What to make of new-look Australia?
Australia’s captain Steven Smith believes his dramatically changed team have found a way forward in their first Test since coming together, a rousing seven-wicket victory over South Africa in which the Queensland left-handers Usman Khawaja and Matt Renshaw played key roles.
As well as Australia bowled, first-innings runs are going to be what defines the success or otherwise of Smith’s side. To that end, Renshaw’s effort to see through a tough period on the first evening followed by Khawaja’s subsequent masterclass in dogged batting dictated much about how the match panned out. Tellingly, Smith said it helped that three new batsmen were free of the “scars” of the preceding five Tests. Not surprisingly, Smith wants to see more of the same.
“I thought we responded really well,” Smith said of the challenges posed by the pink ball and floodlit conditions. “We had three batters in the top six who had no scars or anything like that so they were able to come in and play their natural game, which was nice. I thought we adapted really well.
“I thought Usman was outstanding to come in under a pretty tricky situation on that night, opening the batting and get through that difficult period in the night and then bat the whole next day. It shows a lot about his character and what he’s willing to do. I thought he played beautifully out there for seven hours to wear them down and score a big hundred. I guess that’s the sort of template we’re looking for in our top six batters.”
Renshaw’s place will be a matter for some conjecture whenever Shaun Marsh returns to full fitness, but there was much to like about the way he played his game, tested the patience of the bowlers and put the highest premium on his wicket. Smith was enthused by what he saw.
Matt Renshaw’s temperament was praised by his state captain, Usman Khawaja, and Australia captain Steven Smith © Cricket Australia/Getty Images
“I thought he played quite well. He knows his game very well,” Smith said. “Obviously he got beaten a lot, but he wasn’t chasing the ball. He was keeping his line. South African had some quality bowlers that nip the ball quite a bit so you can’t afford to follow them. Something I thought Usman did particularly well in the first innings.
“He [Renshaw] played the line and let the ball that nips go past the bat and he didn’t seem phased by it at all. He just got on with the job and made them bowl to him. When they got a bit straighter he picked them off and that’s the way he goes about his game and it was nice for him and Petey [Handscomb] – two guys on debut – to be there at the end.”
Khawaja is Renshaw’s state captain, and spoke with a similar level of warmth for someone who has set himself up with a Test match method in mind. “He’s got a really good temperament, he’s got a really good head on him,” Khawaja said. “What you saw today or during this Test match was one bit of Matt Renshaw’s game. He does have a very good temperament, he’s got a good defence he plays the ball well and plays it late.
“But I think hopefully you’ll also be able to see the other part of him because I’ve seen him take down some attacks. I’ve seen him come up against a few spinners and really heave them for some big sixes and really change gears. He’s 20 years old, playing Test cricket for Australia. I think he’s doing great for a 20-year-old. I’d think he was doing great even he was 25 years old. He’s doing pretty well.”
Added to the way Australia batted was the team’s best fielding display for some time. In this, Smith singled out another debutant in Peter Handscomb for snaffling Faf du Plessis in the gully on the third evening. “I felt a bit of a switch straight away in energy and presence around the group in our first training session out here at Adelaide Oval,” Smith said.
“Everything felt like it was running smoothly and when we got our chance to get out into the field we had good energy and presence about ourselves. That helps in the field as well, we were able to take some pretty good catches in this Test match, a part of our game that has probably been a bit disappointing for a while now.
“It works hand in hand, when you have that sort of presence and energy you’re able to take chances like the one Petey took to open the game up. It’s been great to have these guys come in, create that energy and have that hunger and character about them to want to win and fight.”
Looking at the wider picture, Smith was understandably delighted to have snapped a five-match losing run ahead of the next home series against Pakistan. After two weeks of fire and brimstone, there are now some green shoots of new growth to be optimistic about.
“I’m very happy, it’s much better to be on this side of the fence,” he said. “A little bit bittersweet, it was a disappointing series, we were outplayed in the first two Test matches by South Africa, but I’m really proud of the way that the team came back in this game. There were some new players who came in, they stood up and we showed some fight and character. That’s what I want us to do and I’m really proud of the way we stood up.
“I think we can grow from what we’ve done in this Test match. It’s been a great start for a young group that have come together so we’re going to have to continue to work hard as a group to get to where we want to. Obviously they [Pakistan] are going to be another tough opposition. I think they have been playing some very good cricket. They’ve got some quality players so we’re going to have to be at our best if we want to get on top of them this summer as well.”
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo