Australia may have retained the Ashes urn, but it was far from a perfect series and the selectors must look to make changes ahead of the Test summer.
A rapid 104-run partnership between Glenn Maxwell and Steve Smith earned Australia victory over New Zealand in the third and final one-dayer in Brisbane yesterday.
In Australia’s last match before flying to the UK for the World Cup, which starts in 19 days from now, Maxwell (70 from 48 balls), Smith (91* from 108 balls) and Pat Cummins (4/32) all shone, as they have done throughout this series.
Cummins was Australia’s stand-out with the ball against an undermanned but very competitive New Zealand line-up, taking 7/68 across his two matches.
Smith played all three matches and was Australia’s leading scorer with 202 runs while being dismissed only once.
And Maxwell was brutal against the Kiwi bowlers, smashing 122 from 92 balls in his two matches at an incredible scoring rate of 7.95 runs per over.
Australia were wobbling at 4/137 when Maxwell joined Smith in the middle yesterday. The home side needed 150 runs at a required run rate of 6.5 per over to haul in New Zealand’s solid total of 286, which was built on a second successive ton by Will Young (111).
Smith was happy to play second fiddle as Maxwell cut loose from the start of his innings, smacking a series of boundaries in his first two overs at the crease.
The scorching rate at which Maxwell was scoring allowed Smith to protect his wicket and aim to bat out the full 50 overs.
This is the huge upside of having Maxwell in the ODI line-up. When he fails he chews up very few deliveries in doing so. When he succeeds, it is spectacular.
By the time Maxwell was out for 70, caught in the deep, Australia had the run chase well under control. In the end, bad light stopped play with Australia winning based on the Duckworth-Lewis system.
While this series was a mere tune-up for the World Cup, with the Kiwis missing all of their ODI stars, there were plenty of positives for Australia.
Cummins and Maxwell both have been in brilliant ODI form this year and carried that on through this series.
Left-arm quick Jason Behrendorff was impressive, taking 3/56 from two matches at a miserly economy rate of just four runs per over.
Fellow WA quick Nathan Coulter-Nile also showed good signs, returning 3/86 for the series to go with a crucial knock of 34 from 36 balls that helped Australia win the first match.
That pair are battling for the third pace role in Australia’s starting XI for the World Cup, with Cummins and Starc surely locked in.
The shoulder injury to Jhye Richardson allowed Kane Richardson to come into Australia’s World Cup squad.
But the South Australian was underwhelming against New Zealand, taking 0/81 across two matches.
Richardson has been similarly uninspiring across his 20-match ODI career, during which he has averaged 33 with the ball, and offers no extra value with the bat. But the selectors clearly rate him.
As they do Smith, who was able to walk straight into the World Cup squad after his ball-tampering ban at the expense of the in-form Peter Handscomb.
So far, so good for Smith. Yes this series carried little weight, played under minimal pressure against an under-strength opponent.
But we already know that Smith is good. Very good.
What was unclear was whether he could regain touch in time for the World Cup. This series may well have helped him to do just that.
Smith was exposed to a variety of circumstances in this series.
First up he batted at five, a position foreign to him in this format.
In the second match he was handed another relatively unfamiliar task of having to be the chief aggressor in the closing overs of a 50-over innings. Smith hammered four sixes late in that innings to pass this test in emphatic fashion.
Then yesterday he returned to a more recognisable role as the anchor man at first drop and flourished once more.
After getting stuck in the mud in his comeback innings for Australia, with 22 from 43 balls, he found a much better rhythm across the next two matches, scoring at a good strike rate of 97.
It would be a boon for Australia if Smith can maintain such a pace of scoring in the World Cup, while anchoring their innings and turning over the strike nicely, as he typically does.
It was a forgettable series for his batting colleagues David Warner (41 runs at 14), Shaun Marsh (75 runs at 25 with a strike rate of 72), Usman Khawaja (83 runs at 28 with a strike rate of 72), and Marcus Stoinis (30 runs at 15).
But Australia will be buoyed by Smith’s form more than concerned by the lack of runs for that group.