The 2019 Ashes certainly lived up to the pre-series hype.
England and Australia had no shortage of talent on display but also glaring holes in both sides were exposed over the course of five intriguing battles that provided plenty of twists and turns.
There were brilliant exhibitions of fast bowling. There were centuries (thanks largely to Steve Smith!). There was a fairy-tale finish for the ages, too, but in the end no outright winner.
Australia retained the Ashes but England’s victory at The Oval in the fifth and final chapter means a 2-2 result, the first series draw between the rivals since 1972.
Here, Omnisport picks out the key moments as we recap each Test.
AUSTRALIA EIGHT DOWN, ANDERSON OUT
Tim Paine’s decision to bat first in the series opener appeared foolish when his side slipped to 122-8 on the opening day Edgbaston. Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes did the damage, but James Anderson was only able to bowl four overs before leaving the field.
His absence was keenly felt as, with Smith beginning his one-man crusade against the England attack, Australia’s last two wickets added 166 runs. Peter Siddle and Nathan Lyon showed the supposed batsmen how it should be done in bowler-friendly conditions, supporting their former captain, who finished up with 144 as a potentially disastrous first innings was transformed into a competitive total.
Anderson, meanwhile, only appeared again in the game to bat due to a calf problem. He attempted a comeback in time to play at his home ground of Old Trafford later in the series, but a setback on second XI duty for Lancashire scuppered that plan, meaning England’s all-time leading wicket-taker in the longest format sent down just 24 deliveries against Australia.
Our Aussies take a 1-0 series lead and claim 24 points in the World Test Championship with an inspirational win at Edgbaston!
— Cricket Australia (@CricketAus) August 5, 2019
ARCHER MAKES AN INSTANT IMPACT
With Anderson out, England handed a debut to Jofra Archer for the second Test at Lord’s. The pace bowler had been a key component of the one-day squad that won the Cricket World Cup on home soil earlier in the year but warned the public not to expect “miracles” in his Test bow.
There was no miracle – Archer was not quite able to bowl England to victory in the final session of a game that had seen the entire first day wiped out by rain – but his performance caused quite a stir.
He claimed five wickets in the match, struck down Smith with a seriously quick bouncer when the batsman was seemingly on course for a third successive triple-figure knock and, subsequently, played his part in Test history as the first concussion substitute was used. Marnus Labuschagne was laid low by a delivery from Archer too, yet beat the count to carry on batting and make a crucial half-century to secure a draw.
— Lord’s Cricket Ground (@HomeOfCricket) August 19, 2019
HEADINGLEY MIRACLE – VOL II
At a venue where Ian Botham famously salvaged a seemingly lost cause to secure an unlikely Ashes victory in the 1981 series, Ben Stokes produced a performance at Headingley that will see him forever remembered in crick folklore.
Bowled out for just 67 in their first innings, England’s valiant bid to reach a tough victory target of 359 appeared set to fall short when they slipped from 245-4 to 286-9 on the fourth afternoon. Yet Stokes refused to give in, choosing to go on the attack with a display of hitting that, with each boundary, raised the possibility of a stunning result.
The left-hander made 135 not out with eight sixes to drag his team over the line, aided by last-man Jack Leach surviving 17 balls and contributing a quick single that turned him into a cult hero. Australia failed to remain composed amid the carnage, wasting their final review and butchering a run-out chance when Lyon somehow fumbled a tame throw to the bowler’s end.
— Stuart Broad (@StuartBroad8) August 25, 2019
SMITH AT THE DOUBLE
Having missed the defeat in Leeds due to concussion, Smith returned as the series shifted across the Pennines to Manchester – and made up for lost time with another telling contribution with the bat. England’s plans to rough him up with the short ball failed to pay off as the right-hander made his third Ashes double hundred, in the process taking his tally past 500 runs for a third successive series.
Given a life when dismissed off a no ball from spinner Leach, the former skipper finished up with 211 out of Australia’s 497-8 declared. England avoided having to follow-on in reply but 82 from Smith second time around left Root’s side needing another Herculean fourth-innings performance to keep the series alive.
While Stokes failed to fire again, it appeared the great escape could be on when Leach combined with Somerset colleague Craig Overton to push the game into the final hour. Fearing another opportunity was set to go begging, Paine turned to Labuschagne’s leg spin. The move paid off as he dismissed Leach, opening the door just wide enough for the excellent Josh Hazlewood to wrap up victory in fading light as the tourists moved 2-1 ahead.
“I didn’t think it would be this emotional. The amount of work that’s tried to go on in to retain the Ashes has been enormous and I’m really proud of this group and how we bounced back from Headingley” – Tim Paine#Ashes pic.twitter.com/nPTV6kzCCO
— ICC (@ICC) September 8, 2019
A PAINE-FUL DECISION & JOE 90
Perhaps it was the fact the urn was already retained, almost akin to a last-day-of-school situation, that led to captain Paine opting to bowl first after winning the toss. England failed to fully capitalise on the opportunity, posting 294, but Smith only (only!) made 82 as Archer’s second six-wicket haul in the series secured a useful first-innings lead.
Following a dash home after day one to see the birth of his daughter, England opener Joe Denly celebrated the new arrival with a Test-best score of 94, helping to set Australia plenty in the final innings on a worn surface.
Broad dismissed David Warner for a seventh time in 10 innings – the opener finished the series with 95 runs (only Hazlewood posted a lower average for the visitors than the left-hander’s 9.50) – and when Smith fell into England’s leg-side trap, it was just a matter of when, not if, the hosts would triumph. Matthew Wade went down swinging with a hundred, but the topsy-turvy series ended level.
— ICC (@ICC) September 16, 2019