The euphoria of winning the World Cup for the first time in their One-day International history is not over yet – England geared up to settle scores with the arch-rivals Australia as the Ashes kicked off after the mega-event. England were expected to carry on their World Cup-winning momentum to Edgbaston, but it was Australia who drew first blood.
Australia won the toss and elected to bat first – the English bowlers set jitters in their batting lineup until Steve Smith rose to the occasion.
Smith finished the last Ashes series having scored 687 runs in seven innings, thus, the expectations were such – he would kick the right paddle and it was also the test of his mental strength after serving a punishment.
He marked his return to Test cricket after 16 months with one of his finest hands, lifting Australia from an almost down-and-out 122 for 8 – with considerable help from the tail – to a respectable position on Day 1.
Having gone to 98 with a six off Moeen Ali then tucking a single, a drive through the covers against Ben Stokes from his 183rd delivery brought up his 24th Test hundred – and it was no ordinary milestone. The emotions came flooding out as he celebrated then tried to compose himself with a few deep breaths and a look to the sky, taking in the applause along with a few remaining and largely foolish-sounding boos.
He had been beaten early on by the excellent Stuart Broad – most batsmen would have been – but once he settled there was barely a moment when he did not look in control despite the many problems of his team-mates, although was thankful for the DRS on 34 when he was given lbw playing no shot at Broad.
By the end, he was flaying England’s bowlers to all corners of Edgbaston including a monstrous, dismissive swing over the leg side off Broad three balls before he finally missed to end one of the great Test innings.
The last two wickets added 162 with Siddle contributing a superbly constructed 44, in a stand that firstly frustrated England and then began to deflate them, before Smith dominated the last-wicket alliance of 74 in 13 overs with Lyon which left them looking forlorn.
Day 2 witnessed a hugely significant hundred as Rory Burns showed tremendous resilience to score his first for England. He finished unbeaten on 125, forming a substantial partnership with Joe Root of 132 and another steadying stand with Ben Stokes, which carried England to 267 for 4 and within sight of what could be a critical lead.
If Australia had reviewed an lbw appeal against Nathan Lyon he would have gone for 22 and if Usman Khawaja had produced a direct hit he was short on 75. Then he spent more than half an hour in the 90s and sweated nine balls on 99 before scampering a single to mid-on from his 224th delivery.
On the third day, it felt like the fortunes of both sides rested on one man: Steven Smith. He was unbeaten on 46 at the close, again batting in a different league to his teammates, having taken Australia into a narrow lead with seven wickets in hand on a surface where a target around 200 would likely be tough.
England had scrambled to an advantage of 90 having started well placed for much more, but were eventually grateful for what they had following a middle-order collapse in which they lost 4 for 16. It took Australia three wickets to erase the deficit but by the close Smith and Travis Head had added 49 in 12 overs to offer hope of giving their attack, particularly Nathan Lyon, enough runs to work within the fourth innings.
There was one moment of unease for Smith, on 41, when he was hit on the helmet by a Ben Stokes bouncer. New concussion protocols or not (he was cleared by the team doctor), being forcibly removed from the field looked like the only way he would depart. And when it comes to a like-for-like replacement, well there isn’t one.
On the fourth day, for the second time, Steven Smith wrote himself a place in Ashes folklore, while Matthew Wade completed a comeback story of his own as Australia enjoyed utter dominance with the bat to leave them as the only team with a chance of victory at Edgbaston.
Smith became just the fifth Australian to hit twin centuries in an Ashes Test as his match took on even greater proportions of greatness. Wade then cantered to a career-best 110, his third Test hundred and first for six-and-a-half-years, to set up Australia’s declaration late in the evening session, after some fun from James Pattinson and Pat Cummins, leaving England needing a notional 398 in 97 overs.
On Day 5, England were blown away by Nathan Lyon and Pat Cummins as Australia completed victory by a crushing 251 runs before tea. Lyon lived up the billing as the major fourth-innings threat with 6 for 49, his best figures against England, and finished with nine in the match.
It was Australia’s first victory at the venue in any format since 2001 – which is also their last Test series win in England – and this is the first time they have led an away Ashes since 2005.
Note: Input from ESPNcricinfo