The 2023 Ashes may be over but the controversies roll on – here’s you’re definitive guide to who won the most important war of all, the moral Ashes.

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Every controversial incident from this series has been meticulously analysed, with the winner from each incident collecting a point towards their end of series tally. The morally superior in each incident have been decided based on gut feel and a lay-person’s standards of righteousness. Make of that what you will.

There are some incidents where both parties could be perceived as equally in the immoral. In these cases, half a point has been awarded to each.

Ollie Robinson v Usman Khawaja – Edgbaston

What happened: Usman Khawja scored his first century in England in Australia’s first innings of the series at Edgbaston. Ollie Robinson finally got him out with a yorker on day three, which he followed up with an expletive-laden send-off directed at Khawaja.

Analysis: This is probably the most straightforward incident of the series. Sledging has always been a part of Ashes culture and if anything, since Sandpaper-gate the contest, has lacked on-field spikiness. In terms of execution, however, there were several things wrong with Robinson’s use of the sledge. One, Khawaja was already past three figures – it’s far less effective to send someone off if you’ve been trying to get them out for almost two days. Two, of all the Australia players, Khawaja (at that point in the series) probably warranted the abuse the least. Three, inadvertently quoting Jill Scott verbatim is hardly the worst or most creative insult he should be able to come up with.

In the press conference after day three, Robinson said: “I don’t really care how it was perceived, it’s the Ashes, it’s professional sport, if you can’t handle that, what can you handle?” This is a valid point but given that Australia ended up winning the Test, and Khawaja finished as the leading run scorer, for execution alone Robinson has to concede.

Winner: Australia

Alex Carey v Jonny Bairstow runout – Lord’s

What happened: Do you seriously not know?

Analysis: Yep, we’re really doing this again. By the letter of the law, it’s indisputably out. However, there is some merit in England’s grievance that Carey taking the chance on the last ball of the over is different to had it been in the middle. Bairstow would probably not have left his crease to walk down the pitch and chat with Ben Stokes had it been any other ball. However, what was so important to tell his captain that he left his ground quicker than he would’ve had a Just Stop Oil protester entered the field? It boils down to: make sure the ball is indisputably dead before leaving your crease, and then wait a bit longer before you do. England have a moral claim here, Australia a technical one. Always ask, would you be happy for a ten-year-old to do it? Yes, unless they did it to me.

What also needs to be thrown in here is the aftermath. Brendon McCullum said he thought the incident would kill off the end-of-series beers, which was unnecessary and morally ‘a bit off’. Only nostalgic speeches can do that.

Winner: Honours even

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Long Room abuse – Lord’s

What happened: When the Australia players left the field for Lunch on the final day at Lord’s, several MCC members levied a volley of abuse at them, singling out Khawaja.

Analysis: There is clearly only one side to this incident. No sportsperson should be subject to that kind of treatment, with Khawaja himself having done absolutely nothing to provoke it.

Winner: Australia

Alex Carey haircut – Headingley

What happened: A story circulated in the press that Carey had left a barber without paying for his haircut, and had not transferred the money he promised to pay days after the trim. Alastair Cook had sparked the rumour on Test Match Special. Cricket Australia categorically denied the incident, which turned out to be correct.

Analysis: Although the aspersion on Carey’s character was indeed unwarranted, there are layers beyond purely the incident. The reaction of Cricket Australia’s to the incident is giving rattled. Carey also made two single-figure scores at Headingley and had a high score of 28 in the series after the incident. If you’re so confident in your moral superiority, why would an incident like that affect you as it potentially did Carey? Nevertheless, the fact the story was a lie alone is enough to hand Australia the points. Not being a thief is a pretty low bar to reach though.

Winner: Australia

Rain in Manchester – Old Trafford

What happened: The BBC v Met Office v AccuWeather showdown of the series. The writing was on the wall a week out from the fourth Test. The rain washed out the final day’s play and most of the fourth, leaving it only possible for England to draw the series. Cue crowing Australia fans, and unconsolable England ones.

Analysis: On the one hand, rain has ruined results since the dawn of time. On the other, it’s hard not to sympathise with England given that they had played a near-perfect Test, only to be unable through no fault of their own to seal the deal. Yes, England should have taken their chances at Edgbaston. But, on that Test and that result alone, from Day Two there was only ever going to be one winner. They were undeniably the biggest victim of that enormous rain cloud.

Winner: England

Post Test drinks – The Kia Oval

What happened: Details are still emerging of what happened here, but this is what we know. England and Australia did not meet in the changing room for the customary post-series beers. Australia reportedly knocked on England’s door several times to initiate and were told to wait. However, by the time England were ready, they had kept them waiting too long and Australia had left. The reason given for England’s elongated debrief was a number of speeches dedicated to Moeen Ali, Stuart Broad and the team physio’s final Tests.

Analysis: Not meeting up with your opposition who have just retained the Ashes isn’t a good look for England, whatever way you try to swing it. How long were these speeches? Did they run through each of Broad’s 604 Test wickets or go into some in-depth analysis of Moeen’s place in English spin history? Unlikely. However, there doesn’t seem to be anything too malicious on England’s part in the incident and Stokes tweeted that the teams had met up in a nightclub that evening (the next morning). Indeed, Travis Head stated this week that the incident was played up by the media. There’s no reason to believe any bad blood is harboured.

Winner: Honours even

Replacement ball – The Kia Oval

What happened: Having been unable to break through Australia’s opening partnership in the final innings of the series, Joel Wilson and Kumar Dharmasena deemed the ball had been damaged after it clanged Khawaja on the helmet. The replacement ball they selected generated far more movement than the old one and seemed a lot newer. Australia collapsed to it the following morning.

Analysis: There was a clear difference in potency between the balls. Australia can rightfully feel aggrieved at the selection of a seemingly newer and not like-for-like ball. However, the tactic of surreptitiously damaging the ball to get it changed was used by both sides all series. Equally, it was the umpires, not England, who decided to change it, and the umpires, not England who selected the replacement. Conclusion: England didn’t do anything wrong, neither did Australia.

Winner: Honours even

Over rates – post series

What happened: England were docked 19 points for their slow over rates in four of the five Tests. Australia also copped a 10-point penalty for their over rate at Old Trafford.

Analysis: Usman Khawaja lobbied for a change in the penalty system during the series. As a result of the change, Australia were only eligible for a penalty in Old Trafford, whereas, under the old system, they would have been liable at the Kia Oval, Lord’s and Edgbaston too. England have lost more than half their points for the two wins and a draw they registered in the series, and have been seriously handicapped in the World Test Championship. It’s not hard to find the winner for this one, England played according to what’s given them success over the past 18 months, bat fast and short. Having such a hefty penalty for doing so is unjust, and a counter-productive way to improve over rates.

Winner: England

Battle of ideologies

What happened: Australia may have won the Ashes, but they didn’t manage to disrupt England’s ethos. Nathan Lyon came out after the series and said he “didn’t really see Bazball” in the two Tests he played, despite being hit at over four an over.

Analysis: England will continue to play the way they play and, for the second half of the series, were the better side. Statements playing down their approach or its very existence are the prerogative of the victors, but also flawed. Australia have the urn, maybe that’s all that matters. But, to deny anything has changed is to deny the reason the series was what it was in the first place.

Winner: England


Australia: 4.5
England: 4.5

Would you look at that…