The 71st edition of the historic rivalry produced unforgettable passages of Test cricket, courtesy of some outstanding individual performances throughout the series.
After an entertaining ICC Men's Cricket World Cup 2019, the English summer produced a fascinating Test series, with Australia and England finishing equal in the closely fought five-match Ashes series at 2-2. While Steve Smith and Ben Stokes stood out as the torchbearers for their respective sides, Jofra Archer announced himself in the longest format.
1) Steve Smith – an inspiring tale of redemption
Smith displayed immense grit and unparalleled consistency to rule the series with the bat, aggregating 774 runs from seven innings at an astounding average of 110.74. Playing his first Test after 16 months, Smith was welcomed with boos by a loud English crowd as he walked in to bat on day one of the first Test in Birmingham, with his side at 17/2 on a seaming track. By the end of the series, he had won the crowds over with his unconventional brilliance and earned comparisons with the great Don Bradman.
With twin centuries in the first Test, Smith powered his side to a 1-0 lead and set the tone for the series. He was struck a blow on head in the first innings at Lord's during his masterful knock of 92. A delayed concussion caused him to miss the following game at Headingley, but he returned with a marathon 211 and 82 in the fourth Test at Old Trafford, helping Australia retain the Ashes with a 135-run win. He added 80 and 23 to his tally in the final Test at The Oval.
By the end, he had 421 runs more than the second-placed Australian batsman, showing how central he was to Australia's campaign. And despite missing out on a year's worth of Tests, he overtook Virat Kohli as the top ranked batsman in the MRF Tyres ICC Test Rankings.
2) Ben Stokes – England's man for the summer
What Smith was to Australia, Stokes was to England. Having powered his country to their maiden one-day international World Cup win earlier in the summer, Stokes finished as England's leading run-scorer in the Ashes and, in the process, scripted one of the most memorable finishes in the game's history.
With his side 1-0 down, Stokes scored a fluent 115* in the second innings at Lord's to draw the Test. England then had to chase 359 in the fourth innings at Headingley, after they were bundled out for 67 in their first. With the game almost lost at 286/9 and England still 73 away from the target, Stokes, who had consumed 50 balls to score 2 the previous evening, launched a fierce counter-attack in the final session of day four, to script a thrilling one-wicket win.
The left-hand batsman put on an unbroken 76-run partnership for the final wicket with Jack Leach – the second-highest stand for the 10th wicket in the fourth innings of a Test match in a winning cause. He contributed in the final Test too, as his 127-run partnership with Joe Denly in the second innings laid the foundation for a series-levelling win.
He was also a workhorse with the ball, and contributed in key moments on the field. Little surprise that he was adjudged England's Player of the Series.
3) Australia's pace attack – fast, sharp and accurate
The quality of Australia's pace attack could be determined by the fact that Mitchell Starc, who was the leading wicket-taker in consecutive World Cups and has 215 Test scalps from 52 games, was not even included in the final XI until the fourth Test in Manchester.
While Pat Cummins lived up to his reputation as the top-ranked bowler in Tests, finishing as the leading-wicket taker of the series with 29 scalps, Josh Hazlewood took 20 wickets from four matches, coming back hungry from a spell on the sidelines. Cummins generated pace and bounce consistently and twice accounted for England captain Joe Root with away-seaming deliveries hitting the top of off, while Hazlewood relied on his accuracy to deliver the goods.
Peter Siddle, James Pattinson and Starc, who were rotated around, bowled with pace, aggression and control, giving the hosts no respite. Mitchell Marsh, the all-rounder, showcased his skills as a medium-fast bowler, registering a five-wicket haul in the first innings of the final Test, the only game he played in the series.
4) Jofra Archer's stunning Test emergence
He was talked about before he began, he was the center of attention whenever he bowled and by the end of the series, he has been touted by some as a potential all-time great. Having already established himself in limited-overs cricket, and also having bowled that iconic Super Over against New Zealand in the World Cup final, Archer showed that he was as adept in red-ball cricket, producing some terrific spells in the four Tests he played.
A second Test match five-wicket haul for Jofra Archer! pic.twitter.com/ppE3SZEJ4g— ICC (@ICC) September 13, 2019
The Barbados-born paceman registered 22 wickets at an impressive strike rate of 42.55 and had a significant contribution in England's wins at Headingley and at The Oval, with figures of 6/45 and 6/62 in the first innings of the respective games. His duel with Steve Smith was one of the most entertaining battles of the series, wherein he caused Australia's run machine a few troubles with short-pitched bowling on a few occasions, although the Australian never conceded his wicket in that battle.
His speeds remained consistently high even after a long summer, and showed himself capable of bowling long spells. Questions were raised about his workload, though, and his captain Joe Root admitted that was something for England to consider. With veteran James Anderson ruled out of the series, Archer's entry comes at the right time for England. His position in the MRF Tyres ICC Test Rankings for Bowlers jumped significantly, from 83rd spot to 37th in the table after the final Test.
5) Opening woes
Openers from both teams failed consistently, as only one half-century stand was registered across 20 innings in the series. The hosts backed the attacking Jason Roy to open in the first three Tests, but he could manage only 57 runs from six innings, which included four single-digit scores. He was replaced by Joe Denly as Rory Burns' opening partner in the fourth Test.
While both Burns and Denly did produce good individual performances, they failed to put up a combined effort to give their team a solid foundation managing only 10, 0, 27 and 54 runs for the first wicket in four innings.
As for Australia, their openers could aggregate only 197 runs at a combined average of 9.85 in the series. Cameron Bancroft was replaced by Marcus Harris for the last three Tests but nothing changed as the opening partnership averaged 8.5 from 10 innings with 18 being the highest first-wicket stand. David Warner, Australia's most experienced Test batsman right now, faced a torrid time against Stuart Broad throughout the series, with the England pacer getting him seven times out of 10.