Australia-2 England -2
Like all good things comes to an end, the Ashes 2019 comes to a close after a gripping one and a half months of extremely competitive and high quality cricket . Australia made some glaring errors in the final test at Oval. First it was the surprise decision by Tim Paine to bowl first on winning the toss. Then when England batted ,the butterfingered Aussies dropped Root(57) thrice as he and Rory Burns(47) frustrated the Aussies. Later the Aussie bowlers led by Mitch Marsh( playing his 1st test in this series )with his late reverse swing made inroads after tea but Jos Buttler (70) played a quality knock ,unfurling his range of T20 shots to take England to 294 with Marsh (5/46) and Cummins (3/84) sharing the spoils. Australia needed to bat big to put England under pressure but poor batting by their openers and middle order again put all the pressure on Steve Smith to score big ,who again had to face the new ball and played valiantly for 80.However apart from Labuschagne (48) there was little support as Archer wrecked the Aussies with 6/62 to skittle out Australia for 225. In the 2nd innings ,Joe Denly (94) given a life at nought and Stokes (67) consolidated England’s 69 run lead as Buttler(47) put the finishing touches to take England to 329 as a tired Australian bowling attack after slogging for a long season could not get timely breakthroughs. Set 399 to win Australia needed another big 100 from Smith, who finally fell victim to the law of averages to get dismissed for 23 . Only Mathew Wade shone in the 2nd innings with a career saving brilliant 117 and negotiated a searing spell of fast bowling from his hurricanes teammate Jofra Archer which provided a great contest. Once Wade was dismissed by Root ,the rest folded up in minutes as England levelled the series with a 135 run win with Archer being the player of the match. Australia were left to rue their missed catches and decision to bowl first and thus had to be content with retaining the ashes but not winning the series outright.
It was an absolutely rivetting test series of very high intensity and followed very closely all over the world. Both teams had their chances to win it outright. 1st England blew away a great chance at 122/8 on first day of 1st test when Smith started to stamp his authority on the series with twin 100s. Had England won at Egbaston, they would have dominated the series. Both teams had their chances at the drawn Lords test. At Headingley it was Australia’s game for a 2-0 unassailable lead with England 67 allout in 1st innings till Ben Stokes hijacked it in the 4th innings with one of the greatest match winning knocks thus squaring the series 1-1 . Steve Smith , Cummins and Hazlewood ensured Australia take 2-1 lead at Manchester and retain the ashes but not before England tail nearly saved the game late on 5th day. With series saved, Australia needed to win or draw the last test to win the series but wrong decision at the toss and poor batting and catching by the Aussies enabled England to save the series and score vital points for World test championships. Steve Smith and Ben Stokes for stellar shows for their respective teams were the men of the series. There were a lots of what ifs for both teams in this series and probably Aussies will be the more dissappointed team at the end as they were very close to an outright away Ashes series win not achieved since 2001 ashes in England. The grim face of team coach Justine Langer while the Aussie players were at the podium after retaining the Ashes trophy said it all.
In keeping with mediocre batting from both sides, the umpiring standards were poor at times with some crucial wrong decisions and Australia were the team which suffered more specially at Leeds test. The ICC needs to take stock of the umpiring standards.
As for the individual performances, for Australia, already a lot has been said and written of Steven Smith who stamped his authority on this Ashes and confirmed to the World that he is the best test batsman by a fair distance. 774 tuns at 110 average and facing the new ball, doing repair work at the start of in each of his knocks speaks volumes of his resilience, willpower, skills and persistence. It was a phenomenal effort for a team which struggled in batting department . Marnus Labuschagne was another successful batter since his arrival as a concussed sub and his contributions with a series batting average of 50 cannot be overlooked. The series ended with lots of question marks on future of some of the rest of Aussie batters with the openers, Head and Khawaja looming at uncertain red ball future . Warner had a horror series but being a fine player in home conditions and his pedigree as a top performer, he is sure to keep his spot.Mathew Wade probably saved his future with his fiesty 100 at Oval though he did very little between 1st and 5th tests. However Harris, Bancroft, Khawaja and Head will be lucky if any of them are able to start in the next test vs Pakistan at home. Skipper Tim Paine needs to get runs with the bat and more successes with his reviews. The bowling looked formidable and in very good hands with Pat Cummins leading the way. Cummins played in each and every international game this summer and showed great durability and skills in taking 29 wickets for the series. His exploits was less talked about due to Smith’s heroics but he had been a prime performer in this Ashes. Hazlewood (20 wkts) showed his skilful qualities as soon as he broke into the XI while Lyon (20 wkts) struggled a bit after 1st test. Starc had a decent match at Old Trafford but surprisingly excluded from final test.
England also had their batting woes. However more players were producing runs than the Aussies for whom it was only about Smith and Labuschange. Rory Burns played his share of ugly but effective knocks and tried to wear down the Australian pace attack with old fashioned test match batting. However he struggled to get a proper opening partner till the 5th test ,when Joe Denly finally clicked. Joe Root had a disappointing series by his standards and could not get a single match defining knock. That came from Ben Stokes who was England’s best batter in the series.100s at Lords and Leeds, the later one of the best match winning knocks in test history under excruciating pressure. Jason Roy showed that he needs to upgrade his defensive technique before he hopes to play tests again. Bairstow too is having technical issues with his batting and could struggle to keep his spot. Buttler after indifferent start to the series did succeed when he unleashed his T20 brand strokes playing some crucial knocks at the backend. The bowling group was carried brilliantly by Stuart Broad (23 wkts), who was all over the opposition left handers. Jofra Archer proved the emerging talent with his searing pace and skills taking 22 wickets in the series. He will be a handful for the top international batsmen. Sam Curran showed that he should have figured in this series earlier.. England backup bowling left a bit to be desired with Woakes and Overton not really firing. Moeen Ali has looked disappointing but Jack Leach had a significant contribution in the series ,though the same dont reflect in his numbers. He helped Stokes to win the Leeds test and almost threatened to save the OldTrafford test.
Summing up, a high octane series played in great spirits and fiercely competitive . Australia had the better bowling attack and England had more batters supplying runs than their counterparts in a low scoring series which will be remembered for the bowling of Cummins, Archer, Hazlewood and Broad and the batting of Stokes and the dominant Steve Smith.