By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – With their batting order settled and Mitchell Starc back to his marauding best in their series sweep of Pakistan, a confident Australia will look forward to bigger tests ahead when they host New Zealand later this month.
Australia dominated with bat, ball and in the field to post their second successive innings victory over the South Asians at Adelaide Oval on Monday, continuing their upward trajectory since retaining the Ashes in England.
The results were, in part, a reflection of a rebuilding Pakistan and the inexperience of their callow attack.
But the series also underlined the return of a ruthless streak which had been largely absent from Australian cricket since the team’s disintegration in the wake of the Newlands ball-tampering scandal in March 2018.
While the return of David Warner and Steve Smith from suspensions would embolden any team in world cricket, Marnus Labuschagne’s rapid rise from fringe all-rounder to bolted-on number three has been another massive boost.
Too often Warner and Smith had to carry the batting burden following the 2015 retirements of Michael Clarke and Chris Rogers, but in South Africa-born Labuschagne they have another shoulder to lean on.
The 25-year-old produced two big hundreds and 347 runs from the series, to be second only to the 489 runs scored by triple-centurion Warner.
Starc also continued his fine form from the Brisbane test, adding another seven batsmen to his tally to finish with 14 for the series and top the wicket-takers’ list with an average of 17.00.
It has been quite the comeback for the lanky left-armer, who was picked for just one test of the Ashes and wore much of the blame for the first series loss to India on home soil during the last Australian summer.
Starc bowled through the pain after suffering a big toe problem during the first innings in Adelaide but has been cleared for the three-match series against the Black Caps starting in Perth on Dec. 12.
Australia’s selectors meetings have tended to have long agendas due to the team’s batting problems in the past, but panel boss Trevor Hohns was beaming on Tuesday after naming an essentially unchanged squad for the New Zealand series.
Only batsman Cameron Bancroft, unused in the Pakistan series, was released from the squad, which was trimmed to 13.
“We’re very comfortable with our batting lineup. They’re functioning quite well,” Hohns told reporters in Adelaide.
“Very nice to have a couple of very, very good wins. It’s been quite relaxing (as a selector), to be honest.”
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Peter Rutherford)