Australia have improved massively in Tests

Ronan O'Connell Columnist

By Ronan O'Connell, Ronan O'Connell is a Roar Expert

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    Australia hit rock bottom 16 months ago when South Africa destroyed them in Hobart but their win over the Proteas in Durban yesterday confirms they are on an upward trend.

    The 4-0 loss in India in 2013 was horrific, as was the 3-1 Ashes defeat in 2010-11, but arguably the lowest point for Australia in the modern era was the back-to-back Test floggings at home to South Africa in late 2016.

    That series loss was all the more painful for Australia coming as it did directly after both a 5-0 humiliation in ODIs in South Africa, and a 3-0 caning in Tests in Sri Lanka.

    Losing by an innings and 80 runs in Hobart triggered sweeping changes to the Australian line-up and set in motion a major reversal of their fortunes in the longest format.

    Since that debacle in Tasmania, Australia have a fantastic 11-3 win-loss record in Tests. In that time they have gone unbeaten in nine Tests at home, starting with a comfortable win over the Proteas, followed by three hammerings of Pakistan, and four big wins over England.

    It is on the road, however, where they have made their biggest improvement. First they competed strongly in India, placing themselves in a decent position to win that series midway through the fourth and final Test, before falling away.

    Australia then carried that momentum over into the tour against Bangladesh, drawing 1-1 against the Tigers, who are a good side at home.

    (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

    Australia narrowly lost the first Test in Dhaka but rebounded impressively to record an easy win at Chittagong.

    These solid series efforts back-to-back in India and Bangladesh represented a major turning point for Australia, who had gone win-less in their previous 11 Tests in Asia.

    Amid that win-less streak were weak-willed displays by Australia in India, the UAE and Sri Lanka, which made it surprising to see them scrap so hard in India and Bangladesh last year.

    It is this fight, together with newfound discipline, which has been at the core of their resurgence in Tests over the past 16 months.

    Prior to that period, the most common criticism of the Australian team was that they had a one-dimensional, attack-first-and-think-later approach to batting. It was a justified evaluation.

    When conditions suited them Australia’s batsmen could play some magnificent cricket, but when patience and circumspection were required they refused to adapt.

    This led to an endless parade of batting collapses, often precipitated by needlessly-aggressive strokeplay. Since Hobart, however, there has been a marked change in the batting strategy of the Australians, with a much greater emphasis on batting for time, particularly in bowler-friendly conditions.

    I detailed this in a recent piece for The Roar.

    That’s not to suggest Australia have eradicated all the impulsiveness from their batting, rather that they have found a much better balance between caution and aggression.

    That willingness to shelve their egos and graft for runs when necessary was again on display in the first Test against South Africa in Durban.

    There were some rash dismissals, most obviously those of Cameron Bancroft in both innings, and Usman Khawaja and David Warner in the second dig. But there was also some admirably stoic batting from the Australians at crucial moments of this Test.

    Mitchell Marsh again displayed great maturity as he played a match-defining knock of 96 in the first innings.

    Steve Smith (56 from 114 balls), Shaun Marsh (40 from 96 balls) and Tim Paine (25 from 72 balls) all batted within themselves in that innings to help Australia scrounge their way to a good total of 351 on a fairly difficult pitch.

    In their second innings Australia faced the most onerous conditions of the match, with the ball turning sharply for the spinners and South Africa’s pacers earning greatly-variable bounce.

    These were the kinds of challenging circumstances in which the old Australia frequently subsided, handing the match to the opposition.

    Here they managed to withstand some good bowling, and some trickery from the pitch, to post a second solid total, this time of 227. In doing so they batted South Africa out of the Test in a manner the old Australia regularly seemed incapable of achieving.

    This is an imperfect Australian side which still has significant holes in its batting line-up.

    But right now those flaws are being masked, to a reasonable extent, by their grit and determination. The next three Tests should reveal the full extent of their progress.

    Ronan O
    Ronan O'Connell

    Ronan O'Connell has been a journalist for well over 13 years, including nine at daily newspapers in WA. He now traverses the world as a travel photojournalist, contributing words and photography to more than 30 magazines and newspapers including CNN, BBC, The Toronto Star, The Guardian, The South China Morning Post, The Irish Examiner and The Australian Financial Review. Check out his work and follow him on Twitter @ronanoco

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    The Crowd Says (61)

    • March 6th 2018 @ 6:55am
      Nope said | March 6th 2018 @ 6:55am | ! Report

      Yes they have but to be honest, the Saffers are rubbish. Even the poms put up more fight. Not much more but they were away from home.

      SA going the same way as their rugby and football teams – soon to be an historical footnote.

      Getting smashed by SA highlights how weak India are away from home as well.

      • March 7th 2018 @ 12:53am
        Don Freo said | March 7th 2018 @ 12:53am | ! Report

        It’s a strange line of argument that whoever Australia beats was weak. The Poms were weak but they had beaten SA before they came to Australia.

        The Saffers are weak but they had just beaten the superstar Indian team who are now…weak.

