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Feature

What happens next? Recapping the crazy men's Ashes

There has barely been a session, let alone a day, without some drama

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
13-Jul-2023
The men's Ashes is poised at 2-1 ahead of the Old Trafford Test next week, but to highlight the extraordinary nature of the series it could easily be 3-0 to either team. There has barely been a session, let alone a day, without some drama.
With everyone pausing to take a breath before the battle resumes, it provides a chance to look back on how the first three Tests have unfolded in a contest that is living up to all the hype and arguably matching 2005.
Day one
Zak Crawley drives the first ball of the series from Pat Cummins for four. Australia immediately look on the defensive with spread fields, although it's part of their pre-series planning. England canter along at five-an-over but trade wickets in the process. Ironically, Harry Brook is bowled padding up to Nathan Lyon. At 176 for 5 when Ben Stokes edges behind it threatens to go wrong, but Joe Root compiles a brilliant century and adds 121 with Jonny Bairstow. Late in the day, England pull their first big trick of the series as, despite Root still flying, Stokes declares and gives Australia's openers 20 minutes to face. Battle lines have been drawn.
Bairstow: "It's a bold call. It's a good call. There will be conversations around it, but no-one likes going out there with 20 minutes and four overs, when you've got Stuart Broad and Ollie Robinson running in at the end of the day that's been a bit of a toil."
Day two
Stuart Broad makes early inroads, resuming his hold over David Warner and claiming Marnus Labuschagne first ball with his 'new' outswinger. When Stokes (who else?) traps Steven Smith lbw, Australia are wobbling but Usman Khawaja and Travis Head steady things. Stokes' aggressive captaincy tempts Head into taking on Moeen Ali - whose Test career was over before an SOS to replace Jack Leach - and he perishes, but crucially Cameron Green is missed first ball when Bairstow fluffs a stumping. However, Moeen produces a beauty to bowl him through the gate although England can't find a way past Khawaja who brings up a first century in England - another landmark in his triumphant return to Test cricket - and celebrates by flinging his bat to the ground.
Khawaja: "Not that I have a point to prove, but it's nice to go out and score runs for Australia just to show everyone that the last 10 years haven't been a fluke."
Day three
Only 32 overs are bowled, but plenty is packed in. Ollie Robinson gives Khawaja an almighty send off after yorking him for a magnificent 141. Stokes goes full funk with his fields and in the end the difference on first innings is just seven. As the weather closes in, Australia make good use of a brief 20-minute window under stormy skies to nab two top-order wickets. England are grateful they don't get back on.
Robinson: "I don't really care how it's perceived, to be honest. It's the Ashes. It's professional sport. If you can't handle that, what can you handle?"
Day four
In a completely normal piece of cricket, Root attempts to reverse scoop Cummins' first ball of the day over the slips. He doesn't connect, but soon does against Scott Boland sending him for six. Ollie Pope is yorked by a ball-for-ages from Cummins. England won't rein themselves in and each time they threaten to pull away lose a wicket. In the end, Australia's target is a tantalizing 281 - one short of the 2005 figure. Warner and Khawaja start well, but Broad does a Broad thing and surges late to remove Labuschagne and Smith.
Broad: "Today's just been one of those days that sums up Ashes cricket really. You're getting ahead of the game, then you lose a wicket, you think you're getting ahead of the game, then you lose a wicket again."
Day five
After a delayed start there is nothing to split the teams all day. Moeen, whose spinning finger is not fit for purpose, removes Head for the second time in the game. At tea Australia need 98 with five wickets in hand, but Green falls shortly afterwards. Stokes, basically on one leg, ends another marathon from Khawaja and Alex Carey is brilliantly caught-and-bowled by Root. Australia now need 54 with just two wickets left. Cummins and Lyon proceed to put on a stand that will go down in Ashes history although Lyon is dropped, a tough chance to Stokes, with 37 needed. It proves England's last opportunity. Cummins carves the winning runs at 7.21pm.
Cummins: "When you are in the backyard as a kid, you wish to be in these moments and going out there in the middle of an Ashes series."
***
Between Tests, England are very vocal. In a column for Wisden, Robinson relays what Brendon McCullum said after the game. "We played all the cricket in the game. If it wasn't for us, the Australians wouldn't have even had a chance to win… We've entertained the world, and we've put the Aussies on the back foot. For him to say that after a loss is quite significant for us." Meanwhile, speaking to Times Radio, Crawley shows no lack of confidence. "I think it will suit us a bit more, that pitch. So I think we'll win by, I don't know, 150 runs?"
Day one
Just Stop Oil protestors get onto the field. Bairstow carries one of them off. England can't make the most of favourable bowling conditions and, again, miss vital chances with Warner spilled on 20. He and Khawaja lay the foundation then Smith and Head take control in a stand of 118 in 20 overs. However, Root just about saves England by removing Head and Green in the space of three balls.
Warner: "I've felt in total control the last six to eight months with where my game is. I'm moving into the ball, my feet are moving, not just playing with my hands."
Day two
Smith reaches a 32nd Test hundred, but a fightback with the ball sees Australia bowled out for 416, their last seven wickets falling 100. England are superbly placed during the afternoon when what appears a pivotal moment occurs: in his 100th consecutive Test, Lyon pulls up with a calf injury. It's clear his match - and series - is over. However, from 188 for 1, England offer Australia a helping hand as they fall for the short-ball plan, including Ben Duckett for 98, before Stokes brings a sense of calmness.
Duckett: "I'd only have been disappointed if I'd have gone away from my natural game and it's a shot that I play and it's a shot that I've scored plenty of runs over my career doing so I'm not happy I got out, but I'd rather get out like that."
