by Reece Chambers and George Willoughby
It’s the end of a memorable summer of cricket for England.
England’s triumphs in the ODI World Cup will not be forgotten for a long time. Granted, any World Cup triumph should not be forgotten any time soon.
But, a win on boundaries scored in a super over at the home of cricket? That’s the stuff of dreams.
With the Ashes following on only a few weeks after the World Cup, English cricket fans had more excitement to come against historic rivals, Australia.
The eventual 2-2 draw against Australia might have flattered England a bit. Their continued struggles with the bat slightly tainted the start of the Ashes series with Steve Smith imperious at the crease. Whether you agree with booing Smith every time he hit another ton or not, it’s hard to not appreciate his cricketing ability.
However, Smith’s absence mid-way through the series allowed England to gain a grip back on the series, leading to an overall draw in the series. Given that Australia won the Ashes last time out, they retained the Ashes despite a 2-2 draw.
After an Ashes series with many memorable moments, we outline five of our stand-out moments.
Ben Stokes’ incredible innings at Headingley
Australia retained The Ashes but Ben Stokes’ innings at Headingley should never be forgotten. His magnificent 135* provided an opportunity for England at Old Trafford which they, unfortunately, failed to capitalise on.
Many drew comparisons between Ben Stokes and Sir Ian Botham, but the 28-year old eclipsed Botham with a wonderful array of distance hitting and game management.
With wickets tumbling around him and the game seemingly over, Stokes never lost his poise at the crease which was a testament to the way he adapted to England’s position in the match.
This innings highlighted the development of Ben Stokes as a multi-format player, in particular, his scoring pace. On day three, Stokes found himself at the crease beginning his innings with two runs off 60 balls. But, his acceleration in the preceding days play rounded off one of the best ever Test performances of all time.
Stuart Broad getting the better of Steve Smith (seven times)
In a series where Australia’s bowling unit performed much more consistently than England’s, it’s important to take the moral victories where possible.
With James Anderson ruled out of the entire series through injury, the initiative very much turned to Broad. He experience within important Tests meant that he had to deliver in the absence of Anderson.
And, with the controversy surrounding David Warner returning to Test cricket, there was no better man for Broad to dismiss seven times.
His seven dismissals of Warner received more and more celebration as they happened throughout the series.
The rivalry between Broad and Warner was exciting to watch and there really was only one winner. In fairness, though, Warner took it well each time.
For Broad, it was concrete evidence that he is still one of the most prolific Test bowlers in world cricket.
Steve Smith’s game-changing performances
Steve Smith’s career will be forever tainted because of past events and there is nothing he can say to reverse the damage. So, this Ashes series Smith let his batting do the talking and he was phenomenal. 134 in his first five innings, England simply could not find a way to dismiss him. The way he moves around may be unorthodox, but he maintained in complete control as he recorded 671 runs ahead of the fifth Test.
Arguably, looking at the Australian batters, they are no better than England’s. The only exception is Steve Smith. At a time, Joe Root was ranked amongst Smith as one of the best Test batsmen, yet, what we witnessed in The Ashes was a significant gulf in class. An added bonus for Australia was that with Steve Smith batting so well, it relieved any pressure, and this helped Australia post scores in excess of 300 on three occasions.
From a cricketing perspective, we witnessed one of the best Test match batsmen dominate an entire bowling attack. It was, without question, the main reason why Australia was victorious in their Ashes defence.
The impact of Marnus Labuschagne
27-year old Marnus Labuschagne was relatively new to Test cricket having only played eight Test matches for his country. However, when he was called upon in the second Test it was an opportunity, he took advantage of. Defensively great, Labuschagne looked like a player that had ambles of Test experience. What stood out was his judgement, which is so important in crafting an innings.
Whether it was leaving the ball or defending it, the right-handed batsman excelled in every department. He scored crucial runs at Lords and carried over his good form into Headingley. Labuschagne scored three-straight half-centuries upon his introduction to the Australian side and brought much-needed stability to a frail batting line-up in the absence of Steve Smith.
Marnus Labuschagne has cemented his place within the Australian Test squad, and he was an influential factor in his side’s Ashes success.
Consistency of the Australian Bowling Unit
The Australian bowlers stuck to their game-plans relentlessly. Persisting with a traditional English line and length, the visitors found great success in constantly bringing the England batsmen forward and making them play. Compared to their England counterparts, Australia limited the number of release balls they bowled which allowed them to build pressure with dot balls.
A heat map of Australia’s bowling was shown during the fourth Test and the most prominent area was just outside off-stump. This is the perfect place to bowl in England as it only takes a small amount deviation off the surface to bring the edge and LBW into the play. A perfect example was the way Jason Roy was being dismissed. The Australia bowlers would start the ball outside off-stump and angle the ball back in to take advantage of Roy’s loose defence.
An all-around excellent showing from the Australian bowling unit who have further solidified their status as one of the best in Test cricket.