    • Roar Guru

      March 6th 2018 @ 9:12am
      Ryan H said | March 6th 2018 @ 9:12am | ! Report

      Yep, a couple of key things for mine making an enormous difference; firstly being that when this bowling attack stay fit together, playing more and more cricket and firing as a unit, they make Australia tough to beat. It’s probably the most balanced and high quality the test attack has been in over a decade, and the only loser out of that ends up being NSW.

      In addition, a middle order less prone to collapses, providing some stability and backbone has been crucial. Whether it’s the vast improvement in Mitch Marsh’s batting, or the grit shown by his older brother and Paine in the last 5-6 tests; it has made a significant difference to the side.

      • Columnist

        March 6th 2018 @ 12:08pm
        Ronan O'Connell said | March 6th 2018 @ 12:08pm | ! Report

        Shaun Marsh has now made 1,082 runs at 52 from his last 13 Tests.

        He’s really addressed his consistency during that time with 9 scores of 50+ in the space of 22 innings.

    • March 6th 2018 @ 9:23am
      Paul said | March 6th 2018 @ 9:23am | ! Report

      Completely agree with your analysis Ronan, though you left out what I thought was a crucial innings in the context of the first innings from Cummins. He only made 3 but lasted 38 deliveries against the new ball. If he went inside 10 deliveries, I reckon we’d have struggled to make 260.

    • March 6th 2018 @ 9:25am
      Brian said | March 6th 2018 @ 9:25am | ! Report

      They’ve been better. 2nd behind India but ahead of SA, Eng & Pak is a fair reflection. Certainly the bowlers staying fit is a huge help

      • March 6th 2018 @ 10:16am
        Ouch said | March 6th 2018 @ 10:16am | ! Report

        India were well beaten by SA so after this series we’ll be able to compare apples with apples. I don’t believe they are that far ahead. India struggle outside the SC. I reckon the poms will toast them later this year.

        • March 6th 2018 @ 12:06pm
          Brian said | March 6th 2018 @ 12:06pm | ! Report

          They lost 2-1 and had a great chance to win the 1st Test so it was hardly a thrashing and I think they missed a trick by not playing Rahane. Their fast bowling options are much better then they used to be.

      • Columnist

        March 6th 2018 @ 12:11pm
        Ronan O'Connell said | March 6th 2018 @ 12:11pm | ! Report

        It’s hard to judge who’s definitively the better Test team out of India and Australia at the moment – India are clearly the better side in Asian conditions and Australia clearly the better side everywhere else.

        It will be interesting to see if India can really push Australia at home next summer or if the Aussies will just brush them aside.

        • March 6th 2018 @ 1:28pm
          BurgyGreen said | March 6th 2018 @ 1:28pm | ! Report

          Both sides, for the first time in a long time, have excellent bowling attacks in all conditions. India have probably the best pace battery and depth in their history, while Australia now have a spinner who is potent on every type of surface to go with three exceptional quicks.

          Similarly, both sides have batting lineups that are dominant at home but suspect elsewhere. Until one side develops a full complement of batsmen who are effective in alien conditions, it’s going to be difficult to separate them. I just hope that in the upcoming home Border-Gavaskar trophy we get good cricket pitches instead of the pancakes we got last time (and in the Ashes).

          • Roar Rookie

            March 6th 2018 @ 1:43pm
            Matthew Pearce said | March 6th 2018 @ 1:43pm | ! Report

            Yes. The pitches last time India toured were shocking. Revenue speaks louder than a good contest though, I guess.

            Can’t agree with that verdict on the Ashes pitches, though. Apart from Melbourne (which was a shocker), I thought they actually made it for a good contest. Runs and wickets were on offer, but you actually needed to be good to get them. They were all fairly comfortable wins as well.

        • March 6th 2018 @ 2:50pm
          Brian said | March 6th 2018 @ 2:50pm | ! Report

          I don’t agree Australia are better everywhere else. Only in Aus and South Africa. On a pitch like Durban where Maharaj got wickets and Philander got swing I’d favour India. Their batting is miles ahead of Australia’s

          • March 6th 2018 @ 5:25pm
            Fergus said | March 6th 2018 @ 5:25pm | ! Report

            Australia’s bowling on pace friendly wickets is definitely better and indias batting isn’t that far ahead really, which was quite clearly showed by how close australia pushed them in india with arguably an inferior batting lineup to their current one. So i think it’s a lot closer then you make out.

      • March 6th 2018 @ 1:32pm
        jameswm said | March 6th 2018 @ 1:32pm | ! Report

        India are only 1 because they rarely play outside Asia – and when they play in Australia or SA they get thumped.

        If they played the proper amount of away games, we’d be no.1.

        • March 6th 2018 @ 1:48pm
          Jeff said | March 6th 2018 @ 1:48pm | ! Report

          They only just lost to SA in SA. You would have known that if you had watched the games. Many are of the opinion that SA only won the first two tests because they won the toss and batted first and therefore got the best of the conditions.

          Until Australia can learn to play spin, there is no way they can be ranked above India.

