Smith not the sole reason for Ashes success: Ponting
Former Test skipper says while batting lapses are a concern, Australia have proven themselves to be more than a one-man team
Sam Ferris at The Oval
14 September 2019, 11:32 AM AEST
It’s going to be a struggle, but former captain Ricky Ponting says Australia can still win the fifth Ashes Test after a lamentable display with the bat on day two at The Oval.
Australia were rolled for 225 inside 69 overs, with only the bankable Steve Smith (80) and No.3 Marnus Labuschagne (48) scoring more than 25.
Friday was Groundhog Day for the Australians with Smith once again posting the team-high score while wickets fell around him, only this time he couldn’t find enough allies to drag the tourists level with England's first innings of 294.
Smith's dominance is reflected in the series' batting records, which sees Smith atop Australia's run-scores list with 751 runs, 412 runs clear of the next best teammate, Labuschagne.
In fact, Smith has scored 41 per cent of Australia's runs by top-six batters this campaign, a feat even more remarkable when considering the right-hander didn’t bat in the second innings of the second Test at Lord's due to concussion, which also ruled him out of the third Test at Headingley.
Experienced opener David Warner is averaging 9.33, Marcus Harris about the same with 9.8, while Usman Khawaja (20.33) and Cameron Bancroft (11) both lost their place in the side after a lean run to start the series.
Smith (125.16) and Labuschagne (56.5) are the lone Australia batters to average north of 28 this campaign.
The reliance on Smith is a concern for Australia, says Ponting, in a series that has been largely dominated by the ball.
"Davey's just had a series to forget so far," Ponting told cricket.com.au.
"You take (Matt) Wade's hundred out in the second innings at Edgbaston and he's got a lot of low scores as well.
"They have tried Harris, Khawaja, Bancroft and no one at the top has had any success, and that's been the same on both teams.
"Conditions have been difficult for batting but I think we've seen pretty similar mistakes from most of the batters right the way through the series."
But Ponting played down any suggestion that the only reason Australia have already retained the Ashes is because of Smith's epic achievements with the bat.
"I still think Australia would be in front," he said.
"I heard a few people say during the week that he's been the only difference. I don't think he's been the only difference.
"He's been a huge part of the reason that Australia are in front, but you could say the same thing if you took Ben Stokes' runs out of the England line-up as well, then it's a totally different thing.
"But that's what team sports are all about. Sometimes you have an even contribution, sometimes you have one or two of your players standing up.
"If you look at both teams there are more shining lights coming out of this series for Australia than there have been for England."
Smith and the Australia batters will get one final chance to show their class when they chase victory in the fourth innings.
At stumps on day two, England hold a 78-run lead with all 10 wickets in hand, and history would suggest a chase of anywhere near 300 will be difficult.
The highest successful run chase at The Oval occurred more than a century ago, when England reeled in 9-263 to beat Australia.
While the highest fourth innings total is India's 8-492 in 1979, Virat Kohli's side made 345 in the final innings of last year’s Test here, which came in a losing cause.
Ponting says Australia can still triumph and claim their first Ashes series win in England since 2001, but it will take three exceptional days of cricket to do so.
"I think Australia are really going to struggle from here to be fair," Ponting said.
"After winning the toss and bowling, what you don't want to do is be behind in the first innings, it's a long way back if you're behind.
"It's going to be really hard work for them. They're going to have to bowl exceptionally well and bat exceptionally well late in the game.
"It's a really dry pitch, which we were all worried about when Australia decided to bowl first; just how dry and difficult (to bat on) it might become late in the game.
"They have to bowl England out for less than 250, you don't want to be chasing many more than 300 in the last innings of any Test match, let alone on a wicket that does look particularly dry."
2019 Qantas Ashes Tour of England
Australia squad: Tim Paine (c), Cameron Bancroft, Pat Cummins, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, David Warner.
England squad: Joe Root (c), Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Joe Denly, Jack Leach, Craig Overton, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes (vc), Chris Woakes.
First Test: Australia won by 251 runs at Edgbaston
Second Test: Match drawn at Lord's
Third Test: England won by one wicket at Headingley
Fourth Test: Australia won by 185 runs at Old Trafford
Fifth Test: September 12-16, The Oval