Ashes whitewash now the mission for pressure-free Australia
PERTH (Reuters) – Victorious Australia will head to Melbourne for the Boxing Day Test against England brimming with confidence after reclaiming the Ashes in Perth and on a mission to subject the tourists to another 5-0 series whitewash.
Captain Steve Smith was a member of the Michael Clarke side that swept the last series Down Under in 2013/14 and will feel good about his chances of emulating his former skipper by defeating Joe Root’s demoralised team in the final two matches.
“It’d be fantastic to do that and we’ll talk about Melbourne when we get there,” Smith said after their innings and 41-run win at the WACA saw Australia take back the urn.
“Right now, I‘m just really satisfied with what we’ve achieved in these first three Test matches. I’d love to do that again, but we will just take it one step at a time.”
Australia were able to pick the same team throughout the series sweep in 2013/14 but Smith may not have that luxury due to an injury doubt over Mitchell Starc.
The pace spearhead carried a heel injury through the final day at the WACA and could be rested for Melbourne, which may open the door to a recall for squad seamer Jackson Bird.
With Josh Hazlewood in top form after grabbing five wickets to rout England for 218 in their second innings at the WACA, Australia are unlikely to be overly concerned about Starc’s possible absence.
Coach Darren Lehmann said he was eager to see how the team would play with the pressure of winning the series on home soil behind them.
“It’s highly pressurised, Ashes cricket,” he told reporters at the WACA.
”Everyone is nervous every ball, every session – it’s been that way for 15 days so far.
“So they can go and express themselves a little bit more now, so we’ll be playing the same brand of cricket but with less pressure on us.”
‘HERE TO MAKE RUNS’
Since an acrimonious series defeat at home to South Africa a year ago, Australia have won nine of their past 13 Tests, with their captain leading the way with over 1,000 runs in the calendar year.
Smith’s 239 the WACA, following an unbeaten 141 in the series-opener at the Gabba, has given him an astonishing average of 142 for the Ashes series.
Long saddled with the burden of scoring in a vulnerable batting lineup, Smith has enjoyed ample support in the series.
Mitchell Marsh smashed 181 at the WACA and his older brother Shaun scored an unbeaten 126 in the second Test in Adelaide.
Mitchell’s maiden ton in his 22nd Test came after years of failing to deliver with the bat, so it was hugely encouraging for a team who have searched in vain for a decent all-rounder to help support their young pace attack.
“The challenge for him is to back it up again, to be perfectly honest, and one innings doesn’t make a cricket career,” said Lehmann.
“So for him he’s got to back it up next game and do the right thing. He’s here to make runs.”