MELBOURNE (Reuters) – For a rebuilding Australia side ostensibly in the throes of a long and tricky transition, Steve Smith’s team has appeared remarkably settled during a successful home summer.
Following the confidence-sapping Ashes defeat in England, Australia lost a wealth of experience in the dressing room, with captain Michael Clarke, opening batsman Chris Rogers and Brad Haddin among a string of retirements.
Pace spearhead Mitchell Johnson then called time on his career after the second test against New Zealand and his replacement Mitchell Starc was sidelined for the summer after the third test.
However, under new captain Smith, Australia head in to the New Year celebrating two home series wins over New Zealand and West Indies, and victory in four out of the five tests.
Australia face their first proper examination in February when they head to New Zealand for a two-test series but selectors won’t have too much to ponder, according to coach Darren Lehmann.
“It’s pretty close (to being settled) I would think,” Lehmann, also one of the team’s selectors, told reporters in Melbourne on Wednesday.
“You’d have to speak to the (selectors’) chairman more so than me at the moment. But from where I sit it’s all pretty good. It’s really just making sure they all get through it, seeing how they perform in Sydney and then away we go.
“Our big challenge is to win away from home. That’s what we’re always saying. We play pretty well at home but to play well away from home is pretty important.”
Australia play their last test of the home summer at the Sydney Cricket Ground from Sunday, a dead rubber against West Indies, and may look to experiment with a second spinner to accompany Nathan Lyon in preparation for slower pitches on a tour of Sri Lanka next year.
But Australia’s batting lineup is unlikely to be touched, with all of the top order scoring big runs in recent matches.
The replacements have slotted in with aplomb, with Usman Khawaja making the number three position his own and Joe Burns, who succeeded opener Rogers, teaming well with David Warner.
Peter Nevill has also impressed with his glove-work in place of Haddin while fast-bowling all-rounder Mitchell Marsh has shown himself a valuable wicket-taker in the wake of Shane Watson’s retirement from tests.
Lehmann gave Australia a mark of ‘7.5’ out of 10 for a year in which they won the World Cup but lost the Ashes, the series most prized by home fans.
“The pleasing thing is we’ve ticked every box we wanted to at the start of the year apart from obviously the Ashes,” he said.
“(But) we won’t get to number one if we don’t win away from home. Simple as that.”
(Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)