It feels a little uncharitable to be bitching about Australia’s performance in a Test series that they wrapped up inside seven days but – with the bat at least – they weren’t terribly impressive in the West Indies. The ease with which they won the series was mostly due to their bowling, fielding and a West Indian team that is so shit these days that in the second Test they handed a cap to a batsman with a First Class average in the mid 20s. Not even in those dark days when Rob Quiney was considered a Test prospect did Australia’s stocks ever quite sink that low.
Nevertheless, it still needs to be pointed out that in both Tests one batsman scored the majority of Australia’s runs: Adam Voges in the first, and the World’s Best Test Batsman Steven Peter Devereux Smith in the second. Indeed, if Kemar Roach wasn’t such an incompetent idiot and had managed to keep his front foot behind the line, Australia would have been three down for twenty odd inside the first hour of the second Test and in a very big pile of poo. Especially given how well Jerome Taylor was bowling up the other end.
It was a pretty familiar scenario for Australia: top order failures with the bat and an over reliance on the tail to dig them out of trouble. It’s been the same story for years now, and you kinda wonder when, if ever, they will actually start compiling proper innings again. It’s a little unfair to place all the blame for this at Darren Lehmann’s door since Australia’s top order had been failing well before when he took over (at home against India in 2012/13 for instance), but after two years in the job he doesn’t seem to have been able to reverse the trend at all.
In a way Lehmann has been pretty lucky, in that he has been able to call upon the services of veteran First Class players, in Voges and Chris Rogers, who have been able to seamlessly step up to Test level, and so far have proven amongst the strongest bulwarks against the sort of batting collapses to which everyone else keeps succumbing. Even Devereux had already rebuilt his game in domestic cricket, and on his recall to the team under Mickey Arthur looked completely at home.
It’s hard to think of anyone who has really improved under Lehmann’s tenure. David Warner is one who has definitely had a good time of it of late, but his form seems to be pretty fragile, and he is one who was named by Lehmann in particular as needing to improve on his performances in the Caribbean. There were some suggestions that the two might even be falling out over Warner’s new found conviction that he really should wait till the other guy throws the first punch before getting stuck into on-field altercations. Strange as that concept might seem. Shane Watson is another who has gone nowhere, and certainly hasn’t scored anywhere near the weight of runs he did between 2009 and 2011.
None of this ought to be of immediate concern: Australia’s bowlers should still win them the Ashes, a few batting wobbles aside, but it is interesting in regards to what comes after, when some old stagers retire and Lehmann will need to integrate a new generation of batsmen, such as Joe Burns, who don’t have the same weight of First Class experience under their belts. Or else Burns will join the rapidly growing list of batsmen, such as Alex Doolan, George Bailey and Glenn Maxwell, who have failed to make the step up under Lehmann’s tenure. Instead it wouldn’t surprise us if Lehmann tries to keep treading water for a little while longer, and looks to someone like Michael Klinger to come into the team instead.
In a way the Ashes, no matter the outcome, will either vindicate Lehmann’s approach, or provide clear evidence of his limitations as a coach. Australia should comfortably take home the Ashes, honestly, but if the batting keeps failing it could turn into a bit of a shootout. Lehmann has done exceptionably well in turning around a team who might have, at the time of his appointment, really struggled against even the current West Indian lineup (well, then again, maybe not), but it’s hard to see how much further he can actually take them. If this current team was to embark on another four Test series in India, it’s hard not to see them getting thrashed again. Unless Devereux were to score eleventy billion runs, which is not unfeasible.
How well Australia actually play in this Ashes should determine how much faith should be placed in Lehmann’s ability to lead the team into the next era. A coach like Justin Langer or Jason Gillespie might be a better choice for the sort of challenges they will face in the near future. At the least one (or maybe even both) should be brought in to look after the T20 side, like Bayliss was, and maybe even the ODI side for a spell, just to see how players develop away from Lehmann’s control.
And if either are able to actually coax some decent performances out of Watson, or better yet, get rid of him completely, then obviously they should be shoe-ins for the top job.