Ashes 2019: Australia must fill Smith void as a team, says Paine

By Sports Desk August 21, 2019

Tim Paine wants Australia to fill the void left by Steve Smith as a team when they attempt to take an unassailable lead in the Ashes.

Australia can move 2-0 ahead and retain the urn with victory in the third Test at Headingley, which starts on Thursday.

However, they will have to do without talisman Smith, whose sensational series has been halted at least temporarily by a concussion he suffered when he was struck by a Jofra Archer delivery in the drawn second Test at Lord's.

Smith scored centuries in both innings in Australia's win at Edgbaston and made 92 at Lord's before being trapped lbw by Chris Woakes after returning following his head injury assessment.

He did not bat in the second innings and Marnus Labuschagne excelled as his concussion replacement, his 59 helping Australia save the match.

The first ball Labuschagne faced saw him struck by Archer, but he was composed thereafter and will take Smith's place after the former captain was ruled out.

Paine, though, does not want the burden of replacing Smith to be entirely on his shoulders.

"He's strange," Paine said of Labuschagne at a media conference. "He seems to enjoy getting hit on the head.

"We do it [replace Smith] as a team. Clearly, they're huge shoes to fill. We want our senior players to make sure we give that little bit more output, cover Steve the best we can."

Asked about Smith's reaction to his enforced absence, Paine replied: "He's disappointed obviously, but he along with the rest of the group understand why he isn't [playing].

"There's a strong medical process in place, Steve has to tick a lot of boxes [to make sure he's ready to play in the fourth Test]."

Much of the build-up to the match has focused on how Australia are to handle Archer, whose superb second-innings spell saw him take 3-32 in one of the most exciting Test cricket debuts of recent memory.

Paine insists Australia are prepared for more of the same at Headingley, adding: "We copped some short pitch bowling, guys have got plans in place and we've prepared really well for it, it's now about going out and executing.

"When someone is bowling fast and the crowd's up and about it's exciting. It's great for Test match cricket, the interest it's sparked in the last week, 10 days is great for the game. We're looking forward to the challenge again this week."

The skipper also indicated Australia will alter their attack, with the pitch not expected to provide as much help for the seamers. 

"We're obviously looking at maybe a bowling change," said Paine. "Whatever line-up we pick we expect the guys will be able to handle it [the pitch] or adapt to it quickly."

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    So, what did exactly did the 2019 Ashes series tell us? Steve Smith can definitely bat, Jofra Archer is seriously quick and no cause is ever seemingly lost when Ben Stokes is still at the crease.

    Delving a little deeper, the five Tests made clear the obvious flaws in both teams, but also demonstrated their strengths. Now, though, they can draw breath, recharge their batteries and start thinking about the future.

    Australia, who retained the Ashes courtesy of a 2-2 series draw, return to the Test arena against Pakistan in late November and with spots up for grabs, all eyes will be on the start of the Sheffield Shield season. England, meanwhile, have tours to New Zealand and South Africa to look forward to before the year is out.

    Having examined the state of both squads at different stages during the year, we now offer one final assessment while also looking ahead to the future.

     

    BATTING

    Not even retaining the urn has been enough to silence the questions that were already there before the Ashes about Australia's batting.

    Smith's heroics were enough on this occasion, but coach Justin Langer has work to do going forward.

    David Warner, who should be Australia's second-best batsman, became Stuart Broad's bunny, making just 95 runs at an average of 9.50 during the series and falling to the England paceman seven times.

    Between Warner, Cameron Bancroft and Marcus Harris, Australia's opening stands during the Ashes were an average of 8.50 runs, immediately putting themselves under early pressure.

    Marnus Labuschagne was a revelation after getting his chance, scoring 353 runs at an average of 50.42 to cement his place in Australia's top-order. But, going forward, places are up for grabs.

    Matthew Wade combined two centuries with eight scores of 34 or less, while Travis Head (who averaged 27.28) and Usman Khawaja (20.33) were both dropped during the series.

    Harris and Wade top-scored in the Shield last season, but the likes of Kurtis Patterson, 26, Will Pucovski, 21, and Jake Lehmann, 27, should all be sensing an opportunity.

    Given the others have failed to take their chances, albeit in tough conditions, perhaps the time has come to build around Smith and Labuschagne while preparing for the future.

    Like their opponents, England have gaps to fill in the top six.

    Rory Burns (390 runs at 39) had success at the top of the order, but the gamble on Jason Roy failed to pay off. Joe Denly may have received a stay of execution with his 94 at The Oval, but it is hard to see how a 33-year-old who has spent recent domestic seasons further down the batting list is the long-term answer.

    Joe Root had made clear in the past that three is not his favoured role, so it will be interesting to see if Trevor Bayliss' replacement is happy to drop him one position lower.

    The team's success in the longest format has often come courtesy of rearguard actions in difficult situations, but the time has come to start batting big.

    Stokes (441 runs at 55.12) showed the way with two second-innings hundreds, but Jonny Bairstow has reached 50 only once in his last 14 Test innings and Jos Buttler is in the strange position of being picked as a frontline batsman that comes in at seven.

    A busy winter schedule offers an opportunity to blood some fresh faces. Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley are the two openers regularly talked about as possible candidates to have a go alongside Burns. 

    Ollie Pope is waiting for another crack at international cricket, while Ben Foakes could return behind the stumps for the struggling Bairstow, who should perhaps consider giving up the gloves to focus completely on his batting. 


    BOWLING

    Unlike their batting, Australia's bowling is far more settled and with good reason.

    Pat Cummins won the Allan Border Medal in February and the paceman showed he can lead his nation for years to come. The 26-year-old played all five Tests – a fine feat for a player with his injury history – and was comfortably the leading wicket-taker in the Ashes with 29.

    Cummins took his 29 wickets at an average of 19.62 and economy rate of 2.69.

    Such is the depth and talent in Australia's attack, Mitchell Starc played just one Test, selectors perhaps looking elsewhere to capitalise on the English conditions.

    Josh Hazlewood has long been expected to be the man in such situations and he grabbed 20 wickets at 21.85 in four Tests.

    Peter Siddle and James Pattinson played three and two Tests respectively and while their spots are far from certain, the ability of the attack to deliver as a unit would have pleased Langer.

    They were helped by Nathan Lyon, who bowled more overs than anyone else on his way to 20 wickets at 33.40.

    Siddle (34) is the oldest of the group, but Cummins, Hazlewood (28), Starc (29) and Pattinson (29) look to have several years ahead of them in an excellent sign for Australia. Even Mitchell Marsh took his chance with the ball in the fifth Test, grabbing seven wickets, although the all-rounder is often criticised for his performances.

    The bowling was expected to be Australia's strength during the series and it proved just that, with few signs of it being an area of concern going forward.

    Similarly, for England, there are reasons to be cheerful over the attack. Broad benefited from the chance to hone his skills in county cricket prior to the Ashes - and went on to torture Warner and the rest of the left-handers.

    While his regular new-ball partner prospered, James Anderson endured a wretched campaign. Forced off after four overs of the opening Test with a calf injury, the Lancastrian failed to reappear in the rest of the series. He remains committed to playing at the highest level again, but England should not need to rush their leading wicket-taker back.

    That is mainly because of the emergence of the blistering Archer. He claimed 22 wickets in four Tests, knocked down the seemingly immovable Smith at Lord's and provided an added dimension to an attack otherwise lacking variety.

    Sam Curran's patience was finally rewarded with an outing in the fifth Test, where he again demonstrated his knack of making things happen, but Chris Woakes flattered to deceive, both with bat and ball.

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    As for the spin department, Jack Leach became a cult hero among fans and an easy fancy dress costume for a day at the Test.

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    CURRENT OUTLOOK

    Smith's form tilted the balance enough in Australia's favour to secure a 2-2 result, but now it will be fascinating to see how both nations develop as they go their separate ways.

    For England, the preparations for the tour Down Under in 2021-22 should begin immediately, or else they may be waiting a little longer to get the urn back.

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