When I wrote my “The summer of cricket – 2019” blog early June, I did so mindful that soon after the Cricket world cup would take place (which I wrote about – see here) and after that the Ashes series. I should have mentioned England earlier played a T50 series against Pakistan and did well, although compared with the big one it was insignificant. Yesterday the Ashes ended and if common sense had prevailed it would be the last and climax of this summer’s big games. Actually, the County Championship still has two matches to go and my own county, Essex, have a chance of winning it, but why they should go into late September having played so little in August would beat me except I suspect money plays some part.
Before focusing on the two biggies, at least as far as I am concerned: the World Cup and the Ashes, I should mention the matter of the first test against Ireland, which at one time England looked like losing due to an all too familiar batting collapse, but ended up comfortable winners against this fledgling team. Winning the World Cup for the first time by England was huge and was a just reward for meticulous preparation and being maybe the best one day side in the world for some time prior to that, even though as my article pointed out there were times when they could have easily come unstuck, for such are the margins in this form of cricket, where luck and fate plays a bigger part than one might care to admit. Talking of luck and fate when it comes to the World Cup and later the Test series, while there were not too many demons in the pitch there were dropped chances and for the first time I become aware of how the review system can change the course of the match. Not only did this show up umpire fallibility but the importance of teams using this wisely.
Many pundits would point out that while cricketing skills between the shorter and longer forms of cricket are similar (and is why often the same player can play in both forms) the approach needed are quite different and the fear was (which was to be realised) by focusing on one form (50 overs) this could be at the detriment of the other (5 days), although the high of being World Cup winners was hard for England to sustain. The Test series ended in an honourable draw, with England and Australia each winning two matches, and one match drawn. A draw was a creditable result for England but an honest assessment would be that Australia were the better side, but at least they got to retain the Ashes. If England had lost the Third Test, which they should have but for a cricketing miracle and the brilliance of one individual, Ben Stokes, the result would have been 3-1 to Australia. By my reckoning Australia outplayed England in the First Test despite England having chances, England were better in the Second Test, which was drawn due to rain, the unexpected outcome in the Third Test where Australia outplayed England for much of that match, the Australian win in the Fourth Test who were far the better side and lastly England’s deserved Fifth Test win.
It was an exciting series which I delved into via TMS, the car radio and the Internet as and when opportunity arose and sometimes when I could have been doing something else. It struck me that the bowlers had the ascendancy with both teams fielding quality bowling attacks that subdued opposing batsmen. For example, batsmen like Jason Roy (England) and David Warner (Australia) who performed so well in the World Cup, failed to deliver in the Ashes. While England disappointingly lost its star bowler James Anderson at the start of the series it soon found a new star in Jofra Archer with his ability to combine accuracy and variation with extra pace. Another bowling find was the spinner, Jack Leach, who replaced out of form Moeen Ali, who bowled well and also gave notable performances with the bat, like sharing a tenth wicket partnership with Ben Stokes in the Third Test. Also worth mentioning is veteran Stuart Broad who stepped up to the plate in Anderson’s absence and bowled magnificently throughout.
The batting on both sides was disappointing in comparison though but there were some highlights. Ben Stokes shone, Joe Root batted okish, Rory Burns was a real find as opener and Joe Denly after an indifferent start looked to come good toward the end. As for the Aussies, their quality bowling attack led by best bowler Pat Cummins, which they could rotate throughout the tests, was formidable. Their batting was somewhat hit and miss except for Steve Smith, who was imperious and looked invincible and truly re-established himself as its most important asset in the side after his deserved cheating ban (see here). One of my champagne moments was having sadly noted the booing when Smith batted in the First Test was the applauding in the Final Test – he had won the crowds over! Mention must be made of Marnus Labuschagne, who seized his chance by playing good, solid cricket after he was called in as an unlikely replacement to provide cover for an injured Smith.
My dream, however, to a see a world class England side, like those great West Indies and Australians teams in the past when they exubed their invincible aura, and without the frailties, indiscipline and proneness to buckle that was seen this summer, remains. Even so, it has been an enjoyable and exciting summer of cricket thanks to England and their opponents. All I can add is COME ON ESSEX!