Bizarrely Brilliant: 2015 Ashes Series Review

As always, an Ashes summer conjures up high expectations of fearsome rivalry and exciting cricket. It cannot be denied that these were the main features of the 2015 series, even if the series was unconventional in the fact there were less nail biting final days and more three day victories.

The series saw England and Australia go head to head in one of the most bizarre series of the modern era. Whilst a score line of 3-2 would suggest a hard fought and close battle between the two sides, with England eventually coming out on top, the series was actually a series of matches and sessions dominated by one team at one time.

After all it isn’t very often you see a five match series have just 18 days of cricket played.

Generally speaking, a series of games in which one side dominates the match entirely may seem both dull and tedious; that couldn’t be further from the truth in terms of this series, with both sides showing glimpses of brilliance, as well as utterly embarrassing themselves at times.

The series started off in explosive fashion at Cardiff, with England winning by 169 runs after recovering from 43-3 on the first day, with an incredible 134 from Joe Root. A lower order partnership between Ali and Broad elevated England to 430 all out, which was inevitably Australia’s downfall.

It was Edgbaston however, that was the turning point of the series.

However, England fans feared that Australia had found their form when they came back hard at Lords to beat the hosts by 405 runs. With first innings heroics from Rogers (173) and Smith (215), England were unable to respond, falling for just 103 in their second innings, levelling the series and leaving England fans questioning whether the momentum had fatally shifted.

It was Edgbaston however, that was the turning point of the series. James Anderson performed in that way he so often does to take 6 wickets and dismiss Australia for 136 in the first innings. Australia’s second innings saw a very welcome return for Steven Finn, who also took 6 wickets, sealing Australia’s fate and allowing England to coast to a meagre 124 target, and winning by 8 wickets.

With England regaining the Ashes after another mauling of the Australian batting line-up at Trent Bridge, Australia managed to salvage their dignity in the final test at the Oval, giving Michael Clarke a winning send-off and managing to make the series a much closer 3-2.

Moment of the Series

Stuart Broad’s heroics in the first innings at Trent Bridge was, for the English at least, the highlight of the series. In one of the most spellbinding first sessions of a Test match, Broad left both commentators and spectators speechless, as well as the Aussies scratching their heads as to where it all went wrong. The innings lasted all of  18.3 overs, 94 minutes and equated to a grand total of 60 runs (14 of which were extras).

Demolishing the rest of the order, Broad finished the innings with 8 wickets for just 15 runs and with it all but sealed England’s regaining of the Ashes.

Stuart Broad, who was searching for his 300th Test wicket, didn’t have to wait long dismissing both Rogers and Smith in his first over. On just the 19th ball he had bowled, Broad claimed the wicket of Australia’s captain Michael Clarke and with it his five-for. Demolishing the rest of the order, Broad finished the innings with 8 wickets for just 15 runs and with it all but sealed England’s regaining of the Ashes.

Fond Fairwells

It’s not often as an Englishman you find yourself feeling sorry for an Australian, but that was certainly the case when Michael Clarke announced his retirement from cricket at the end of the fourth test. Whilst Clarke has often rubbed the opposition up the wrong way there is no denying that he had an exceptional career and has certainly proven himself as a captain in the past year.

After the tragic loss of Phillip Hughes, who was struck by a bouncer in November 2014, Clarke has been the epitome of both strength and class, something which has ultimately echoed through his captaincy and his team. Whilst it cannot be denied he had a poor series with the bat, it was also sad to see him used as somewhat of a scapegoat in a series that saw a lot of players not performing.

There was also another retirement in the Australian camp from a player who has performed exceptionally for his national side of the past few years. Chris Rogers may not have the flashy shots or the loud personality of some of his team mates, but he has been a consistent and humble addition to the team, quietly going about his business at the top of the order with strong performances, whilst those around him have been dismissed.

Looking forward

Both England and Australia have a lot to consider when looking to the future of their Test sides. Whilst England’s bowlers have had a pretty decent series, a glaring issue has been made of England’s top order, often finding themselves two or three wickets down before they reach fifty. One of the biggest issues is the opening partnership of Alistair Cook and Adam Lyth. Despite only having played 13 innings it would appear that, for now, Lyth has failed to transfer his county form to the test stage, only once managing to make it past 50 in those innings. Similarly, Ian Bell’s form during the past few series has been a worry, leaving players such as Root being forced to come in, needing to save the innings. Another gaping hole is England’s lack of a full time spinner, something which has been missing ever since Graeme Swann’s retirement. Whilst Ali has proven himself capable of taking wickets, for the most part his wickets have been from poor shots rather than exceptional bowling. Though his batting has proved very valuable during the series, England need that Graeme Swann-style spinner who is consistently competent and taking wickets.

Australia are going to have to adapt to a new captain in Steve Smith, who is still in a learning phase of his captaincy.

Australia also have an interesting time ahead when it comes to their Test team, with one of the main comments going into the series surrounding the age of their team. With three players having already retired (Clarke, Rogers and this week Watson) and players such as Adam Voges reaching the end of their careers, it is clear that Australia are going to have to try and introduce some younger players into the squad over the coming months, especially in terms of batting.

As well as this, Australia are going to have to adapt to a new captain in Steve Smith, who, whilst having a bit of experience in the Big Bash League in Australia, and occasionally stepping in for Clarke, is still in a learning phase of his captaincy. One of the big questions surrounding his transition is whether he can maintain his form with the bat along with the captaincy, being one of Australia’s key players in that department, and now one of their most senior players.

Both sides have a period of time to rebuild their test sides and to address any problems they feel linger within their team performance. It will be interesting to see what the two sides look like when they face each other next time round in Australia.

Laura Williamson

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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