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Lessons from a summer of dominance

2. Mitchell Starc should have played more than one Test in the Ashes series.
How did he only play one Test in England? Starc took 4-126 in the fourth Test at Old Trafford and otherwise on the sidelines. Starc answered his critics with some ferocious bowling over the summer in Australia, bowling at consistent speeds of 150 km/h and taking 29 wickets at 17 apiece. Starc’s strike rates were really impressive with a wicket per 40 balls, far better than his normal average of 50 balls a wicket.

Mitchell Starc celebrates taking a wicket.

Mitchell Starc celebrates taking a wicket. Credit:AAP

More importantly, with Starc’s new and improved action and gather has no doubt created better control. By keeping his arms closer to his body in his gather, Starc was able to improve his pace and more importantly his line and length. His old swagger came back when I saw the ball swinging back into the stumps to the right-handers. Surely now, the national selection panel must realise Starc hates being rotated and needs work before each Test. He is also a valuable asset for Lyon as he rips up the pitch outside off stump for right-handers.

3. Marnus Labuschagne is the real deal.
Honestly, when I first saw Labuschagne bat, I thought he needed a lot of work on his pre-meditative movement and more improvement on his defensive play. With some experience of playing
county cricket in England, and watching Smith’s every move on and off the ground, Labuschagne worked out how to play well and consistently. This boy is a smart kid.

When Smith was hit in the neck by a bouncer from Jofra Archer at Lord’s, this gave Labuschagne the opportunity he craved. Smith was retired out of the game and Labuschagne went on to make a very impressive 59. From that match, Australia found a new No. 3 batsman. Since that day he has scored an impressive 1249 runs, with three Test hundreds and seven 50s at an astonishing average of 83.

The one thing noticeable to me has been the improvement in Labuschagne’s footwork. His back-and-across movement, where he sits in a boxer’s position, allows him to hit the
ball wherever he wants.

I love the way he cocks or “deadweights” his bat at ball release. So at release his bat is vertical and slightly open, which gives him a better chance to deliver a straight bat when defending.

This has no doubt improved his bat plains, which has enhanced his defensive skills. Outside of Warner’s dominance this summer, Labuschagne was the pick of the batsmen.
He has surrounded himself with quality people to help him get to the next stage of development.

The Australian kids love him and I have no doubt he has the potential to become a great.

4. New Zealand found a weakness in the armoury of Smith.
After an amazing Ashes tour, and a load of confidence, I was expecting him to have another brilliant summer. But he only ended up making 244 Test runs at an average of 34 for the summer.

I knew the Kiwis would come up with something on how to counter Smith and they didn’t disappoint. Neil Wagner has no doubt found a crack in the defensive skills of Smith by
bombing him with short ones at the left armpit. Wagner set smart fields accordingly, which ended up dismissing Smith four times in the series.

Steve Smith in action on day one of the third Test match against New Zealand at the SCG.

Steve Smith in action on day one of the third Test match against New Zealand at the SCG. Credit:AAP

Wagner is a wonderful athlete with a huge motor and a bloody good bowler. He loves bowling short stuff and is very accurate as he doesn’t seem to bowl many high bouncers if at all.

Maybe that Archer bouncer that hit Smith in the neck at Lords, has had some lasting effects? Who knows?

I couldn’t believe the difference when Wagner tried the same tactics to Labuschagne. Labuschagne consistently got inside the ball and hooked with ease and regularity.

When Smith faced Wagner, it was completely a different story. I will be very interested to see how other opponents will bowl to Smith in the future. And what tactics Smith will employ. Whatever it is, we know Smith has a weakness and he needs to find a fix soon.

5. Babar Azam is the next batting sensation.
There are not too many batsmen in the world who drag the fans out of the bars or make the fans push forward in their seats to watch them bat. Babar does.

Pakistan's Babar Azam acknowledges the applause after being dismissed for 104 in Brisbane.

Pakistan’s Babar Azam acknowledges the applause after being dismissed for 104 in Brisbane. Credit:Getty Images

This guy is a potential superstar. His 210 runs against 53 for Pakistan in the two Tests against Australia doesn’t tell the full story. It is his stylish play and amazing technique that is winning fans around the world. Babar needs to make sure he is surrounded by good people, who can monitor his progress on and off the field.

Babar is just 25 and when he finishes his career I believe he will be the best Pakistani batsmen of all time. Australian fans loved his strokeplay and his performances were among the high points of the summer.

STILL TO BE RESOLVED
1. Warner needs a consistent partner.
Even though Australia reeled off a succession of high scores, there are still holes in the batting line-up. Warner still needs to find an opening partner, for example. All great teams have had great opening partnerships.

David Warner runs on day four of the third Test against New Zealand.

David Warner runs on day four of the third Test against New Zealand. Credit:Photosport

Joe Burns hasn’t lived up to expectations with only two decent scores this summer – 97 and 53. I am willing to stick with him but his defensive skills and rotation of strike when under pressure still need some work.

2. We still haven’t found a dependable No. 5.

Matthew Wade in this position is still a concern to many. Wade has played in 11 Test series. He averaged 63 against Sri Lanka in 2013 and 98 against Pakistan this summer from two innings, but he has failed in his other nine series as a batsman by failing to average 40 or more.

3. We still haven’t found a dependable No. 6.
Australian vice-captain Travis Head has played in six Test series and dominated once – last summer when he averaged 152 against the Sri Lankans. Even though Head averaged 42 against the Kiwis, he still is yet to cement himself as a Test batsman.

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4. BBL numbers are still dwindling.
Cricket Australia cannot stop the bleeding when it comes to the fall of attendances. Three seasons ago, the average BBL match attendances were around 30,000 and now they are down 40 per cent to 18,000. Maybe the lack of true superstars from overseas, the lack of Australian players and the length of the season is hurting. Whatever it is, CA better hurry up and find the fix as I am very worried about the future of the league.

5. Is Will Pucovski the next big thing?
This summer would have been the perfect time to blood Pucovski in Test cricket and he could be just what our middle order needs. Sadly it wasn’t to be this summer because of his mental health issues. He is only 21, so has plenty of time. Let’s hope things go well for him on and off the field.

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