Steve Smith showed it would take more than a concussion to knock him out of his stride, scoring a combined 293 runs as he lead Australia to a 4th Test victory over England at Old Trafford – and with it giving Australia a 2-1 series lead – meaning they will reclaim the Ashes even should England win the 5th and final Test at the Oval, starting in a few days time.
It was a test that Australia never looked like losing, once man of the match Steve Smith (above) strode to the crease on a miserable opening day – both in terms of the weather and the English side – who saw Smith score 211 in his first innings as the Australians build a commanding total of 497/8 declared – with the English bowlers looking relatively toothless and uninspired, even after dispatching the Aussie openers with just 28 on the board. But it was, again, Labuschagne and Smith who stabilised the innings and then took the game away from England, with valuable lower order runs from skipper Tim Paine and the returning Mitchell Starc.
England knew this was a game they could not lose should they harbour any hopes of doing a World Cup and Ashes double…but, again, their batting looked laboured and fragile, with only opener Rory Burns and Joe Root making any significant contribution. Whilst the Australian tail wagged, the English one flagged, as they just scraped past the follow on total with 301 on the board.
A comeback of Headingley proportions was needed – but the writing looked on the wall this time around, as Australia quickly rattled off 186 runs in just over 42 overs – Smith relatively poor, contributing *just* 82 – meaning England would need to bat out 7 overs of day 4 and all of day 5 to snatch a draw – they ended day 4 on 18/2 and though they offered some resistance and took the game deep into the final session, Australia, this time, would not be denied – and when Craig Overton, in for the rested Chris Woakes, was snared LBW by the tenacious Josh Hazelwood, Australia had won the game, and knew they would be returning home with that famous urn.
It was a victory that even the most ardent of England fan could not deny was deserved by Australia who – across all four test matches – have been the better team overall. It is true that without Smith’s runs, there isn’t that much else there for the Aussies – but Smith has totally dominated this series and it is almost a shame that he has missed three innings – who know what his runs total and average would be. As it is, 671 in 5 innings at an average of 134.20 is stunning enough – and would be a fantastic return for any batsman playing all 5 tests and completing 10 innings. But for all his failures and sins for his ball tampering escapades, Smith has returned to the Test match scene in jaw dropping fashion. It would be churlish to say he has won the Ashes single-handedly – 6 superb Australian bowlers would take some umbrage at that suggestion – but there’s simply no doubt that he is, without doubt, the best Test match batsman in the world – and could well be for a long time to come.
Those 6 bowlers – Peter Siddle, Josh Hazelwood, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and James Pattinson, have all charged in and bowled with every bit of aggression and intensity that an Ashes series demands. Cummins and Hazelwood will take the headlines – but as a corps, there can be few better bowling attacks in the world – and all have contributed across this series when it really mattered.
For England, they will look back on a few sessions and one afternoon at Headingley where they took the game to their opponents. But, ultimately, they will know that all their weaknesses and fragilities were ruthlessly exposed by the old enemy. Rory Burns, Ben Stokes and Stuart Broad (above) will be proud of their contributions and did little wrong. Jofra Archer showed all his potential, but also signs of his inexperience and naivety at this level. Joe Root looked, captaincy wise, a little lost – and the thought process of how it affected his batting must be considered. Everyone else, it has to be said, underperformed – or are simply not of the calibre required for the purest form of the game. For all the focus – and success – of these players with the white ball in limited over cricket, they have been found out with the red ball – whether with it in hand or facing it with the bat. Where they go from here will be very interesting to see, as it would appear that options are few and far between. But they will want to level the series at the Oval and take something from this Ashes series – as, in reality, its only a one in a million innings from Stokes that can be truly drawn from it so far.
2019 ASHES – FOURTH TEST SUMMARY
- Australia 1st Innings : 497/8d (Smith 211, Labuschagne 67, Paine 58, Starc 54no)
- England Bowling : Broad 3/97, Leach 2/83, Overton 2/85
- England 1st Innings : 301 (Burns 81, Root 71, Buttler 41)
- Australia Bowling : Hazelwood 4/57, Cummins 3/60, Starc 3/80
- Australia 2nd Innings : 186/6d (Smith 82, Wade 34)
- England Bowling : Archer 3/45, Broad 2/54
- England 2nd Innings : 197 (Denly 53, Buttler 34)
- Australia Bowling : Cummins 4/43, Hazelwood 2/31, Lyon 2/51
- RESULT : AUSTRALIA WON BY 185 RUNS
- Man of the Match : Steve Smith (Australia)
- Venue : Old Trafford, Manchester
- Date : Wednesday September 4 – Sunday September 8