England And Australia's Contrasting Styles Leave Fifth Ashes Test On A Knife Edge

Australia finished on 295 all out, with a 12 run lead...
18:28, 28 Jul 2023

Australia finished day two of the final Test with a narrow 12 run lead, all out for 295. This Ashes series, perhaps more than any other in Test history, has shown two contrasting styles of cricket. England are the whack em and bash em entertainers, hitting everything in their path, to the delights and sometimes bemusement of the home crowd. It got them close to winning this series, but it wasn’t enough. 

In this fifth Test at the Oval, Australia took things to the other extreme in the morning session. Defensive cricket doesn’t quite sum up the performance of Usman Khawaja and Marnus Labuschagne over those first two hours. It was as if somebody had told them that if they hit a boundary they’d have to experience a Manchester summer every year for the rest of their lives. 

With the rain of Old Trafford now a distant, if still painful memory, the public were desperate to see some cricket. And Australia gave us Test cricket in its worst, most tedious form. Leave. Leave. Leave. Labuschagne’s shot choice replicated your nan’s knitting club’s views on Brexit and just like 2016, it left England frustrated. 

But although boring, this is a perfectly valid way to play Test cricket. It’s how it has been played for decades before Bazball came along to shake things up. But it’s not a foolproof method, as Australia would find out. 

Labuschagne’s patient performance finally came to an end. While batting at the pace of a snail as he registered a paltry nine runs from 82 balls before edging to Joe Root, who pulled off the most spectacular catch. It should have been Jonny Bairstow’s but instead it was left to Root to dive to his left and pluck the ball from the air, just before it hit the ground. England after lunch were a different beast. Whatever Ben Stokes put in those cucumber sandwiches fired up the fast bowlers and as Australia tried to come out of their shell, they were picked off. Khawaja went for 47 from 157 deliveries as he became the top scorer in the series, while Travis Head came and went quickly, both via the arm of Stuart Broad. 

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England also got a moment of relief for Jimmy Anderson, who has been plugging away all series. He bowled Mitch Marsh to the delight of the crowd, in what could be one of his last wickets in an Ashes series. Australia were 151/5 having not done much with the bat and Alex Carey and Mitchell Starc well with regularity to take them to 185/7. 

Steve Smith avoided a run out after Jonny Bairstow was adjudged to have knocked the bails off with his gloves, but the great batsman’s dive to make sure he was in his crease was one of the highlights of the day. He managed to take Australia close to England’s total, but would eventually go after going for a big shot on 71 went array. 

When England looked to be certain to take a lead into the second innings, Australia’s tail wagged. Hard. Pat Cummins hit 30, Todd Murphy arrived at the crease and started smashing sixes. Australia’s morning patience had run out and now they were in the mood to hit. Hard. 

It’s the traditional way to add runs to your total. The openers are patient and steady. The middle order let loose and the tail-enders have licence to do what they like. From a position of control England let Australia back in it, and the visitors took the lead as Murphy and Cummins both got into their 30s. 

Eventually Chris Woakes trapped Murphy LBW but the spin bowler had done enough to put his side in the lead. Ben Stokes had his own moment of magic to end the Aussies innings as he threw the ball back in from the boundary before catching it back in play to dismiss Pat Cummins. There's almost nothing to choose between these two sides, as there hasn't been all series. Two different styles, two fantastic teams. One epic Ashes series. 

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