Winners and Losers from the 2019 Ashes

Winners and Losers from the 2019 Ashes

With all the rugby, football and cycling going on over the last couple of months, there was one sport that was grabbing my attention more the usual: the cricket. The reason for this was clear: the Ashes was on and taking place in England.

The first Test at Edgbaston saw England go on the back foot, losing star bowler James Anderson after just 4 overs on the way to a 251 run loss. The weather proved crucial at Lord’s as England ran out of time to collect the wickets they needed, resulting in the 2nd Test ending as a draw. In the 3rd Test, an inspired performance from Ben Stokes snatched a 1 wicket victory from the jaws of defeat and left hopes of an England series victory alive. This was soon ended, however, by a 185 run victory for Australia in the 4th test at Old Trafford that confirmed they would retain the Ashes. Perhaps they partied too hard following that result, as they struggled at the Oval, with England winning the final Test by 135 runs to draw the series 2-2.

While some players had ludicrously impressive performances throughout the series, there were others who – to put it kindly – stunk! Today, I will be looking back at the biggest winners and losers from the series.

The Winners

Steve Smith: Making his return to Test cricket following a ban for his part in the ball-tampering scandal, Steve Smith was always set for some rough treatment from the partisan home crowds. Such were his performances in the series though, that when he walked off in the final innings for a series-worst 23 runs, he was treated to cheers and applause. How did he do this? He became the star of the series. His 774 runs in just 7 innings has already put him as the top run scorer in Test cricket this year despite starting over half a year after most players. Try as they might, England were unable to get him out when it mattered, while he also made a number of key catches in the slips to play a key role in retaining the Ashes.

England’s opening bowlers: Losing star bowler James Anderson after just 4 overs in the first Test could have derailed the series for England before it had barely begun. However, England recovered well. Suddenly thrust into the leadership role within the attack, Stuart Broad excelled with 23 wickets (best in the team) at an average of 26.65 runs per wicket. In place of Anderson, Jofra Archer came into the Test team for his debut and showed just how good he can be. His pace and bouncers had batsmen rattled and he finished the series with just 1 wicket less than Broad for an average of 20.27, the best average of any England bowler in the series. With Anderson, Broad and Archer all huge dangers, England have the flexibility moving forward to appropriately rest the ageing Anderson and Broad while remaining dangerous. And the best part… Jofra should only get better with more experience!

Ben Stokes: Already a national hero this summer for his role in England’s Cricket World Cup victory, Ben Stokes produced an innings that will go down in legends during the 3rd Test at Headingley. With England chasing a 2nd innings score of 358 following a 67-run disaster in the 1st innings. With everyone getting out around him, Stokes did what his teammates were finding impossible to do, digging in and giving England fans the slightest of hope. When 11th man Jack Leach came in with the score at 286-9, things looked to be over, but Stokes went from staying in to smashing the ball wherever he could, eventually hitting a boundary to win England the Test with a score of 135*. Expanding on this match, Stokes was the highest scoring batsman for England (441 runs) and contributed 15 wickets with his bowling despite a shoulder injury making him a specialist batsman in the last Test. After the summer he’s had, he’s in with a great shot of winning Sports Personality of the Year.

Jack Leach: While Stokes got the glory from the 3rd Test, that match also helped to make Jack Leach a cult figure. After a 92-run stand as nightwatchman against Ireland, Leach continued to show his ability to get in and stay in as a tail-ender even against an elite bowling attack, becoming a cult figure with his repeated cleaning of his glasses. Though his own run totals were limited, it gave England a chance when they get towards their final few batsmen, while he also brought some danger to the bowling attack with 12 wickets for an average of 25.83. It looks like he’s done enough to hold his spot even if Moeen Ali returns to form.

Rory Burns: So things didn’t really go well for either set of openers in this series, but Rory Burns was head, shoulders, knees and toes above the rest of them. He finished the series with 390 runs, second only to Ben Stokes in the England team and was the only England batsman other than Stokes to hit a century, with a high score of 133. The opening pair has been a real issue for England for years. It feels like Burns has done enough to cement himself as one of the pair.

Marnus Labuschagne: Steve Smith’s concussion that saw him miss the 2nd innings of the 2nd Test and the entire 3rd Test could have been critical, but instead it brought his replacement Marnus Labuschagne to the fore. Despite taking a Jofra Archer bouncer to the head almost immediately, he went on to become Smith’s doppelgänger, reaching 50 in each of his first 4 innings. Smith’s return saw him stay in the order and be promoted to 3rd on the order. Creating a long-standing partnership as inevitable as death and taxes, it looks like he and Smith will be a fixture in the team for them to build their batting line-up around.

