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09th Sep 2019

Nine lessons we’ve learned from this Ashes series

It has been a frustrating series for England, who still can't find the right players to bat 2 and 3, nor can they find a way of getting Steve Smith out

Reuben Pinder

Steve Smith is quite good. Who knew?

Australia have retained the Ashes. We knew this would happen eventually, even if England had managed to repeat the miracle of Cardiff 2009 and survived until bad light brought play to an end, the tourists would surely have ensured the urn returned to Australia at the Oval. It has once again been a series of high peaks and low troughs, one that has taught England numerous lessons and highlighted flaws in the side that must be addressed moving forward. So, what did we learn?

Steve Smith is in a league of his own

For all his eccentricities, the fidgeting and Jedi-like movement after each leave, and the blot on his record in the form of a piece of yellow sandpaper, Steve Smith is undoubtedly the best batsman in the world – possibly ever. His lowest score this series was 82, which came in an ultimately meaningless innings. His dismissal, a miscued slog caught by Ben Stokes, would almost certainly not have occurred if the circumstances demanded he played with more care.

Smith amassed 671 runs in the first four tests, averaging 134.2 – more than double his Test average before the series began. He may still beat Don Bradman’s record of 974 runs in the 1930 series.

If it weren’t for the ball tampering scandal, his unreal talent might actually make him likeable.

It might be time for a change of captain

This is the second Ashes series loss Joe Root has presided over as captain after the humiliating 4-0 defeat in the winter of 2017/2018 down under. His batting has undoubtedly suffered as a result of the added responsibility, demonstrated by his poor 2019 average of 28.56. In this series he has two golden ducks and a second ball zero. He did hit a crucial 77 at Headingley, but was dismissed after a momentary lapse in concentration as he raced down the wicket against Nathan Lyon and was caught behind by David Warner.

Captaincy will always take its toll on one’s batting average, but the balance seems to have swung too far in one direction under for Root. He insists he is still the right man to take England forward and he may be right, but only because there is no-one else. The only candidates to replace him are a horribly out of form Jos Buttler and the most senior player in the team, Stuart Broad.

The Jason Roy experiment didn’t work

We all wanted this to work, especially after his relentless scoring during the World Cup, where he looked like he could have played in a kimono and slippers, cigar in mouth. But in the ruthless arena of Test cricket, with a swinging ball coming at him, he looked far from comfortable. And it showed in his scores: 10, 28, 0, 2, 9, 8, 22, 31.

Maybe his failure to impress in the longest format is more symbolic of a deeper-rooted problem the ECB have to tackle regarding the balance between white ball and red ball cricket, but the immediate truth staring us in the face is that he does not have the technique to dig in at the very highest level.

England still can’t bat

I don’t know why I expect any different. It should no longer be a surprise when England suffer a batting collapse. The 67 all out was a particularly painful low, and should not be overlooked simply because Ben Stokes went into beast mode in the second innings and saved the day. He cannot do it every time.

With such inconsistent and fragile batsmen at the top of the order, the middle, of which Root, Buttler and Jonny Bairstow are all alarmingly out of form, are not granted the platform to express themselves.

There is perhaps no better symbol of the tragedy of England’s batting than the fact that, even after being moved down the order to four, Roy still found himself at the crease in the first over.

Rory Burns looks like a long-term opener

All that said, Rory Burns does look the real deal. Averaging 40.37 this series, with a total of 323 runs over the first four Tests, he has demonstrated the skill and temperament needed to open the batting. He is not necessarily the new Alastair Cook, but at the moment he is the best we’ve got, and has nailed down his place at the top for the foreseeable future.

However, his susceptibility to the short ball is something the Aussies worked out quickly and something he must work on in order to progress.

Stuart Broad is still as good as ever

In the last Ashes series, Broad took just 11 wickets across the five Tests; half as many as Mitchell Starc took for Australia. Since then, there have been murmurs of dropping Broad from the side as he approaches his mid-thirties. His form this series has put quashed that argument, and reminded us of how devastating he can be in English conditions. The battle between him and David Warner has been shockingly one-sided, much to the joy of he home fans. Every dismissal was greeted by huge cheers and vitriolic boos as one third of the sandpaper trio faced the long walk back to the pavilion.

Broad also did this after Jofra Archer trapped Marnus Labuschagne lbw – a great way to wrap up a sublime individual series that will sadly not mean anything.

Ben Foakes should have played over one of Buttler/Bairstow

Neither of England’s wicket-keeper batsmen have had much joy this series. Bairstow was best at Lord’s, when he scored his only 50 of the series, while Buttler failed to even do that. By Buttler’s own admission, the World Cup took its toll on the England team and with so much overlap between the ODI and Test sides, it shouldn’t be a surprise that physical and emotional fatigue became a factor.

Buttler has earned patience from the selectors and will have an important role to play in the future but the persistence with both him and Bairstow over the supremely talented Ben Foakes may be a decision that Root and the selectors come to rue.

We missed Jimmy Anderson

Losing your all-time leading wicket taker four overs into a Test series is pretty much the worst possible start England could have asked for. The consistent line, length and swing that the veteran bowler provides has been paramount to numerous series victories over the past decade and his absence was noticeable. Still, when you’ve got Jofra Archer ready to step into his shoes, you can’t complain too much.

Archer is the future

What would England have done without him? If it weren’t for Archer, this summer could have gone significantly differently. England would likely not have won the World Cup, nor put up as much of a fight in the Ashes. His battle with Smith in his debut Test at Lord’s that ended with the batsman going off with a concussion was captivating. Finally, England had a way of rattling the indestructible Smith, if not getting him out.

Archer’s pace was hugely important in the absence of Jimmy Anderson’s swing, and with such a nonchalant bowling action, he it doesn’t look like he’ll lose that pace any time soon.

Beyond the field of play, the Barbadian born bowler has helped the sport make huge strides in its mission to inspire a generation.