In Australia’s exhilarating final-day victory in the Ashes opener at Edgbaston, several familiar narratives played out, while one stood out for its peculiarity. In an uncommon occurrence, neither Steve Smith nor Marnus Labuschagne, the leading ICC Test batsmen at the beginning of the match, scored many runs. In fact, they contributed a combined total of only 35 runs.
Smith arrived at Edgbaston days after scoring a century in the first inning of the WTC final, but he endured a forgettable game with scores of 16 and 6. In the first inning, Labuschagne was hit by a first-pitch no-hitter, and in the ensuing pursuit, he was out for just 13 runs. Having won the game, Australia’s head coach Andrew McDonald viewed the team’s independence from the two players as a positive omen.
“There will be no doubt a craving for more net sessions from Marn and Smudge, “McDonald said. “They’re disappointed they missed out in this game, but I think any time the Australian cricket team can win without those two performing at a high level is always a positive.”
“We’ve got some areas we can improve, there’s some growth within the team and there’s two obvious ones. It’s very rare that Marn and Smudge miss out in the same Test match,” McDonald added.
While Usman Khawaja continued to flourish, averaging 66.87 as an opener in the format, his Ashes adversary Stuart Broad exposed David Warner’s old weaknesses. The England fast bowler defeated the Australian left-handed batsman in the first innings for the 15th time when he was dismissed for 9. The second essay was significantly better, but it failed to capitalize on a strong start. That, however, was enough to impress McDonald and give him hope that Warner is on the verge of a large score. Warner now has 8208 runs as a Test opener; only four batsmen have more.
“The way that he moved in the second innings with the intent that he had, along with the first innings at The Oval in the World Test Championship Final, anyone watching that would say those movement patterns are good, the intent that he had, the way that he was going about it is the way we want him to play and put pressure back on to England,” McDonald opined.
“He didn’t get the big score that he wanted but I think he put a lot of pressure on them and at 70/0, he was looking pretty impressive then he feathers one through… There’s a big score around the corner, no doubt,” he added.
Even though Australia defeated England and their ultra-aggressive approach to the format to claim a crucial 1-0 lead in the series, McDonald refrained from calling it a vindication of their divergent playing styles.
“No vindication, I think it should be more of a celebration,” McDonald said. “Two styles come together and produce a Test match like that. Certainly, no vindication, we’ll go about it our way and England will go about it their way and we’ll see what happens at the end of the series.”
The teams will then travel to the English capital of London on June 28 for the second Test.