It has been a long and eventful summer of cricket, and one which the curtain was drawn upon last weekend. The 2019 Ashes series will not be memorable for the score line, but for the highs and lows of five matches and some of the greatest individual performances the game has ever seen.
Despite the Ashes remaining in Australian hands, the fifth test still had a lot riding on it. The 2–2 draw which England sealed with a 135 run victory at the Oval. As a collective unit, the chance to not lose a home series to Australia for the first time since 2001 was incentive enough whilst individuals would have been feeling the pressure for runs going into the winter months in New Zealand and South Africa.
The word from the Australia camp in the head up to this test was that it would not be taken lightly. Understandable. England dictates play for large amounts of the match. An explosive knock of 70 from Jos Buttler and a hard fought 94 for Joe Denly relieved two batsmen whilst Ben Stokes ended the series with a solid 67 in the second innings.
Jofra Archer shone with the ball once more, taking 6–62 in the first innings as him and the returning Sam Curran (with 3–46) tumbled the visitors out cheaply, setting up a second innings in which England batted long and hard.
A total of 399 to win was always going to be a tough ask but Australia dug in. Despite losing both openers cheaply again and the impregnable Steve Smith for just 23, Matthew Wade chipped in with much needed runs on a personal level. His 117 helped his side to a respectable total, but the next stop score of 24 from Mitch Marsh tells you all you need to know about the Australian response.
Stuart Broad chalked up 4 wickets in that second innings and Jack Leach had the honour of mopping up the tail.
It was a series which saw national treasures emerge in Stokes and Leach and the incredible form of a batsman arguably the best in his generation in Steve Smith. Ultimately however, England’s poor batting performances and the inability to get Smith and, to a lesser extent Marnus Labuschagne, out before they settled sees the urn remain down under.
The series highlighted the very best of test match cricket. The ebbing and flowing, the highs and lows, and everything in between. Stokes’ match winning century at Headingley will likely never be replicated again, whilst Steve Smith showed to the world how to bat at the highest level.
If anybody ever says to you that Test cricket is dead, or that the sport is dull, get them watch as many reruns of this series to truly appreciate the psychological chessboard which this game provides.
For English cricket fans old and new, it’s not too long until it all starts again. T20s and ODIs in New Zealand in November is followed by three test matches before a new year tour of South Africa.
Some players may have felt they needed to perform at the Oval in order to be considered for the winter tours.
Rory Burns and Joe Denly might have sealed their spots as openers, but Dominic Sibley of Warwickshire might have other ideas. 215 not out in the county championship was a firm reminder to the selectors that he is a man in rich form; some would say call up worthy form. Whether this is the case remains to be seen, but over 1000 runs including two double centuries this season with a match to spare will give him a superb chance of a call-up.
The sun shone on English cricket for most of the summer. A nail biting World Cup Final win was followed up with one of the most evenly contested Ashes series in living memory. As the winter season moves into view, one can’t help but feel that generations of people have been inspired by what they’ve seen their cricket team do this year. Let’s hope the upcoming series can provide even half the drama.