Increase in test quality resources means Australia is no longer so dependent on the ‘big three’
Strength in depth. This is what Australia is building into its booming fast bowling cartel, as England discovered on Boxing Day.
As inept as England have been in this Ashes series, eliminated under 200 for the third time in five innings and a record for the 12th time in the calendar year, Australia’s depth of quality in its fast bowling ranks reached new levels. Just 12 months after Cummins, Hazlewood and Starc were thrown into the ground in all four tests against India in a losing streak, and just months after James Pattinson retired, Australia used seven fast bowlers in five innings of bowling in this series, combining for 38 of the 50 wickets taken at a cost of just 19.55 per scalp, and hitting 44.6 per layoff.
The major bonus has been the green. The 22-year-old did not take a wicket last summer, although he played better than his numbers suggested.
He now casts match-changing spells. He’s taken the key wickets of Root and Stokes twice each in this series. His MCG spell could have been his best yet. England were hardly well placed at 4 for 110 but Stokes was starting to accelerate after patiently starting off. He kicked Starc off his pads for four, then threw Nathan Lyon on six to go from 35 balls to 22 and at least give Australia something to think about.
His bowling gave Cummins a comfortable introduction to the test harbor office. He doesn’t need to overwork any of his rapids. Cummins cast a six-man spell in the morning, but no one played more than five in a row afterwards and Green was able to be used in two bursts of four.
It also allowed the Australian managers to be careful with any of their rapids if there is even a hint of pain, as they did with Hazlewood, Richardson and Neser in Melbourne. They can even play horses for lessons. Boland is an MCG specialist who took 96 first-class wickets at 25.56 for the test, while Starc, Hazlewood, Richardson and Neser all averaged over 35 at the site.
Richardson and Neser, who are more dangerous in the swing and seam conditions, may be retained for a more appropriate deployment. Green’s presence in the top six, provided his body holds up, could also give Australia the opportunity to play two spinners if the conditions are right.
Australia will face much more skilled and stubborn batting teams than the one England sent on this tour. But their addiction to the big three of Cummins, Starc and Hazlewood seems a distant memory.
Alex Malcolm is Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo