With the Ashes and a T20 World Cup on the horizon, New Zealand first came to town!
5-86 from spinner Mason Crane followed by a partnership of 210 between Dom Sibley (119) and promising young batter Henry Peters (93) paved the way for victory in the first Test. Prodigious Peters would sensationaly follow that up with a mammoth 282 in the second Test. Having been reduced to 21-3, he piled on 264 with Ben Stokes (135). Wickets were shared around though that man Crane (4-32) finished off a an innings and 189-run victory.
We were then obliterated 3-0 in the T20I series. Sam Curran led the side but there was little to cheer though Benny Howell made a career best 43-ball 60 when promoted to three in the final match. We were poor in the ODIs (Ben Foakes at the helm) too, though Ed Barnard claimed 5-28 in the first match to join an elite club of players to have scored ODI centuries and claim a five-wicket haul. Having then gone 2-0 down, we did manage a consolation win with Matt Parkinson (3-32) turning it on having been called out of the international wilderness. Ben Slater struck 72 and Dan Lawrence 42 not out to seal a seven-wicket win.
Then came Australia and despite a hat-trick for Sam Cook (3-52), we were annihilated by 139 runs in the opening ODI! Captain Ben Foakes (108*) and Ben Slater (89) helped put 325 on the board in the second match but we couldn’t even defend that! We then lost the third game by 20 runs despite 86 from Ben Duckett. We turned it on in the T20s however. Ben Stokes (3-24) and in-form Duckett (64) led us to an eight-wicket win in the opener. In the second match, Jos Buttler blasted 81 from only 47 deliveries whilst Sam Curran blitzed 77 from just 37! We won by 44 runs. We lost the dead rubber despite 56 from Joe Root and 5-30 from the emerging talent of left-arm-pacer Olive Taylor. It was then onto the Ashes before the T20 World Cup and the swan song of many experienced players.
There’ve been some amazing Ashes campaigns throughout history and some cracking series during my tenure. Like the last one, this Ashes battle would go right down to the wire…
We lost the first Test by 64 runs, though Oliver Taylor (4-58) reaffirmed his promise in Australia’s second innings. He then hit 48 to combine for 109 with Ollie Pope (126*) for out ninth wicket. That helped lift us from 239-8 to 384 all out and reduce the margins of defeat as well as send a message to the tourists that we wouldn’t just roll over. We responded with a thumping ten-wicket win to level the series. Dom Sibley (122) and world cricket’s need star batsman Henry Peters (210) put on 283 to help us post 578-7 declared. For Peters, it was of course a second double century in the space of just three Tests. Jofra Archer (4-58) and Taylor (4-58) picked up four wickets each in Australia’s second dig. In the third match, captain Joe Root struck 131 whilst poor Rob Yates, recalled for this series after a three year absence, was cruelly dismissed for 99! We declared on 468-5. Taylor then took 5-57 to help us enforce the follow on. Mason Crane claimed four wickets and we would go onto win by seven wickets and take a 2-1 lead in the series. In the fourth match, off-spinner Amar Virdi was sensationally thrust into the side for his international debut. He promptly claimed 4-84 including the wickets of Smith, Labuschagne and Green. Yates (145) bounced back from the despair of falling for 99 to hit a long awaited maiden Test ton. Still only 24, he could have a great future ahead of him. Ben Stokes struck an imperious 157. Australia assumed a narrow lead but Mason Crane claimed 5-141 second time around. Despite 153 from Root and some lower order resistance, we succumbed to a 57-run defeat. Australia had levelled the series at 2-2 and had momentum going into the fifth and final Test
We posted 528-6 in the first innings. Pope (134*) and wicketkeeper Jos Buttler (117) put on exactly 200 for the sixth wicket. Root made 112 and Stokes, who like Buttler and Root was playing his final Test, contributed 55. Australia were the bowled out for 476. Sam Curran, gutted to have been left out of the fourth Test ripped through Australia with figures of 5-60. We then made 278-6 with Zak Crawley (60), ruthlessly recalled at the expense of Sibley, compiled an opening stand of 117 with Yates (61). Piper (57*) and Curran (47*) crucially boosted our total to allow us to declare. Rain and bad light then rescued Australia as our rampant bowlers decimated their batting line-up. Archer claimed 4-18 from ten overs and Australia lost a batsman to injury but with victory and the Ashes almost in our grasp, clouded English skies rescued Australia.
I’d like to congratulate both sides on a truly outstanding Ashes campaign that captivated a huge audience. Special mention goes to captain Joe Root, all-rounder Ben Stokes and wicketkeeper Jos Buttler, all of whom bow out of Test cricket after serving their country so well. We’ll see them all at the T20 World Cup though!