Ashes campaign to cover China’s subcontinent woes

will head home from India on Saturday after the final Twenty20 delighted that 16 months of regular cricket on the sub-continent and through Asia have come to an end.
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While several players, including injured captain Steve Smith, are already home, preparations, including the public relations machine, will now ramp-up with one thing in the mind – the cash cow that remains the Ashes.

Debate over who should fill the No.6 and wicketkeeping roles in the Test side will be a major internal and public talking point, with selector Mark Waugh (who specialises with the Twenty20 side) throwing up a handful of names on Thursday. Form through the opening rounds of the Sheffield Shield will be closely monitored.

What all this will do is banish memories of an unfulfilling time on the road, beginning with a 3-0 series loss to Sri Lanka last year, a 2-1 series defeat in India this year, which was a major improvement from Sri Lanka, and the disappointing 1-1 draw with Bangladesh in August.

While the Ashes remains the pinnacle for n cricket, the amount of time and resources that go into preparing the team for overseas tours would suggest better results are expected.

That has slipped from an ICC Test ranking of No.1 in Sri Lanka last year to No.5 – behind India, South Africa, England and even New Zealand – highlights how far the tumble has been. Had the tourists lost in Bangladesh, their ranking would have slumped to No.6, the lowest in almost three decades.

Added to the modest form on the subcontinent was the debacle on home shores against South Africa last summer, which sparked a youth-movement led policy for the better, and the inability to emerge from the group stage of the Champions Trophy tournament in England – the latter coming at a time when attention was also on the bitter pay dispute.

Coach Darren Lehmann remains one of the world’s best but there is a feeling he was fortunate to be reappointed by Cricket through the Sri Lankan tour – with a year still remaining on his then contract. CA chairman David Peever and chief executive James Sutherland told journalists in Colombo at the time that it was a sign of stability ahead of a major year.

Lehmann, most likely, would have been reappointed had he had to wait another year, but the debate would have been more intense. And perhaps more questions asked of whether the team had been making enough progress.

A year on from Sri Lanka and the batting line-up is still fragile when confronted by spin, the No.6 all-rounder’s role remains an ongoing issue, while wicketkeeper Matthew Wade – having replaced Peter Nevill last summer – cannot score a run and is facing the end of his Test career.

Caretaker coach David Saker, filling in for Lehmann in India this month during a one-day series and Twenty20 campaign, raised concerns last week about the mentality of the batsmen, declaring they were scared and selfish. That came after the losing 4-1 one-day series, when only David Warner and Aaron Finch scored centuries and performed well overall.

“A lot of them are playing a little bit scared, which we try not to do. We try and make sure they play with a lot of freedom and express themselves as much as they can. But when you’re losing, you play scared, you go insular and you start looking after No.1,” Saker said.

“I think there’s little bits of that. It’s not dramatic and we know we can fix that. I think the talent is there.”

Saker’s comments had been the whisper through team channels for several weeks, particularly after Smith criticised his men for not batting to plan.

may be the defending World Cup champions but their performances since 2015 have slipped to the point they are ranked No.3 (and No.6 in the Twenty20 arena).

This shapes as an important summer when the ODI series against England rolls around, with the 2019 World Cup in England on the horizon. Chief selector Trevor Hohns has traditionally moved players on a year or two out from the World Cup if he doesn’t believe they will make the tournament – something Waugh, in his earlier incarnation, could attest to.

While Saker’s comments pertained to one-day cricket, it wasn’t an encouraging assessment ahead of an Ashes campaign, beginning next month.

The “phoney war” of the lead-in to the Ashes, as always, will ensure the troubles of the past year are quickly forgotten – unless results quickly turn sour when the series starts.

However, that should not stop the CA board of directors from asking direct questions about the subcontinent campaigns when they gather for their annual general meeting in Brisbane on October 24, for it was only earlier this year that newly reappointed high-performance boss Pat Howard declared, “We want to be No.1 in all three formats across men’s and women’s cricket”.

Clearly, there is much work to be done.


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