Day three
Stokes falls to the second ball of the day, edging Starc into the slips. There are gasps of disbelief when Brook carves into the off side. England lose their last six wickets for 46 and concede a lead of 91. Another solid opening stand puts Australia well ahead on a truncated day.
Jeetan Patel (England spin coach): "We've always said that we want to play an aggressive brand. It's not always going to come off and that's that's not a cop out. It's just reality. In the past after 70 overs we would have been on 350 or 400. It just didn't work that way today."
Day four
The bouncer barrage. It's almost a complete diet of short bowling from England which doesn't make for great viewing but removes Khawaja, Smith and Head in quick succession and Australia's last eight for 88 in total. Lyon, who is barely able to walk, limps out to bat at No.11, adding 15 for the last wicket alongside Starc. But any hopes the home side have of chasing 371 appear to be blown away when they crash to 45 for 4 against Starc and Cummins. Moments before the close it is nearly five down, but Duckett is reprieved when replays show Starc scrapes the ball along the ground. Stokes is unbeaten at stumps.
Lyon: "I have been absolutely shattered. I have been in tears, I have been upset, I have been hurting. That shows this team means everything to me."
Day five
Duckett and Stokes start nicely and the requirement dips under 200 when the former is superbly caught by Carey off a top edge. A short while later, chaos ensues. Bairstow ducks a bouncer, walks out of the crease (after briefly tapping his back foot in) and is stumped by Carey's underarm. England are furious. While Broad goes head-to-head with Australia's close fielders - telling Carey: "That's all you'll be remembered for" - Stokes channels his emotions into the most extraordinary 155 including nine sixes. At lunch some of the Australian players are abused in Long Room. Memories of Headingley 2019 abound as Stokes and Broad get down to 70 needed when Hazlewood removes the England captain and it's too much for the lower order. Australia are 2-0 up, but the fallout has only just started.
Stokes: "Would I want to win a game in that manner? The answer for me is no."
Cummins: "I thought it was totally fair play. That's how the rule is. Some people might disagree. That's how I saw it."
***
The three days between Tests are dominated by the Bairstow dismissal. Unsurprisingly, Broad takes a leading role. "I was angered by Australia's decision, particularly having heard their lines about creating a new legacy as a team, and how they have changed since the tour of South Africa in 2018," he writes in the Daily Mail. "I just said to Pat on repeat: 'All these boos are for you, for your decision.' And: 'What a great opportunity you had to think clearly.'"
Australia remain unapologetic. "I don't think there's any discussion; it's out," Cummins says. "If the shoe was on the other foot, I wouldn't be looking at the opposition, I'd probably be thinking [about] our own batter, and would be thinking it's pretty silly."
Three MCC members are suspended for their part in the pavilion fracas.
Day one
The recalled Mark Wood produces some of the fastest bowling seen for England. His first spell does not dip below 90mph and nudges 96mph. Australia wobble on 85 for 4 when Mitchell Marsh, who has replaced the injured Green, constructs a remarkable 102-ball century in his first Test for four years. But Wood blows the lower order away to finish with 5 for 34. Cummins responds for Australia. It's a breathless day.
Marsh: "I wanted to wear it [the baggy green] one more time and put it on again. There's always times when you spend a lot of time away from the game where you think that you might not get back. It's taken a lot of hard work."
Day two
Cummins strikes with the second ball of the day to remove Root for the 10th time in Tests. At lunch England are 142 for 7 and the Ashes are within Australia's grasp. But Wood swings the first ball of the afternoon for six and Stokes plays another magnificent captain's innings while barely able to stand. In 10 overs England add 95. It's almost an even game. Warner goes to Broad again (No. 17) but Australia are building nicely and England are still dropping catches when, almost inexplicably, Labuschagne and Smith hand their wickets to Moeen. Khawaja falls, too. The lead is 142.
Moeen "[Stokes] is the one player in the world that everybody will be thinking [we can chase anything] in that situation. Especially against Australia because he has done it a couple of times now.
Day three
In rains, and it rains. Looks like a washout. Silliness ensues as Carey is mistakenly called out for not paying for a haircut. Then the weather clears for a two-hour session. England seize their moment under cloudy skies as Chris Woakes, Wood and Broad work through Australia. When Cummins falls the lead is only 196, but Head replicates Stokes and it grows to 250. Duckett and Crawley do very well to get through to the close and knock off a vital 27 runs in the process.
Woakes: "I haven't played in front of a crowd in England for a couple of years. You realise when you hear that roar it brings out that emotion in you which is easy to kind of forget how good it is when you haven't played for a while."
Day four
England make steady progress but also shed wickets at regular intervals. Shortly before lunch Root gloves a pull down the leg side against Cummins. Not long after the break Stokes tickles Starc down the leg side. Someone else will have to be the hero. When Bairstow drags on the candidates are running low, but fellow Yorkshireman Brook produces the most important innings of his short career. Woakes stands firm at No. 8, but 21 are needed when Brook becomes Starc's fifth. Enter Wood. A hooked six and a cover driven four get the target into single figures then Woakes seals it, scything the ball to the opposite side of the ground that Stokes did four years earlier.
Stokes: "Woakesy, being out of the team for such a long period of time, and to come back in and perform the way that he did both with ball and with bat… seeing Woody running in like he does, big smile on his face and enjoying every moment out there was great.
Cummins: "Everyone kind of feels like you could have done something a little bit different that might have contributed to a different result. But we've all played enough cricket so yeah, brush this one off, and make sure we get ready for Manchester."
***
Old Trafford awaits.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo