Australia was ok, but England made them look far better than they actually are; when they get to South Africa they will be found out and thrashed. This has been a typical sentiment expressed over the past few weeks by English fans. It is a strange one. Why do English fans care how well Australia does in South Africa? If they are thrashed that surely puts their own teams performance in this past Ashes series in an even worse light (if that is even possible…), and only further serves to highlight just how far they have fallen compared to the best Test team in the world. It also conveniently ignores the fact Australia haven’t lost a Test series in South Africa since their reintroduction to Test cricket. And that similar sentiments were expressed before South Africa’s tour of Australia the year before last. A tour South Africa won, but only after being saved by rain in the first Test, and having to fight like hell to save the second. And this was against a team that included Rob Quiney.
So how well did Australia play in the Ashes? As well as they needed to. They were actually utter crap during the last two Tests, with only their bowling unit saving them. But by then they didn’t even need to try and play remotely sensible cricket to win, such was the state England was in. The Sydney Test was the absolute worst in this regard; it was little better than a couple of ODI’s sticky-taped together. Only Steve Smith and Chris Rogers showed any inclination of batting properly, the rest batted in pure one-day mode, throwing the bat with no attempt to form a structured innings, in the knowledge that it didn’t really matter anyway. Whatever total they posted would have been good enough. As was proven to be the case.
There were some stunning drop-offs in form as the series meandered to its inevitable conclusion. Michael Clarke didn’t make a score after the second Test. David Warner’s four innings in the last two Tests were possibly the most disinterested ever seen by an Australian Test cricketer. In other circumstances both would have been criticised – Warner in particular would have been slammed for giving his wicket away so easily. But here it didn’t matter. It was almost, if not entirely, forgotten.
Australia were done after Perth. You could see by how they celebrated that that represented pretty much mission accomplished. The urn was back. It had been a pretty grueling Test match. Well, by standards of this series at least. There had been the rare lapse of bowling discipline on the fourth afternoon, then the nervous wait on the fifth day. After that, we feel pretty confident in saying that any Test playing nation could have beaten them in the final two Tests. And we mean any Test playing nation. Maybe even Ireland could have run them close. But not England. Not a chance in hell. Those two performances by them in the final two Tests rank as perhaps the worst ever witnessed in Australia.
But this isn’t about England, but rather an Australian side that played well enough when it mattered. It’s not surprising really they probably haven’t quite received the credit they deserve for winning the series as they did. Most of their players have been laughing stocks in the recent past. There were plenty of calls from Australian fans for Brad Haddin to be dropped before the series began. Apparently he was too old and his batting is unreliable. Or some such. Every member of this team has been subjected to vast amounts of criticism. Michael Clarke was being called the worst ever Australian Test captain. Mitch’s issues have been extensively covered. Harris was perma-crocked, Warner a loose cannon, Watson a shit waste of space (this is still pretty much true mind). Some people even weren’t convinced of the merits of Steven Peter Devereux Smith. The mind boggles. It really does.
Devereux’s experience with the bat in this series proves the point perfectly. His century in Perth was apparently the result of the English bowlers bowling too short and too leg side. His century in Sydney was apparently the result of the English bowlers bowling too full and too off side. You kinda have to wonder exactly what he needs to do before people start accepting he is actually a pretty decent Test batsman. Australia could only beat what was put in front of them. Which they did. And then some. To write off their performances as average is one way to put it. Another would be to point out that if they managed to demolish a far better credentialed opposition in this manner while playing badly, imagine what they could do when they start playing well?
Australia really could get thrashed in South Africa. They certainly need to bat better than they did here if they want to make a series of it (something Darren Lehmann admitted immediately after the Sydney Test). But then again South Africa might have a complete shocker and in turn get utterly thrashed. It could happen. It has before. And then we would be stuck in some sort of relativist cricketing limbo. There would be no relevant barometer to judge the team against. Maybe they would then need to win in India before people accept that they are a good team. But India are crap away from home, so what does that make them?
Yeah, screw that. Australia has just destroyed a team at home five nil. A team which, on paper at least, was superior to it in almost every measurable respect. That makes it right now, irrespective of what might happen in South Africa, a pretty good Test team.