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Australia must shed overseas yips to win the Ashes

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Expert
13th August, 2019
19

For the fourth time in just over two years, Australia find themselves in a strong position to register a hugely significant Test series win away from home. The previous three occasions, though, they fell apart.

Australia had gilded chances to win series in India, South Africa and the UAE.

Now they’re better placed to end their long Ashes drought in the UK than they’ve been since early in the 2005 series. There are many factors in Australia’s favour.

Up 1-0 after thrashing England at Edgbaston, they head to their favourite ground in the Old Dart, Lord’s, where they have a 6-2 Test win-loss record in the past 40 years.

They face a home side with a batting line-up badly out of form and an attack missing its key bowler, James Anderson. Meanwhile, the tourists have stars Steve Smith, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon in career-best form.

The Aussies could scarcely better placed after the first Test. Not to suggest England are gone, as they are extremely difficult to snatch series from at home, rather that Australia could not have hoped to have found themselves in a more favourable position at this stage.

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Steve Smith

Steve Smith (Photo by Visionhaus)

However, the same could be said of the recent series in India, SA and Pakistan.

It may be a while before Australia have a better opportunity to win a series in India than they were handed in Dharamshala in March 2017. With the series tied at 1-1 heading into the deciding fourth Test, Australia must have been delighted to find the pitch was not a typically slow, low Indian surface but instead a fast, bouncy track like back home.

They received a further boost when they got to bat first and build scoreboard pressure. At 1-144 on Day 1, with guns Smith and David Warner cruising, Australia were well in front.

Push on, make 400 and India would face a monumental task to avoid losing their first home series in nearly five years.

Instead the tourists collapsed to be all out for 300. Then, with India stuttering at 6-221, Australia again found themselves ahead in the game. Once more they let things slide, though, with India’s tail wagging to push them up to 332 and a lead of 32.

That essentially left the match on level terms. The Aussies now just needed to make 250 in familiar and decent batting conditions to give India a nasty chase.

But they couldn’t handle the pressure, subsiding for 137 and handing India the series there and then, crumbling when it mattered most.

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A year later, in South Africa, Australia were in a similar position to their current one – 1-0 up after easily defeating the Proteas in the first match.

Australia’s attack was on fire and their batting in good shape, with five of their top six making a half century, while Shaun Marsh had clipped a neat 40 in the first dig.

I don’t even need to detail what happened from there. It was as dark as cricket gets.

Amid the long-lingering gloom that followed, an undermanned side had a chance to flip the narrative with a shock series win in the UAE.

Heading into the second and deciding Test in Abu Dhabi, Australia had confidence and momentum with them after an incredible second innings batting display helped them earn a draw at Dubai. Usman Khawaja had made one of the great Test tons of the modern era, while Travis Head and Tim Paine had both stonewalled for well over three overs apiece.

Usman Khawaja celebrates a century

Australia’s Usman Khawaja celebrates his century against Pakistan in Dubai. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

Then, at Abu Dhabi, Pakistan fell apart in the first session. They were 5-57 and Australia were in a fantastic position to win their first Test series in Asia for seven years.

But, once again, they could not finish off their dazed opponent. Pakistan scrapped to 282 and then Australia disintegrated for 145 in their first innings, ensuring their woeful run would continue.

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Will history repeat itself over the next month? Will the Aussies take their foot off England’s collective throats, only to spend years ruing it?

So much will depend on what happens here at Lord’s. If Australia win this Test, I cannot see England reeling them in. Should they falter, however, England easily could run away with the series, leaving Australia’s crushing win at Edgbaston as a mere footnote in yet another disappointing campaign on foreign shores.