Following on from my slightly depressing grades for the 18 players who represented England during the Ashes tour from hell, here are my marks for the victorious Australian eleven who earned the nickname ‘The Unchangeables’ after the hosts named the same team for each of the five test matches.
Chris Rogers – B+
For a man who only last year was recalled from the international wilderness Rogers rise has been remarkable as he’s become one of the cornerstones of this Australian side. His grit and determination resemble that of Justin Langer, one of his predecessors at the top of the Australian order, and after compiling two centuries, three fifties and an average of 46.30 (all without hitting a single six) Rogers can be satisfied that he made the most of his first home Ashes series. Despite battling age (he’s 36) the left-hander looks set to tour tour South Africa this spring.
David Warner – A
After his summer swing at Joe Root Warner was described as a ‘bully’ by many members of the press, a description that aptly fitted his batting after he repeatedly mauled the England attack during the 5-0 whitewash. Not only did Warner strike two tons at a lofty average of 58.11 he did so with a strike rate of 74.39, indicating the savageness of his assaults. He may not have the tightest technique for an opening batsman but Warner’s pure aggression enables him to take advantage the minute the opposition show any sign of weakness, not in a dissimilar manner to the way Matthew Hayden and Michael Slater operated in their pomp.
Shane Watson – C+
George Bailey aside, Watson had the lowest average of the Australian top seven although he did notch one century and score at over 64 runs per hundred balls. While he wasn’t as dominant as Warner or obdurate as Rogers Watson still played his part at number three, a position which has caused the Aussies headaches since the retirement of Ricky Ponting. ‘Watto’s’ bowling was as useful and economical as ever however he was unable to bowl more than 47.4 overs during the series thanks to a number of muscular aches and pains.
Michael Clarke – A-
‘Pup’ failed to score as many runs as he’d have perhaps liked during the series but he gets a high mark for his leadership alone. Even while the Aussies were losing in India and England last year Clarke received praise for his positive captaincy and imaginative approach to bowling changes and field placings, qualities that helped the team finally win a test match in 2013 at the Gabba before going on to dominate England in the final four games of the series for good measure. Clarke’s high profile run in with James Anderson may have attracted some negative press from the English media but make no mistake about it – Clarke’s teammates love playing for him and the Australian public love the aggressive brand of cricket his team are currently playing.
Steve Smith – B-
After the summer series I stated my opinion that Smith is the heir apparent to the Australian captaincy and his exploits this winter have done nothing to change my mind. An absolutely outstanding fielder, Smith has developed with the bat to the point where he can be legitimately called a test number five. Though unorthodox his stroke play is expansive and Smith has such a wide range of shots that he’s almost impossible to tie down for long periods. Two centuries at an average of 40, including a series clinching ton in Perth, well and truly announced Smith to the world stage.
George Bailey – C-
If not for some spectacular catches taken at short leg Bailey would have earned a D, however he had such an impact in the field and was brought into play on so many occasions by the hostile bowling of Mitchell Johnson and sharp turn of Nathan Lyon that it was impossible to ignore Bailey’s impact under the lid. Unfortunately for Australia’s T20 captain he failed more often than not with the bat and Bailey stands a good chance of missing out on the test tour to South Africa as a result. If he is dropped at least Bailey will always have the world record equaling over off James Anderson when he crashed 28 runs including three sixes, two fours and a two.
Brad Haddin – A+
For my money the man of the series, Haddin time and time rescued Australia with the bat. In stark contrast to his opposite number Matt Prior the Australian vice-captain was able to counter attack effectively by playing a brand of simple and aggressive cricket which left the England players flustered. Although Haddin only passed three figures once he reached fifty on five other occasions and his final average of 61.62 was outstanding, particularly when you consider he was never unbeaten at the end of an innings. His glove-work was also quietly flawless and wrapped up a fine year for the ‘keeper, who recorded a world record number of victims in England during the summer series.
Mitchell Johnson – A+
Johnson came into the series with a reputation as a wayward bowler with a slingy action who couldn’t withstand pressure. He left it as arguably the worlds premier fast bowler and unarguably the world most frightening paceman. His accuracy improved, Johnson unleashed a barrage of threatening bouncers and toe crunching yorkers, taking wickets with both and sending England batsman crawling back into their shells. Statistics can often tell the story and while they help demonstrate Johnson’s dominance they don’t explain just how afraid the England batsmen were of his 90 MPH plus pace and how he got inside their heads. Mitch also averaged 27 with the bat and while he isn’t quite a genuine all-rounder he isn’t a million miles off earning that distinction.
Ryan Harris – A+
While Johnson was England’s chief tormenter Harris wasn’t far behind and the oft-injured fast bowler certainly had the measure of visiting skipper Alistair Cook. 22 wickets at 19.31 tell represent a fine haul and his unnerving accuracy was the perfect compliment to Johnson’s hostility. If, and it remains a big if, Harris can stay fit he has a chance to become the best bowler in the world over the next twelve months.
Peter Siddle – B+
Siddle didn’t quite rack up the same amount of wickets as Johnson or even Harris but he had a profound impact on the series nonetheless by continuing to take Kevin Pietersen’s wicket. Additionally Siddle had the best economy rate of any Australian bowler, helping to maintain pressure on the English batsmen even when he wasn’t taking wickets. An underrated an valuable part of the set-up, Siddle promises to remain integral to Darren Lehmann’s plans going forward.
Nathan Lyon – B
He may be no Shane Warne but Lyon is probably the best spinner Australia have had since the famous leggie retired from test cricket in 2007. Lyon gained surprising levels of turn and bounce on relatively unresponsive surfaces and his 19 wickets complimented the pace attack nicely. He also went the entire series without being dismissed, putting the England batsmen to shame as he withstood more than a few short pitched assaults from the visiting attack.
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