Ashes to Ashes: Would Mitchell Johnson’s Ashes team beat Mitchell Starc’s?

Geoff Lemon Columnist

By Geoff Lemon, Geoff Lemon is a Roar Expert

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    ‘Worst Ashes team to inflict a whitewash’, was a description people started proposing in 2013. Now there’s a contender in the works.

    The current Australian side is well in contention to get out the ladders, the rollers, and the paint trays and treat England like a weatherboard holiday house in need of maintenance.

    Even if back-to-back whitewashes don’t transpire, both of those Australian sides won the Ashes back by Perth and both did so in comprehensive fashion.

    Neither of those sides did so with anything near the strength, on paper, of the previous whitewash side in 2006-07. Names like Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, blah blah blah, pretty good at cricket.

    Come to think of it, nothing on paper is very strong. Remember the scene in Risky Business where the Tom Cruise’s character’s best friend eats a phone number to stop Tom Cruise cancelling a date? Yeah, try doing that with a Nokia.

    But you know what I mean. The more recent Australian teams have had a far lower wattage power in terms of stars whose worth was proven before the series rather than emerging during it.

    So the question now is: which is the better team between Michael Clarke’s lot last time around and Steve Smith’s on this rotation?

    You might also say now isn’t the time to decide given one team has already played all five Tests in a series and the current lot has played only three.

    Sure, you’re all logical. You probably have a regular place for your keys, so you can find them every day. You’re so smug.

    But we don’t know if Trump is going to nuke North Korea before the end of the Sydney Test. We may never see the final scoreline. So we have to get in and do it now. The Ashes have been won twice. It’s time.

    (Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

    1. David Warner (2013) versus David Warner (2017)
    (Extremely Juan Antonio Samaranch voice:) The winner is… David Warner!

    Quelle surprise. That’s French for ‘what a surprise’. It’s important to say that in French for the purposes of showing off.

    But, look, which Warner? Is it Old Warner or New Warner?

    And does Old Warner refer to the 2013 version because he came previously or to the 2017 version because he’s more advanced in years?

    However you look at it, 2013 Warner has the advantage. He was as yet unproven in the Test team but bounced back from a recent suspension with an important hundred in Brisbane and then made another in Perth. He topped the series for runs.

    In the current series he’s found ways to contribute but hasn’t yet dominated a match. Also, 2013 Warner is the one who tried to whack Joe Root, which made English people feel so sorry for Joe Root that it got him selected for the captaincy – which has worked out pretty well, thanks, for Past Warner.

    It’s seasonally appropriate to imagine the Ghost of Warners Past, Present and Future. One would be sledging you mercilessly, the second would be meditating and lecturing you about positive mindsets and the third would be sledging you mercilessly.

    (Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

    2. Chris Rogers versus Cameron Bancroft
    No real contest here. Bancroft got a few cheap ones in Brisbane and hasn’t done much since.

    Rogers made a couple of 50s in live matches and then spanked MCG and SCG hundreds, even if he loses out to Bancroft in the crucial third wicketkeeper stakes.

    His dancing was also key to post-series celebrations. The only question is: could Rogers at his Perthian peak have competed in the Heaviest Head in Western Australia?

    (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

    3. Shane Watson versus Usman Khawaja
    Wow. Wowwww. What a contest. Battle of the first drops. Brut versus Rexona. Brute force versus finesse.

    People may want Watto at six in this composite team, but he played this whole series in the Bradman/Ponting position that his talent deserved.

    In the current series Lil Uzi Vert has made 50 and 53, but he got out immediately after raising the milestone.

    The best Shane W ever to play for Australia made a similar score in setting up the Adelaide win and then smashed his fourth and final Test century in Perth to set up the declaration and end Graeme Swann’s career the right way – with a 22-run over.

    He went on to make a vital 83 not out in the Melbourne run chase to ensure it went without incident.