Aussie bowling: While the England batting was often poor, they were not helped by the best bowling attack in the world being on form. Pat Cummins was the bowler of the series, taking 29 wickets over the 5 Tests for an average of 19.62. Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon both contributed 20 wickets. Even maligned bowler Mitchell Marsh managed to take 7 wickets in just 1 Test. Such was the quality of the options available, Mitchell Starc was only involved in 1 Test. While England’s poor batting certainly helped, don’t expect them tobe the last team to struggle under the Australian onslaught

The Losers

David Warner: Steve Smith wasn’t the only one making his return to Test cricket following the ball-tampering scandal, as Steve Smith was part of Australia’s opening pair for all 5 Tests. Unfortunately for Warner, the similarities ended there as he finished the series with a disappointing 95 runs total. While that is already the worst total for an opener batting in 10 innings, what makes things even worse is that 61 of those runs came in a single innings, while he became the first opening batsman in any Test series ever, to be out for eight single digit scores… ouch!

Jason Roy: There were plenty of questions over the selection of Jason Roy as an opener in this series. Clearly a talented player, he is not currently cut out for opening in Test cricket. Over 4 Tests, Roy totalled just 110 runs with a high score of 31. He looked a bit more comfortable when moved down the order for the 4th Test, but still needed to work on batting to stay in. He made way for Sam Curran for the final Test as Stokes was playing as a specialist batsman, but will hopefully be given another chance around the number 5 spot and against a more forgiving bowling attack.

Joe Root: Joe Root is a fantastic player and arguably England’s best Test batsman. Unfortunately, the pressures of captaincy appear to be having an effect on his batting, where he is struggling to keep his average up. Add in some questionable selection decisions and use of his bowlers through the tournament and a number of costly drops, and things don’t look good for him. The fact that England came away with a drawn series and looked good value for the win had it not been for the reduced overs in the 2nd Test – despite being arguably the second-best team in the series – has potentially just saved Root from losing the captaincy.

Tim Paine: He may have just retained the Ashes, but this was not a good series for the Australian captain. There were a number of questionable selection decisions (the final Test looked to have a dream wicket for Mitchell Starc) and tactical decisions (his decision on winning the toss at the final Test was proved horribly wrong). His batting wasn’t great, and he had a number of costly drops as wicketkeeper. But by far the worst facet of his series was his use of the DRS reviews. It got to the point that it felt like every decision he made relating to DRS was the wrong one! Retaining the Ashes – and how recent Smith has returned to the Test squad – may help him keep hold of the Ashes for a little longer, but if feels like his days are numbered.

England’s Magic Victories

England’s Magic Victories

For sports fans, Sunday 14th July is a day that will live long in the memory. Lewis Hamilton won a 6th British GP in a race that saw Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen praised for some of the best racing in years. The Scottish Open reached its end. The Tour de France continued towards its first rest day. England’s men’s and women’s rugby 7s team won their respective tournaments to qualify Team GB for the Olympics. New Zealand’s beat England to win the Women’s Rugby Super Series title and remain #1 in the world. Novak Djokovic defeated Roger Federer in the longest Wimbledon men’s final and England won the Cricket World Cup against New Zealand.

That win for Eoin Morgan’s men – by virtue of number of boundaries in the match, after the teams could not be separated over 50 overs and a super over – gave cricket one of its greatest finishes of all time and made England the only nation to have won the Men’s World Cups in cricket, football and rugby. While that stat may not be too surprising given the number of countries that play all 3 of these sports to an elite level, what makes this incredible is that all 3 of these victories have come following some form of extra time.

England’s 1966 FIFA World Cup victory saw them concede a late equaliser from Wolfgang Weber to make the scores 2-2 at the 90-minute mark, but 2 goals from Geoff Hurst in extra time – including one in the final seconds of the game – saw Bobby Moore lift the trophy as the nation celebrated a 4-2 victory.

The RWC2003 final saw defending champions and hosts Australia bring the scores level in the final moments, as Elton Flatly kicked a penalty to level the scores at 14-14. Extra time saw Flatley and Jonny Wilkinson trade a penalty each, before a Wilkinson drop goal won the game with just 26 seconds left on the clock.

Sunday’s final at Lord’s saw England hold New Zealand to a reachable total of 241, before struggling themselves with the bat. Requiring 15 runs from the last over, luck was on England’s side and they tied things up with the final ball, taking things to a super over. England got 15 runs from their over, but things got off to a bad start in New Zealand’s over as Jofra Archer started with a wide and was hit for 6 a few balls later. He tightened things up on the final balls though, leaving New Zealand needing 2 runs from the final ball to win. Martin Guptil got the first run to pull things level, but was unable to get back down the wicket quick enough and was run out, leaving the scores level and seeing England win through the tie-breaker of most boundaries in the match.

