Australia patiently pick off England to retain The Ashes

England managed more than 90 overs in pursuit of a draw but go 2-1 down in series

Australia players celebrate after beating England at Old Trafford to retain The Ashes. Photo: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

Australia players celebrate after beating England at Old Trafford to retain The Ashes. Photo: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

 

4th Test - Day 5 of 5: Australia 497-8 dec (S Smith 211, M Labuschagne 67, T Paine 58, M Starc 54no; S Broad 3-97, M Leach 2-83, C Overton 2-85) & 186-6 dec (S Smith 82, M Wade 34, T Paine 23no, T Head 12, M Labuschagne 11, M Harris 6, M Starc 3no, D Warner 0; J Archer 3-45, S Broad 2-54, M Leach 1-58) beat England 301 all out (R Burns 81, J Root 71, J Butler 41, B Stokes 26, J Roy 22, J Bairstow 17, C Overton 5, S Broad 5, J Denley 4 M Leach 4no, J Archer 1; J Hazelwood 4-57, P Cummins 3-60, M Starc 3-80) & 197 all out (J Denly 53, J Buttler 34, J Roy 31, J Bairstow 25, C Overton 21, M Leach 12, B Stokes 1, J Archer 1, R Burns 0, J Root 0, S Broad 0no; P Cummins 4-43, J Hazelwood 2-31, N Lyon 2-51, M Starc 1-46, M Labuschagne 1-9) by 185 runs.

They came in their thousands hoping for more miracles. The trouble is that this England side is starting to depend on miracles, which is rarely a fruitful state of affairs. There was some admirable graft from most of the England players that triggered hope among the optimists. But there was no miracle. At 6.15pm Australia won the Test by 185 runs and thereby retained the Ashes. Mission accomplished for Justin Langer, Tim Paine and their team. Now they turn their attention to gleaning more points in the World Test Championship. That is all England can do as well.

England were worn down by the persistence and skill of one of Australia’s best attacks. The best of them was Pat Cummins. But for the stupendous feats of Steve Smith he would be the obvious pick as the man of the series. He is the only one of Australia’s pacemen to play in every Test and it is easy to understand why. He has hardly bowled a poor spell. Beset by injuries in his youth, when he was branded the best-paid student in the country (Cricket Australia had already put him on a central contract) he is now a man mountain, solid as a rock physically and temperamentally.

Cummins bowled the decisive over of the match on Saturday night when he dismissed Rory Burns and Joe Root with successive deliveries. On Sunday morning he was the man to set the ball rolling for the Australians when dismissing Jason Roy and Ben Stokes in his second spell. He has 24 wickets in the series, five more than his nearest rival, Stuart Broad, and he has been miserly as well.

But even Cummins had to wait for an hour and 20 minutes before separating the overnight batsmen. Roy steeled himself to play a knock appropriate to the situation, covering his stumps, pushing forward and almost smelling the ball as he blocked full-length deliveries that he might well have stroked to the boundary in an ODI. Less surprisingly, Joe Denly sidled back and across before defending with the straightest of bats. Against Lyon he employed the slog sweep regularly and usually middled the ball. Both batsmen enhanced their modest reputations as Test batsmen.

Jos Buttler is bowled by Josh Hazlewood. Photo: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images
Jos Buttler is bowled by Josh Hazlewood. Photo: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

Then Cummins propelled another in-ducker that beat the inside edge of Roy’s bat before demolishing his stumps. Stokes emerged determined to defend stoically, which he managed for 16 balls, a caged lion. To his 17th he made a late decision to withdraw his bat against Cummins, too late since the ball brushed the toe of the blade, which prompted Stokes to walk off without waiting for any decision from umpire Marais Erasmus.

After lunch Denly reached his third Test half-century but soon he gloved a turning delivery to short-leg off Lyon. Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler hinted at something substantial until the first ball after a drinks interval. Mitchell Starc had been recalled after the batsmen had been lulled by a few overs from Travis Head and Marnus Labuschagne. His first ball thudded in to the pads and Bairstow had to go.

Now Craig Overton dug in alongside Jos Buttler; he was given lbw but survived after an agonisingly long review. Together they batted another 15 overs until the tea interval when England were 166 for six. By now there had been a ball change and the replacement seemed more prone to move. Six overs into the final session Buttler fell, bowled playing no shot to a fine delivery from Hazlewood that jagged back on to the off stump. Buttler has batted with much self-denial in this series and this has been his most productive Test so far but it would be a relief to see him bat with freedom before the series is out.

Jofra Archer fell in the next over, lbw to a scooter from Lyon, and the game was surely up. Now there was another change to the batting order. Out came Jack Leach rather than Stuart Broad and the ploy was a limited success. The bespectacled left-hander dug in alongside his Somerset teammate; he dealt with the second new ball with considerable aplomb and an enthralled crowd cheered the completion of every over. Leach survived for 15 overs; he had played Lyon with such composure that Tim Paine tossed the ball to Labuschagne. A leg-break gripped and was punched to short-leg by Leach.

England had made it to the last hour but no further. Two overs later Overton, who had battled away for 104 deliveries, was lbw, half-forward to Hazlewood and his review was futile. The Australians celebrated joyously and with good reason. It had been a hard slog; the Headingley match represented an almighty blow to the solar plexus. But they never fell into the trap of feeling sorry for themselves; they kept their resolve superbly and had thoroughly outplayed England in yet another gripping Test match.

Obviously Smith and Cummins have been the key architects of this victory and the retention of the Ashes. But kudos must also go to Paine. As captain he carries the can when it all goes wrong. In this series he was given flak whenever England escaped or he failed with the bat; but he has remained calm except for a few dizzy DRS moments; his team has busted guts throughout; the fielders were always effervescent and clung on to most of the catches that came their way. The pace bowlers were unrelenting. And it was quite a good idea to toss the ball to Labuschagne when Leach was digging in. Moreover Paine’s side has been aggressive throughout without ever crossing that much-discussed line. Australia have been the better team. – Guardian

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