Before the day began, it had been 6,609 days since England conceded The Ashes at home. Since then, two great Australian captains have tried to emulate what Steve Waugh and his men achieved in the Ashes summer of 2001 but fell short.
18 years later, Tim Paine and Australia, invigorated by the presence of the number one batsman and bowler in the world in their team, have regained the Ashes on English soil by outclassing them in the Fourth Test.
Looking for one miracle too many, England’s hopes were kept alive by the determination shown by different batsmen at various situations until late on the final day. Joe Denly, Jos Buttler and the tail-enders especially Craig Overton kept Australia at bay until the final hour of the day’s play.
England, however, is now left with nothing else but to rue the lack of intensity and application with bat and ball in the first innings.
While the limelight in the series has constantly shifted from Steve Smith to Jofra Archer to Ben Stokes and back to Smith again, Australia’s spearhead Pat Cummins has literally sneaked through England’s defences and in the company of Josh Hazlewood, have retained the Ashes for Australia.
After two wickets in the first over yesterday, Cummins was the first to break-through on the last day as he breached the defences of Jason Roy to hit the top of off again. In both the innings, Cummins bowled around 45% of the deliveries in the in-between length which was best suited for this wicket to keep the batsman guessing and to ensure to hit the stumps as well.
While Roy looked the most comfortable he has been throughout this series, his hopes for a Test career are inversely proportional to the gap that he at times leaves between his bat and pads.
The hero of Headingley, Ben Stokes could only earn some fair play points in this game as he walked after under-edging an innocuous in-swinger from Cummins.
Throughout the day, Cummins displayed exceptional control with length and always averaged at around 137 kmph even during long spells. The patience displayed by him and Hazlewood might be the ingredient missing from English bowler’s in their tryst against Steve Smith.
The mandatory breaks helped the Australians as first Joe Denly, the makeshift opener, was dismissed post-lunch after scoring a gritty half-century. Extra bounce accounted for him as he fended one to short-leg. Denly’s wicket was perhaps the only high point for Lyon in the innings as he struggled with the right length. Similar to first innings, his real weakness was the inability to ball six good balls in an over.
Starc trapped Bairstow on the first ball post drinks. Jos Buttler played one of the more controlled innings by an Englishman in this series on his way to a knock that lasted for 111 balls. His control percentage was on par with Stokes’s innings at Headingley and left more balls than all but two of his other Test innings (against WI earlier this year and against NZ in 2015). Sixth over after Tea, he left one-ball too many as a perfectly pitched ball from Hazlewood took his off-stump.
When Archer fell soon, to a grubber from Lyon, the end seemed near for England. Jack Leach, promoted over Broad and Craig Overton had other ideas. The duo then batted out 15-overs in a period that saw every dot ball being accompanied by loud cheers. Having thrown everything at them and with about 15 more overs to go, Australian skipper, Tim Paine threw the ball to the Marnus Labuschagne to everyone’s surprise. Bowling into the rough, he got one to turn and bounce into Leach who fended one to short-leg.
Hazlewood provided the finishing touch by getting one to come into Overton and ending his valiant resistance. The DRS referral did pause the celebrations for a bit but once confirmed the Australians were over the moon. The heartbreak of Headingley well and truly forgotten, as they regain the urn.
Steve Smith was adjudged the Man of the Match for his scores in both the innings. What was more important was his presence in the field. He could be seen giving his inputs in every discussion, something that Paine definitely missed in that final hour at Headingley.
England still has a chance to ensure that Australia does not win the series as the two meet at The Oval in three days. Also with the WTC, there is little doubt that the intensity of the game will be lowered from either side.