Ashes 2023: Of Bazball, Lyon on one leg and Test cricket’s high noon

National Herald picks its five takeaways from easily the most fascinating Ashes in recent times

Ben Stokes of England and Pat Cummins of Australia pose with the series trophy after drawing the series after Day Five of Ashes Test Series at the Kia Oval on Monday, July 31, in London. (photo: Getty Images)
Ben Stokes of England and Pat Cummins of Australia pose with the series trophy after drawing the series after Day Five of Ashes Test Series at the Kia Oval on Monday, July 31, in London. (photo: Getty Images)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

It’s difficult to remember as to when was the last time a Test series ended with such a befitting scoreline. A 2-2 finish, which could have been 3-2 in favour of England but for the rain-marred draw at the Old Trafford, elevated Ashes 2023 to one of the most competitive ones in recent memory.

The phrase ‘moral victory’ may not hold much sense in professional sport anymore, but England can certainly claim this one after their series-levelling win at The Oval on Monday night. One is not talking about the controversial run out of Jonny Bairstow by the Australian wicketkeeper Alex Carey (for it was within the laws of the game) or rains ‘saving’ Australia in the fourth Test (vagaries of nature), but it was simply England’s courage of conviction which deserve the kudos.

The Bazball cricket, much like when Brendon McCullum first implemented it for the Black Caps, depended a lot on the team’s leader and in Ben Stokes — England had found their man. Australia, on the other hand, played within their limitations and were often a bit predictable as it turned to be a battle of contrasting styles.

Here are our five takeaways from the series as Australia retained the urn:

Ashes, the ultimate battle in Tests?

The last two months had been simply glorious times for Test cricket — much needed at a time when T20 franchise cricket is seeking to shake the very foundation of the international cricket ecosystem. It’s true that not all Ashes battles will be as riveting as this one, but it remains the only contest which regularly plays a five-Test series and the respect that the players of both teams accorded for this format put it on a different plane.

 It’s true that there is often a justified hype over a India-England or India-Australia series, but they have failed to live up to the intensity of some of the past contests. If there was one match-up that could have taken Ashes head-on, it would have been the India-Pakistan duels but the absence of bi-lateral cricket between these two countries mean it’s a non-starter.

Ben Stokes, a fine leader of men

The Bazball, which is actually a take-off on the uninhibited style of cricket which New Zealand played under McCullum’s captaincy, needed a personality like him to understand the spirit behind the philosophy — and England found one in Stokes. The lionhearted allrounder set the tone for the series when on first day of first Test, he went for a controversial declaration at Birmingham when at 393/8 — looking to have a crack at Australian openers late in the day.

 In a Test decided  by small margins which the hosts lost, Stokes was torn apart by the pundits for such an ambitious declaration, but he refused to change their style. Fittingly enough, it was Stokes who led the counterattack in the third Test against Aussies with their tails up — when he upset their plans with an attacking 80 at the Headingley. Then down 2-0, England clawed their way back in the series and Stokes certainly played his part in it as a batter too.

Ashes Man Of The Series 2023

Like any Test series in England, there was a Man of the Series award on offer from either side and two somewhat understated heroes — Mitchell Starc and Chris Woakes won it for Australia and England, respectively. Now the elder statesman of Australian pace attack at 33, the left-armer Starc was efficiency personified as he emerged as the highest wicket-taker in the series with 23 wickets at an economy rate of 4.86 after playing just four Tests.

Woakes, who was not a part of England’s original plans for the series, played only three Tests for his 19 wickets at an economy rate of 3.04 apart from making handy contributions with the bat. Interesting choices both in a series which saw an equal battle between bat and the ball, with Usman Khawaja (496) and Zak Crawley (412) being the leading scorers for respective teams.

Nathan Lyon batting on ‘one leg’

There were no dearh of enduring images from a five-Test series like this, but few could possibly beat the one of Nathan Lyon, the star Australian off spinner, limping to the crease to bat on one leg during the second Test at the Lord’s. He had suffered a significant calf tear while fielding on second day of the match — and would have been better advised to watch the proceedings from the pavilion.

 The senior pro, who scalped eight wickets during their win in the first Test at Birmingham, missed the final three Tests — upsetting the Aussie plans and making their attack all too predictable. Lyon had earlier held out for an excellent show of resistance with captain Pat Cummins to take their team over the line in an edge-of-the-seat thriller in the first Test.

 ‘Broadway’ to success

Finally, a word about Stuart Broad. Any retirement of a long and distinguished career will strike a poignant note and ‘Broady,’ as he was popularly known — made it even more memorable by picking up the final two Australian wickets of Todd Murphy and Alex Carey to finish the series at 2-2.

Like all good things, the partnership of the ‘Old Firm’ between James Anderson (690  Test wickets) and Broad (604) had to end sometime and it came on a winning note for the English fans. For the babyfaced cricketer who took a bow in the international arena after being clobbered for six sixes in an over by Yuvraj Singh in the 2007 T20 World Cup — not to speak of playing through Asthma at the topmost level — the man hasn’t done too badly.

Take a bow, Broad…

Follow us on: Facebook, Twitter, Google News, Instagram 

Join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines