By Kieran Wellington

  • Steve Smith’s double century and Aussie pacers too good for England at Old Trafford
  • Joe Denly, Jos Buttler and Craig Overton put up a great fight on Day Five to take the game into the last hour
  • But Josh Hazlewood takes the final wicket of Overton to spark jubilant scenes – the first Aussie team to take the urn back from English soil since 2001
OLD TRAFFORD, MANCHESTER – Australia’s large spells of dominance throughout the series was finally rewarded on the scoreline, but what scores do the players get?

 

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England

Rory Burns – 7/10 – England have finally solved one of their problems at the top of the order. His gutsy 81 was the most accomplished innings from any England player, but was naturally disappointed missing out on a 2nd Ashes hundred. Battled through his troubles against the short ball admirably.

Joe Denly – 6/10 – Recovered from a brilliant catch at short-leg from Matthew Wade in the first innings to score a gutsy half-century on the last day. Has shown that red-ball experience matters, and clearly trusts his own game. Susceptibility to the short-ball still a worry, and needs to convert a promising start into a big score soon to cement his place.

Joe Root – 5/10 – Despite frustrating Australia with Burns for more than four hours on Day Three in a partnership of 141, his captaincy left a lot to be desired in both innings. His body language was dreadful after Jack Leach‘s no ball which denied England the wicket of Steve Smith, who made another 93 runs. Questionable bowling changes after tea on Day Four which let Australia off the hook despite being 44-4. Got a beauty first-ball from Pat Cummins on that same evening.

Jason Roy – 3/10 – Surely the Roy experiment is over. Looks like a fish out of water wherever he bats at Test level, admittedly against one of the finest bowling attacks in recent memory. The way he goes hard at the ball and lunges forward will always make him a candidate to getting bowled through the gate. Surrey team-mate Ollie Pope, who made an unbeaten 221 vs Hampshire last month, must be restored to the Test setup at the expense of Roy.

Ben Stokes – 5/10 – Was always going to be difficult to perform to the same standards after his heroics at Headingley. Only able to bowl 10.5 overs thanks to a shoulder problem, which went for 66 runs. Got two decent balls, as many of the England batsmen did, but despite just 27 runs at Old Trafford, the all-rounder is still England’s second highest run-scorer this series. Calls for him to take the captaincy from Root may be premature, but his rallying cry in the England huddle on Day Four spoke louder than just his words.

Jonny Bairstow – 3/10 – If Roy gets a 3 for his 53 runs, then Bairstow can’t come out of this match with any higher sort of credit. Gets out in similar ways to his white-ball opening partner, ironically showing why they’re so good when the ball isn’t moving sideways. He would have been quaking in his boots at the return of Mitchell Starc more than most, as proven by his two dismissals to the left-armer. That means Bairstow has been dismissed by Starc eight times in Tests, averaging just 14 in the process. Not quite Warner v Broad, but close.

Jos Buttler – 6/10 – Battled hard with the tail in both innings, but being bowled in both innings is never a good look for a specialist batsman. Questions still being asked about what his role should be, or whether he is even good enough at this level, but still has credit in the bank after last year’s performances. His dismissal midway through the last day, shouldering arms to a nip-backer from Josh Hazlewood, signalled the beginning of the end for England.

Craig Overton – 5/10 – England’s unlucky charm. Despite his plucky 105-ball stay on the final day, he has now lost all four of the Tests he has played in. Would fully expect Chris Woakes to come back in, who is essentially the Waitrose to Overton’s Lidl. Bowled a beauty to get rid of Marnus Labuschagne in the first innings, but you could see the Aussies relax when he replaced Archer or Broad: there was a clear step-down in quality.

Jofra Archer – 5/10 – Followed up his 0/97 in the first innings, his worst first-class figures of his career, and an appalling shot in England’s reply, to dovetail Stuart Broad beautifully to reduce Australia to 44-4 and offer the Old Trafford fans brief hope. His pace was back up, which was good to see, and seems to embrace the big occasion, with his quickest deliveries seemingly reserved for Smith. Despite plenty to play for at The Oval, needs to be rested for the good of his long-term England career. Has had a remarkable, energy-sapping summer.

Stuart Broad – 7/10 – In the absence of his usual partner-in-crime James Anderson, Broad has had one of his best summers. The ability to dismiss David Warner at will is a wonderful sight for any England fan, and takes his wicket tally this series to 19, only behind Cummins. His celebr-appeals are pure entertainment. He has tweaked his game slightly by bowling fuller and targeting the stumps, which could prolong his England career for longer than many expected.

