These are the famous Ashes, competed for by England and Australia since 1885. The Ashes are actually the remains of a bail and the trophy is on display at Lord’s Cricket Ground.
What a summer this has been. England won the Cricket World Cup in extraordinary circumstances in chaotic scenes at Lord’s. Next up it was the old foe, Australia. Nothing stirs the blood of England and Aussie cricket fans quite like the Ashes battles.
This year’s edition was one of the most compelling, exciting and dramatic to be played so far. For the most part, England were outplayed, mainly because of a malfunctioning top order and a very well honed Australian fast bowling attack, and of course, Steve Smith!
But the final result was 2-2. The bowlers were mainly on top, but what most cricket fans will be talking about was the third match of the series, at Headingley. England were seemingly dead and buried after being bowled out for a dismal 67 in their first innings. But the Aussies failed to reckon on one incredible innings from Ben Stokes. Stokes played the innings of his career to fire England towards one of the most amazing wins of all time. The crowd were beside themselves as Stokes singlehandedly guided England home, against all the odds.
Other great moments from the series? The discovery of a powerful England fast bowler, Jofra Archer. His lightning pace and fire put Steve Smith out of action for that third Test and also hit his replacement, Marnus Labuschagne a fearful blow on the head as well. Archer is a fearsome sight, with his easy, graceful run up and explosive pace. The series turned on that rain hit second Test at Lord’s.
Stuart Broad dismissed Aussie opener David Warner seven times in the series. Warner, like Smith and Cameron Bancroft, were constantly reminded of their role in the ball tampering scandal that rocked Australian cricket. Warner was given a torrid time by Broad and the crowd were unsympathetic. Broad was magnificent throughout the series after the injury suffered by England’s finest, Jimmy Anderson.
And then onto Steve Smith. In an Australian line up that looked as fragile as England’s, Smith was outstanding. He fidgets, shuffles around and looks throughly ugly at the crease. But his temperament and quality was unquestioned and he was the leading run scorer on either side, by a mile. The Oval crowd gave him a great ovation in the last Test, that finished today. We will see a lot more of him and have to figure out ways to dismiss him. England couldn’t.
Another Aussie hero was fast bowler Pat Cummins. Cummins had a very bad injury some while ago that threatened to end his career. But by sheer willpower and determination, he has risen to the top. He spearheaded the Aussie attack by being constantly hostile, at the England batsmen all the time and commanded respect.
Tim Paine, Australian captain, had a mixed series and couldn’t get his umpire reviews correct very often (of which more later). Joe Root was glad to draw the series 2-2, but England have plenty of problems in their top order. They’ve tried plenty of options but none of them seem to have worked. A better emphasis on four day cricket and the Test side would see players more equipped to play the longer innings required. That won’t happen overnight, of course. But to compete and hopefully beat the Australians on their own patch next time round must be an achievable goal.
And finally, a look at how the umpires performed. From a trained eye, not brilliantly would be an apt description. There were many mistakes on the field, and the ICC have to start looking and training up officials of Test match standard in the next few years. Joel Wilson from the West Indies is not up to scratch, and quite how he has been promoted to the top table is beyond me. Chris Gaffaney and Aleem Dar, though more experienced, also had matches to forget. And even mistakes were not confined to on field. Sri Lankan Ruchira Palliyguruge made two decisions as third umpire where lbw calls indicated bat on ball, but this was ignored by Palliyguruge.
It is difficult for the Test match officials, it is granted, but outside of England and Australia, the umpiring isn’t all that great. And that needs to change. That is a fact.
Anyway, a captivating series ended 2-2, and put Test match cricket where it belongs, at the top. Better than T20 cricket and these ten over leagues that are sprouting up everywhere. The pinnacle of the game, Test cricket. As it should be, always.