With all these matches, they have their moments that will be remembered for how differently they could have gone. Hurst’s first goal in extra time was an early case for goal-line technology, as the ball hit the crossbar, bounced off the ground and was cleared away, only for the assistant referee to decree that the ball had crossed the line. Ben Kay agonisingly dropped Matt Dawson’s popped pass with the try line at his mercy, while Wilkinson’s successful drop goal came with his weaker right foot after having missed 2 drop goal attempts earlier in the match. At Lord’s England’s saviour Ben Stokes was almost caught out in the penultimate over, only for Trent Boult to step backwards onto the boundary to turn the ball into a 6, while the next over saw an even luckier moment as a fielder’s throw deflected off his bat and reached the boundary to total 6 runs off that ball – though in hindsight it should have actually been 5 runs.

It’s safe to say England have had their fair share of luck, with the Rugby World Cup just months away, hopefully they haven’t used it all up at the weekend. Perhaps that will be England’s first victory in regular time. I’m not sure our hearts can take another close finish!

Avoiding the blame game

When Ben Stokes began his run up for the first ball of his final over on Sunday, it looked like England were 6 balls away from winning the World Twenty20 Final. 19 runs from 6 balls seemed an all but impossible task for the West Indies. Four balls later, the West Indies had made history by becoming the first team to become two-time winners of the tournament courtesy of 4 consecutive sixes from Carlos Brathwaite.

To hit a 6 at any point is a great achievement. To hit 4 in a row is fantastic. To do so in such a high pressure situation… I don’t think there is a word to do such a feat justice! This is a moment for the history books.

And yet when I glanced at Twitter, all I could see were comments saying that Ben Stokes had bottled it, that he had lost England the game.

I’m no cricket expert, but watching that last over from Stokes, I didn’t think that the balls were that bad. I’m sure if he could have them back he would try to do something different, but they did not look like the kind of balls that were destined to be hit over the boundary. We’ve just been lucky enough to witness moment of sporting greatness, yet all we’re doing is battering someone who was clearly gutted at his part in the event.

But why was Ben Stokes getting all the blame? Substitute fielder Sam Billings dropped Dwayne Bravo at 73-3, with the ball eventually crossing the boundary for 4 runs. Bravo was eventually caught out for 35, but not before hitting the first 6 of the West Indies innings. But despite this, England could have still won if they had been able to reach a higher total themselves. England lost three of their top order batsmen for a combined 6 runs. As captain Eoin Morgan said post match “We’re all in this together… We enjoy our wins and suffer with our losses.”

That said, to focus on England’s loss is to take away from the West Indies’ achievement. The headline here should be the great finish, whereas we make it an English failure. And this isn’t a one-off. When it comes to British sport, we are more inclined to negativity and finding someone to blame than we are enjoying the great spectacle.

England’s 2015 Rugby World Cup campaign was certainly below expectations, becoming the first hosts to exit the tournament at the group stage following losses to Wales and Australia. With 77 minutes gone and trailing 25-28 against Wales, captain Chris Robshaw chose to kick a penalty to the corner rather than take the attempt at goal. He chose to go for the win rather than the draw. England won the line-out but were promptly driven into touch and that was the Welsh victory confirmed. It was a positive move from Robshaw and showed the trust he had in his team, but he took a lot of abuse from rugby ‘fans’ who blamed him for the loss. He was also heavily blamed for a couple of losses earlier in his captaincy after similar decisions at late penalties also did not pay off.

When the England football team were placed in the same group as Italy and Uruguay, FA chairman Greg Dyke was seen to be making a cut-throat gesture. Rather than coming out and suggesting that playing such difficult opponents would bring the best out of Roy Hodgson’s team, he was effectively suggesting that the team stood no chance. Not really the vote of confidence you want from the man at the top.

And lets not even get started on when a questionable refereeing decision affects the result!

Players thrive on the support of the fans, if the fans are going focus on the negatives, how can they be giving the players the added boost that they deserve. It is understandable to be disappointed in a result, but there does not always need to be someone to blame, often the better team won. Look at the positives and the event will be so much better.

Rather than focusing on a gutting loss for England, think instead where this team was a year ago as they were dumped out of the 50 over 2015 Cricket World Cup. They have come so far in a short space of time and, with the right support, will only get better.

So lets all try to stay positive moving forward, all we can ask is that the players out there representing us do the very best they can. And if it doesn’t work out, let’s get behind them and get ready to cheer them on again the next time out.

As the classic Monty Python song goes: Always look on the bright side of life…