For years, Australia were home-track bullies who went to water overseas.
While they are by no means now a commanding side on foreign shores, they have improved markedly.
Between 2013 and 2016 were several trainwreck Test tours – 0-4 in India, 0-3 in England and 0-3 in Sri Lanka. Those weren’t just poor performances, they were diabolical.
Since the 0-3 debacle in Sri Lanka in 2016, Cricket Australia have organised some thorough pre-tour training camps, cleverly scheduled Australia A tours to precede away series, and used the English Dukes ball in the second half of the past three Sheffield Shield seasons.
These measures appear to have paid dividends.
Since that disastrous series in Sri Lanka, Australia have had five overseas tours. One of them was dark – very dark – falling apart in South Africa last year. Otherwise they’ve produced four performances that ranged from very good to acceptable.
Australia were excellent in India, pushing the hosts to the final day, and performed strongly in this Ashes. Australia had struggled the most in those two countries over the previous decade.
They went close to winning 2-0 in Bangladesh, and then against Pakistan in the UAE – where they were disgraced on their previous tour – they produced a plucky display while missing Pat Cummins, Steve Smith, Josh Hazlewood and David Warner. At full strength in that series, they may well have won.
Despite their awful showing overseas between 2013 and 2016, Australia still have the equal-second-best record overseas after India across the last home-and-away cycle.
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The challenge now is to graduate from being merely competitive overseas to consistently winning series on the road. Yet Australia do not have a confirmed away Test series next year.
Initially they were scheduled to play in New Zealand and Bangladesh in the first half of 2020. Now it seems as if the Kiwi Tests have been scrapped, while the Bangladesh tour is still up in the air.
It would be a shame for those series to be canned. Australia need to build on the momentum they have created with their encouraging overseas efforts since the India tour of 2017, which marked the start of their turnaround.
The preparation for that series was impressive. They had a long training camp at the ICC Academy in Dubai, where they had Indian-style pitches prepared for them.
The tourists hit the ground running, taking a 1-0 lead and being in a strong position to win the series two-thirds of the way through the final Test. That preparation and confidence flowed over into the following series, in Bangladesh, where they were not far from winning 2-0 against a Tigers side that is tough to beat at home.
Their retention of the Ashes also came in the wake of fine preparation. It was a ballsy call by Cricket Australia to use the Dukes ball in the second half of the past three Shield seasons – no other nation has executed such a strategy in their domestic first-class competition. It was designed to give domestic players a wider range of challenges.
Bowlers had to adjust between two balls that behave differently and, above all, batsmen had to learn to cope with the Dukes, which swings far more than the Kookaburra.
Among those batsmen were Travis Head and Marnus Labuschagne, who now shape as key members of the top six. Both have benefited from playing in county cricket at the encouragement of CA, too.
CA also did their best to mitigate the negative impact of the World Cup being run directly before the Ashes by scheduling a concurrent Australia A tour. A number of their Ashes squad got the chance to play three red-ball games in the weeks before this series kicked off.
Just like in India, Australia started the Ashes well. The fact they faded at the end, allowing England a draw, is one of many signs they still have a long way to go to become an elite away side.
It must now be recognised, though, that they’ve made significant development as a touring team.