Day 1 – Archer to the Rescue
Joffra Archer rescued England as Australia looked like they might be in a position to get a hold of the innings as he took 6-45 in a stunning display of fast bowling. Five of those six came in the final session in so doing stopping an Australian runaway as the third wicket partnership of Warner and Labuschagne made 111.
A stop-start day because of bad light and rain saw a delayed start and a reasonably quick dismissal of Harris and then an immediate delay. Once back on the field Warner would look incredibly uncomfortable – yet despite this he would, for the first time in the series get out of single figures and make 61.
Labuschagne would put together an innings very nearly worthy of Smith himself as he made 74, surviving for a while at least, the fall of wickets bought on by the dismissal of Warner as Australia went from 136-2 to 139-5 inside 2 overs as Warner (c Bairstow b Broad), then Head (b Broad), then Wade (b Archer) were given out. Captain Tim Paine would join Labuschagne at the crease to try to steady the ship with the pair pushing Australia to 162 before Paine was out lbw from Woakes.
A fine catch from Root at slip and then Bairstow behind would see Archer take Pattinson then Cummins for 2 and 0 respectively. Cummins would be dismissed in unusual fashion; Having been given out on the field, he would review it straight away and was convinced he hadn’t hit it, the ultra-edge showed a spike when the ball passed the bat, but also a spike before the ball reached the bat. However, with no evidence to show the on-field umpire was wrong, Cummins – shocked as he may have been – had to go. The umpires had been getting twitchy about low light for a significant proportion of the evening session, but Labuschagne appeared to be able to plough on before Stokes sent a Yorker that thumped him on the front pad and sent him to the floor. After three and a half hours at the crease and being well in his stride, one may have expected him to get hold of it, but it seemed like he may well have lost sight of the ball.
And with that, the tail end would try to see the day out, but to try to finish off the Australian batting line up in the first day, Root bought Archer back for the last over. And with the first ball, he delivered taking Nathan Lyon lbw.
With such a low-scoring first innings, England have put in the leg work to set themselves up to try to build a lead. Such a low score could also help various members of the batting order who appear to have struggled make their mark. Lose the match, and Australia will retain the Ashes, England have laid the groundwork, its up to them to make the most of it.
Day 2 – When England Lost the Ashes?
After positioning themselves into a promising position on the first day, England appear to have taken their hopes of winning the ashes, put them in a mine cart with no breaks, and pushed the cart down the hill into a mine full of slurry.
In a display that can only be described as dismal, humiliating, dreadful and any other negative superlative you can think of, the home side tried and failed to reply to Australia’s 179 by managing only 67 – their lowest Ashes score since 1948 but the fourth time since 2018 that they have been bowled out for under 100. Only Joe Denly made it in to double figures with his 12, Joe Root would got for a second duck in as many innings. The Australian bowling attack was excellent, but without wishing to take anything away from their efforts, it did not account for quite how poor England were.
Having dispatched with England in less than 30 overs, Australia returned to the crease where they would stay. Initially, it looked like the damage may have been limited as Australia’s openers fell to 52-3. But it was only fitting that Steve Smith’s concussion substitute should arrest the slide and sit there for the day as Marnus Labuschagne would finish unbeaten on 53. England, however, missed their chances here too as they dropped him twice before he was given out, only for it to be off a no-ball. As they head back to their rooms tonight, the English will be wondering how on earth they managed to throw a promising start away and allow Australia to finish on 171-6 with a lead of 283 runs.
A feature of this England side has been its willingness to take on the ball, the exciting brand of cricket that it has played. That is the reason Trevor Bayliss was bought in, and it is the reason that England are the number one ODI side and the number two T20I side. But Test cricket is a different breed and one has to wonder how sustainable the approach is. One would argue, not very given this is not only the fourth time they’ve been bowled out for under 100 since 2018, but the third time this year. England, by humorous tradition, have a reputation for batting collapses – but this was different in not only being a spectacular flop in quite good conditions, not only by effectively ending what was shaping up to be an exciting series, and not only because of the profile that the Ashes carry. The combination of those factors and others appear to have unleashed a level of frustration and criticism that other collapses have not. The British press can be very quick to criticise when things go wrong – I for one have often laughed at the flip-flop nature of the reporting, and indeed the accusations that the England side are “killing test cricket” is, in my opinion, a bit much. On this occasion though, the recent series of dismal batting has everybody asking questions about the approach with many calling for a red-ball specialist to be in charge of the test side. The England teams and their coaching staff deserve endless credit for the work they’ve don’t to put together sides capable of being at the top of the world with an exciting brand of cricket. To do the same with the Test side, however, appears to require a different approach.
Day 3 – The Resurrection Men?
Australia started the day already bolstered by putting a hefty lead together yesterday and would finish off their second innings by being bowled out for 246 about 30 mins before lunch. Marnus Labuschagne rubbed salt into a raw wound for England by reaching 80 before being run out by an excellent in throw from Joe Denly, despite a mis-field, and quick hands from Bairstow. To win the match now, England would require a record-breaking run chase of 359 – their previous best was 332, which was made against Australia in 1928.
