Broad, Bails and a Brilliant Ashes

For the final time in his cricket career, Stuart Broad strides in from the Pavillion. A raucous English crowd at his back. A cagey Alex Carey at the crease. The whole country hopes they witness a fairytale ending to a legendary career. Broad delivers his iconic two-seamer.

The Aussie wicket-keeper attempts to prod the ball to mid-on, mistimes and nicks the ball through to Jonny Bairstow. The 6ft 5in fast bowler wheels off in celebration, making sure to hug his partner in crime, Jimmy Anderson. With that, the bails are removed at the end of an unforgettable Ashes series. 

The tone was set early on at a vibrant Edgbaston. The Hollies Stand in full voice as the country were eager to witness England’s new ‘Bazball’ style of play for the first time in Ashes format. They didn’t have to wait long. Zak Crawley smacked a cover drive for four off the first delivery of the series; before going on to make 61 off 73 balls. Followed by a glorious Joe Root century and a promising Bairstow 78 and declaring for 393 after less than a full day batting. ‘Bazball’ was well and truly alive.

After constant momentum swings, Australia needed 281 for victory, their biggest run-chase for over a decade. Usman Khawaja and David Warner made a good start for the visitors, sharing a 61-run partnership. England got some key wickets in Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne, yet the run tally kept ticking. When Joe Root had caught and bowled Alex Carey it seemed like an English comeback was on the cards. But an outstanding ninth-wicket partnership from captain Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyons saw the Aussies clinch the opener. 

The second test at Lord’s saw the highs and lows of England’s new identity. A brilliant captain’s century by Ben Stokes, fuelled by a sense of injustice, had made it seem like victory was all but certain for the home team. Australian keeper Carey had controversially stumped Bairstow after the Englander had left his crease, assuming the ball had been called dead. Yet no umpire had officially ended the over. Carey caught and threw the ball all in the same motion, hitting the stumps and getting Bairstow out.

However, it was safe to say the players and the fans were left in a state of disarray by the dismissal. Stokes, however, powered on. Feeding off the now boisterous crowd. But another batting collapse saw the hosts go from 301-6 to 327 all out. Losing the test by 43 runs and handing Australia a 2-0 series lead. 

The third test in Leeds saw a change of faces and a change of fortunes for the home team. Strong bowling displays from both sides saw neither team hit more than 270. But it was England that came out victorious, winning by three wickets. Headingley’s performance meant there was much more optimism in Manchester.

After bowling the men from down under out for 317, two superb displays from Crawley and Bairstow saw England push for an innings victory. The hope was short-lived as the Northern weather reared its ugly head. Days four and five saw torrential downpours and play didn’t resume. The match was therefore drawn, meaning Australia retained the urn. 

Still, a series draw was to be played for. England continued to bat at an outrageous pace, but Pat Cummins’ men were sticking around. It was not until Broad announced his retirement on Saturday evening, that the atmosphere began to ramp up.

The need to send this servant of the game out with a victory was evident to all the England players. A collapse in their final innings from the visitors, initiated by Moeen Ali and finished off in fairytale-like fashion by Broad, saw the Ashes drawn for the seventh time in history. 

The Stuart Broad Show

Even before Saturday’s retirement announcement, it seemed as if Broad had been at the centre of a lot during the series. His long-running dominance against Australian opener Warner continued in Birmingham. Forcing the batsman to cut the ball onto his own stumps and getting him out for the sixteenth time in test cricket. Warner walked off with a grin as the ground cheered in disbelief that their man had once again bettered one of the best openers of all time. He would get his man again at Headingley, tying him with Curtley Ambrose for the most wickets of an individual in test cricket.

At Lord’s, Broad then delivered one of the most iconic lines in recent Ashes memory. After the controversial dismissal of Bairstow at the hands of Carey, Broad was the next batter-up. Clearly angry, the seamer had some enlightening words for the Aussie. Caught on stump microphone, Broad tells the wicket-keeper: “That’s all you’ll be remembered for that.” It must have stung hearing words like that from one of two fast bowlers ever to record over 600 test wickets. Carey went on to average just 14 runs per inning for the rest of the series.

In the final test, Broad was at his antics again. England had failed to get a wicket on day two, with Labuschagne crawling along at 9 runs off the first 81 balls. In comes Broad. Walking up to the wickets, he switched the bails around. The next ball from Mark Wood was edged to Root, who took an outrageous catch for the out. He then proceeded to do it again on day five, resulting in the same outcome. This time Todd Murphy was the victim. Edging behind Broad’s delivery. An exceptional conclusion for an exceptional player.

All Hands on Deck

Before the Ashes had begun, it was all hands on deck in the England camp. Ten days before the opening test in Birmingham, spinner Jack Leach revealed he had a stress fracture in his back, picked up in a warm-up test match against Ireland. It was a blow to Stokes and head coach Brendon McCullum, who relied heavily on the left-arm bowler as a slow-pace threat.

There’s not a lot of depth in the England set-up at spin currently. Former captain Root can work some magic with the ball, but his expertise remains primarily on the batting side. Rehan Ahmed is a promising talent, but this series came too early for him. It seemed as if all hope had been lost until an old flame came out of retirement. Ali left test cricket in 2021, citing his commitment to short forms of the game.

However, a text message from Captain Stokes persuaded him to join up with the squad one last time. He ended the series with 180 runs and nine wickets, battling through finger and groin injuries to help England draw the Ashes. 

Once the dust had settled at the Oval, Moeen told SkySports: “I know I’m done.

“If Stokesy messages me again, I’m going to delete it.” 

A fair response by a man who put his body on the line to help his country. 

However, Ali’s injuries did rule him out of the second test. Forcing England to go for an all-pace attack. Anderson and Josh Tongue had underwhelming performances and Ollie Pope dislocated his shoulder in the field. Chris Woakes and Wood were the next men up. Both became momentum changers. Wood brought a much-needed injection of speed into the rotation. Reaching heights of 96mph on some of his deliveries. While Woakes offered great consistency and an exciting bat. 

Both added balance to the line-up and were retained in the squad for the remaining matches. Woakes finished with 19 wickets, three less than Broad, having bowled in four fewer innings. Wood added 14 of his own and averaged 16 runs, including a man-of-the-match performance in Leeds. Both were instrumental in England’s fightback and could have been part of a historic team if not for the 4th test washout. 

The 2023 Ashes brought a summer of entertainment, record-breaking moments, controversy and all-out fun. Bring on 2025.

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