The Ashes is over, at least until we head back down to Australia for 2021/22 when hostilities will resume, and it is an opportune time to take a look back at the series to see how it stacks up.
There were genuine fears that the recently completed World Cup, which finished with a tie in the final, would overshadow the Ashes, or that England would find it too easy, that the returning Steve Smith and David Warner would not be able to handle the lift to test cricket, and even that there would be too much rain, but none of those fears came to pass as 4 out of 5 (80%) tests finished and the scoreline, far from being one-sided in England’s favour, finished 2-2, and, but for Smith’s concussion, some bad umpiring and some bad decision-making by Australia’s captain, it could easily have been 3-1 and even 4-0 in Australia’s favour.
While Warner struggled to handle the transition to test cricket, Steve Smith had no such issues, and immediately resumed in the form he was in prior to the ban, which was the best in the world, and then showed a year of off-screen improvement. We can only imagine what might have been had the ban not been enforced.
The openers on both sides were hopeless. At first it looked like it was the fault of the selectors in picking the hapless Cameron Bancroft but then Marcus Harris was no better and David Warner, save that one innings, was pretty awful too. Jason Roy was awful for England too, and Rory Burns, while slightly better, wasn’t exactly fantastic. We can put this down to good bowling or perhaps even the pitches and conditions, but it was pretty bad. What was worse was that England had a good opener who they could have played in Ollie Pope but he didn’t get a test.
Selectors generally were pretty awful. While picking James Pattinson was perhaps a reasonable idea, Peter Siddle shouldn’t have even been in the squad, let alone playing the First Test, and the continued absence of Mitchell Starc defied belief. While Siddle was tolerable in the first two tests, in the fifth he was an eyesore. Mitchell Marsh probably should have played earlier than he did, and it was strange that they didn’t give Michael Neser at least one match.
England’s Sam Curran came good in the 5th test but should have played the First, while Chris Woakes got far too long a run, in spite of losing form badly. Jack Leach was man of the match against Ireland yet dumped for the First Test in favour of Moeen Ali, who stunk. And then we’ve got the decision to risk an injured James Anderson in the First test, which lasted all of four overs and then that was it for the test and the Ashes.
Tim Paine’s use of DRS was horrid. From wasting reviews in a hunch to failing to review obvious outs, he did everything wrong. While it is only a small part of captaincy, in the modern age it is probably enough for him to give up the DRS duties. The 3rd test would have been won by Australia had they had the reviews left.
Speaking of bad decisions, what was Tim Paine thinking when he decided to bowl first in the Fifth and final test? Whenever you win a toss and lose it looks bad, but to lose while bowling first, given the statistics surrounding the enormous advantage teams have from batting first, is particularly awful. Ugh. We are waiting until Steve Smith’s captaincy ban can expire and we don’t have to put up with this.
Of all of the selection blunders, the decision to line up with Cameron Bancroft was particularly awful. It encouraged sledging and bad behaviour and brought the team down. Sure, Australia won in spite of it, but it was a bad move all around. He shouldn’t have been in the squad, or even in the probables. While perhaps one day he can get back to test level, we are a long way from that time.
Speaking of ugly, the decision by the crowd to boo Steve Smith of all people was ridiculous, especially given how little he had to do with the ball tampering, how over-punished he was, and how wonderfully he was playing. It was beyond pathetic. At least, at the very end, he got some applause, but it was a long time coming, far too long.
Ben Stokes, fresh from bringing England back from nowhere in the World Cup final to tie that, then repeated the dose and then some in the 3rd test, where he switched from stonewalling to blasting it to all parts. A bit of luck could have seen him out, but he took risks right when they were needed. He was almost out but for a fumble by Nathan Lyon, and then was out the next ball, but the umpire refused to give it and Australia had no reviews. It would have been a 1-run Australian win but instead it was a 1-wicket England victory, when Jack Leach scored one of the best 1 not outs ever, as he calmly hit a single off world number 1 bowler Pat Cummins to tie the scores and then Ben Stokes hit the winning runs.
But, while Stokes was amazing in that one moment, Steve Smith was the champion. He started with a backs to the wall 144 in the 1st test, when Australia looked out of it, then followed it up with another backs to the wall 142 to take Australia from a 90-run first innings deficit to a match-winning total, and then followed it on with a 92 in spite of being concussed, then, when he came back 1 1/2 tests later, he scored 211. When the only way to deal with him is to hit him in the back of the neck with a bouncer you know you have a good player. Perhaps it is not quite Bradman level, but it isn’t far off, and the player who was, before the ban, declared to be the best batsman since Bradman, may have, at least in this one series, equalled him.
Some neutrals have claimed that this was an overly-hyped up middle of the table battle between the world’s number four and five test teams, but it was certainly better than the other matches being played at the time, save perhaps for Afghanistan’s shock test win over Bangladesh. It was pretty good, and we will be watching it in highlight reels for years to come.
Best performance = Ben Stokes, 3rd test.
Best player = Steve Smith, by miles, especially 1st and 4th tests.
Worst umpiring = Refusing to give Ben Stokes out, 3rd test, when there was 1 run to win.
There have been better series (2005 Ashes, anyone?) and perhaps there were some poor players in this that were either out of form (Warner, Woakes, Moeen Ali) or just not test level (Roy, Bancroft) and the selections weren’t perfect, but, in spite of the lowlights, there were some definite highlights and I give it a solid 8/10.