Pat’s captaincy the ‘biggest triumph of all’ as England finish ‘s–t sandwich’ tour

Ashes, Cricket, damien fleming, featured, The Ashes

Of all the positives for Australia from their 4-0 Ashes win, the biggest triumph of all was the captain, Pat Cummins.

He brought such a composed attitude around the group, just with his nature. He provides a lot of stability in the heat of an Ashes series.

As significant as anything for me was watching the post-match ceremony. The cameras kept going towards the team, and there was this big, hulking but smiling figure of Pat walking everywhere; and right behind him were his men.

It’s almost like they have got their leader here, and they’ll follow him into battle anywhere.

He’s just a natural leader, and he has something no Australian captain has had since Richie Benaud: himself to bring on to bowl!

When we needed the big wicket, he grabs the ball and wills us one. 21 wickets for the series was sensational; yet again, the batsmen seldom got accustomed to his uncanny accuracy. It’s unrelenting, isn’t it?

Then you chuck in the pace, the bounce, the seam, and I loved the two inswingers at the SCG – more of that please, Pat! But that’s all mixed in with never-ending hostility.

He’s pretty unselfish, too. He ripped open that MCG Test with three early wickets in the first innings; he could have taken the ball and got a five-for, got himself on the board, but he bowled Nathan Lyon and co. to get a few wickets. That’s another thing that everyone respects about him.

In a bowler-dominated series, the Australian batting did enough. I know David Warner finished with a pair, but those early 90s in Brisbane and Adelaide were really important, and tough, knocks to get us through difficult periods.

He’s going to get easier batting conditions, and I still think he’s got a lot of runs in him.

Steve Smith’s an interesting one; it was an average series by his standards. He seems to be getting as many starts as he used to when he dominated, but no longer are those 40-60s going on to be big 150s. Hence, the batting average goes down.

He does get caught down the leg side a lot more, and short balls are a theory the opposition are going to use more and more, so he needs to come up with a plan to survive and thrive and maintain that average of 60.

Player of the series was Travis Head; he was another huge positive for Australia this series. Two months ago, that number five spot was wide open, and he sealed it.

His fluency in the middle order accelerates Test matches. In bowler-friendly conditions, his two hundreds for the series were stunning; none better than the one at Hobart. When you look at the scores now, that ton stands out.

Teams will try and tuck him up on the leg side, like his dismissal in the second innings, so he’ll need to work on a plan for that; but what a series!

I could go on all day about Cameron Green: he’s just so exciting.

With th bat he’s pretty sound technically, and he plays really well within the ‘V’. You just hope that this is the start of something special; with a first-class average of 50, he’s someone who I think now can really go on and turn those 50s into hundreds.

His bowling was simply sensational; searing pace, extreme bounce, massive release height, hostility, he’s got the lot.

With 13 wickets at 15, he changed the balance of the Ashes series. To be able to have potency from your number six batsman like that… it hasn’t happened in my lifetime watching the Australian team.

For Nathan Lyon not to bowl in Hobart, that’s really because of how much Green stepped up.

I would have said ‘Lyono’ still had a very good match, though. He was the only batter on either team who could play the bouncer; he is the ‘hookologist’ and he should be teaching the top order!

Lyon’s mature, and a very unselfish player. You could have had a younger player sooking that he wasn’t bowling, who wouldn’t have been switched on to take those two great catches he took.

Alex Carey looked the part behind the stumps; he’d have got so much out of taking that hanger to his right side yesterday after the problems he had this series.

Without getting big scores, his batting looked really sound. That was a crucial 49 in Hobart – I know he had some luck – but if he’d been knocked over we’d have been in trouble.

Aside from the drops, his keeping was good, he gloved them off Lyon well. With his first series behind him, let’s hope he continues to progress, and he was another one who provided a lot of leadership to help Cummins.

It was almost Mitchell Starc’s most consistent series; he brought a real soundness to the attack, particularly in the first three Tests.

It looked like he wanted the ball in his hands, he was a little more accurate, and he used his angle across the right-handers a lot better.

Batting-wise, behind Green he was the second-best all-rounder in the series. All up, a very mature Ashes campaign.

As for Scott Boland… wow! 18 wickets at 9.55, he was just unplayable. The Bolo bowling machine!

Scott Boland

Scott Boland claims the inaugural Johnny Mullagh Medal. (Photo by Darrian Traynor – CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images)

That unrelenting stock ball and his bowling fitness were insane, really. England had no answers, and I think it’ll hold up in most countries.

In the subcontinent, he might miss out if we play two spinners, but he was another great story out of this series. Well done George Bailey and co. for picking him!

It just adds to the fast-bowling depth – Jhye Richardson took five wickets in his last bowl, helped win a Test, and hasn’t played since! To think we can dominate like that without Josh Hazlewood, who at times has been the best in the world, is another real tick for our depth.

To sum up England, one of my favourite movies is Spinal Tap.

They had an album review, and it sums up England’s tour – it was a s–t sandwich, let’s be honest.

They sent out an average team, with particular concerns over their batting. They needed to take all the breaks, but instead they created cracks of their own.

A lot of that was controllable – if they’d got their selections right at the Gabba and picked Stuart Broad and/or Jimmy Anderson, that match could have played out a lot differently.

Their no-balls and catching was also below Test level.

With the bat, there’s too much left to Joe Root to carry the burden of scoring big hundreds. Despite some really good knocks, he unfortunately goes back without a hundred in Australia.

Going forward, I can still see him scoring a mountain of runs, but who’s going to join him?

He said he wanted to keep the captaincy; I felt like by the end of the series, the burden of being the sole run-scorer and the captain was weighing on him.

The only positive I can see from the batting that they didn’t already have was Zak Crawley. I like his intent: he wanted to get forward and meet the ball, his driving was really good, and he played some really good pull shots at the SCG.

Zak Crawley bats.

Zak Crawley bats during day one of the third Ashes Test. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

On flatter pitches, he could be quite a dominant player. Besides him, though, every unknown that came goes back with big question marks.

In hindsight, I wouldn’t have played Jack Leach all series, because he was less threatening than whichever quick was left out.

I don’t think Root knew how to captain him. He said he was too aggressive with the fielding in Brisbane, and that led to a scintillating hundred – unfortunately for Leach, it was with the ball.

Then, when he came back in Melbourne and Sydney, it was almost as if Root was trying to apologise by setting ultra-defensive fields with no pressure on.

Then, when England had the momentum, Root would bring him back on and see him be worked for singles, as opposed to the threatening quicks.

By the next time they come out, they’re going to need to find a spinner, unless the pitches are totally like what they were here and they can play four quicks every match.

The clear positive with the ball was Mark Wood. We knew going in his pace would be a constant threat, and it was.

He’s a whole-hearted cricketer, and I was happy he got rewarded with his six-for in Hobart. He’s a trump card if used wisely.

A half-positive was Ollie Robinson. He’s a potentially wonderful bowler – accurate, bouncy and moves the ball constantly – but he needs to re-tune his body to bowl long spells in hot conditions. I recommend he watch Rocky IV for some inspiration there!

A quick word on the pitches – yes, they were lively, but so was the cricket.

It’s better than flat bat-a-thons, but maybe just a tad less grass? Overall, I thought it made for very good and very entertaining cricket.

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