Cameron Bancroft will be pitted against Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada and perhaps Dale Steyn in South Africa during the looming Test series in March, if the Australia captain Steven Smith’s words are anything to go by.
Despite struggling over the course of his first Ashes series, notably showing evidence of technical trouble in the region of his off stump, Bancroft is highly regarded by the Australian team set-up after spending six weeks in camp. This is partly for his high work ethic and eagerness to improve, and also for an off-beat personality summed up when he had Smith in stitches when describing his pre-series altercation with Jonny Bairstow in the aftermath of the Gabba Test.
Given all these attributes, the 25-year-old Bancroft has won Smith’s support ahead of the selectors’ discussions about who should travel to South Africa. As if to remind them of the player discarded to make room for Bancroft, the Queensland opener Matt Renshaw is set to play in England’s 50-over warm-up match before the ODI series, but Smith gave no indication of wanting to change back to another opening partner for David Warner.
“He’s worked hard and he probably hasn’t scored as many runs as he would have liked throughout this series,” Smith said. “But he’s a good young player, he’s a great character and he’s got a terrific work ethic. The more he plays, he’s going to continue to improve and get better. If the selectors keep the faith – I hope they do – it will only be good for him and good for the group.”
Smith had plenty of praise for his team after wrapping up a 4-0 series victory over England to regain the Ashes, and pinpointed Nathan Lyon’s direct hit to run out James Vince on the first day of the series in Brisbane as pivotal to the overall outcome. “The moment that changed the whole series was Nathan Lyon and the run out [of James Vince] at the Gabba,” Smith said. “That was such a huge moment in the series. Those sort of plays can change the series. I certainly think that was a series-changing moment.
“I think all the bowlers did an exceptional job. Lyon got a lot of rewards throughout the series and bowled exceptionally well. I was looking yesterday when we were out on the field it came up with all the wickets this series the bowlers had got, each one of them had over 20. It showed the guys have bowled together as a group, bowled in partnerships and for one another and helped us take the 80 wickets that we needed to win the four Test matches. Nathan’s been exceptional with that as well. His consistency has been outstanding.”
As for the ability of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins to remain fit for the matches that mattered at the front end of the series, Smith spoke warmly about how the team’s support and medical staff had mapped out plans to have the “big three” pacemen at their best. “They’ve done it so well throughout this series. It’s been nice to have those three guys playing together,” he said.
“So much went in to ensure those guys were right for this series. A lot of credit has to be given to the support staff, medical staff and all of that for getting it all right and coming together the way it did. It’s nice to have those options available. All those guys bowl a little bit different to each other but all bowl really good pace. In Australia that works really well, it’s been great.”
Having started the Ashes by laughing alongside Bancroft, Smith had also generated plenty of mirth by how he reacted to Shaun Marsh’s spontaneous decision to try to hug his brother Mitchell Marsh upon completing a hundred rather than finish a second run. The resulting near-run out made Smith briefly apoplectic, but he could laugh about it in the afterglow of the Sydney victory, while also acknowledging how much the Marsh brothers had contributed to the scoreline.
“Looking back, it was quite funny,” Smith said. “When I’m watching or when I’m playing I’m sort of always in the moment. Watching the ball not going to the fence and seeing them start to hug in the middle just seemed a little bit bizarre. I just wanted them to get back in their ground and not get run out. Shaun came in the rooms after and I said ‘what happened there?’. He goes ‘I just wanted to hug him, I didn’t care about anything else, I just wanted to hug him’. It was a strange moment but a pretty special moment for the two brothers.”
“Everyone has had a role to play and had some impact on this series. You see the two Marsh boys…Shaun throughout the whole series and Mitch in the last three Test matches … have been magnificent. All the guys have had an impact in the series and that’s what has been so special about it. It hasn’t just been one or two guys stepping up and doing the job. You can’t really win an Ashes series when that’s the case, so it’s been good that so many different people have stood up at different times to help us win the series.”
As for the future, Smith has previously stated his goal of winning the Ashes away from home, something no Australian team has done since 2001. He was unsure of whether or not the current team should be favoured to win next time around, but did indicate that he felt keeping a young team together over time would help all of its members to gain in strength and confidence.
“A lot can change between now and then. That’s still a long time away. But this team has been magnificent this series, the cricket we’ve played has been great,” Smith said. “I think the more we play together the more we’re going to get better as a group. We’ve just got to keep getting better and improving as a team. England in 2019 is a long way away but it is a real challenge for us as well and a bucket list for mine to win an Ashes series in England.
“I think it’s different obviously to playing with a Kookaburra here. It can move around consistently at times. I think everyone is vulnerable to a moving ball. It’s about just trying to find a way to have a solid defence and a game plan that can work in those conditions. Over the next couple of years guys are going to continue to develop and get that game plan in place.”
“It’s a tough tour, going to England, it’s a great place to play and a difficult place for any team travelling. England play incredibly well at home. I don’t know who would be favourites. But I now do look forward to going over there in 2019.”