          • Roar Rookie

            March 6th 2018 @ 2:41pm
            Matthew Pearce said | March 6th 2018 @ 2:41pm | ! Report

            Minefields such as those pitches ironically make matches closer than they otherwise would’ve been. Results are complete lotteries dependent on, as you said, toss results (among other things).

            If SA had served up something closer to what we just had in Durban I’m betting the series would’ve ended up much more in SA’s favour. India’s pace battery is much improved over the past few years but they’re still not in the league of SA’s or Australia’s pacemen. The better pacemen get more out of less friendly conditions.

            Considering Bangladesh’s win/draw/loss record for test series over the past four years is 1/5/3, I’d suggest that managing a draw ourselves suggests we’ve made massive headway in battling subcontinent spin. Which is the issue. Not spin everywhere, just in the subcontinent.

            In a similar vein, I’d suggest that until India demonstrate they can win in pace-friendly countries, they shouldn’t be ranked as highly. Or alternatively, we can dump that line of thought and accept that, whatever their flaws, the rankings are what they are.

            • March 6th 2018 @ 2:55pm
              Brian said | March 6th 2018 @ 2:55pm | ! Report

              issue is only in Asia? Why did Maharaj take 9 wickets in one Test after 1 wicket in 2 Tests against India.

              • Roar Rookie

                March 6th 2018 @ 3:19pm
                Matthew Pearce said | March 6th 2018 @ 3:19pm | ! Report

                1st innings: Aus run rate 3.17, Maharaj econ 3.65
                2nd innings: Aus run rate 3.04, Maharaj econ 3.44

                Yes he took wickets, but he bled quite a few runs, fairly expensively as well.

                Australia won pretty convincingly in the end, so obviously it really wasn’t too much trouble.

          • March 6th 2018 @ 5:38pm
            jameswm said | March 6th 2018 @ 5:38pm | ! Report

            Ashwin has played 57 tests at home and 35 away.

            Of Kohli’s last 21 tests, 6 have been away.

            Imagine Australia’s ranking if we had the same proportion of recent games at home.

          • March 7th 2018 @ 12:58am
            Don Freo said | March 7th 2018 @ 12:58am | ! Report

            Yet…they didn’t win, Jeff. There are only 2 teams playing and the other one beat them. That is just a weird line of argument. OK, i’ll concede that they did come second.

        • March 6th 2018 @ 5:27pm
          Fergus said | March 6th 2018 @ 5:27pm | ! Report

          They play about 10 in a row this year away from home so unless they are competitive that’s likely to be the case if we win in South Africa.

    • March 6th 2018 @ 10:03am
      Ozibatla said | March 6th 2018 @ 10:03am | ! Report

      Yeh a fair call to say we have improved. I suppose our big test arrives in England next year. By that stage it will have been 18 years since we won an ashes series in the mother land so excuses are no more.

      We always play well in South Africa too so I wouldnt get too carried away. Remember the talk when we won here in 2014? No doubt though we have made inroads into previous failings

      • Roar Rookie

        March 6th 2018 @ 10:17am
        Matthew Pearce said | March 6th 2018 @ 10:17am | ! Report

        We do always win in SA, yeah, but we’re not supposed to this time round, for some reason. Apparently.

      • March 6th 2018 @ 1:31pm
        BurgyGreen said | March 6th 2018 @ 1:31pm | ! Report

        Yeah I’d love for us to finally break the cycle of the home side winning every Ashes series. I think we have a pretty good shot at it, because our batsmen have learned patience, but we were genuinely considered favourites at the start of the 2015 series so I’m cautious.

        • March 6th 2018 @ 2:26pm
          Ouch said | March 6th 2018 @ 2:26pm | ! Report

          The Marsh bros, Renshaw and a few others are having a season of country cricket which put them in good stead for the Ashes next year.

        • March 6th 2018 @ 5:29pm
          Fergus said | March 6th 2018 @ 5:29pm | ! Report

          It will depend hugely on Jimmy Andersons fitness, if he is injured Australia’s chances increase hugely,with broads decline he’s the biggest threat to rip through a lineup.

          • March 7th 2018 @ 12:59am
            Don Freo said | March 7th 2018 @ 12:59am | ! Report

            Is Jimmy getting much spin since he turned to slow bowling?

        • March 6th 2018 @ 5:39pm
          jameswm said | March 6th 2018 @ 5:39pm | ! Report

          Yeah true, time to stand up and do well in England.

    • March 6th 2018 @ 10:56am
      Bee bee said | March 6th 2018 @ 10:56am | ! Report

      Let’s not get carried away.
      SA just beat India.
      Thrashed Australia not that long ago.
      Have one of the greatest fast bowlers to ever play out injured.
      Pushed Australia to the last day despite a poor test.
      Have good young players emerging.
      This SA team are not rubbish.
      Australia will need to improve on their efforts to win this series.

      • March 7th 2018 @ 1:00am
        Don Freo said | March 7th 2018 @ 1:00am | ! Report

        Steyn is not that “great” any more. So…he’s not really out. That Dale Steyn doesn’t exist any more.

        Australia is without Dennis Lillee too.

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