell Starc is fourth pick behind Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and James Pattinson, with Richardson, Michael Neser and untried guys like Chris Tremain to throw in to the mix, it's a good place to start when picking a team which will get, on average, 65 runs every innings, usually more, from Steve Smith.

 

HOW CAN AUSTRALIA GET BETTER AT DRS?

Aussie captain Tim Paine joked about is horrible record, which ended up with one correct call from 14 reviews after finally getting a last day success at The Oval.

But it was an element of the game which cost Australia the third Test at Headingley, where a victory could have secured the urn with two Tests to go.

Paine admitted to frittering away Australia's last review in the overs before they really needed it. When Nathan Lyon trapped match-winner Ben Stokes LBW, but it was given not out, and Paine couldn't go upstairs, it was the wake-up call he needed to realise that when it came to things he could control, that was a major one.