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England v Australia

England square Ashes series to end summer of spectacle

by Taha Hashim 5 minute read

Taha Hashim reports on day four of the fifth Ashes Test at The Oval, where despite the best efforts of Matthew Wade, England won by 135 runs to draw the series 2-2.

In the end, the margin was significant. But the irrepressible Matthew Wade hit a stellar century to delay England’s eventual victory, battling through till late in the evening session to keep Australia’s minimal hopes of a series win a teensy-weensy bit alive.

England probably felt the game was wrapped up earlier in the day, as there came a moment when 11 men exploded with childlike joy.

Root jumped on Ben Stokes’ back and followed it up with a double fist-pump. Jofra Archer – usually the coolest man on the pitch – wholesomely embraced Stokes with a beaming smile before lovingly pushing him away. Joe Denly, a father of two, wanted some piggyback action, just like his skipper. Who could blame them for completely losing it? Stokes had just dived to his left at leg slip to take a catch only he could pull off so immaculately. But the celebrations weren’t for the all-rounder’s athleticism; they were for the walk the greatest batsman in the land was taking towards the Australian dressing room. Steve Smith departed for 23, the first time in the series he’d not got to fifty.

Let’s get the numbers out of the way; beyond that whirlwind of a technique, it’s Smith’s statistics that make the mind boggle. He left the field with 774 runs in the series at an average of 110.57, surpassing his own haul of 769 runs against India in 2014/15. Smith’s series tally is the fourth-highest in the history of Test cricket in England. His batting average now stands at 64.56. But beyond the numbers, context is everything. Smith’s masterful 144 at Edgbaston was his first first-class innings since that Cape Town Test in 2018. The one-time leggie/slogger has returned triumphantly; he is operating on a level his contemporaries simply cannot match.

And while Smith was at the crease, Australia appeared more than capable of chasing a monstrous target of 399, one England had set after their second innings came to an end early in the morning. Stuart Broad may well have licked his lips at the sight of Australia’s two left-handed openers, but David Warner and Marcus Harris began with the belief that they could wash away their poor form: Harris pumped Broad down the ground and Warner slapped Archer through extra cover. But this has been a reinvigorating summer for Broad, who has served as a guarantor of wickets with the new ball. He first delivered by sending Harris’ off stump cartwheeling before Warner’s miserable tour concluded with an edge into the slip cordon where Rory Burns obliged with the grab. 

 

Marnus Labuschagne, one of the breakout stars of the summer, was his typical organised self: he left well, drove nicely and clipped through the leg-side comfortably. Nevertheless, Jack Leach intervened to end the batsman’s maiden Ashes series, a beautifully flighted delivery turning past Labuschagne’s forward prod before Jonny Bairstow administered the stumping.

Smith then did what Smith does, making run after run after run. Broad would be the bowler to conjure the miracle to leave Australia looking down and out on 85-4.

Cue Matthew Wade. The left-hander was simply brilliant. His footwork to Leach set an aggressive tone to his innings, and he wasn’t to back down against the seamers: a hooked four off Archer the perfect exemplar. Still, with Mitchell Marsh back in the sheds before tea, Australia were not causing much of a fright on 167-5.

Nonetheless, the nuggety, feisty, Wade was relishing the fight. After pulling Archer for four in the 55th over, Wade was met by a short-ball barrage from England’s quickest bowler, and in the 61st over, he struck a blow to Wade’s arm. Archer made sure to stare him down on a number of occasions, hands behind his back. Wade, standing at 5ft 7in, may have been forced to look up at Archer, but he was more than equal to his threat. Archer bowled eight heart-pumping overs in a row after tea. Wade did more than just survive; he advanced to 96.

The century arrived with a clip down to fine-leg for a single and while he survived a stumping chance, a dropped catch and overturned a review, turning The Oval into a cauldron of nervous energy, his innings came to an eventual end on 117. Joe Root’s off-spin forced Wade down the track and Bairstow did the rest behind the stumps.

The frontline spin of Leach then took over as he dismissed Lyon for 1 before Root took a one-handed catch at midwicket off Josh Hazlewood’s blade. Root nonchalantly threw the ball in the air to wave goodbye to the summer of all summers.

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