- By Michael Vaughan. Telegraph, London
If you think Australia’s problems will be solved the moment Steve Smith and David Warner are available for selection again then you are wrong.
They have issues that run far deeper than two players. Batting, bowling, selection and tactics were poor against India, and Australia have to admit they were just not good enough.
Clearly, if you take the two best players out of any team they will struggle. But losing Smith and Warner is an easy excuse to hide behind.
India were beaten 4-1 in English conditions last summer, although the matches were closer than the final score suggests, but would have beaten Australia 3-1 had it not rained in Sydney for the last two days. I cannot see Australia beating England this summer unless they assess themselves brutally. Batting techniques have to be better and they need to be more consistent with the ball. Every facet of their Test team has to improve. They are kidding themselves if they think everything will be rosy when Smith and Warner come back.The series against India was similar to the Ashes of 2010-11. Australia beat India in Perth, as they had England, when conditions were in their favour and it was quick and bouncy, but were outplayed everywhere else.
On flat, good batting pitches, Australia really struggled as it is on those tracks that weaknesses are highlighted. A batting unit’s defences are tested because it is necessary to bat for long periods. Australia are unable to play long innings. They look like a team who can score 250-300, and that is good enough on sporting pitches, but not when it is flat.
The bowling is not as good as they think. They are very good when conditions are in their favour or well ahead in the game. But there is room for them to become a much more skilful and consistent bowling attack.
For the Ashes this summer, Australia have to look at breaking up Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins. They need a more skilful bowler, such as a Peter Siddle or Trent Copeland. They need someone who can match England’s consistency and skill with the Duke ball and bowl the fuller length.
A ridiculously low percentage of balls bowled by Australia against India were going on to hit the stumps. They took only one wicket lbw in the whole series. The bowlers and the coaching staff have to take the blame for that and ask how they can improve. To beat England in England, they have to bowl more intelligently.
It is not often that quick bowlers come to England and blast batsmen out. It may happen in one Test but not over the course of a five-match series. You need consistent line and length, and skilful manipulation of the conditions. At the moment, I do not see Australia having those attributes.
Starc is an issue. He is fantastic when the team are on top. He makes things happen. But he is a luxury bowler. When the side are chasing the game, or in English conditions when every run can be crucial, he might be a bowler Australia cannot afford to pick. He is wayward.
Australia now play two Tests against Sri Lanka and it is a chance to have a look at new players. Selection was poor against India. Aaron Finch is not an opener in red-ball cricket but was picked to do so. They should have played him in the middle order. Instead of moving him down the order, he was dropped and Usman Khawaja opened with Peter Handscomb recalled for Sydney.
Mitchell Marsh was brought back for one game and dropped again. How many times has that happened? How can you expect someone to become a Test cricketer if they play only one game?
Marcus Harris is a fighter who looks like he can play a bit. But what let Australia down against India was that their two senior players, Khawaja and Shaun Marsh, struggled at a time when they had to step up. You look at senior players to drive you forward, more so when Warner and Smith are absent. But the senior core looked fragile. When Khawaja and Marsh walk out to the crease, I never feel they look like senior batsmen. I feel they are making their debuts or starting out in their career, yet between them they have played 75 Tests. Against Sri Lanka, they could gamble on a younger player, just to shake up these guys.
Fundamental batting basics have to be sorted out. Australia have a rich batting heritage but I cannot see any current player who plays spin well. In England, they will face seam, swing and spin. I cannot see there being a draw in the series. There will be five results.
England should be careful in preparing green tops because I do not think that is necessary against this Australian side. No risks need to be taken. Just prepare a good Test wicket, because the best team will come out on top and, in English conditions, that is England.