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Cricket news - Smith and pacers stand out in an Ashes among equals

The Australian new ball duo of Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood picked 49 of the 94 wickets that fell to bowlers

After five Tests, 1648 overs and 22 days of intense cricket, we didn't have a winner. The first drawn Ashes series in 47 years meant Australia held on to the urn despite remaining winless in a series in England since 2001. With the Ashes series of late getting increasingly one-sided, this was one to savour and was the most closely-competed series since the Magnum Opus in 2005.

A win across formats in 18 years at England's fortress in Edgbaston set the tournament rolling for the visitors before an innings of a lifetime by Ben Stokes put the campaign back on track for the home side at Leeds. The standout player of the series, Steve Smith's return bolstered Australia to a win in Manchester but the over-reliance on Smith and Pat Cummins paved for a defeat for Australia in the series decider at the Oval.

Ashes series ending in draws

Opening batsmen struggle

The opening batsman from both sides struggled and in 20 innings combined they put up just a solitary 50-plus partnership for the first wicket. The average opening partnership in the series read just 12.55, which is the third-lowest in an Ashes series after 8.70 in England in 1888 and 11.50 in Australia in 1887/88.

Australian openers had a series to forget with the highest partnership of 18 in ten innings and an average 8.50 per stand. David Warner had a dreadful series scoring just 95 runs in ten innings with eight single-figure scores and falling to Stuart Broad seven times.

England openers, though they failed to put up substantial partnerships at the top of the order, did better than their Aussie counterparts individually. Rory Burns finished third highest on run charts with 390 runs, only behind Smith and Stokes, scoring a century and two fifties. In the four innings he opened the batting, Joe Denly scored 165 runs at 41.25 including two valuable second innings half-centuries.

Openers in Ashes 2019

Smith's Ashes

After being exiled from main-stream cricket for a year, the New South Wales batsman returned to his favourite format during the English summer and ended the series with a whopping 774 runs - 333 more than anyone else. It was only a matter of time before he got back his number one position in ICC Test rankings as he pipped Virat Kohli for the top spot.

Smith top-scored for Australia in six of the seven innings he batted with a lowest score of 23 in the series, and he extended his run of consecutive 50-plus scores against England to ten - a sequence that started off with his career-best of 239 in Perth in the previous Ashes. Smith's tally of 774 runs is the best by a player in any series since 798 by Brian Lara against the same opponent in 1994 and the fifth-highest tally in an Ashes series.

Most runs in an Ashes series

Australia's lower order putting up resistance

Australia were reduced to 122 for eight on the opening day of the series before partnerships worth 88 and 74 for the last two wickets pushed the visitors' score to 284. It was a template that would repeat often in the series - the Australian tail wagging.

The first five wickets' contribution was eerily similar for both sides - Australia averaging 33.18 with five century partnerships and England 33.36 with four three-figure stands. However, the Australian tail was more solid in lending support to the top order batsmen while England's famed lower order did not come to the party as often as the management wished for.

The last five wickets averaged 30.05 per partnership for Australia, including ten 50-plus stands and the series' highest for any wicket of 145 for the sixth wicket between Smith and Tim Paine in Manchester - nearly ten runs more per stand than the home team. Smith was again instrumental, scoring nearly a third of the runs contributed by the last five partnerships (363 out of 1112) and was part of five of the ten 50-plus partnerships for Australia.

Partnership record for wickets 1-5

Partnership record for wickets 6-10

Australian bowlers outdo their English counterparts

It was a series where leather generally held sway over the willow and Australian bowlers were a notch ahead of the English. The Australian new ball duo of Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood picked 49 of the 94 wickets that fell to bowlers at an average of 20.53 and a wicket every 45.6 deliveries. The English new ball pair wasn't left much behind with Stuart Broad and Jofra Archer claiming 45 wickets at 23.53 and a strike rate of 44.2.

However, the difference was the backup bowling for either team. Australia picked seven seamers including all-rounder Mitchell Marsh in the squad out of which six featured in the series, and Paine always had a fresh bowler to pick at any point in time. Outside Cummins and Hazlewood, the rest of Australia's attack picked 43 wickets at 31.21 including two five-fers but kept a hold on the proceedings as they conceded at just 2.84 runs per overs. On the other hand, England's back-up bowlers leaked run at 3.44 per over and averaged 35.53 with Stokes's 4/41 in the second innings at Leeds being the only four-plus wicket haul outside Broad and Archer.

Australia's left-handers and England's right-handers

Smith was the leading run-getter of the series with 774 runs while Ben Stokes was England's highest scorer with 441 runs, followed by Rory Burns' 390. Two players who came to the series on the back of an outstanding World Cup endured dry runs in the Ashes - Warner averaged 9.50 and Jason Roy 13.75. It was a series where Australia's right-handers made merry while the left-handers struggled. And for the home team it was the reverse as the table below depicts.

The Australian duo of Cummins and Hazlewood was highly successful against the right-handers. 21 of Cummins's 29 wickets being right-handers against whom he averaged 14.00 compared to 34.38 against left-handers. He had the wood over Jos Buttler and Archer whom he dismissed five and four times respectively while Root, Woakes and Roy fell thrice each. Hazlewood's 16 scalps were right-handers against whom he averaged 17.44 compared to 39.50 against the four left-handers he dismissed. He dismissed each of the eight right-handers he bowled to at least once.

The story was exactly the opposite for Broad and Archer. 16 of Broad's 23 wickets were left-handers at 13.63 while his seven right-handed scalps came at 56.43 apiece. Broad accounted for Warner seven times and off the 148 balls he delivered to Warner and Harris, dismissing both of them ten times at an average of 6.30.

Archer had an even share of left-handed and right-handed victims - 11 apiece - but the 11 wickets of right-handers came at 14.55 apiece to 26.00 each for southpaws. Archer vs Smith was touted the battle of the series in which Smith came atop scoring 94 runs off the 164 deliveries he faced from Archer at a strike rate of 57.32 without getting dismissed. Both Broad and Archer found a high rate of success bowling around the wicket to Australia's left-handers.

Judicious use of DRS

The 2005 Ashes series is considered the greatest series ever played and the key turning point in that was England's two-run win in the second Test at Edgbaston which made the series level 1-1. It was those pre-DRS days as the last man Michael Kasprowicz was wrongly adjudged caught behind by Billy Bowden with Australia just three runs away from a win that would have effectively shut England out the series.

In the third Test of the 2019 series at Leeds, with England eight short of victory, Tim Paine unsuccessfully reviewed a leg-before decision against Jack Leach when it was clear to the naked eye that the ball clearly pitched outside the leg stump. That meant Australia ran out of reviews when at the end of the next over Hawkeye showed three reds for an unsuccessful LBW appeal by Lyon off Stokes, with England just two away from victory.

Paine was extremely poor with the reviews with 12 of the 14 reviews he made on the field getting struck down and there were also multiple other instances of him not reviewing when he should have. Overall, England had a success rate of 40.47% (17 decisions overturned out of 42 referrals) compared to 22.85% for Australia (eight overturned out of 35).

To sum it up, it was a series in which Australia dominated the batting and bowling charts but England won the key moments. A 2-2 result - the first drawn Ashes series in 47 years - was probably the apt result for a well-contested series between the old rivals.

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