Jack Leach – 4/10 – A bit of a cult hero with the bat, and looked to be frustrating Australia yet again before part-timer Labuschagne got one to spit from the rough. However, overstepping on a delivery that dismisses Smith is a cardinal sin: enough for Geoffrey Boycott to brand him a muppet, in typical Boycott fashion. Bowled poorly in Australia’s second innings on a spin-friendly surface, admittedly with England well behind the eight-ball.

 

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Australia

David Warner – 0/10 – 0 & 0 means you get 0/10. Plain and simple. Three successive ducks now for a man pre-series tipped to be one of England’s main nemeses. Is Broad’s bunny right now, and essentially means his team are playing with nine wickets in an innings. Not that that matters when you have Smith in your side.

Marcus Harris – 2/10 – Not much better than his opening partner, although it must be tough when you see a senior player go through such a tough time against the new ball. Broad is one of the best bowlers in these conditions, so no surprise to see a man averaging 26.64 succumb to England’s second highest ever wicket-taker. May be lucky to retain his place at The Oval.

Marnus Labuschagne – 7/10 – Completed a fourth consecutive Ashes half-century in his first four innings against England: a feat only three other men in history can also claim (and one of them isn’t even Smith!). Couldn’t continue the run in his side’s second innings, but has the character and the game to compete at the highest level. Despite Usman Khawaja‘s Test average of 40, Labuschagne should be the long-term option at no.3. His part-time leg-spin is also more than useful, as shown by breaking the Somerset rearguard of Leach & Overton late in the day.

Steve Smith – 10/10 – The best Test batsman of his generation: in fact, of quite a few generations. His average of 64.81 is second in Test history behind the great Don Bradman, which is frankly astonishing, but not quite as astonishing as these stats: a series average of 134.20, and the most runs of any batsman in the world this calendar year. He’s only batted in five innings. Showed he can bat at any tempo by occupying the crease in a mammoth Australian first innings and then moving the game on at the perfect rate for the Aussies with a 92-ball 82, during the midst of a potential collapse. Undeniably good.

Travis Head – 4/10 – Ability sorely lacking at this high level. Poor performance will be disguised by his side retaining The Ashes and Steve Smith holding every innings together, but 191 runs in eight innings is not good enough for a no.5. (It’s better than Bairstow’s numbers, though!)

Matthew Wade – 5/10 – Two starts in this match is certainly better than all the single-figure scores he has consistently produced throughout The Ashes, with the exception of a century at Edgbaston. Took some key catches at short-leg, and should retain his place in the side for the sole reason his inclusion would wind Kevin Pietersen up on Twitter no end.

 

Tim Paine – 7/10 – A half-century coupled with an unbeaten 23 to set the game up for Australia suggests he is slowly believing he belongs at this level. Banished all the talk of momentum and some dreadful captaincy decisions at Headingley to make all the right changes here. Used his fast bowlers smartly to keep them fresh throughout, and made a gutsy call to bring on Labuschagne to break the partnership of Overton and Leach, which was threatening to reach Headingley-levels of impossible. He will become the first Aussie captain to lift the urn in England since 2001: quite an achievement for a guy ready to quit the sport altogether just three years ago.

Mitchell Starc – 6/10 – Recovered from an erratic first day with ball in hand to deliver the type of deliveries which get good players out, never mind England’s fragile batting lineup. Four wickets in the match was the least of the Aussie quicks and relinquished new-ball responsibilities to Cummins come the second innings, but his pace and ability to target the timbers meant England had no let-up after seeing off Cummins and Hazlewood, unlike how the Aussies felt after getting through Broad and Archer’s spells.

Pat Cummins – 9/10 – Showed everyone why he deserves to be ranked the number one Test bowler in the world. Bowled a spell on Friday afternoon which will be regarded as one of the greatest ever spells not to take a wicket. Rewarded on the weekend with the first four England wickets to fall, including the key dismissals of first-innings stalwarts Burns and Root without scoring. Only Jasprit Bumrah and teammate Josh Hazlewood come anywhere near his level with the ball.

Josh Hazlewood – 8/10 – Has an unerring ability to remain at the perfect line and length all day, meaning the pressure never relinquishes on the opposition batsman. He suffocates the opposition with his accuracy, and can also bowl a magic delivery as his last-day dismissals of Buttler and Overton proved. Would be candidate for man of the series if Steve Smith wasn’t doing Steve Smith things.

Nathan Lyon – 5/10 – The fumble at Headingley still looked to be affecting Lyon’s bowling, especially during his wicketless 36 overs in England’s first innings. Unlike Leeds though, the Old Trafford pitch deteriorated and allowed the off-spinner to bowl some unplayable deliveries, like the ones Denly and Archer got. Guilty of bowling too short and too quick on occasion. The highlight was the crowd baying every time he was asked to catch the ball. Might have to give up his ‘GOAT’ handle soon.

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