Australia’s 18-year wait to retain the Ashes urn on English soil came to an end on Sunday when the visitors wrapped up a 185-run win in the fourth Test at Manchester to take a 2-1 lead in the five-match series.
One man above them all has led Australia’s charge in England, with Steve Smith dominating the headlines on his Test return after a near 16-month absence. England skipper Joe Root has gone as far as to term the Australia batsman as the real difference between the two sides in the series.
“Both batting sides have very experienced players who have not performed how they would have liked, and that tells a story by itself,” the England captain said after the Old Trafford defeat.
“Take Steve Smith out and it would be very similar from both teams.”
While Smith’s contributions have been gigantic, there are others in the Australia squad who have played their part in the team’s triumph in England.
Here, we look at the four key men including Smith who have been largely responsible for Australia retaining the urn.
The 28-year-old was not risked by Australia in the recent World Cup in England with the Ashes in mind as he fully recovered from a back injury, and that move has paid off handsomely with Hazlewood causing utter mayhem with the ball.
The seamer was not picked in the playing XI for the series opener at Edgbaston with James Pattinson preferred instead, but the impact he has created since coming into the side has been nothing short of stellar.
In just three Tests, Hazlewood has claimed 18 wickets at an average of less than 17 and he is only behind Pat Cummins (22) and Stuart Broad (19) in the wicket-taking charts.
The right-armed bowler was near unplayable at Headingley where he claimed a match-haul of nine wickets and was unfortunate to still end up on the losing side. He was in top form at Manchester as well with his six wickets pivotal to Australia’s win.
England might be regretting that Jofra Archer bouncer to Smith at Lord’s with his concussion replacement Marnus Labuschagne turning out to be an equally formidable opponent.
The 25-year-old emerged unscathed from his tough Ashes baptism with a match-saving half-century in the second innings at Lord’s and has since followed it up with three more fifties on the bounce.
He has comfortably been the second-most assured batsman in the Australia side, arguably even the series, with his compact and textbook technique. In an Ashes series where both batting units have under-performed severely, Labuschagne’s 291 runs at an average over 58 have been worth their weight in gold.
His part-time leg-spin helped the visitors clinch victory at Manchester just when it looked like England would escape with a draw to further cement his Ashes 2019 legacy, which will not be forgotten any time soon by Australian fans.
The Australia pacer is enjoying the best-ever series of his career and that is saying something considering the success he has had since making his comeback in 2017.
In a performance fully deserving of the No1 ICC Test ranking he currently holds, Cummins has established himself as the undisputed leader of Australia’s pace attack with 22 wickets at a staggering average of only 17.41.
His delivery to knock Joe Root’s off-stump out of the ground at Old Trafford will go down as the defining delivery of the series, just like a certain Ryan Harris beauty to dismiss then England skipper Alastair Cook at Perth in 2014.
Playing four Tests on the bounce with the workload of Cummins is no mean feat either with the pacer bowling a total of 164 overs so far in the series. Only off-spinner Nathan Lyon has bowled more overs than Cummins in this Ashes, with the pacer being Tim Paine’s go-to man for every difficult situation.
It has, without a shadow of a doubt, been Steve Smith’s Ashes with the former skipper rewriting the record books on his Test return for Australia. He has been greeted with boos all summer long by England’s fans but that has only spurred him on to rack up a staggering 671 runs in just five innings.
His knock of 82 in the second innings at Manchester is the lowest he has achieved in the series so far and he has been putting up numbers not seen since the days of the great Sir Don Bradman. The fact that most batsmen from either side have struggled massively in the series makes Smith’s prolific form all the more remarkable and he has deservedly reclaimed his No1 ranking from Virat Kohli on the back of his displays.
For Smith to become the leading run-scorer in Tests in 2019, after just three appearances and a seven-month head-start for other batsmen, is as ridiculous as it gets. England will shudder to think the kind of run-tally Smith would have put up had he not missed the Headingley Test due to a concussion.
It is not a stretch to think that Smith would have been on course to break Don Bradman’s record of 974 runs in the 1930 Ashes had he not been forced to miss three innings in the ongoing series due to the Archer bouncer.
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