Australia’s captain Steven Smith broke down in tears in the dressing room immediately after regaining the Ashes, but he and the selectors have a decision to make on Mitchell Starc as they set their sights on emulating the teams of 2007 and 2014 by shutting out England 5-0 over the final two Tests in Melbourne and Sydney.
Starc has a bruised heel, which he bowled through on the final day in Perth, but with a four-match assignment in South Africa in March next year, much debate will now be had off-camera as to whether or not to keep the same bowling attack for the remainder of the series or ensure the injury does not deteriorate. Australia’s team was unchanged throughout 2013-14 but has already been tweaked this time around with the inclusion of Mitchell Marsh for Pete Handscomb. The same squad of 13 has been named for Melbourne.
“Having seen him just there he just said ‘I’m playing’, whether he has a choice in the matter I’m not sure,” Smith said of Starc. “But he wants to play. I think he was a little bit sore, he said it didn’t get any worse when he was bowling. But that’s something we have to sum up. We’ve wrapped the series up here and we’d love to win 5-0 and have the big three going all the time.
“But we’ve also got an important tour to South Africa after this series, which we’d love to have him available for. A few things for us to sum up, and we’ll see how he pulls up over the next couple of days. I’m sure that’ll determine which way we go.”
Though the hosts always looked likely to roll England’s last six batsmen with enough time to spare to beat the intermittent rain that swept across the WACA Ground for much of its final day as an Ashes venue, there was still plenty of joy and emotion at the moment Pat Cummins claimed the day’s final wicket.
For Smith, who has experienced the pain of Ashes defeat three times in 2010-11, 2013 and 2015, the sense of achievement in winning a series at home as captain was palpable. There was relief, too, for securing the result expected of everyone associated with Australian cricket, not just the 11 players who huddled tightly in the middle of the ground after Chris Woakes fell.
“Playing in Australia we expect big things of ourselves,” Smith said. “We know these conditions really well and whether we’re playing against England or anyone else, we’re expected to go well and we ourselves expect to do a good job as well.
“I’d love to do that [win 5-0]. I was part of the series obviously back in 2013-14 when we did that and it was amazing part of my life and everyone else’s who was involved as well. I’d love to do that again but we’ll just take it one step at a time at the moment and first of all enjoy the success we’ve had over last couple of weeks and have a good celebration tonight and we’ll move on from there.
“We’ll talk about Melbourne when we get there, the Boxing Day Test match is an amazing occasion, particularly an Ashes Test match. We’ll talk about that when we get there but right now just really satisfied with what we’ve achieved in these first three Test matches. Been remarkable and look forward to having a good celebration with the boys this evening.”
Plenty of criticism was directed at the national selectors for a series of courageous calls at the outset of this series, whether it was recalling Shaun Marsh after stripping him of his CA contract earlier in the year, picking the Tasmanian Tim Paine as wicketkeeper when he was not the first choice for his state, or choosing Mitchell Marsh so soon after he had returned to bowling in the wake of shoulder surgery. Smith said Trevor Hohns’ panel deserved due credit.
“I thought they were really good selections,” Smith said. “Painey’s been mentioned as the best keeper in the country for a long period of time and the way he’s kept has been exceptional, the way he’s batted has been exceptional as well. We’ve had some very valuable runs from him at No. 7 and also Shaun Marsh.
“I know Justin Langer was saying for a while that Shaun was in the best form of his life and he’s come in and done a terrific job. The way he’s batting, just watching him in the nets facing all three of our quicks, you get a pretty fair gauge of how the batter are going if they’re playing them really well and he’s looked incredibly comfortable against them. We’ve seen every time he’s gone out to the middle he’s looked good and done a terrific job.”
“A lot of people came out and said they were some very bold selections at the start of the series, and the selectors get criticised quite a lot but I think they’ve done a terrific job with the squad we picked at the start and everyone that’s come in has done an exceptional job, so a lot of credit’s got to go to the selectors.”
In contrast to the teams of 2007 and 2014, Smith’s side is far more youthful, with the prospect of largely staying together for some years to come. To win an Ashes series away from home in 2019, something not achieved by an Australian side since Steve Waugh’s successful tourists in 2001, is high on Smith’s long-term agenda.
“We have conversations here and there, myself and Boof and selectors about certain things we could do over there, but still a fair way away,” Smith said of 2019. “Right now I just want to enjoy what we’ve done over the past couple of weeks, to be up 3-0 and have the Ashes back, it’s been quite remarkable and almost a dream come true. You never know with injuries and form and things like that but I think the guys that have played in this series have done a terrific job.
“Everyone has contributed in some part and the performances we’ve put up have been outstanding. I’d like to hope this team can keep growing and getting better and keep working our way up the rankings and just try and get better as a team and keep gelling as a team and trying to have the successes we want to have as a team. We’ve still got a long way to go but this has been an incredible couple of weeks and one I’m sure we’ll look back on in time and just be so proud of what we’ve achieved.”