Steven Smith (extreme right) has lead the Australian side well in their rebuilding phase. © Getty Images
Steven Smith (extreme right) has lead the Australian side well in their rebuilding phase. © Getty Images

Ashes 2015 was a torrid one for Australia; not just because they lost the urn, but also because they also lost five of their key players. Even before the series had begun, Ryan Harris was the first to bring down the curtains on his injury-curtailed career. It was probably his shock announcement that Australia could not recover from and went on to lose the series 2-3. As if the Ashes loss was not enough heartburn, the fans had to bear the loss of their favourite players too. Captain Michael Clarke, wicketkeeper Brad Haddin, all-rounder Shane Watson and opener Chris Rogers announced to hang their boots, sending the team into a state of rebuilding. FINAL SCORECARD: Australia vs West Indies 2015-16, 2nd Test at Melbourne.

The retirements of these stalwarts from the whites took a lot of experience out of the team — the five of them shared combined experience of 292 Tests between them. It is always difficult to fill in the void created when the legends go, but the decisions had to be taken, and taken swiftly. The understandably shaken selectors and the team think-tank went into a huddle and came up with some interesting choices. The naming of young Steven Smith as the leader of the pack did not come as a surprise, as he was the obvious choice for the post given his tremendous rise in the past year or so.

When Harris retired prior to the series, Pat Cummins was sent as reinforcement. Watson and Haddin took part in only the first Ashes Test, so their replacements were made during the series: Mitchell Marsh replaced Watson while Peter Nevill came in for Haddin for the remaining four Tests. The real question was — who would fill the shoes of Clarke and Rogers? There were quite a few contenders for both spots; Shaun Marsh, Usman Khawaja, Joe Burns, Cameron Bancroft, Chris Lynn and Nic Maddinson. By the time Australia’s first assignment arrived after the retirements of these men, the choices were being made. Read: Australia beat West Indies by 177 runs on Day 4 of the 2nd Test at Melbourne; Win Frank Worrell Trophy 2015-16.

The test

The first of the three-Test series between Australia and New Zealand saw Burns and Khawaja making comeback to the Australian side. Both made full use of the chance as Burns hammered 71 and 129 in the match while Khawaja scored 174 and 9*, stretching his good form to the second Test where he struck 121 before getting injured. The same Test also happened to be Mitchell Johnson’s last Test. The 73-Test veteran, also team’s fourth-highest wicket taker in Tests, further compounded problems for the team already going through a transition phase.

For the third and the final Test — the historic day-night Test — Australia recalled experienced Peter Siddle in place of Johnson to add experience to the young attack. Australia won the series 2-0 and, more importantly, looked a team that was rebuilding well. The next series was against a relatively weaker West Indies side, already in the self-destruction mode. This, once again, was a good chance for Australia to test their bench strength, but the team got it right as they decided to field the first-choice XI.

Problem of plenty

Shaun Marsh, called in as a replacement for the injured Khawaja, responded to the call brilliantly by slamming a career-best 182. His hundred caused the problem of plenty for the team, as Khawaja was out due to an injury and was bound to return to the playing XI once fit. Adam Voges, who, interestingly, or rather curiously made his Test debut just ahead of the Ashes at almost 36, scored an unbeaten 269 in the match. Technically, Voges too was a part of this transition process, with all his Tests coming this year. He too did well in the chances he got; so much so that he averages over 85 after his 12 Tests.

As expected, Khawaja returned from his injury for the second Test, which meant Shaun Marsh had to sit out despite scoring a hundred. Khawaja further justified his selection by scoring yet another ton in the match. He ended the Test with scores of 144 and 56, while three other batsmen — Burns, Voges and Smith also got hundreds. All these players were central figures to the team’s transition process, and needless to say, they all did well.

Charismatic captain

Anil Kumble rightly said while delivering the 7th Dilip Sardesai Memorial lecture a couple of months back that ‘a team is as good as its captain, and not vice versa.’ This statement holds true here as the major credit, if not all, of Australia’s rise from the Ashes, quite literally, must go to their skipper Smith. He has marshalled the troop really well and has led from the front. During this period, he has scored 495 runs from five Tests at 70.71. He has slammed two fifties and two hundreds, made the right moves on the field, backed his men, and deservingly, won four of those five matches.

It may be too early to say that the rebuilding for Australia is over, as all these five Tests have been played at their own backyard. The real test will come when they play in the Indian subcontinent (where the side was blanked the last time they played), South Africa, and to some extent, New Zealand. But the early signs have been good. The young team looks good both on paper and on the field, and it is safe to assume that the transition has been seamless thus far.

(A self-confessed cricket freak, Chinmay Jawalekar is a senior writer with CricLife and CricketCountry. When not writing or following cricket, he loves to read, eat and sleep. He can be followed here @CricfreakTweets)