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.

My Sporting Preferences

My Sporting Preferences

Hi guys! Something a little different today as I realised that I’ve been writing on here for almost 3 years now (time flies!) and alluding to some of the teams I support but not actually really talked about the sport I like to watch and who I support in them, so I thought today it would be a great chance to get to know me a bit better.

Rugby Union

Rugby Union is unsurprisingly my favourite sport, both the 15 and 7-a-side variations of the game. I got into rugby when I started going to secondary school and quickly fell in love with the sport. Over the years I’ve played for my school, grassroots club (shout out to Longlevens RFC!) and also started my own social 7s team in my last year of uni, and played a number of positions: all the front row, lock, blindside flanker and one match I will never forget against our local rivals where I played at outside centre!

featrugby gloucester sale 4Being a Gloucester boy born and raised, there was only 1 club I was ever going to be following once I was into the sport and that is the Cherry & Whites – Gloucester Rugby – and by extension, Hartpury RFC and Gloucester-Hartpury Women.

I have started watching a lot more rugby around the world in recent years though and the Scarlets have beat out Munster become my second team, courtesy of one of my best mates being a Scarlets fan and their attacking mentality making me always want to watch their games . I’m also really excited by the growth of rugby in the USA, so I consider the Eagles my second international team (after England) and I have tried to pay attention to the MLR – I put my support behind the Seattle Seawolves last season but with the league still expanding and new teams forming I would not say that I have adopted them as my American team. I’ve also tried to pay more attention to Super Rugby in the last few years but would not say that I have adopted a team, although I found myself firmly behind the Western Force when they were put at risk of being axed.

Football

As with (I’d assume) most English kids, football was my initial sport. Just having a kick-around on lunchtimes of after school and with highlights of the Premier League still available on terrestrial TV, it is something that is relatively easy to follow.

football shirt chicharitoAs for my favourite team, I have to admit that I’m a fan of Manchester United. *Runs for cover* Granted, I’ve never been to Manchester, but my support from United came from a number of my closest friends at school being United fans, so I found that we would talk about them more and I found myself paying more attention to their matches. I do also have a soft spot for Cheltenham Town, my local team in the football leagues. As for internationals, I am an England supporter, but I have found in recent years a bit of an apathy towards internationals and I have rarely watched outside of the Euros and World Cups.

American Football

me12189588_10153126166241332_5035862288422859710_nI’ve got family in America and went to visit them a couple of times as a kid, so vaguely remember watching some NFL games on TV when I was out there, but not really understanding what was going on. Then during secondary school one of my friends let me borrow Madden 04 and in learning to play the game, I fell in love with the sport. This love continued as I went to university and started watching games more often and making friends with a number of the uni’s American football team.

From those times I used to go to America, I remember us rushing home one day to watch the Tennessee Titans play back in the days where the late Steve McNair was at QB, so once I finally got into the sport they were always going to be the team I picked. Ironically, when I next went to see my family in the USA, it turned out that they are Cowboys fans and hate the Titans… oops! Too late!

cyc20180730_193504Road Cycling

I’m not even sure how, but I’ve really started enjoying watching the Grand Tours in recent years and also by extension some of the other televised races like the Tour of Britain and the Critérium du Dauphiné. It is a great example of teamwork seeing the domestiques working on behalf of their leaders and then the combination of tactical nous and sheer determination among the lead riders to race each other up climbs that make me shudder just watching on TV. Team Sky are my team and I really love a number of their riders including 2018’s Grand Tour winners Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas, while I also really enjoy the Yates brothers and Mark Cavendish – so 2018 was a pretty good year for me!

Rugby League

I just love rugby in general! While I prefer union, I do also enjoy watching rugby league as it is generally a more fast-paced game than union. I really got into watching the Super League a few years back but I’m so busy these days I struggle to find the time to watch anything beyond the England matches and the odd big club game. For this reason I wouldn’t say I fully support a team, but I would say I have a soft spot for Canadian team Toronto Wolfpack, who were founded around the same time I started paying more attention to the sport.

Formula 1

I used to watch Formula 1 religiously when it was on terrestrial TV and I didn’t have such good access to pay-TV sports channels, but these days with the way the sport has come to rely on tyre degradation and pit strategies in order to win, I’ve largely gone off the sport – though I will still watch on occasion. Back from his early days at Mclaren, I’ve been a big fan of Kimi Räikkönen, while I also cheered for Jenson Button when he was in the sport and have found myself supporting Fernando Alonso for a number of years as he has tried to do his best in cars that are nowhere near the quality he deserves.

Cricket

For years I had no interest in cricket whatsoever, however I have found myself paying a bit more attention to the shorter forms like one-day internationals and Twenty20 matches. I will say thought that I have no real interest in the game beyond England matches and would struggle to watch a Test match live for more than a couple of hours, though I would watch a condensed highlights show.

Tennis

Another sport that I find myself watching less now that I have access to extra sports channels. It’s rare for me to watch much beyond Wimbledon, and even then it has often just been Andy Murray or Laura Robson’s matches in recent years. Back in the day though, I was also a big fan of Lleyton Hewitt and Andy Roddick and also found myself cheering for Maria Sharapova back when there were no highly rated Brits in the women’s events.

Snooker

Much like tennis, the amount of snooker I watch has dropped off drastically as my options have opened up. I think the BBC show “Big Break” went a long way to helping stoke an interest in the sport when I was a kid and I have been lucky enough to watch in the heyday of Ronnie O’Sullivan! If I’m at home writing, I may have it on in the background, but its very rare I find myself watching these days.

Baseball

Not something that I usually watch but I do enjoy going to a couple of matches when I’m in the US. Despite having been bought Yankees, Cardinals and Rangers branded goods over the year, there’s no Major League teams that I would say I pay attention to, however I do try to keep up with how the Memphis Redbirds are doing in the Minor Leagues.

 

and finally…

MTS Rocha v Reilly 3The Movie Trivia Schmoedown

I know what you’re probably saying: “How is movie trivia a sport?!”… But the Schmoedown has done a great job of making it one. Taking a movie trivia quiz and combining it with WWE-style entertainment has created a wonderful product that I have fallen in love with! The show has become such a big part of my life and I even write for their website (links to all my articles can be found here) and if you want to know a bit more about this, you can find a piece I wrote over a year ago here.

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…