    And that’s before we come to his bowling, credited with making sure his team’s frontline attack got through the series unscathed. Watson kept the screws tight all series and picked up some useful wickets. The only bowl Usman ever had was full of Froot Loops.

    God, it feels too good to say this: it’s the Big Rig all the way.

    (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

    4. Michael Clarke versus Steve Smith (2017)
    Sorry, Michael, back to the comm box. You were good – a vital hundred in Brisbane backed up big in Adelaide – but you’re up against a guy who has matched your best several years in a row. All comers, all conditions, and here in three games he’s already played two innings for the ages.

    The grind of an uncharacteristically slow Brisbane ton, the flourish of a fast WACA double and Smith has more runs in four knocks than you managed in ten.

    5. Steve Smith (2013) versus Peter Handscomb versus Shaun Marsh
    As if he wasn’t already enough like a cyborg, imagine we got to send Steve Smith back in time to take down an earlier model of himself.

    But he’s batting at five in his younger incarnation, from which spot Handscomb got dropped and Shaun Marsh only played one sub-par Test.

    So like any good franchise we can instead spin the tale so that one time-travelling robot is coming to help itself out.

    Imagine this: you finally get through modern-day Smith, cover driving you to distraction for a massive hundred, and then out walks early-model Smith, pulling and hooking you all day instead.

    “I know now why you cry. But it is something I can never do.”

    (Philip Brown/Getty Images)

    6. George Bailey versus Shaun Marsh versus Mitchell Marsh
    Apologies to Gorgeous George, who had the cheekiest smile of any Ashes, took lots of nice catches at short leg and marmalised Jimmy Anderson for 28 runs off an over.

    Unfortunately his Ashes cameo can’t match either Marsh, and Shaun has to get this spot after two brilliant innings, both with the trophy on the line.

    His 50 in Brisbane came at a genuinely crucial time with Australia in trouble at 4/76 and enabled Smith to build that match-winning hundred. Then Marsh’s own hundred at Adelaide was a masterpiece of patience that batted England out of the game.

    His brother Mitchell would be a shout for his stunning 181 at the WACA had he managed to push Shaun up to five, but Shane Watson’s bowling is far superior, and one innings doesn’t get you the spot.

    (Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

    7. Brad Haddin versus Tim Paine
    For the ultimate Hail Mary pick Paine has kept almost immaculately and made handy runs.

    But Haddin’s Ashes was the highpoint of his career. Australia was in trouble in every single first innings, and in every one he came through with at least a half century, slashing and counterattacking.

    Haddin made more runs than any batsman in a series batting outside the top six. Of keepers batting up the order, only three ever made more than Haddin’s 493.

    Along the way he demoralised England and created the opportunity for Mitchell Johnson to win the Ashes.

    8. Mitchell Johnson versus Mitchell Starc
    Same first name, same left arm, same batting approach and same maximum speed well over 150 kilometres per hour. It’s only right that these two go up against each other.

    Starc has reaped rewards in this series, with 19 wickets at an absurd strike rate of 39. But you still feel that he hasn’t quite been at his best. He’s found a way to take wickets, but he hasn’t been unplayable.

    Johnson really deserved that word. Almost no other series has been defined by a single player as strongly.

    He took a wicket every five overs and paid a dozen runs apiece. He tallied 37 of them by series end. Obscene.

    (AFP, Ian Kington)

    9. Ryan Harris versus Patrick Cummins
    Age before beauty, experience before youth. Cummins has been a revelation this year, impressing in Asia’s unhelpful conditions before taking that form back home.

    He’s taken vital wickets at vital times, and as much as Ryan Harris was a very capable hitter with the bat, Cummins has him comfortably covered in that department with an almost top-order technique and results to match.

    But Harris in his Ashes was perfection as the partner to a super-attacking bowler. He gave nothing away at barely 2.5 runs per over from his bowling while consistently being a threat himself.

    Constantly pitching up, constantly challenging the edge, and in 22 cases getting rewarded. His own wickets came at less than 20 runs each, and he bowled one of the best balls of all time to knock over England’s captain in Perth. Lock him in.

