The end of another competitive Ashes series between England and Australia has seen Australia retain the urn after the five-match serious ended 2-2.
In a series that was defined by individual moments it has possibly left more questions than answers for both squads as they move forward and look towards the next Ashes series in Australia in two years.
Australia have much to thank for having a certain Steve Smith within their line-up, as he single-handedly blunted the English bowling attack and finished the series with an incredible average of 110.57, scoring below 50 only once. Smith was an anomaly as this Ashes contest highlighted the batting deficiencies in both sides as the batsman struggled with the moving ball as well as the constant pressure the bowlers were able to apply.
Much of the excitement and closeness between the two teams throughout this Ashes was created through the lack of skill and patience from both batting teams who could not bat through pressure. The bowling skill shown by both sides contributed to these struggles by the batsman as the top orders of both England and Australia constantly struggled to provide a strong base for the middle order.
The exciting Jofra Archer, plus the pace and control of Pat Cummins, showcased the strengths of each team as the ability of both teams to bowl in effective partnerships controlled much of the flow of the ensuing Test matches. Individual innings such as Steve Smith’s 211 and Ben Stokes amazing 135 not out in the third Test were rare highlights for batsmen in a series where the Dukes ball dictated momentum.
The tumultuous events that occurred in South Africa last year increased the scrutiny on the culture that surrounded the Australian team and led to the stepping down of head coach Darren Lehmann and lengthy bans for Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft. This event forced Cricket Australia to rebuild the brand as well as the trust of the public for a team that hit rock bottom.
The appointment of Justin Langer was an inspired choice and one that has been overlooked in the rehabilitation of the Australian cricket team. Langer’s coaching principles have been born out of his experience as both a player and coach of Western Australia.
Langer recounts a story that happened early on his coaching tenure at the Warriors. After a victory over South Australia, a group of players including Mike Hussey and Adam Voges headed out for a team dinner even though they were scheduled to fly home early to Perth the next day.
When Langer learned of this, instead of letting it go, he forced the players to change into their running shorts and shirts and made them to do 40 minutes of hill runs before they jumped on the plane. This experience early on in Langer’s coaching career emphasised key values that he preached, including loyalty, discipline, integrity and both physical and mental toughness.
This example from his time at Western Australia though also indicated that if any individuals went against these principles, there would be consequences regardless of the individual relationships with players both senior and junior.
Langer’s three key principles of keeping things simple, respecting alcohol and the use of common sense are showcased through the teams he has taken on, including the Australian team that have now emphasised a no-dickhead policy.
This policy is reflective in a common mantra Langer utilises through his coaching: character over cover drives. Langer believes that growth must not only come through the performance of his team out in the middle but how each of those individuals live their lives away from the bright lights of the sporting arena.
His use of mindfulness techniques and a strong belief in meditation has no doubt had a powerful and lasting impact on the players he has worked with. Steve Smith’s extraordinary series with the bat has not only come about through technique but his ability to concentrate for long periods of time, which can only be developed through a strong and clear mindset.
This Ashes series has been not only a success on the field through the Australians’ ability to win the big moments, but also off the field in the way Langer has been able to instil both a sense of connection throughout the team and an innate self belief born out of a centeredness through each moment of a Test match.
England lacked something extra when it came to the pivotal moments in this Ashes series, and in the end, this can only be organically produced through the culture, which is harnessed from the top.