Best player

Vic Marks There’s no room for smartarsery here. It has to be Steve Smith averaging 110 in a bowlers’ series. Without him Australia would surely have lost the Ashes.

Ali Martin Steve Smith took his batting to another level. It’s like he could read the Matrix. The tics were greater than ever yet he was so fluid at the crease. The runs were off the chart and his wicket never really felt coming. All after a year out of the game too, with concussion mid-series and boos throughout. Wow.

Andy Bull Well, you’ll just never guess. But here’s a gentle request for everyone to lay off the talk about Steve Smith being better than Don Bradman. The Don’s average was half as good again.

Barney Ronay He Who Cannot Be Dismissed. In the end all that got Steve Smith out was his own vague sense of boredom at watching Steve Smith bat for so long.

Emma John One man held his side together not so much with sticky tape as reinforced concrete, proving that batting doesn’t have to be attractive to be devastating … Joe Denly. Just joking. Steve Smith.

Geoff Lemon Nine players have more runs than Smith in a series, and most need surnames only: Weekes, Lara, Sobers, Walcott, Richards, Harvey (Neil), Taylor (Mark), Hammond, and Bradman (three times). All but Bradman and Weekes had more innings. Enough said.

Rob Smyth Even Satan’s biggest supporter must accept it was Steve Smith, the supernatural genius who defied logic, the coaching manual, concussion and bowling plans A-Z to completely own a second successive Ashes series.

Breakthrough player

VM Likewise it has to be Jofra Archer, who is a gem. He must be handled carefully to ensure that he’s not a meteoric gem. In which case the sky’s the limit and one day he’ll score a few runs.

AM Honourable mentions must go to Rory Burns, the one opener to thrive against the new ball, and Marnus Labuschagne, the concussion sub who surpassed his brief. But this series will go down as Jofra Archer’s arrival on the Test stage: 22 wickets in eight innings is just the start, you’d wager.

AB My first thought was Rory Burns or Marnus Labuschagne, but then I remembered that even though it feels like Jofra Archer’s been bossing world cricket for years already he only made his Test debut at Lord’s.

BR Jofra Archer. Easy to forget that he hasn’t even been playing first-class cricket for long. Also Pat Cummins for his elevation (in English eyes at least) to God Tier.

EJ Yes he helped secure an impossible win, but Jack Leach also did the job asked of him with the ball. Could he be this side’s Ashley Giles?

GL Quite literally: Marnus Labuschagne started the Lord’s Test running drinks, and ended it replacing the best batsman in the world. He saved that match and became the only other Australian batsman to deliver consistency under pressure.

RS Jofra Archer has the aura, ability and street wisdom of an established superstar, not a Test debutant. His battles with Steve Smith at Lord’s and Matthew Wade at the Oval could have left a curmudgeon high on life.

Ben Stokes celebrates after hitting the winning runs at Headingley. ‘It will be spoken about for decades’.



Ben Stokes celebrates after hitting the winning runs at Headingley. ‘It will be spoken about for decades’. Photograph: Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Best match

VM Headingley, of course, with its surreal, preposterous climax. Stokes must live with the fact that he can never repeat those deeds with the bat. But I doubt he’ll be too bothered by that.

AM Headingley makes it three clear winners in a row, from the position from which England found themselves, 67 all out in the first innings, through to a batshit-crazy final day. Ben Stokes said his innings would count for nothing if England didn’t win back the Ashes but he was wrong. It will be spoken about for decades.

AB The Headingley Test certainly wasn’t the greatest ever played given how ordinary the batting was for the first three days, but there surely can’t have been many that were more fun to watch.

BR Headingley was affecting on so many levels. Edgbaston was the most convincing team performance. Even the Oval was fun and flighty.

EJ Headingley was a great finish, but the action at Lord’s was exciting throughout, if you ignore the rain – including that fourth-day spell where Archer seemed, like Halle Berry, to summon his own storm.