What was required from England was a digging in session. With two and a half days left, the batsmen have no option but to just sit there and not get out, runs are almost immaterial, survival is key. Roy and Burns had about half an hour to survive before lunch, to lose a wicket before hand could very easily be the catalyst to another and ultimately fatal collapse. Roy and Burns made it to the break. Hearts leapt in to mouths shortly after lunch as Burns went for 9 and then Roy was bowled by Cummins about 3 balls later. Full credit to the Australian fast bowler, the ball came thundering down the pitch, Roy went to play it only for the ball to move away and clatter into the top of off stump. Roy went for 8, and his place in the side may go with him but in his defence, there is a reason why Cummins is the number one fast bowler. However, yet again, the openers failed to make it through the first 10 overs, once again England were two wickets down in the early stages, once again Root and Denly were at the crease and under pressure with England on 15-2.
By God did they rise to the occasion.
The pair of them put on a marvellous display of patience. They dug in and seemed prepared to guard their wicket with their life. Stay in, and the runs will come. Gradually the scores ticked up, Denly went up and up and made 50. He’d struggled with the short ball all day and always looked uncomfortable as he went to duck under the bouncers. Eventually, he nicked one off his glove and would have to go, but he’d done his job and delivered the goods. Ben Stokes came in after Denly and put in a stint Geoffrey Boycott would have been proud of reaching 2 runs off 50 balls. Joe Root would finish the day on 75 unbeaten in what has been, thus far, a true captain’s innings. England reached 156-3. There is still a mountain to climb and one shouldn’t get carried away, but England are doing their best to rectify their awful first innings and trying to crawl their way back in to this series. Can we dare to dream?
After much criticism – and it was deserved – the England team have proved their capable of playing the cricket you need to grid out a result – or at least, Root and Denly have. What we saw today was not sexy, it was not exciting, and I’m certainly not saying that all tests should be played like this. Such a display would not help the survival of the format. But there’s a time and a place for stubborn cricket and it was here and it was now. Questions will still be asked about the openers, especially Jason Roy. Trevor Bayliss said in a press conference that he thought Roy is more suited to being higher up the order, so it would appear the selectors, the coach and maybe even the captain are in disagreement. Yes, Roy opens for Surrey with Burns, but all his focus for the past year has been on the World Cup, he’s only played something like one county match this year. Denly is an opener at county level, and based on his performance today, he perhaps has the patience Roy seems to struggle with. Many have asked, why not switch them round? Regardless, we can only wait to see if England chose to change the order, or simply drop Roy altogether.
England are now fired up. Jonathan Agnew was sledged by Joe Root as he came of the pitch, and his press conference appeared to be equally fiery. But this is a good thing – he’s in the zone. In a post-match interview after his brilliant 50, Joe Denly said they now believe they’re “in with a real shout” of getting this back. The bank holiday weather, and a pitch which is favouring the batting side for the time being might just pull it back for England. There’s a lot of ifs and buts, and as any follower of English cricket knows they have the capacity to surprise and frustrate in equal measure. If England can avoid losing too many early wickets tomorrow, and if they can keep their heads for the day, suddenly, this test could turn on its head. Make no mistake, we’re not done just yet.
Day 4 – Stokesy’s Summer
Root and Stokes began the day, ideally looking to work their way through the day and stay in. However, Root went for 77, he would brush one on to his pad for it bounce up and be caught (spectacularly) by Warner. He may have only made two runs on his finish yesterday, but he put in a true captain’s performance. He steadied the ship and led by example. England would go to lunch on 238-4.
Bairstow started well and saw England to lunch. He would later start to flip the switch, but eventually, on 36 he nicked one off the bottom of the bat and he would have to go. At 245-5, England were still underdogs, but run-by-run they had been inching closer. Things took a southerly turn.
First Butler was run out. The run was never on, but both him and Stokes were looking for it, by the time Stokes said no, Butler was halfway down the wicket only to turn and see the bails fly off the stumps as Travis Head struck with a direct hit. The last allrounder, Chris Woakes, walked out. But 15 minutes later he walked back having been caught. England were still in need of 98. Joffra Archer came out and would dig in as best he could before turning it up and making two boundaries on the bounce. He tried for a third, to the anguish of the watching public, to the anguish of the commentators, and surely to the anguish of Stokes at the non-striker’s end it was caught on the boundary. That anguish was no doubt compounded when Stuart Broad was lbw on the second ball for a duck.
That, surely, was that. England still needed 73.
Stokes, on 61 at the time, unleashed hell. After the fall of the ninth wicket he made 74 off 42 balls. A far cry from the 3 off 73 and 51 off 152 earlier in the day. He would score 6, 0, 1, 0, 0, 0, 2, 1, 6, 0, 0, 0, 6, 1, 0, 1, 2, 0, 6, 2, 1, 4, 6, 6, 2, 1, 0, 0, 0, 0, 1, 0, 4, 4, 1, 0, 0, 6, 0, 0, 0, 4. In doing so he cemented his place in Ashes history.
