Two losses, a draw and a win. To say that England’s Ashes journey has been a bumpy ride is an understatement. Cricket fans were left disheartened last weekend after a disappointing performance at Old Trafford. As we enter the fifth and final Ashes test at the KIA Oval, Australia may be taking the urn back down under but England still have the chance to level the series. After such a spectacular display at Headingley that will go down in cricket history, what exactly went wrong for England last week?
To criticise England’s strategy would perhaps be an easier pill to swallow than the verdict of numerous cricket fans. Many are conceding that we are simply not up to scratch and that Australia are merely the better cricket team this time around. It’s no coincidence that the only match in which we were victorious just so happened to be the one in which Steve Smith was absent due to injury. Despite being our opponent, there’s no denying that he performed magnificently at Old Trafford and remains the highest run scorer by far.
Just as Australia struggled with Smith’s absence, England have clearly been missing the presence of James Anderson. One of England’s all-time top bowlers, Anderson developed a calf injury one month before the Ashes series and only managed to bowl four overs in the first Test at Edgbaston. Stuart Broad revealed that he was hopeful that Anderson would return in time to bowl England to victory but alas the dream did not become reality. 37-year-old Anderson has expressed that he would like to continue playing cricket until the age of 40, meaning that he could potentially make the next Ashes series in two years’ time. Had he been present this time around, who’s knows how the results would have played out.
Both Broad and Archer have done their best to fill the void left by Anderson but something within the team was still incomplete last week. Cricket fans took to Twitter to argue who they thought the squad should consist of. Despite their suggestions, it was initially confirmed that there would be no changes to the squad for the fifth test. The news angered cricket fans, who questioned what we had to lose by giving other players a chance. It seems that the selectors perhaps placed too much focus on the success of Headingley and, therefore, decided not to alter the line-up.
However, it has since been announced that there will now be two alterations. Sam Curran and Chris Woakes will now join the team at The Oval, replacing Jason Roy and Craig Overton. The news has delighted cricket fans who are particularly pleased that Curran has now finally got a look in. Can these changes to the squad give the team the extra boost they need?
It probably hasn’t helped that England won the World Cup less than a month before The Ashes begun. What a high to have to come down from in such a short space of time! It’s been commented that England’s sole priority was to win the World Cup, leading to a lack of preparation for The Ashes. It would be a struggle for any team to conquer two major cricket competitions less than a month apart.
What seems most saddening is that the radiance of Ben Stokes’ fantastic Headingley performance is slowly starting to fade into insignificance. His innings were compared to that of cricket legend Ian Botham when he made his 149, also at Headingley. The difference with Botham’s performance is that England then went on to win the Ashes, meaning that his moment of triumph became part of a larger victory. Stokes has confirmed that he will continue to play in the finale despite his shoulder injury but this time as a specialist batter rather than a bowler. Hopefully his injury does not progress further into the Test as this would be yet another blow for the team!
All that being said, we may be down but we are certainly not out. It’s up to Joe Root to pull the team together and instil some much-needed energy. With a bit of luck, we can get through the final Test at The Oval and at least level the series. Failing that, this will be the first Ashes series loss on home soil since 2001. Can England give us some final glimpses of cricket glory and go out with a bang?