GL Obviously. Broad and Archer sizzling against Warner’s resistance on day one. Australia’s demolition of England for 67. England’s bowlers scrapping to stay in the game. Then Stokes with the impossible dream. Both teams in it till the last ball. Headingley.

RS Euphoric sporting moments often become bittersweet if your team does not go on to win the ultimate prize. But the miracle of Headingley, and the feeling it evoked, will last forever.

Best moment

VM Stokes reverse sweeping Lyon for six at Headingley. Suddenly it seemed as if anything was possible. And it was.

AM Beyond the final scenes in Leeds – not least the Western Terrace as Ben Stokes crunched the winning runs – and some memorable duels throughout, let’s go for Ricky Ponting’s commentary at Old Trafford as the camera pointed to a gaggle of Australian players late on day four. “I was going to say the Aussie brains trust are in the picture … but David Warner is there.”

AB Those dizzy final few minutes at Headingley, of course, when everyone fell under Ben Stokes’ spell. Jofra Archer’s ferocious fast bowling to Steve Smith at Lord’s, too even if, as Smith put it, “he still didn’t get me out.”

BR Stokes through the covers.

EJ Cummins’s delivery to dismiss Root first ball at Old Trafford seemed a pretty decent summary of England’s series. But I’m English, so I prefer bathos to pathos. I’ll go for Leach and Stokes bumping grilles as they ran to embrace at Headingley.

GL Warner copping a barrage on the Edgbaston boundary, then facing the crowd to turn his pockets inside out. And Smith walking off at the Oval after his last innings to a full house of applause.

RS “England need one to win. And in comes Pat Cummins from the far end. He bowls to Stokes – WHO HAMMERS IT FOR FOUR! And stands there with the bat raised! I can’t believe we’ve seen that.”

David Warner shows the Edgbaston crowd his empty pockets in a good-natured retort to some sandpaper barracking on day three of the first Test.



David Warner shows the Edgbaston crowd his empty pockets in a good-natured retort to some sandpaper barracking on day three of the first Test. Photograph: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

Biggest grumble

VM How the Test series threatened to overshadow the absolutely riveting news of those lucrative coaching appointments from overseas for teams in the Hundred competition.

AM That the peak audience was 2 million people (Headingley) in a summer when 8.92 million in the UK watched the epic denouement to the World Cup final due to the simulcast of Sky’s coverage on Channel 4. One shared Test per summer to showcase the heart and soul of the sport – is it too much to ask?

AB The schedule, which meant England’s best players were back in training camp the week after the World Cup, and the rest of their players barely had a championship match for practice all summer.

BR The idea there’s something that needs to be “fixed” in red-ball cricket. This was the best sporting event of the year played in front of full houses. Just show it to people. It’s good.

EJ Some people found the booing a bit much. Others didn’t enjoy the Crying Steve Smith masks. But it’s the piped Jerusalem that’s starting to feel really old.

GL Technology. Dodgy ball-tracking, dodgy snickometer, no-balls not called, players having to umpire. Surely the fourth official can monitor the front-foot camera, and third umpires can intervene when decisions look wrong.

RS A few minor grumbles, like the absence of Jimmy Anderson from the Ashes, but no biggies – the whole summer has been a joy.

The next Ashes series will be…

VM In Australia. If Archer is still standing alongside one of the other young quicks on the circuit that should be exciting too. Still not sure who is going to score the runs.

AM Bloody hard for England to win, despite all the talk of blueprints and the emergence of a world-class (and seemingly robust) fast bowler in Archer. Joe Root and the new head coach have two and a bit years to figure it out.

AB The one Joe Root finally wins as a captain.

BR A fast-bowling shootout. Freeze Jofra in carbon. Get that ECB pace-bowling programme going. More. More of this.

EJ Of a higher standard than this one. Because the players won’t be suffering post-World Cup fatigue, and both sides will have remembered how to bat.

GL Long. Smith is still hungry, and will get more support on Australian pitches. England have two years to build a batting order that can deliver, and some bowlers who can support Archer for incisiveness.

RS Painfully one-sided, unless England give red-ball cricket a whole lotta love in the next two and a half years.

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