Such a change in pace was made possible by the staying power of Jack Leach who, thanks in part to his glasses, Alastair Cook revealed is known by some as Alan from accounts. He survived the pace attack of Australia, the formidable spin of Nathan Lyon and the sheer pressure on the shoulders of a tail ender at such a crucial time. Stokes correctly noted that “Jack has some serious bollocks”. He managed to achieve what was possibly the greatest one-not-out in cricket history.
The pair were not without their luck. Headingly’s western terrace appeared to pile on the pressure to Australia and, despite a large number of Aussie fans in the house, cracks started to show. The fielding was not as tight as it had been, the odd fumble here and there letting England get those extra runs. Marcus Harris dropped a chance off Stokes in the deep, he charged in to try to reach it but the force with which he hit the ground saw it bounce from his grasp. Their biggest missed opportunity was a chance for a run out. Leach went to take a run that was never there, swiftly turned on his heels and sprinted in sheer desperation back to his end watching the ball come in from the outfield towards the sturdy hands of Nathan “Gary” Lyon, he was miles outside his crease, that was it for England… but Lyon fumbled allowing Leach to somehow make it home. Perhaps under pressure from their own mistakes, or in desperation at the prospect of losing a 358-run lead, Australia squandered their last review. They would live to regret it. With two to win Stokes should have been lbw to Lyon, but Umpire Wilson’s finger remained unmoved.
Shortly after, that was that. Ben Stokes, arms raised, back arched, roared as the crowd rose. The enormity of what had been achieved may well take a while to settle in. Exhausted, he dragged himself off the pitch, the post-match dressing room photos and accounts from teammates show a man still wired such was the depth of his focus. Despite the atmosphere, despite the celebrations at hand the Ashes is far from decided, there are still – somehow – two more matches to go.
Six weeks ago, we were sat in front of our TV screens/radio sets/smartphones as we witnessed a world-cup winning innings from Ben Stokes. Many thought it was the sort of innings that you could put in about once in a lifetime. Six weeks later, we witnessed the same man outperform himself with what may go down as one of the greatest Ashes innings in cricketing history, possibly the greatest innings by an Englishman. In the words of his captain, he is a freak. But it comes from hard work. His effort in training is almost second to none.
Not that anybody is at the moment, but one should not understate what was achieved and the context in which it was achieved. England had more or less lost the game, they could potentially make a draw, but a win was incredibly unlikely. Almost single handedly, he turned it round.
This will sting for Australia, but as Tim Paine did note they can take some positives from the fact it took an innings of that stature to beat them. But they can’t pretend that they didn’t allow England back into the game through their own mistakes as well as Ben Stokes’ lack of mistakes. Lyon would make that run out ninety-nine times out of a hundred – but the pressure of the situation and the crowd would no doubt have played a role in his fumble. They must use this as motivation for the next test, and not punish themselves over it – of course such a mindset is much easier to talk about than to achieve. The lbw call from Joel Wilson is neither here nor there. Australia burned their review out of desperation on a ball that was clearly not-out. As a result, it cost them – the umpires decision was final. We could look at the umpiring in the wider context of the test series, that has been questionable at times, but ultimately Australia used their reviews poorly and made crucial errors, the umpiring was not the issue.
As England acknowledged, it was their own poor performance that cost them in the first innings. Yes, the Aussies were good, and some excellent balls were bowled, but ultimately poor batting cost them. We can’t gloss over the 67 though. An international test team shouldn’t be getting bowled out for that. If England are to be consistent, they must fix whatever went wrong. Some solace should be taken from their second innings stand. They showed the patience, technique and heart that is required in Test Match cricket. But the best players and the best teams can adapt to the conditions, the ups, the downs, the bowlers and any other things that come their way. England need to be sure they are adaptable, and not just playing exciting cricket for exciting crickets’ sake. It’s called test cricket for a reason, its tough, its long, its draining, and if you can play in a manner to deal with that, you will reap the rewards. To collapse in the first innings manner is far from ok. It is the fourth time England have been bowled out for under 100 since 2018. It can’t be glossed over, and it won’t be glossed over. In the same way Australia must use the match to recover and motivate themselves to avoid giving away a match in the same manner, England must use their remarkable comeback as a springboard to try to stop the apparent regularity of their batting collapses. They should be proud of the fact they took the opportunity to rectify it and they must use the performance that they all put in to take confidence, Stokes may have made 74 off 42 at the end, but don’t forget at one point he was 2 off 70 balls. The shots for explosive cricket are there – this we know. We now know the patience for the long game where you wear the bowlers down in a battle of attrition is there as well, England must ensure they use both to their best ability.
So, let’s enjoy the hype, the positives that the display has done for the format and the wider game. However, England would be foolish to rely on Ben Stokes to keep pulling it out of the bag like that – although I hope of course he does. They need to improve to make sure they can win back the ashes. Stokes himself noted that should England lose, such heroics will be forgotten. Maybe not, but the shine will certainly be taken off. England must compose themselves.
He may not perform so well again, but don’t underestimate the impact he could have had on the pendulum between the two teams – momentum is certainly with England now. One thinks of the Botham and Willis show in 1981 that turned the momentum of that series permanently. Has this done the same?