    10. Peter Siddle versus Josh Hazlewood
    P-Siddy is the most criminally underrated Australian fast bowler since whoever was before him. His contribution to the Ashes whitewash was immense, with the lowest economy rate of anyone from both teams.

    He was the leaf-blower drying up the middle. He also went about his batting with the serious application of a kid opening his first bank account.

    But I’m going to contribute to the legacy of underrating him by saying that Josh Hazlewood gets the nod instead.

    Hazlewood has been almost as economical but retains more of an air of danger at the same time. His bounce is steeper, his top speed is brisker, his bouncers are more discomfiting and he can bowl similarly long spells. Can’t leave him out.

    (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    11. Nathan Lyon (2013) versus Nathan Lyon (2017)
    It’s easy to assume that age will have improved him, but the off-spinner of four years ago was already an excellent player.

    He took a five-for in Melbourne to cause England’s collapse when setting a target and made the incisions in Brisbane that let Johnson get deep in the cut. Lyon also started a dominance over Alastair Cook that continues to this day.

    But in the end there’s no doubting that today’s player goes about things with more confidence, more swagger and more consistency.

    By 2014 he had 19 wickets from five Tests; this time he already has 14 from three. He’s going for fewer runs, has a lower average and is monstering England’s left-handers.

    He also has the world’s most wickets in 2017 and isn’t far off passing some Australian greats to become fourth-highest on the list of wicket-takers. And his fielding has blossomed with some brilliant catches and run-outs.

    (AAP Image/Richard Wainwright)

    Who is in, and who would win?

    What would happen if the two teams played each other?

    Again, you’d have to tip the class of 2013-14. Both have their batting frailties, but you’d think that Clarke and Past Warner would be able to handle Starc and Cummins.

    Aside from finding a way around Smith at his peak, you’d think that the ferocity of Johnson’s best series and the quality of Harris would be enough.

    That’s reflected in the final composite XI, with four from the current squad, seven from last time. We’ll see if that changes in a couple of weeks.

    Australia’s composite Ashes XI

    1. David Warner (2013)
    2. Chris Rogers (2013)
    3. Shane Watson (2013)
    4. Steve Smith (2017)
    5. Steve Smith (2013)
    6. Shaun Marsh (2017)
    7. Brad Haddin (2013)
    8. Mitchell Johnson (2013)
    9. Ryan Harris (2013)
    10. Josh Hazlewood (2017)
    11. Nathan Lyon (2017)
    Geoff Lemon
    Geoff Lemon

    Geoff Lemon is a writer, editor and broadcaster covering sport for The Roar, The Guardian and ABC, as well as writing on politics, literature and history for a range of outlets.

    He tweets from @GeoffLemonSport.

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    The Crowd Says (17)

    • December 25th 2017 @ 6:55am
      Jameswm said | December 25th 2017 @ 6:55am | ! Report

      Nice article Geoff, and hard to disagree.

      The thing about today’s team is how good the bowling is. But compare it to a quartet with Johno at his peak and Ryno who was a freak. Still not much between them.

      Our top 3 haven’t had a great series.

      And Merry Christmas to you Geoff and all Roarers.

      • Columnist

        December 26th 2017 @ 3:03pm
        Geoff Lemon said | December 26th 2017 @ 3:03pm | ! Report

        Merry Christmas to you too, James. Hope it was a corker and you’re watching some cricket.

    • December 25th 2017 @ 7:35am
      JohnB said | December 25th 2017 @ 7:35am | ! Report

      Unless you’re strictly going on batting order, I’d suggest you should be comparing Pat Cummins with Peter Siddle rather than Ryan Harris, based on their bowling roles, and Harris with Josh Hazlewood, leaving you with a bowling lineup of Johnson, Harris, Cummins and 2017 Lyon.

