For the second Test running, the Ashes provided a nail-biter of a finale for cricket fans around the world, with the visitors coming out on top at Old Trafford. The Aussies shrugged off the ghosts of Headingley to bowl out England and in the process, retained the urn for the first time since 2001.
Patrick Cummins plunges into greatness
Having already seen the back of England’s two best batsmen - Rory Burns and Joe Root - from the first innings, the job at hand for Cummins heading into Day 5 was clear - keep probing the batsmen by hitting the top of off. While the pitch looked like it had demons late on Day 4, in the first hour of Day 5, with the sun belting down, the surface looked unrecognizable and at times even looked like a batting paradise.
Unperturbed by the enormity of the occasion, Cummins, with his eyes firmly fixed on the target, kept repeating the drill over and over again, putting relentless pressure on the batsmen. His efforts finally paid off, as on the final ball of his seventh over, he clattered the stumps of Jason Roy by sneaking the ball through the gap between his bat and pad. In other words, he hit the “top of off-stump”.
Five overs later, in what could perhaps be described as the most decisive moment of Ashes 2019, the New South Welshman sent England’s trump card, Ben Stokes, back to the hut, with an absolute rip-snorter that came back into the left-hander off the seam, taking the inside part of his glove before it went to the keeper. By now, Cummins had ensured that he’d broken England’s back, having accounted for all four scalps to fall.
While his counterpart Jofra Archer has been up and down on pace, and while his compatriots have been inconsistent at times, the Patrick Cummins juggernaut has thundered through the English batting line-up relentlessly from ball one of The Ashes. He has been an epitome of control, consistency and with his performance on Day 5 - and certainly in this Ashes - has etched his name into the history books.
Joe Denly - England's silver lining
In many ways, you’ve got to feel for Joe Denly. Initially, he was picked in the side as more or less an all-rounder, thanks to the handy leg-spin he bowls. One Test into the series, after barely making an appearance with the ball, he soon became a specialist batsman. After four innings of scrapping, battling and hassling - against both the Aussie bowling and his own technique - Denly took many a blow before finally scoring his first fifty of the series in the second innings at Headingley. When it finally looked like things fell in place for the Kent man, the English team management then decided to make him the sacrificial offering at the top of the order, forcing him to swap his batting position with Roy in order to shield the latter from his new ball frailties.
After an inauspicious first inning, Denly walked into the second innings at Old Trafford with both his career and England’s Ashes hopes on the line. Before he’d faced a ball, England had lost two wickets already, including the one of their skipper Joe Root. Up against a near-impossible task, Denly, calm as ever, glided his way out of trouble, thus taking England closer to the finish line. While he was at it, the Kent man overcame the demons - of both the pitch and his own mental frailties. Before anyone could realize, he had brought up his second fifty of the series, both coming under extremely arduous situations. It took an intervention from the external forces - the rough patches on the pitch - to get him out, but by then, he had already bought enough time for both himself and his country.
In a series, where England have desperately longed for people to put their hands up, Denly, albeit the team management shuffling his role, has shown his mettle and has stood tall in calamitous situations. In many ways, his knocks are a representation of who he is as a cricketer - hurt him, trouble him, but being the team man he is, he’ll go to any extent to save his team, unless and until there’s an external intervention which he cannot do anything about.
Tim Paine’s masterstroke delivers Australia the Ashes
Jack Leach seemed like Don Bradman. Pat Cummins wasn’t able to bowl the tail-enders out. Mitchell Starc, who was picked in the team for the sole purpose of cleaning up the tail, wasn’t able to get his yorkers right. The crowd got into the contest, time was ticking and with just 16 overs left for England to negate, it felt like the ghosts of Headingley were haunting Australia yet again.
With Nathan Lyon visibly struggling, with both his finger injury and his lines and lengths, the ball was on skipper Tim Paine’s court to make his move. Never known for his out-of-the-box thinking, Paine, surprisingly, threw the ball to Marnus Labuschagne. Yes, you read that right. A leg-spinner bowling into the rough to try and clean up the English batsmen, except this time, it wasn’t Shane Warne. After a couple of drag-downs and a couple of full-length deliveries, Labuschagne landed one right into the rough. The ball zooted off the patch, hitting the splice of Leach’s bat, carrying to Matthew Wade at the forward short-leg.
One over later, Paine had one more big decision to make. With Overton on strike, the skipper once again shuffled his cards and threw the ball to Hazlewood, taking Labuschagne off, despite him opening the door in the previous order. Yet again, the move worked like a charm, as the pacer trapped Overton in front of the stumps on the third delivery. As HawkEye showed three reds on the screen after the Somerset man helplessly went for a review, the Aussies let out a wild roar and erupted in joy - none so more than Paine.
Heading into the Test under extreme pressure after the blunders in Headingley costing his team, Paine knew he had to step it up - both his batting and captaincy - and step it up he did, to the extent that he helped his team win the Ashes. With this win, Paine has etched his name into the history books, becoming the first captain since Steve Waugh in 2001 to retain the Ashes. The “temporary captain” will now have a permanent place in the hearts of the Australian fans.
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