Australia may have reigned victorious in a comprehensively dominant home Test summer, but the question marks that emerged from The Ashes are still present.
David Warner had a typically and predictably large summer as expected after his poor UK return mid-year, while Marnus Labuschagne certainly cemented himself as the team’s lynchpin for the next decade.
These two were fantastic, while Steve Smith barely got out of first gear with only 254 runs for the summer 36.28.
Heading into the home summer, the opening partnership and the two middle-order positions were questioned.
David Warner’s average of nearly 59 in Australia meant he was locked in, justifiably so and upon delivering in spades, the veteran has earned himself the opportunity to prove that he can still play well in varying conditions.
It was the other opening spot, previously held down by a range of Shield performers who failed to cement their spot, that was in question.
Joe Burns, who was seen as unlucky to not be a part of The Ashes squad for Australia, was given the entire home summer and scored 198 runs at 33.
What has become evident after this summer is that Burns is a stopgap option.
Australia has long been searching for its long-term opening pair, yet the best option the selectors are currently backing has technical deficiencies that limit his impact.
Burns looms as someone who can hold down the role for now, while Labuschagne and Smith make the game look easy after him, however he is not the incumbent many thought he was.
It gives credence to an argument that Usman Khawaja can still have an impact in the Test arena, should Burns fail overseas, but again, this is a stopgap until a young player emerges (all eyes on Matt Renshaw).
Despite Burns having a decent, yet unspectacular summer, Australia’s top-order was excellent overall thanks to the historical and meteoric rise of Marnus Labuschagne, scoring 896 runs at an average of 112 in five matches.
Australia’s middle-order, however, remains questionable and Matthew Wade’s incredible return to the Test arena after years of Sheffield Shield stardom in the UK has inevitably become a question mark next to his name going forward.
With more emphasis placed on the position of Travis Head, who has frustrated many more by his impatience at key times costing him his wicket than anything, Wade was disappointing in the series against New Zealand.
Scoring 119 runs at an average of 29.75, Wade struggled to find rhythm, where his teammates found great success.
The 32-year-old isn’t done at international level at all – he earned the opportunity to have an extended run in the team and will likely continue to be rewarded for his past few season’ worth of form.
Yet going forward, despite Australia’s current success, that number five spot is no closer to being locked in and uncertainty is sure to prevail.
It seems obvious from my perspective that Head is a long-term Test player and should be the one that bats at five going forward.
The aforementioned criticism of Head, a victim of his own lackadaisical nature, was quieted when he made an excellent 114 against New Zealand.
At 26 years of age, a leader within the team and with an average of 41.96 in 17 Tests, Head is building up a strong record that is overlooked by those more focused on his style of play.
The current inconsistencies in the Australian middle-order cannot be overlooked due to the positive results, as Australia has been guilty of doing in the past.
Australia’s current bowling attack is elite, and the depth is excellent, which was the obvious strength pre-Ashes.
Tim Paine is secure in his role and has been underappreciated for keeping Australia on course during a difficult time in its cricketing history.
Yet current success cannot allow the Australian cricket team to overlook the longer-standing issues within the team.
More emphasis should be placed on rewarding those experiencing domestic success by selecting them in national squads, which should fast-track the seamless introductions of these players into the team.
We have constantly seen it with the bowling side of things, and it’s time to ensure it is happening for the batsmen.
The likes of Labuschagne, Kurtis Patterson and Will Pucovski were afforded such an opportunity last summer, and it has paid off dividends early.
This must be the approach to squad selections going forward, with a wealth of knowledge available to be shared by a couple of legendary, veteran batsmen with emerging young stars.
In a few years’ time, we could certainly be seeing Australia’s middle order comprising a wicketkeeper batting at six (Alex Carey) and a young all-rounder at seven (Cameron Green), while the current opening bull could take a right-handed version of himself (Max Bryant) and skyrocket him to Test success.
At the present time though, a dominant Test summer must be acknowledged to have been on the back of incredible individual success and weak opposition, rather than a strong, world-beating team at the top of its game.
Australia is still facing the issues that have been present for months, and current glory mustn’t get in the way of addressing the question marks and building a powerhouse of the future.