In the end, the final test of the Ashes 2019 turned out to be a matter of salvaging pride rather than winning the Ashes. England did not let the opportunity slip from their grip and bounced back from the Manchester defeat to draw the series 2-2. It had been a fantastic summer of Test cricket, which helped to cut short the hangover of the World Cup.
Tim Paine raised a few eyebrows by bowling and for the first half, Australia’s performance suggested that the Old Trafford celebrations might have been a touch more exuberant than the two out of ten Justin Langer suggested. Yet they surged back into the ascendancy through a man playing his first match of the series as Mitchell Marsh bagged 4 for 35 with some brilliant swing bowling only to be stopped in their tracks when Jos Buttler flicked the one-day switch.
So much fitted to type for England as they slid from 170 for 3 to 226 for 8 and it appeared they wouldn’t bat out the day. But all of a sudden, Buttler changed gear – perhaps deciding to live by the two-letter expletive on his bat handle – with a pair of straight sixes off Josh Hazlewood on the way to his first half-century of the series and alongside Jack Leach added an unbroken 45 for the ninth wicket. It made things look a little better for England, but in reality, it was a rescue mission that shouldn’t have been needed.
On Day 2, England had resumed on 271 for 8 with Jos Buttler and Jack Leach taking their stand to 68 before the innings was wrapped up by Mitchell Marsh’s first five-wicket haul in Tests.
Australia experienced a shaky start.
The major shift in the innings came after tea when Australia lost 4 for 27 – including the scalp of Smith – with Curran producing a terrific six-over spell of left-arm swing which accounted for Tim Paine and Cummins in consecutive deliveries.
Archer then claimed his fifth wicket to halt a troublesome ninth-wicket stand, with a brilliant slower ball to remove Nathan Lyon, before a spectacular catch at gully by Burns rounded up Australia. It left Archer, who didn’t bowl his fastest but had excellent control, with 6 for 62 to follow his 6 for 45 at Headingley.
To no one’s surprise, Smith top-scored but this time fell for 80 – his lowest score of the series – when he was lbw to Chris Woakes, the moment when England probably believed they could end the innings with an advantage. While Smith was there, even with the tail, anything was possible and England would have feared the worst when Joe Root dropped him at slip on 66.
Neither was it a quiet end to the day with Joe Denly, who was late to the ground on the second day after the birth of his daughter, dropped in the slips by Marcus Harris and against the final delivery Rory Burns – having already been clattered in the grille by Pat Cummins – was given lbw to a ball which DRS showed had pitched well outside leg stump. A day of solid batting – and that’s far from assured from either side in this series – and England will have a share of the series in their sights.
Marnus Labuschagne continued in his role as Smith-lite but either side of that pair there were familiar problems for Australia with the openers again dispatched cheaply – David Warner with a hint of DRS controversy – and the middle-order failing to offer the support Smith needed.
It was Archer who sparked England early in the afternoon with a hostile spell to Labuschagne who took a painful blow on the right arm before being pinned lbw, a plan coming to fruition for Archer who had probed away for such a dismissal – similar to how he removed him in the second innings at Old Trafford. After tea he would strike again, having Marsh caught at long leg off a poorly controlled half-hearted pull following another series of short deliveries which had also seen a rare error from Smith when he top-edged short of the deep square.
Matthew Wade wanted to be positive but was beautifully set up by Curran who sent down a series of away swingers before bringing one back into the pads which Wade played across.
That was just a prelude from Curran when, after tea, he produced trademark left-arm dismissals by slanting one across Paine then swinging one back into Cummins’ boot in a spell that would read 6-4-6-2. There is a feeling no one really knows what sort of cricketer Curran will become, and how to best fit him in an England Test side, but the bare facts are he has won six out of six Tests at home and played a key role in most of them.
For a short, while it looked more likely that he would run out of partners than be dismissed, but the first ball of a new spell from Woakes brought the moment England have strived so hard for when Smith missed a straight one.
By the close of Day 3, England led by 382, anchored around the 127-stand between Denly and Stokes then supplemented by more runs from Jos Buttler. Australia’s attack remained wholehearted and took six wickets during the final session, but the overall demeanour was of a weary group who had peaked with the emotional high of last week in Manchester.
Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood kept pounding away, yet had 1 for 112 to show for it, and Nathan Lyon battled against uncertain form and a painful spinning finger to finish with 3 for 65, but there wasn’t a match-turning spell. The verbals went up a level as well with the umpires briefly stepping in during the morning session.
On Day 4, For the first time since 1972, there was a drawn Ashes series as England prevailed by a convincing 135 runs at The Oval with Stuart Broad and Jack Leach taking four wickets apiece alongside two for Joe Root who enjoyed a good day as captain. Matthew Wade struck a fantastic century, which included a compelling duel with Jofra Archer, but England shifted Steven Smith for 23 and Wade could not find anyone to stay with him long enough to bring the target within sight.
After what happened at Headingley just a few weeks ago – and because Australia have the best since Bradman – even with a target of 399 it didn’t quite feel like a foregone conclusion when the chase started early on the fourth day. However, with Broad continuing his stranglehold over Australia’s openers – getting David Warner for the seventh time in the series – and returning to have Smith caught at leg gully (and plan 774-runs in the making) it was 85 for 4 with the feeling the end could come swiftly.
Wade then added stands of 63 with Mitchell Marsh, 52 with Tim Paine and 44 with Pat Cummins, each time England nabbing the breakthrough before things got troublesome. He and Archer went toe-to-toe during an hour of thrilling cricket after tea – Archer touching 95mph but staying wicketless during an eight-over spell – with Wade reaching his hundred from 147 balls before being stumped off Root which heralded the end.
Note: Input from ESPNcricinfo