It has been nearly 130 years since the first Test of what the world now knows as conceivably the fiercest rivalry in international cricket – The Ashes. In a one-off game at the Oval, Australia registered an improbable victory, which led to widespread ridicule of the English cricket team.
A couple of days after Australia’s triumph, lionized English journalist Reginald Shirley Brooks wrote a sardonic death note on The Sporting Times, which eventually led to the series being known as ‘The Ashes.’ Brooks wrote:
“In Affectionate Remembrance
which died at the Oval
29 August 1882,
Deeply lamented by a large circle of sorrowing
friends and acquaintances
N.B.—The body will be cremated and the
ashes taken to Australia.”
Over a century later, it seems as if English cricket has ‘died’ once again, except that their ashes currently remain in Australia itself. After failing to offer any resilience in the first two Test matches, the Three Lions’ skipper Joe Root asked his teammates to step up and show accountability in the third match.
They took a step alright, albeit in the backward direction, as Australia won the third Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground by an innings and 14 runs, thereby sealing the series. Batting first, England could only score 185 runs.
Australia replied with 267, and though the visitors’ bowling department did not do much wrong, their batters let the nation down once again in the second innings, scoring all but 68 runs.
England’s second innings total was the lowest in Ashes since December of 1936 when the Aussies were wrapped up for 58, while it is also the lowest score by the Three Lions on Australian soil since 1904.
Australia had multiple heroes in this match. Scott Boland joined quite a few elite lists with his spectacular second innings spell, while Marcus Harris finally justified his selection in the Team. As for England, however, things are looking pretty grim, with Plan B turning out to be worse than Plan A.
Let us have a look at the biggest talking points from the match:
Scott Boland – Australia’s (Ab)original Hero
Scott Boland’s figure in the second innings, 4-1-7-6, was significant, not merely because it helped Australia register an inning triumph over their fierce rivals, but also because Boland joined a very small group of aboriginal cricketers to represent Australia in Tests.
In baggy greens’ first-ever tour of England, a certain Johnny Mullagh stole the headlines by scalping a ten-fer. It was, however, not considered as a Test match. Jason Gillespie became the first male cricketer to represent the Kangaroos in Test in 1996, and Boland extended the list after a long gap of 25 years.
Besides this non-cricketing accomplishment, Boland also made records on purely cricketing terms. He became the fifteenth male Australian cricketer to get a six-fer on his debut, and the eighth to do so against England.
The procession of wickets started pretty early as in the 11th over of England’s second innings, the Melbourne lad dismissed both Haseeb Hameed and the night-watch, Jack Leach. He set Day 3 ablaze by dismissing Johnny Bairstow, Joe Root and Mark Wood in a span of only five overs.
Marcus Harris’ shot at redemption
One would have to keep a magnifying glass handy if asked to find weaknesses in what seems to be a leakproof Australian Test side. A fantastic pace battery where a Jhye Richardson can step in for Pat Cummins and do wonders on all seven days of the week, and a solid batting department where the experienced campaigners like David Warner and Steve Smith are efficiently complementing the new stars like Marni’s Labuschagne – it seems as if Australia have got everything covered.
The one area of weakness they had was Warner’s opening partner. 3, 23, 2, 9*, 5, 38, 3, 9, 13, 6 – These were Marcus Harris’ returns in his last ten Test knocks before coming into this match. After two years without a Test century, the Perth lad has finally redeemed himself, or at the very least, has bought him some time.
Like the last Test, Australia did not have the best of starts with the bat, losing their first four wickets for 110 runs. Harris, however, remained resolute and held the fort for the hosts, scoring a commendable 76. His runs did not come easy, as the 29-year-old tackled 189 deliveries – the most he has faced in a single inning in the game’s longest format. In fact, Harris faced 23 deliveries more than the entire English team in the second inning.
Ducks for fun and solutions? None – England’s batting woes continue
When Ollie Robinson was dismissed by Boland in what was the penultimate over of Day 3, he became the 54th English batter to get out on a duck in Test cricket in 2021. Such is the appalling condition of England’s dreadful batting department that their third-highest source of runs in Test cricket in the ongoing calendar year is extras (412), with Joe Root being the first (1708) and Rory Burns following him (530).
The problems are as transparent as they could be, but the solutions are not. England have failed to rectify their batting troubles – not for the lack of trying though. They replaced an out of form Rory Burns with Zak Crawley, but the latter returned with scores of 12 and 5.
In the middle-order, Ollie Pope was benched for Jonny Bairstow, who could only score 40 runs in the two innings combined. Technique, temperament, application – pick any fundamental aspect of Test batting, and you will find almost every English batter found wanting. A painfully subpar batting contingent is not helping Root’s captaincy records as well, as he became the fastest captain to lose nine Ashes Tests, surpassing Mike Atherton.
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