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England v Australia

‘It took some of the worst cricket to produce the best’ – Jarrod Kimber

by Jarrod Kimber
@ajarrodkimber 6 minute read

After Ben Stokes’ epic 135* kept England’s Ashes hopes alive, Jarrod Kimber reflects on how both sides’ numerous flaws laid the foundation for one of the all time great Test innings

The ball’s wide, distant, there’s hectares between it and the stumps. But Ben Stokes is still swiping, he wants a piece. He gets some, straight to slip. It’s a mistake, and not the first in this Test, or series.

The flaws of both teams have starred as much as the bowlers have this series. Perhaps only upstaged in their frequent appearances by umpiring errors. It’s been a series of them, and this Test was their king.

Day one, Australia lost two early wickets. It was grey overhead, and no one was that surprised that Australian batsmen would struggle in those conditions. But England counter-flawed by losing their way with the ball. Instead of keeping the ball outside off stump and waiting for Australian errors, they chased wickets. Australia fought back, but they were only ever a wicket or two from disaster, and then they committed to it, losing 43-8. So Australia made 179, and yet even England disappointed.

Day two, England lost 10 early wickets. It would be hard to find any flaws in the Australian game. Even David Warner is taking catches. England bat as if they are the tourists, and not even cricket tourists, but the guys who stand at the opening of the tube in large groups where everyone looks in another direction. And then Australia came in, this time in decent batting conditions – at least compared to the first time they batted.

Day three, Australia didn’t bat England out of the Test. England lost two early wickets, which now seems the minimum the law will allow. But they fought back and batted with real grit, taking attacking shots out of their batting vocab. The bowling was fantastic, but the pitch was hardly helping. And yet Denly struggled through his entire innings. It’d be unfair to single him out in this series as so many batsmen had batted like this, Rory Burns, David Warner and Marnus Labuschagne. Surviving is good batting in this Ashes.

Day four, Root does not convert, Australia lose their minds with the ball, and England invent comedy run outs. It was terrible at times, Jofra’s sloggy shot, Pattinson’s 12-run over, Woakes spoon to cover, and the overthrows. Grimy and desperate, the quality was of the fourth-best team in the world trying to beat the fifth-best. Weakened more by Steve Smith and James Anderson’s absence.

What did you expect, poetry, beauty, from the flawed teams? This was two kids in the schoolyard fighting without any technical ability to do so. Think mud and scratches.  Scrappy and silly at its worst, tense and tough when it worked.

England had never chased this many, and they’d never chased this many after being bowled out for 67 like confused lemmings. They promised some, there were partnerships and level heads, but Australia found enough wickets to keep some worry at bay.  Even with Stokes there.

And let’s remember this was the Stokes who not only chased a wide one in the first innings, but then couldn’t get the ball off the square in the second dig. It was incredible how much he changed his mode in that time. Staying in was a battle, scoring was almost impossible. Stokes was 1 off 39 balls, 7 off 80, 51 off 153.  It was tough for normal people, and for Stokes.

It remained painful all day, either it was facing three of the best seamers in the world with wickets falling at the other end, or against an off-spinner who has more wickets than Dennis Lillee. That’s without thinking England’s openers barely batted, Denly trudging through, Root being dismissed with the old ball, Bairstow’s ill-timed push, how even with Smith and Anderson not here, it all lead to this.  So did Stokes’ most significant day four error, running out his last specialist batting partner.

The mistakes and flaws kept showing right to the end. As much as Stokes’ hitting made this, it was also the drop, shocking review, Nathan Lyon’s fumble and Joel Wilson’s missed lbw. They all came together, all the flaws, injuries, the umpiring errors, all in one, to produce that end. It took some of the worst cricket to produce the best.

Could Stokes’ innings have existed in a perfect cricket series where two well-balanced teams were both producing nothing but quality while the world’s best umpires got every decision right? I don’t know, I don’t care. Because Stokes reverse swept a ball from the rough into the Western Terrace. Because Stokes scooped Pat Cummins for six. Because Stokes played one of the most magnificent innings ever to win a Test. Because Stokes.

We’ll remember this Test as great, because Ben Stokes was great.

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