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The Hindu
The Hindu
Sankar Narayanan E.H.

Write off Bazball and England at your own peril

Bazball took a blow at Edgbaston as England’s 2023 Ashes campaign started on the wrong foot. Pat Cummins’ Australia managed to pull off a dramatic chase to take a 1-0 lead in the series.

The Ashes urn hasn’t had England’s name on it since 2015, and getting off to a winning start would have helped set the tempo for the remainder of the series. But it wasn’t to be.

The road ahead

With a lot to ponder, Ben Stokes and the England think-tank have four more Tests to plot and plan a comeback. If history is any indication, what awaits is a series that will keep everyone on edge.

What can Brendon McCullum’s England do to turn around its fortunes? And what has transpired in the previous opening bouts between the countries on English soil since 2001?

After the turn of the millennium, the two sides have locked horns on English shores in six series.

The first Test of the 2001 battle saw the Aussies thrash the home side by an innings and 118 runs.

England’s misery piled up as captain Nasser Hussain hurt his finger and had to retire during the second innings of the Test. The injury also led to him missing out on the next two games at Lord’s and Trent Bridge. There wasn’t much of a fightback from the host as it lost the first three Tests by big margins. Though it won the fourth at Leeds, England went on to lose the series 1-4.

All-time classic

In 2005, the Ashes returned to its glory days. England went down by 239 runs at Lord’s in the opener with Australian speedster Glenn McGrath doing the bulk of the damage with a nine-wicket match haul.

The stage was set for another Aussie victory as England hadn’t won the Ashes since its famous win down under in the 1986-87 campaign.

A freak injury during training ruled McGrath out of the second Test at Birmingham. The absence of its game-changer threw Ricky Ponting’s men off track.

Australia’s decision to field first backfired as England racked up 407 in just under 80 overs in the first innings and went on to win the Test in a humdinger.

With the visitors staring down the barrel, Brett Lee and Michael Kasprowicz added 59 for the final wicket. With just three needed for victory, Steve Harmison dismissed Kasprowicz and triggered celebrations in the England camp. The sight of Andrew Flintoff bending over to console a distraught Lee is still etched in memory.

The win in the second Test spurred the Englishmen on and it took a Ricky Ponting special to deny them a victory at Old Trafford in the third Test.

However, the host got it right at Nottingham in the fourth before Kevin Pietersen’s remarkable effort saved the fifth Test for England at The Oval. The urn moved to England, finally.

Joy overflows: Andrew Strauss and his men celebrate the 2009 Ashes success. (Source: REUTERS)

Moving ahead to 2009, the first match at Cardiff saw England pull off a great escape in the fourth innings. The last-wicket pair of Monty Panesar and James Anderson weathered the Aussie attack for over 11 overs to keep the series at 0-0 going into the second Test. Flintoff, who announced that he would retire from Tests at the end of the Ashes series, won the second Test for England with an inspired five-wicket haul as a spirited Australia pursued a massive target of 522.

Getting it right at Home, finally

England had won an Ashes Test at Lord’s — the Home of Cricket — for the first time since 1934, and it was just the motivation the players needed. It prevailed in the final Test at The Oval to clinch the series 2-1 and regained the Ashes after a whitewash in Australia in the 2006-07 series.

The special one: Skipper Alastair Cook with the urn after the 2013 series triumph in England. (Source: AP)

England was a completely different side in the longest format coming into the 2013 Ashes. It was full of beans after a sensational series success in India earlier that year and the away win in Australia in 2010/11. The first match at Trent Bridge was an edge-of-the-seat thriller as both teams found ways to lose their advantage.

It was Anderson’s 10-wicket haul that proved the difference as the players walked away with a 14-run victory. This was England’s first opening Ashes Test victory since 1997 and it didn’t look back as it motored to a 3-0 series victory.

Packing a punch: Stuart Broad and Joe Root were the architects of England’s series win in 2015. (Source: AFP)

The 2015 joust saw all the matches dominated by one side or the other throughout. The first Test at Cardiff was convincingly won by England, thanks to Joe Root’s contribution (134 & 60; two for 28 in Australia’s second innings).

The Aussies came back strongly at Lord’s to win by a 405-run margin, with Steve Smith’s maiden double hundred in Tests making it special.

It was England which stormed right back, winning the next two at Birmingham and Nottingham to seal the series.

Broad was on fire, running through the Australian line-up for just 60 with a dream spell of eight for 15 on the opening day of the fourth Test at Trent Bridge.

England batted just once in the match before winning by an innings and 78 runs. The series ended 3-2 in the hosts’ favour after Australia repaid in kind with an innings and 46-run victory in the final Test at The Oval.

In the 2019 series, England suffered a 251-run loss at Edgbaston in the opening match. With the return of their talismanic players, David Warner and Steve Smith, who had served their bans following the ball-tampering scandal, Australia cruised home. However, the second Test ended in a draw before the Englishmen took the third.

One for the ages

The Headingley Test remains one of the most iconic. England, bowled out for 67 to concede a 112-run lead in the first innings, faced a target of fourth innings target of 359. Root (77) and Joe Denly (50) put England on course before it lost the plot and was a wicket away from losing the Test.

However, in an incredible finish, Stokes (135 not out) muscled the team home in the company of No. 11 Jack Leach (1 not out). England had needed 73 when Leach arrived at the wicket to join Stokes.

The left-arm spinner remained rock solid and the first and only run he took brought the scores level! Stokes duly completed the job, smashing a boundary off the next delivery.

This was not enough for England to regain the Ashes as both teams won a match each in the remaining games at Old Trafford and The Oval to make it 2-2. It was the first time since 1972 that a series between the two ended in a draw.

Cut to the present, all is not lost for Stokes’ men. Bazball could still stage a comeback.

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