      • Columnist

        December 26th 2017 @ 3:04pm
        Geoff Lemon said | December 26th 2017 @ 3:04pm | ! Report

        Hazlewood may open the bowling, but I’d still argue his role is closer to Siddle’s. Play the straight man, give nothing away, support the two more attacking bowlers. He fulfils that role with a bit more venom than Siddle did, but it’s still basically the same job. Cummins comes on to push for wickets and bowl express.

        • December 26th 2017 @ 10:43pm
          JohnB said | December 26th 2017 @ 10:43pm | ! Report

          Fair enough – but if asked to pick 3 from those 6 bowlers it would still be Johnson, Harris and Cummins!

    • December 25th 2017 @ 9:07am
      paul said | December 25th 2017 @ 9:07am | ! Report

      The other factor that should be considered is the strength of the opposition in 2013 versus 2017. In almost every case, prior to coming to Australia, the 2013 English side was far superior to the 2017 version, thus making the efforts of the 2013 Australian side that much better.

      In saying that, no-one can fault the commitment of this team. 3-nil after 3 Tests is an outstanding achievement.

      • December 25th 2017 @ 11:10am
        Nudge said | December 25th 2017 @ 11:10am | ! Report

        Nice article Geoff. My gut feel is 2013 has it over 2017. Although in saying that, the 2013 Oz were in deep trouble every first innings. It hasn’t been as bad 2017. Also how many times did Clarke win the toss in 2013? At least 4? If Oz whitewash the poms in 2017 and don’t win a toss, that is a belting of all beltings

        • December 25th 2017 @ 11:14am
          Jameswm said | December 25th 2017 @ 11:14am | ! Report

          Nudge if the Aussies win the toss tomorrow it could be a long couple of days for the Poms. It’s about time the top 3 fired.

          • December 25th 2017 @ 12:23pm
            Nudge said | December 25th 2017 @ 12:23pm | ! Report

            Without a doubt James. 500 Bare minimum

    • December 25th 2017 @ 1:37pm
      Simon said | December 25th 2017 @ 1:37pm | ! Report

      2013 has the advantage of playing five games rather than the three so far, so obviously not that balanced a comparison yet.
      As far as the better team, I think it’d come down to Michael Clarke’s captaincy vs Steve Smith’s unbelievable batting.

    • December 25th 2017 @ 8:22pm
      Rob said | December 25th 2017 @ 8:22pm | ! Report

      England were are far stronger team in 2013. Australia were almost a one man band in the form of Mitchell Johnson. He tore the English to pieces.

      • Roar Guru

        December 26th 2017 @ 9:32pm
        JGK said | December 26th 2017 @ 9:32pm | ! Report

        Mitch had a series for the ages but one man band is harsh. Harris took 22 wickets at 19 – a stand out series performance in any other series. As for the batting, 4 Australian batsmen scored 2 tons in the series, not including Haddin who topped the averages.

    • December 25th 2017 @ 8:26pm
      Steve said | December 25th 2017 @ 8:26pm | ! Report

      It’s a little silly, picking the same bloke in two positions in a composite team. But seeing that Smith has been picked in your composite team twice, my team would be:
      Warner 2013
      Warner 2017
      Smith 2017
      Smith 2013
      S.Marsh 2017
      Watson
      Haddin
      Cummins
      Johnson
      Hazlewood
      Lyon 2017

      • Roar Guru

        December 25th 2017 @ 9:47pm
        Ryan H said | December 25th 2017 @ 9:47pm | ! Report

        Warner 2017 ahead of Rogers 2013? Rogers had a pretty useful series in the end didn’t he? Century at Melbourne and Sydney and a couple of 50s scattered along the way. Rogers also was the leading aggregate run-scorer for Aus across the back to back series 2013 and 13-14.

        • Columnist

          December 26th 2017 @ 3:02pm
          Geoff Lemon said | December 26th 2017 @ 3:02pm | ! Report

          Agreed, Rogers played a number of important innings in that series. And suited Warner well as a partner.

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