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ESPNcricinfo assesses the performances of the England players who appeared in the Ashes series
August 26, 2013
Features : Bell, Swann and Harris take the honours
Players/Officials: Ian Bell | Graeme Swann | Stuart Broad | Kevin Pietersen | James Anderson | Tim Bresnan | Alastair Cook | Joe Root | Jonathan Trott | Chris Woakes | Matt Prior | Jonny Bairstow | Steven Finn | Simon Kerrigan
Series/Tournaments: Australia tour of England and Scotland
Magnificent. Bell was perhaps the only batsman on either side to enjoy a series of unmitigated excellence. Three times, with his side in trouble, Bell produced match-defining centuries and was the obvious selection for Man of the Series. It was not just that he produced an array of well-timed strokes - he has been doing that for years - but that he allied them to sound defence and mature shot selection that took account of the match situation and pitch conditions. He also fielded as well as anyone in the side; indeed, it is hard to think of a better short-leg fielder in world cricket. Now at the peak of his game, with the confidence to add to his inherent talent, he could go on to play a pivotal role in the series in Australia.
A key difference between the teams. Swann claimed 26 wickets in the series - 11 more than all four of the spinners utilised by Australia managed between them - and finished as the leading wicket-taker on either side. While rarely at his absolute best, Swann had the combination of experience and ability to prey about the weaknesses of an Australian side who generally appeared uncomfortable against spin. The pitches in Australia will no doubt offer him less encouragement and Swann may have to be content to play more of a holding role. He remains one of the key men in this side in all conditions.
The figures suggest that Broad enjoyed only one good game - at Chester-le-Street - but sometimes the figures mis-lead. Broad bowled well throughout the series. He seemed to target Michael Clarke, Australia's best batsmen, in particular and troubled him with the bouncer throughout. He produced some inspired bowling in Durham, where he took 11 wickets in the match, to turn a game that seemed to be slipping away back in England's favour. Importantly, too, his batting showed signs of maturing with important contributions throughout the series.
Another batsman who, on the face of it, endured a relatively modest series if judged by previous success. Pietersen scored one century and three half-centuries but, on slow wickets, was often obliged to take an uncharacteristically cautious approach. That he took that role on so willingly underlined his commitment to the team cause and, while he rarely produced the start performance, he played a valuable supporting role in several important partnerships. He also reserved his best for the run-chase at The Oval where his half-century was the quickest by an England player in Ashes history. Recent injuries have reduced his pace in the field, though he remains a safe pair of hands in the outfield, but there is no reason to suspect he will not enjoy what will almost certainly prove to be his final Ashes tour of Australia.
Anderson played a huge role in the victory at Trent Bridge, where he claimed five-wicket hauls in both innings, and bowled decently without reward at Lord's. Those efforts appeared to take a lot out of him, however, and he was some way below his best in Manchester and Durham. His performance in Nottingham was pivotal, however, and included a 14-over spell on the final day when he looked head and shoulders more threatening that any other bowler on display. Now with the skill to prosper on both green and dry wickets, he should enjoy the pace and bounce of Australian wickets.
Recalled to the side for the Lord's Test, Bresnan performed the unglamorous holding role with selfless skill in the next three Tests. His performance in Durham, where important runs were followed by important wickets, was one of the best in his Test career but he was then diagnosed with a stress fracture that ruled him out of the rest of the season. His value was most apparent in his absence at The Oval, where Woakes was unable to replicate his control. While the England camp remain confident that Bresnan will be fit for the return series, it is far from certain he will have recovered the potency that make his return in this series a success.
By Cook's own lofty standards, this was a disappointing series as a batsman. He passed 50 three times, but never went beyond 62 and he averaged only 27.70. Unusually for Cook, he was drawn into playing at balls well outside that he could have left and at times appeared as if he was struggling with his technique. His captaincy was criticised - largely unfairly - for negativity, but he won every Test in which rain did not intervene and, less than a year into the job, he has won the Ashes, a series in India and has a team that is unbeaten in 13 Tests. While some have suggested that the burden of captaincy has eroded his success as a batsman, it is not so long ago that he scored three centuries in succession in India. His career has contained several peaks and troughs and he may prefer the extra pace in the pitches in Australia.
There were times when it appeared Root struggled with the demands of opening the batting against some impressive bowling. Only twice in the series did he score more than 31 and even his excellent innings at Lord's contained an early edge that might, another day, have been taken. That Lord's century did highlight his outstanding talent, though, and while he remains a player under development - he is only 22, after all - he still appears to have the temperament to flourish at this level. As well as scoring England's highest total of the series, he finished second in their batting averages and claimed three wickets with the ball. Perhaps more importantly, he gained experience that should serve him well in Ashes series of the future. There may be times when he struggles with the bounce of Australian pitches - particularly against the new ball - but Root is certain to open the batting in the return series.
A disappointing series by Trott's standards. He started in fine form only to surrender his wicket with uncharacteristically loose shots and ended it struggling with balance and confidence. He scored 40 or more five times, but passed 50 only twice, had a highest of 59 and averaged 29.30. While Australia's mode of attack to him - exploiting his desire to hit the ball through midwicket - was successful, he remains a key part of the top three and may prefer the extra pace of the pitches. Still, there is some technical work to be done if Trott is to recover former glories.
Required to bowl on a slow, low pitch offering him little encouragement, Woakes struggled for penetration at The Oval. But he was not the only bowler to do so and he showed some pleasing ability with the bat and, in that final run-chase, an impressively cool temperament. It is hard to see quite what his role would be in Australia, though, and he faces a nervous wait to see if he makes the Test squad.
His worst series as a player since he was recalled to the side at the end of 2008. He failed to make a 50 with the bat and averaged just 19 while, with the gloves, he missed chances he would have expected to have taken. It says much for his excellence over the previous few years - and the changed nature of England selection - that there have been no serious questions about his place in the side. Like Trott, he has earned the right to a sustained period of loyalty and is certain to remain first choice for the series in Australia.
Dropped after four Tests had produced only one half-century, Bairstow might still consider himself unfortunate. He was presented with the opportunity to play in this series despite not having had a single first-class innings between the end of the New Zealand series in May and the start of the Ashes in July. As a result, he was understandably low on form and confidence and appeared to lack the temperament to battle through periods of tight, disciplined bowling. He produced one pleasing innings -67 at Lord's, although he was bowled off a no-ball - and added energy and commitment in the field but, aged 23, this opportunity may have come a year or two early. His best chance of making the tour to Australia is if the selectors decide he can be the reserve keeper as well as the utility batsman.
Dropped after the first Test, Finn appeared to be struggling for rhythm and confidence. Confused by conflicting advice from club and country, Finn has not developed as anticipated and, at various stages in the series, found himself behind Tremlett, Bresnan, Onions and Woakes in the battle for selection. While he bowled a couple of impressive spells in that Trent Bridge Test, his tendency to leak runs - he conceded 4.68 runs an over - rendered him hard to accommodate in an England team that prioritises control. He remains likely to make the squad to Australia, however, and may well enjoy the quicker pace of the pitches.
There is no getting in the way of the fact that Kerrigan endured a chastening debut. Paralysed by nerves, he failed to do his substantial ability justice and was trusted with only eight expensive overs in the first innings. Aged 24, he has the talent and temperament to come back, but this was a painfully rough start and it is hard to see him winning a place in the series in Australia.
This feature is in association with Tourism Australia.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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