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Not the weather, England have themselves to blame as the urn slips away

Last updated on 23 Jul 2023 | 03:30 PM
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Not the weather, England have themselves to blame as the urn slips away

Failings at Edgbaston and Lord's have come back to haunt Ben Stokes’ side

It’s over. 

It’s done. 

The unlikely, heroic, mother-of-all-comebacks that looked on the cards after Headingley is no longer happening. The English weather has had the last laugh and, as a result, the urn will continue to remain with Australia, whose 2-1 lead is now unassailable thanks to the draw here at Old Trafford. After going 2-0 up at Lord’s, all Australia needed was one draw in the remaining three Tests to retain the urn — they’ve got that now. 

Understandably, England feel robbed. Stuart Broad wrote in his Daily Mail column after Day 4 that “it would be unjust if the weather had a decisive say”, and one can get where he’s coming from. 

At 113/4 in their second innings, Australia were on the ropes at stumps on Day 4, still trailing England by 162 runs. But for a miracle, the Kangaroos would, in all likelihood, have gone on to comfortably lose the contest, meaning England would have levelled the series. Victory here in Manchester would also have meant the Three Lions having all the momentum in the world heading into the decider at The Oval.

But while it’s undeniable that England have been robbed to an extent, Ben Stokes’ side really have only themselves to blame. For the Ashes is gone not because of incessant rain at Old Trafford but because they squandered golden opportunities at both Edgbaston and Lord’s. Indeed, the failings in the first two Tests have come back to haunt the hosts.

Where England lost The Ashes


A pair of half-baked batting performances (and a debatable declaration)

On a deck flat as a pancake and with not a single cloud in sight, England won the toss and batted first at Edgbaston. Zak Crawley hit a statement boundary on the very first ball of the Test, but still, despite signalling their intent, England put in a half-baked showing with the bat. On a wicket that literally was doing nothing, they found themselves reduced to 176/5 due to their own carelessness. They were rescued by a 121-run stand between Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow but still ended up with what felt like a below-par 393. 

The total actually could have been a lot more as Root was batting like a dream, and he was slaughtering a tired Australian attack with support from Robinson, but Stokes made a debatable funky declaration to give Australia 15 minutes to bat. The gamble did not pay off, as both Warner and Khawaja went to stumps unscathed. Considering how the match ultimately played out, the declaration did not come off as the best of moves.

Despite the questionable declaration, England could still have made amends in the second innings, but there, too, they put up a half-baked showing. Like the first innings, they squandered too many chances to put Australia to the sword. Seven of their batters passed 19 but remarkably none went on to post a fifty. It meant Australia had to chase just 281, as opposed to, say, a 330-ish score (which might have guaranteed the hosts a win).

Missed opportunities on the field

England did not help their case with how they fielded at Edgbaston. Jonny Bairstow was the culprit as he fluffed not one but two monumental chances.

First, Bairstow missed a stumping of Green when he was on 0; that cost England 38 runs. He dropped Carey on 26 in the first innings, and the wicket-keeper went on to add 40 more runs. In the context of the match, had Bairstow taken even one of those chances, England would probably have gone on to win the first Test.

In the final hour, Stokes put down a very tough chance to send Lyon packing. Again, the difficulty level of the catch was probably 8/10, but the fact remains that if Stokes had held on to that chance, England, in all likelihood, would have gone on to win the first Test.

Really, all things considered, at Edgbaston, England lost a game that they had no business losing.


Failure to make use of dream bowling conditions on Day 1

At Lord’s, once again England won a very good and very important toss, and once again, they found themselves in a dream situation. The wicket was green, it was dark and cloudy, the floodlights were on, and the ball was swinging and nipping around crazily. It was a bowler’s dream and a batter’s nightmare. 

In conditions like these, England let Australia post 339/5 at the end of the first day. In fact, the final two wickets were taken by Joe Root. Somehow, between them, on a tailor-made wicket in a tailor-made situation, Broad, Anderson and Robinson picked up just one wicket on the first day.

By posting 416 in nightmarish conditions, Australia went a long way in taking control of the second Test.

Horror showing with the bat across Days 2 and 3 (not making the Lyon handicap count)

Despite squandering the toss advantage on the first day, England stormed right back into the contest on Day 2. The pitch had flattened out, the sun was out and at 188/1, the Three Lions were flying. What better, Australia were, at this point, also a bowler short. And it was not just some bowler, it was Nathan Lyon who the Aussies missed after the off-spinner blew his calf.

Somehow, from this point, England ended up losing their last nine wickets for just 137 runs. Australia decided to go short short short, and, keen to dominate, the English batters lost their heads. Nearly every single player holed out to a deep fielder. The display across the final session of Day 2 and the first session of Day 3 left even the most ardent supporters of Bazball befuddled. It was in this mini (or mega) phase that England lost the Lord’s encounter.

The Jonny Bairstow run-out

We suppose this does not need an explanation. England still had a pretty good chance to win the Lord’s Test on the final day thanks to the Duckett-Stokes stand — they needed 194 more with five wickets in hand; Stokes still intact — but then Jonny Bairstow inexplicably decided to leave his crease ‘assuming’ the ball to be dead.

The ball did not die there, but England’s Ashes hopes certainly did.

‘Unlucky’ England have actually had a lot of luck

England, right now, will be feeling like they’re the unluckiest team out there, but truth be told, throughout the series, they’ve been the luckier of the two sides.

For starters, Stokes has won 4/4 tosses. It’s England’s fault that they were not able to make the most of the toss wins at both Edgbaston and Lord’s.

And barring a 22-ball period on Day 3 at Edgbaston, they’ve had the better of overhead conditions all series. Whether it be them batting under the sun at both Edgbaston and Lord’s or them bowling in overcast conditions on Day 5 at Edgbaston, Day 1 at Lord’s and Day 3 at Headingley. 

Australia also lost their most important piece in Nathan Lyon midway through the series. 

Bad weather is a part and parcel of Test cricket in England. Remember, the only reason England were able to draw the home series 2-2 against India (2021/22) was because Day 5 of the first Test at Nottingham got washed out. India were 80/20 favorites, needing 157 more — on a track that was getting better to bat — with nine wickets in hand, but the fifth day got completely washed out.

All things considered, then, the urn is rightly and deservedly staying with Australia. Unfortunately for England, moral victories don’t count as actual wins. 

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