When the Ashes series concluded last week, England’s victory in the final Test match meant that the series was drawn two all. But do we realise how rare a result this is in Ashes history?
India’s crusade to win a Test series down under has been achieved, with poor light and rain in the last two days seeing the fourth and final Test end in a draw, good enough for a 2-1 series win to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
While the Indians celebrate a well-earned series win, the Australians are left with little time to reflect on a series that turned ugly after Perth.
Poor-performances, strange selections and wet weather were the main talking points from this New Year’s Test, as the Australians now must turn their attention to the two-Test series against the Sri Lanka.
These will be the last Test matches for the Aussies before they embark on an Ashes tour of England, with spots up for grabs and form to be found.
As I have done for the previous three Test, here are my five takeaways from an anti-climactic SCG Test.
1. Paine’s pitch peril
Tim Paine’s decision to criticise the MCG pitch has all but bitten him on the backside.
Suggesting the curators have produced Indian friendly pitches is a complete farce, a soft attempt at excusing the Australians’ performance.
There has been a clear divide between the two batting units in this series, India’s ability to stay in and make runs and with the Australian’s making starts before throwing their wickets away.
Same can be said about the Australian bowlers, who looked for the pitch to produce something that wasn’t there, contrary to their Indian counterparts who bowled to the plans that had been laid out.
The Australian’s weren’t beaten by the pitches, they were beaten tactical, on talent and on execution. Just like the Aussies overall performance, Tim Paine’s captaincy fell by the wayside after Perth, with this excuse proving it.
2. Experience fails to deliver
With Warner and Smith out of the side, Australia required a ‘next man up’ for 12 months, a few who could lead the team with solid batting performances.
The most likely candidates for this were Usman Khawaja and Shaun Marsh. Both failed on that front.
A match-saving 141 in the first Test against Pakistan from Khawaja and some more than solid Shield form from Marsh where the only signs of stepping up we saw.
This continued in the SCG Test, with Khawaja getting settled at the top of the order before unnecessarily going hard at one off Kuldeep Yadav, while Marsh played two beautiful drives before poking one to slip.
This was done on a surface made for runs (see Pujara and Rishabh Pant). With the likes of Harris, Head and Labuschagne are still cutting their teeth at Test level, these two needed to take advantage of the flat wicket and be a constant throughout the Australian innings.
They made 32 and 8. Another poor return from the two most experienced batsman in the team, and on form I can only see one being picked for the Sri Lankan Tests.
3. Marnus mistake
This is not a jab at Marnus Labuschagne, but his selection in the Test side returned very little value.
Bought in to bat at three and be the second spin option, Labuschagne failed to produce any value with the ball and battled his way to 38 on a pitch for batting.
The problem isn’t Labuschagne, he’s a young developing cricketer who probably isn’t ready for the Test arena (definitely not his leg spin).
Tasked with batting in arguably the toughest position in the line-up and bowling part time wrist spin to some of the greatest players of spin in the world is a big ask.
Especially for someone who has been in indifferent form with the bat and struggled with the ball in a grade below. A large portion of this decision and performance lies with the selectors, who should be held accountable for another poor choice.
4. Best in the world?
Many including myself believed Australia had the best bowling unit in the world heading into this summer, but if that is the case after these four Tests, India might have the best in the universe.
Led this summer by the quirky yet devastating action of Jasprit Bumrah, the Indian bowling attack was a surprise that you just had to admire.
Each of them besides Umesh Yadav produce pieces of brilliance, from Bumrah’s slower ball to Shaun Marsh to Mohammed Shami’s spell after lunch on Day 4 in Perth to Hanuma Vihari’s viper to have Marcus Harris caught at first slip.
Yes, even their part timer produced some brilliance. India have an interchangeable attack of at least seven Test level bowlers who all bring different skill sets to the table.
The latest one this series being Kuldeep Yadav, who waltzed in to pick up a five-wicket haul on debut in Australia with his left arm wrist spin. This is an attack to be feared.
5. What happens next?
While the Indians swing across the Tasman to face third-ranked New Zealand in which should be an interesting series to say the least (New Zealand have won their past four Test series with wins over England at home and Pakistan in the UAE), the Sri Lankans will do the opposite and come to Australia after a 1-0 series defeat to the Kiwis.
This will be the last opportunity for players and the team to find some form and push for selection in August’s Ashes tour of England.
While the Sri Lankans are yet to win a Test in Australia, this series defeat to India will should give them some confidence heading in to the first Test at the Gabba.
With the Sri Lankans up for the fight, eking out a draw in the first Test in Wellington, Australia will have to be up for the challenge which could potential make and break careers, both on and off the pitch.