Steve Smith and his men put the exclamation mark on a ruthless summer of cricket with a dominant Innings and 123 run victory to secure the Ashes with a four-nil series win. England’s inability to take wickets was punished ruthlessly on the fourth day of the match when they were forced to toil in ungodly conditions as their opponents relentlessly ground them into the SCG turf.
What did we Learn, Like and Dislike in the final Test Match of the 2017/18 Ashes Series?
KHAWAJA SHOULD BE PERSEVERED WITH IN ALL CONDITIONS
Having lost his place in the Australian team during each of Australia’s last three overseas tours, there was some pressure building on Usman Khawaja as he strode to the crease in Sydney. With just two half-centuries to show for his efforts in the first four Tests, there were many who were questioning whether he was the right man to hold down the number three position in the Australian batting order.
His eight and half hour marathon stint at the wicket in Sydney should assuage these fears as Khawaja again showed the world what he is capable of. Stubborn in defence and sublime when attacking, it made for a glorious and well deserved 171 for Australia’s first drop.
Shane Warne was one of many who, like The Sportress, suggest that it is an innings that demands the backing of the selectors. “The most impressive thing here was his aggression against spin. (When things aren’t going well) he looks to survive and can be not busy enough but today he had positive intent right from ball one and dominated,” said Warne on Nine. “Let him play in India and everywhere and he’ll learn to play against those guys.”
NATHAN LYON WILL MISS BOWLING TO MOEEN ALI
Poor Moeen Ali.
Arriving in Brisbane for the Ashes, with a batting average of 35.80 and bowling average of 20.66 in 2017, he would have had high hopes of creating history in the series. By the series end, he was involved in a piece of history but on the wrong side of the ledger.
Seven times he was dismissed by Nathan Lyon, the equal most amount of times a bowler has taken the wicket of the same batsman in a single series. While four other batsmen have suffered the same ignominy, having batted just nine times in a series, no other has been dismissed at the same rate as Ali by Lyon.
It is fair to say that while Ali will be extremely happy to leave this series behind, Nathan Lyon will most definitely miss him when he leaves.
AUSTRALIA’S BOWLING: A QUARTET OF LETHALITY
With a ruthless efficiency that their opponents couldn’t match, the Australian bowling attack scythed through the England batting line up time and time again. Where England was unable to take twenty wickets in any of the five Tests, it was only during Mitchell Starc’s absence in the Fourth Test that Australia failed to do so.
A team effort, the quartet managed to share the wickets almost evenly amongst themselves. With 20 scalps a piece, if they haven’t announced themselves as the world’s best bowling lineup, they will have Steve Smith extremely confident he has all four at his disposal in the future.
MARSH BROTHERS REPAY SELECTORS FAITH
The selection of both Marsh brothers was vigourously questioned by many, including this correspondent, but on Days 3 & 4 both repaid the selectors faith with a stunning partnership that helped set up the comprehensive victory. With each man posting their second century for the series, they combined to put on 169 for the fifth wicket.
The brothers obviously enjoyed the opportunity to be on hand to celebrate the others special moment but an eagerness to do so nearly caused a calamitous end to the partnership. With Mitch piercing the infield the pair set off to bring up his century but as they passed each other for the second run Shaun attempted to embrace his younger brother seemingly forgetting the ball was still in play. Shrugged off, Shaun made his ground before they again came together to embrace in celebration as Steve Smith in the stands seemed in shock as he attempted to comprehend what he had just seen.
A big series awaits against South Africa but if they can answer the challenge the reward may well be a Marsh family mortgage on the lower middle order in the Australian team for some time to come.
LYON ENDS COOKS SERIES WITH A JAFFA
Having kept the English out in oppressive weather conditions for two and 1/2 sessions on day four, the Australians looked to finish off their weakened prey early and remove any hope of a hard-fought draw. Mitchell Starc quickly removed Mark Stoneman before Nathan Lyon produced perhaps the ball of the summer, to remove Alastair Cook.
On the back foot, Cook was enticed down the wrong line by the ball gently drifting in towards him before it turned away from his misplaced bat on a collision course with his off-stump. In what was a golden summer for Lyon, this may have been it’s greatest highlight. With the beaten Cook forced to make the long trek back to the pavilion, Lyon was left to celebrate the moment with his excited team mates.
SMITH INVENTS THE FALLDOWN HOOK BLOCK SHOT
On Day Two, Steve Smith introduced the world to the Falldown Hook Block Shot. In a perfect illustration of the form the Aussie Captain finds himself in, not only did he attempt the outlandish shot but also managed to hit out of the middle of his bat.
While it is a shot we have never seen before, given the unorthodox bent of the Aussie skippers batting, don’t put it beyond him to play it again in the future.
NO BALL DRAMA STRIKES AGAIN
Just days after Fourth Test English debutant Tom Curren missed out on his first Test wicket due to a third umpires call of no-ball, the same fate befell Fifth Test debutant Marcus Crane. Perhaps a little more galling for Crane, the fact that the illegal delivery only came to light due to England challenging the not out verdict given in response to his LBW appeal. It was a decision that provoked a great deal of outrage from many commentators, Graeme Swann most vocally, but it is hard to understand why given the conclusive footage of Crane’s foot landing on the line.
With a similar incident occurring in the Perth Test too it is now apparent, if it wasn’t already, that umpires are completely reticent to call no-balls. While technology is offering a reprieve for batsmen dismissed on illegal deliveries, how many runs are being missed on no-balls that don’t bring about wickets? As we said after the Boxing Day Test, with an umpire in a booth watching replays all day there is a simple fix to this problem. Don’t hold your breath about any move to resolve it though, that won’t come until a World Cup Semi Final or Final is lost by the handful of runs that an umpire didn’t award for illegal deliveries.
NIGHTWATCHMAN HYSTERIA AFTER FIRST NIGHT ENGLAND STUTTER
Two wickets in the last seven balls of Day 1, saw England surrender much of the advantage they had built in the previous 80 overs. The dismissals of Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow, seeing England crash to 5-233. Where a total of 400+ might have looked on the cards, instead the long English tail was now exposed, with 350 now a long way away.
Instead of post play talk focusing on the Australian’s ability to prise open the match it focused on Bairstows decision to forego a nightwatchman. As a result, the wicket-keeper was left to carry an unfair share of the burden of his team’s mini-collapse rather than his captain who carelessly lost his wicket just as he had lifted his team into a strong position.
By focusing too much attention Bairstow’s decision to decline the nightwatchman it also diverted attention away from the War and Peace-like length of the English tail. That your wicketkeeper being dismissed at the end of a day one leaves your batting line up in disarray is the fault of the selectors, not the man left to protect them.