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Cricket news - In which direction has Australia's Test cricket moved in all this while?

The scenes obviously weren't as manic as the ones from Old Trafford given that Australia were beaten by a considerable margin in the final Test.

The 17-hour London-Perth Qantas flight is the third-longest direct aerial connection available in the world right now. It's the one that most of the Australians, including coach Justin Langer, will be boarding on Tuesday (September 17) on their way back home after a gruelling and most exciting four-month sojourn in England. They will, of course, have the urn they came here with safely in custody. And like we saw late on Sunday (September 15) night, it meant a lot to them for being the first Australian team in 18 years to retain the Ashes on English soil. Yes, they hadn't won it outright. Yes, they hadn't created history. Yes, the bubbly wasn't sprayed all over each other with the same intensity as it would have been in case the scoreline had read 3-1 and not 2-2 at The Oval. But that didn't stop Tim Paine & Co. from celebrating what they'd achieved over the course of the summer late into the night on Sunday.

The scenes obviously weren't as manic as the ones from Old Trafford. And not just because they had their partners, spouses, and kids along for company. Australia had after all lost the fifth Test and rather convincingly too. This time around, the Aussies walked on to the darkening Oval outfield not as one unit but in scattered groups with their wives or girlfriends accompanying them out there. Later, they would even indulge in karaoke sessions in the dressing-rooms before the inter-mingling between the two teams commenced and beers, jokes, and spectacles came into the picture. It was if anything, a unique celebration. For it was a rather unique moment. Historically, no cricket team has experienced as many pivotal moments as the Aussies have. And historically, no cricket team has celebrated their pivotal moments better or in more deserved fashion. But as the night got younger under the glistening moon in London, you wondered where, and if it all, this summer will rank among the pivotal moments in Australian cricket history. For, you'd think Australia finally depart from England with as many questions as answers about their team and their future. And though there'll be a whole lot of fresh material on offer as part of the in-flight entertainment, has to be four months on from the day they left Australia, you'd imagine Langer will spend most of those 17 hours wondering the same.

On the face of it, Australian cricket is certainly at a much better place than where it was when Langer took over amidst turmoil last year. Not only has Steve Smith been reintegrated into the setup like he'd never left, he's also started batting better than he did before he left-a scary thought for bowling attacks around the world. Yes, they have done better than their significantly more high-profile predecessors, who've come this way over the last two decades by drawing an Ashes series here. And yes, in Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood, Australia might have found a new-ball pairing that will win them Tests all around the world. But does this still count as a moment where Australia have turned the corner or one which Australian cricket will look back on as the springboard to a new era of potential dominance? Langer might not have to wait till he lands in Perth for the answer.

"Feel a bit hollow really. It's been a brilliant summer if you think of the World Cup. If you look back at the whole thing, you make a semifinal 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," is how he summed it up on Sunday night.

In a way, the fact that Matthew Wade ended up as the star for Australia on the final day of the tour sums up the state of flux that Australian cricket is in presently. The 31-year-old Tasmanian after all represents, if not embodies, the Australia that was before Cape Town. He's brash, he's in-your-face, he's never short of a word and he thrives on getting under the opposition's skin. It's perhaps the brand of cricket that Australia have tried to move on from post their cultural metamorphosis and to an extent done so successfully. But here was Wade, having got stuck into pretty much every English batsman who'd walked to the middle during the series, taking on a fired-up Jofra Archer, his BBL teammate no doubt, seeking retribution on behalf of his teammates. Wade not only held his own but if anything, came out on top in their battle, and ensured Australia went down fighting. But it was interesting nevertheless to hear Tim Paine having to underplay the on-field behaviour for the first time since he took over as captain last year. To his credit, he did it well too. So has Wade in a way brought the slight edge that was missing in Paine's era, especially during the home summer?

It's not just what Wade represents but how he paved his way back into the side that can be looked at in two different ways. Unlike at times earlier in his career, it was Wade's ability with the bat rather than his ability to rile up the opponents that had brought him back. Like Paine and Langer have said throughout the summer and did so on the final day as well, the left-hander had knocked down the selectors' doors with a glut of runs in Shield cricket, both against the Kookaburra and the Dukes ball, and backed up their faith during the A series leading up to the Ashes. And with his second century of the series at The Oval, he'd finished as the third-highest run-getter for Australia behind Smith and Marnus Labuschagne. But what does that tell us about the status of Shield cricket, especially with regards to the batting? Is Wade's comeback on the back of a glorious home season a pathway for others in the country to follow to make the Test team or is it a sign of the paucity of young batsmen making themselves heard in similar fashion? It's not obviously Wade's fault if he's scoring runs in the truckloads and the others aren't. For the record, batting was an issue for Australia in the Ashes and perhaps cost them the rare chance of winning a series here, especially here in the last Test.

"We cut to the chase. 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 enough and we didn't bat well enough. That's the truth," Langer put it rather candidly before admitting that he was already looking ahead.

"I'm always thinking about that," he then said about his plans for the home season, "With this exciting fast bowling group, if we start batting well we'll win a lot of games of cricket. There's a real challenge for young Australian batters, the ones who want to step up and score lots of runs and work hard on their footwork patterns and techniques and ability to score runs it's a pretty exciting time. That's a big challenge moving forward."

Fortunately for Australia and Langer, Paine has said he's still got unfinished business as captain, Smith has insisted he wants to get better while Cummins and Hazlewood are just about to hit their peak as fast bowlers. As for David Warner, Langer put it perfectly when he said the opener will board the Qantas flight "relieved that he doesn't have to face Stuart Broad for a while".

A lot would have changed back home since the time Langer & Co. left Australian shores. The winter has come and gone. The footy season has nearly too. Scott Morrison is already into his fifth month in his new term as Prime Minister. And the flu season has given way to Hay fever season. But in which direction has Australia's Test cricket moved in all this while? Maybe the answer is still up in the air and will be revealed to an extent when we reconvene in late November at the Gabba.

For now, it's time to pack the bags, board the flight and hope that the in-flight entertainment has indeed been refreshed. The English summer is finally done. And so are we.

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