Australia have retained the Ashes with a helping hand from the Manchester weather in a game where they felt the full force of Bazball. But, regardless of their position at Old Trafford when the elements closed in, they had gained an early foothold in the series with hard-fought wins at Edgbaston and at Lord’s.
After the second Test, Ben Stokes was adamant that it was a good position for England to be in, focusing the mind on the need for three consecutive victories to become just the second team to recover from 2-0 down to win an Ashes. They succeeded, by a narrow margin, at Headingley, but it left them no wriggle room for events like those which transpired in Manchester.
So, for the fourth consecutive time, the urn will remain in Australia’s hands and England’s next chance to regain it will be daunting, in Australia in 2025-26.
The overnight reaction from Australia has largely been an acknowledgement they were outplayed in this Test, and there is some disappointment that the series won’t get a grandstand decider at The Oval. But there has not been much room for any sympathy towards England given their early losses.
“Well done Australia winning early doors in the face of the Bazball furnace, they lost tosses and had the worst of conditions but played the better cricket,” wrote Peter Lalor in the Australian. “Those wins at Edgbaston and Lord’s were hard won and an achievement not to be sneered at.
“Here’s a suggestion, if you want to win the Ashes, don’t lose the first two Tests,” he went on to add. “If you want to win don’t declare too early in the first match or too late in this one.”
A similar theme was taken by Daniel Brettig in the Age and Sydney Morning Herald, where he pointed to the value of the Marnus Labuschagne-Mitchell Marsh partnership during the 30-over window of play on Saturday, in which Australia only lost one wicket.
“Of course, after three days it had appeared that England only needed another couple of hours or so to win, so downcast had the Australians looked in declining to 4-113,” he wrote. “But Marnus Labuschagne and Mitch Marsh played staunchly enough across the 30 overs possible on day four, and they always had the cushion of Australia’s wins in Tests one and two.
“When it comes down to a final analysis, Australia played the sounder cricket in those opening two Tests when it mattered most. Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith and Travis Head did the heavy lifting with the bat, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon and Mitchell Starc with the ball and yes, Alex Carey was alert to stump Bairstow with the gloves.”
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Andrew McGlashan reports from Manchester where rain denies England the opportunity of winning the 2023 Ashes
Over in the Daily Telegraph, Ben Horne wasn’t pulling any punches over England’s Bazball philosophy.
“It’s time England stopped acting like the urn has just been stolen from their back pocket by a thief in the night,” Horne wrote, “and ponder how they put themselves in a predicament where rain at the rainiest venue in Test match cricket has blown up its Ashes comeback hopes on the tarmac.
“There is no such thing as moral victories in top level sport, not even when you play an attacking brand of cricket and swear your primary objective is to entertain not to win.
“The best thing about this enthralling series, by far, has been Baz Ball. It is captivating and brilliant. But the most tedious thing has been how in love England are with themselves about Baz Ball.”
Back in the Australian and Gideon Haigh brought a very measured view to how it all played out, bemoaning how such a captivating series had seen the Ashes decided by two days of rain, but also raising the question as to whether retaining the urn with a drawn series needed to be revisited.
“The fantasy of two-all going to The Oval had been enchanting to both sets of fans; only the dimmest partisans so crave trophies as to be gratified by non-results,” Haigh wrote. “Alas for England, a little Australian edge in experience had already stood them in good stead through two nipping finishes, in the latter of which they played the match’s second half with ten fit men.
“Convention dictates that the Ashes can only change hands if won outright, by a margin of at least one Test. Yet it is a convention of mysterious provenance, understood rather than codified. And I wonder whether it is quite fair, given that it confers a sizeable advantage before the teams even start, by effectively lending the draw a weighting that favours the holder: no clearer example could there have been than this Old Trafford Test.”
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A similar theme was taken by Andrew Webster in the Age and Sydney Morning Herald – he did not like Josh Hazlewood’s ‘praying for rain’ stance after the third day.
“We’re Australians, apparently. We don’t pray for rain: we bludgeon our way with bat, deliver pure fire with ball, and field like Dobermanns. We don’t retain things. We grasp things. We hoist things. We grab a stump and dubiously thrust our hips, as Warnie did at Trent Bridge in 1997,” he wrote.
“But if there is one anachronistic edict that must change, it’s retaining a series simply because you’ve won it before,” he later added. “What’s wrong with calling it a drawn series when it is, indeed, a drawn series?”
Over on Australian radio, meanwhile, Gerard Whateley of SEN acknowledged Australia were outplayed, but quickly switched focus to some of the reaction in England.
“Cry me a river, England,” he said. “The bleating coming from the other side of the world, honestly, you’d think they’d never been a Test match washed away and that the cliched bleak English weather had never assisted the home team’s endeavours previously… like so much in this series, the English are very selective in memory.”
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