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.
As the news of Steve Smith getting ruled out of the Test in Headingley broke out, not only the Australian side but also the Ashes suffered a massive jolt. Arguably the best batsman from either side of the series so far having to sit out shakes up the bout.
Having sustained a blow to his neck on the fourth day of the second Test at Lord’s, Smith could hardly take an active part in the practice sessions ahead of the clash at Leeds. He was also forced out of the final day of the Lord’s Test.
Australia’s heavy dependence on him meant that they left for themselves a stiff task to prevent a loss. However, Head and Labuschagne played a leading role to weather the violent storm by the English quicks to negate it to a stalemate.
Amid the vigil and the mettle shown by two young batsmen, where does Australia stand bereft of Smith?
When the baggy greens take the field at Headingley in a quest to retain the urn, similar woes will confront them. The Test is reminiscent of the past year when Australia walked out to play without the services of Steve Smith for one whole year.
Not that Australia weren’t struggling with Smith in the side, but just like the first two games their blushes got overshadowed mainly by Smith’s brilliance.
Nonetheless, the current holders of the urn will have to play at least one more match without Smith. His unavailability hadn’t had a catastrophic repercussion as predicted at Lord’s.
Labuschagne steadied himself after becoming another victim of a merciless bouncer from Jofra Archer. However, his measured and patient approach meant that his side has batsmen other than Smith to stand up to Archer.
In addition to this, it would be cruel to forget how hard Head battled to salvage a draw. A reprieve from Jason Roy made sure that Head stayed out in the middle to keep the ship from sinking while the batsmen around him fell to rash shots.
As much as the series started on an encouraging note for the left-hander, there couldn’t be a more crucial occasion where Australia needs him to carry on to make daddy hundreds.
In the midst of all this, let’s not forget how badly skipper Paine needs his top three to get the runs. While Usman Khawaja has found his feet for a fleeting time, the pressure on the openers is insurmountable. Not having Smith as the safety shield makes the line-up exceptionally vulnerable.
Head and Labuschagne have put their hands up in demanding circumstances. However, have they got the goods in them to play the knocks as extraordinary as Smith’s?
The stage is set for the duo to cement their spot in the Test team. All they need to do is grab the chance with both their hands and make it count.