Ashes 2023 was an ode to Test cricket | Crickit
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Ashes 2023 was an ode to Test cricket

Aug 02, 2023 08:56 PM IST

Ashes 2023 was an ode to Test cricket, in much the same way that perhaps India’s two tour wins in Australia or the 2005 Ashes were (there are more, plenty more)

Two wickets, 43 runs, three wickets and 49 runs. The result margins in this Ashes series were the proof of the pudding. They are the reason why this series will go down as one of the best ever.

In all 343 men’s Ashes Tests played before this series there had been only 25 matches won by margins of under 50 runs or by three or fewer wickets. (AP) PREMIUM
In all 343 men’s Ashes Tests played before this series there had been only 25 matches won by margins of under 50 runs or by three or fewer wickets. (AP)

In all 343 men’s Ashes Tests played before this series, as revealed by statistician Andy Zaltzman on Test Match Special, there had been only 25 matches won by margins of under 50 runs or by three or fewer wickets (and none in the 1960s or 1970s). And now we have had four in five matches.

The gaps between the two teams at the end of the first innings were 7 runs at Edgbaston, 91 at Lord’s, 26 at Headingley, 275 at Old Trafford and 12 at the Oval. It invariably meant that going into the second half of the match, anything and everything was possible. The only Test where the margin had the potential of making it one-sided, at Old Trafford, it became a washout.

And truth be told, it all truly begins in the second innings. The first innings is all about setting it up. It is about getting yourself into a position to dominate the opponent. But with neither team gaining a clear advantage and the deteriorating pitch adding to the mix, cricket becomes a cocktail that neither the one-day nor T20 format can serve up. This is where Test cricket shines; this is where it becomes different.

England's aggressive approach added a touch of madness to the proceedings. Before the series began, Australia had wondered whether Ben Stokes and Co would be able to carry that approach against their experienced bowling line-up. By the end, it wasn't even a question.

The home team took a while to get going but starting from the third Test, this was their series. It was still close, but mentally it seemed England had managed to get into Australia's heads.

The overall numbers will show that Australia hit 370 boundaries (31 sixes, 339 fours) to England's 346 (43 sixes, 303 fours). Once again, not much to choose between the two sides but it was the frequency of the boundary hits that set them apart. Australia batted a total of 896.5 overs in the series. England? Just 647.3.

England were at the Aussies all the time. It didn't always work, but from the point of view of a fan this was just what the doctor ordered, or at least that is what Stokes hopes.

“I really hope that we’ve inspired a new generation,” Stokes said. “I look back to 2005 and what that series did for me as a young person. I really hope there's someone who is at my age in 2005 that’s looked at this series and just said, ‘That’s what I want to be doing when I’m 21 or 22.”

Pat Cummins, Stokes' counterpart, too noticed a surge in interest in the sport.

“That’s been one of the best things about the last eight weeks,” Cummins said. “Just walking around the streets even. You always expect one idiot every now and then but there honestly hasn't been any. Everyone has been amazing and just talking about the cricket and how much they’ve loved it, and I know it’s the same back in Australia.”

The 2-2 series result meant that neither side walked away with a bad taste in their mouth. Sure, they would have loved to win outright, but for now they can all bask in the afterglow of a series that will go down in history.

The matches could have all turned on a moment and that is why it seems impossible to pinpoint which one eventually did it. It wasn't perfect, it wasn't faultless. If anything, the cricket had a very human feel to it with both sides piling on the mistakes, but they interspersed them with so much bravado and guts that the blemishes faded into the background.

Ashes 2023 was an ode to Test cricket, in much the same way that perhaps India’s two tour wins in Australia or the 2005 Ashes were (there are more, plenty more). This was a superb advertisement for the longer version of the game because it showed that cricket, at its finest, is a struggle between bat and ball. And that’s something we often forget while watching batters collect runs on featherbeds in the shorter formats.

We don’t know whether this will lead to a revival of the format around the world; it certainly makes fans yearn for yet another series... just like it. And that is a triumph too.

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