So far, the 2023 Ashes have been nothing but a spectacular show of nail-biting cricket, barring (according to England of course) Bairstow’s runout. Ten years ago, cricket journalists Jarrod Kimber and Sam Collins set out to make a documentary, ‘Death of a Gentleman’, about a supposedly endangered sports form – Test cricket. If there was any doubt, this year’s ashes have shown that Test cricket still generates a considerable amount of excitement among sports fans.
Lord's Cricket Ground - where it all went down in the 2nd Test. Certainly one of the most passionate crowd this ground has seen.
Three of the five Ashes Test matches have seen conclusion, but Australia only have a marginal 2 – 1 series lead. The visitors from down under seem to be the superior side on the field, but England’s vocal support has been a significant leveler. The Barmy Army choir has been the soundtrack for these Ashes and as long as England play a competitive game, they will be singing. The visitors have their own loyal cohort; however, I do not expect to hear them much. Nevertheless, they do add a bit of color to the stands.
The first test at Edgbaston really set the tone for what we could expect for the rest of the series. England set out on an aggressive tempo – posting a first innings score of 393/8 and declaring late on the first day. England, skipper Ben Stokes said he was hoping to get a few early wickets and put the pressure on the visitors, but the Aussies were equal to the task with the help of Khawaja’s knock. They responded with a competitive 386. In the second innings, England were limited to 273, with Pat Cummins and Nathon Lyon taking four wickets each. From here, it was always going to be an uphill task, to defend 281 with a little over a day to go, but England nearly pulled it off. After breaking the first wicket stand between Khawaja and Warner, the wickets began to tumble and soon Australia were reeling at 209/7. However, a brave partnership between Cummins and Lyon for the 10th wicket saw Australia through.
If the first Test was the most thrilling, the second at Lord’s was the most dramatic. Set in the ‘Home of Cricket’, it was meant to be a classy cricket match. Instead, it made headlines for the most un-cricketing reasons (according to traditionalists at least). The game started as a competitive, yet mild affair. Australia put a massive 416 on the board, with 110 from Steve Smith and 65 from David Warner. England could not quite match that, but they replied with a respectable 325. During Australia’s second inning, the top order appeared to take the game away from England, but once a couple wickets fell, the batting attack collapsed. The visitors finished with 279, setting up a hefty target of 371 for England to chase in little over a day.
England started the final day very well. Stokes and Duckett were batting brilliantly, putting a large dent into the target. However, Duckett fell at 84 (177/5) to Hazelwood and Bairstow walked out to steady the ship with Stokes. On the last ball before tea, Bairstow avoided a bouncer from Green and casually walked out of his crease, assuming the over was called. Meanwhile, a quick-witted Alex Carey, who was keeping wickets for the Aussies, hit the stumps and appealed. The umpires had no choice but to give Bairstow out and Australia had no intention of withdrawing their appeal. Bairstow, who was less than thrilled, had to walk. A most ‘un-cricket’ moment at the ‘home of cricket’ - it was just meant to be, was it not? Either way, this incident added a new intensity and tension to the Test match and the Australians were targeted with abuses from everyone, from the English crowd to even the MCC members in the Long Room. Stokes went on to play a passionate innings – scoring 155 – but England ultimately fell short by 43 runs. Had Stokes taken England all the way, it would have outdone his heroics at Headingley 2019.
Hobbs Gate - entrance to The Oval, the venue for the 5th Test. Can England take it to the 5th Test?
Down 2 – 0 in the series, it was imperative for England to win the third test at Headingley and save some embarrassment. The hosts got off to a great start, restricting the Aussies to a first innings total of just 263. Mark Wood took down half the side himself, while Broad and Woakes shared the remaining wickets. Unfortunately for England, they too succumbed to fast bowling, with Mitchell Starc bagging six. Despite Stokes’ 80, England were only able to put 237 on the board. Australia had the opportunity to run away with it, with a big second innings. However, the pitch continued to favor the bowlers and Australia were bowled out for 224. This set up a very interesting run chase – 251 runs, over two days left, but an uncooperating wicket. The chase started very well for England, and at 131/3 they looked comfortably on their way to their first win of the series. Australia managed to peg them back by getting four more wickets, but in the end Woods and Woakes saw England through.
Going into the fourth test at Old Trafford, the odds are finely balanced for the most important match of the series. England will be seeking a famous win, which will put them in contention to be the first English side to comeback from a 2 – 0 hole. It will also give them a chance to regain the Ashes after eight years. Meanwhile, Australia will hope to finish off the series and retain the urn for another two years.
Ed Cowan, former Australian cricketer, said, ‘the Ashes is like the Beatles’ back catalog – it will always be valuable to the industry, but it’s the new hits that people keep searching for’. These Ashes have shown us there is a lot to enjoy in the good old red ball game – yes, even in 2023.