Aussie coach’s post-Ashes warning
JUSTIN Langer's face said it all.
As Tim Paine held up a replica of the famous urn, his teammates spraying champagne while green and gold confetti rained down around them, the cameras panned to the Australian coach watching on from the dressing room balcony at The Oval.
England won the final Ashes Test to make it 2-2 but Australia was in party mode, having retained the trophy because it won the last series at home in 2017/18.
Langer wasn't smiling though. Cutting a glum figure, he was too busy thinking about the opportunity gone begging to become the first Australian side since 2001 to win an Ashes series outright on English soil.
"I feel a bit hollow really," Langer said. "It's been a brilliant summer … if you look back at the whole thing, you make a semi-final (of the World Cup) and then retain the Ashes, you probably say it's been a successful summer.
"But when you lose a game like this when we started the way we did in the Test match, it's a bit of a hollow feeling but I'm sure when we reflect on it we'll find a lot of good stuff has come out from it.
"There's always the disappointment of losing a Test match. We've lost this Test match so it's disappointing.
"We didn't turn up after we had a really good opportunity after winning the first Test, we didn't necessarily turn up to the Lord's Test as well as we could have and we didn't turn up to this Test."
The reality is, despite boasting the No. 1 ranked Test batsman in Steve Smith and the No. 1 ranked Test bowler in Pat Cummins, Australia is a flawed side. It's why it couldn't finish off the job the way Langer was desperate to.
That's part of what made this Ashes so engrossing. England (No. 4 in the world rankings) and Australia (No. 5) both boast world-class bowling attacks but have a glaring lack of quality in their batting ranks.
Suffering from the same weakness meant both sides were evenly matched and that's why we saw such close games at Lord's, Headingley and Old Trafford.
But while there was plenty of talk about how good a tight Ashes series is for cricket - and it is - Australia will be wishing that wasn't the case.
That it couldn't defeat an opposition full of Test rookies Joe Denly, Jason Roy and Rory Burns and underperforming stars Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler, shows the Aussies are a long way off the level that's been expected of them over the years.
It's harsh to expect Australia to dominate all the time but that's what the cricket-loving public craves and, at times, demands.
Australia's bowlers - particularly Cummins (29 wickets) and Josh Hazlewood (20 wickets) - kept their side in the series as the batsmen flopped. Without Smith, who scored 774 runs at an average of 110.57, the Aussies would have lost.
Marnus Labuschagne was impressive, averaging over 50, but a misfiring opening combination and inconsistent middle order threatened to cost Australia the urn - and Langer knows it.
"Let's cut to the chase. I thought our bowling throughout this series was absolutely world-class," Langer said. "The bowlers were brilliant.
"But we didn't bat well enough. I said this at the start of the series that the team that bats well will win the series. I said it consistently and we didn't bat well enough. That's the truth.
"We certainly fell short in other areas and we need to work on that."
Being ranked No. 5 in the world is a fair assessment of where Australia is now. It's a good team, but not a great one.
A testing 12 months after the ball tampering scandal saw a host of batters (Aaron Finch, Joe Burns, Kurtis Patterson, Peter Handscomb) injected then dumped as selectors struggled to plug the holes left by Smith and David Warner in their year out from the game.
Nearly 18 months after the sandpaper saga, those holes are still there and in fact, Warner's become a liability himself after scoring just 95 runs in the Ashes.
Australia is capable of producing brilliant performances to win Test matches but sustaining that standard for an entire series has been tough. Leaving with a 2-2 result and the urn is something Paine and Co. should undoubtedly be proud of and it's an incredible achievement, but as Langer suggested, they'll get on the plane home with the lingering feeling of what might have been.
"To fight back from a tough loss is admirable and I said how proud I was with everyone for that," Langer said. "But also over the last couple of years we haven't necessarily performed at our best after a win. Really good teams do that.
"We didn't do that too well after the first Test at Lord's. We didn't do it after this Test. There have been some Test series over the last couple of years where the team hasn't been able to.
"I think that'll be part of the maturity of our side. If you think about it, the way we were in this series, we aren't a great team yet. We are a good team, we are a maturing team. We have got some great players in it. But we're aspiring to be a great cricket team. You have got to work hard and get consistent results to achieve that.
"But there'll be plenty of time to reflect on what's been a great summer, about lessons about the team, about people, about how we've gone about things as a team and there'll be plenty of time over the next few weeks to reflect."