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The on-going Ashes Test series has just got very interesting—England has won the third Test played at Headingley after chasing down 251 runs for the loss of seven wickets on the last day. England, in fact, scored 254-7 and with this display has clearly sent across the message that the series is stillalive—that an English win in the remaining two Test matches is a distinct possibility.
The last phase of the third Test match was in a way similar to what transpired during the same phase in the first Test match. Then Australia was chasing 281 to win but found itself in trouble when England snared its eighth wicket of Alex Carey, the last recognised Australian batter, on just 227 (still 54 runs behind).
England was then the favourite to win the match and go one up in the series. However, Australia’s captain Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon combined to turn that last hour into a nightmare for England as they put up the 54 runs needed for victory and push England behind in the series.
Similarly, in the third Test which England ultimately won chasing a target of 251, the home-side lost its seventh wicket (Harry Brook) at 230. Then just as the Cummins-Lyon duo in the first Test, England’s 2 Ws—Woodand Woakes—combined to steer England home safely to a memorable win and cut the series deficit down to2-1.
Wood’s scalps in the first inningincluded the consistent Usman Khwaja, Alex Carey, Mitchell Starc, Cummins and Todd Murphy. In the second inning, Wood’s two scalps consisted of Starc and Cummins.
England’s triumph in the third Test was primarily due to four players—its 2Ws(Wood and Woakes)and the 2Bs—Ben (Stokes) and Brook. Ben Stokes, in fact, has been England’s stand-out player this series while Brook, though not at his best, has still managed to contribute his bit to the team.
Wood and Woakes played their first match in this series only in the third Test and have acquitted themselves very creditably and both, in fact, proved the difference between the two teams.
Stokes followed up his mind-boggling 155 runs in the second Test match with another solid 80 in the first inning of the third Test. Brook, who already has a 50 (second Test) in this series came up with a 75 in the second inning which can now be described as the knock that kept the Australians at bay and helped tilt the table in England’s favour in the third Test.
The 2Ws too did their bit, in fact more than a bit, as their contributions were a very significant factor in England’s win. Wood, the fast bowler and Woakes the all-rounder showed their class in this match—in fact, this performance could revive Woakes’ Test career which was floundering in the last one-and-a-half years.
Wood who bowled at over 90-miles per hour for the most part rattled the Aussie batters and captured five wickets in the first inning—his figures were 5-34 off just 11.4-overs at an economy rate of a meagre 2.91.
His scalps included the consistent Usman Khwaja, Alex Carey, another high performer for the Aussies, Mitchell Starc, Cummins and Todd Murphy. In the second inning, Wood’s two scalps were Starc and Cummins.
Additionally, he showed he is no rabbit with the bat either—an eight-ball 24 blast in the first inning followed by a 16 not out off just eight balls in the second inning being a testimony to the above. He has been injury-prone over the years which is why he has not played more than he has; however, of late, his fitness has improved and if he is nursed well by the English team management, then he could easily serve England as their pace spearhead for several more years—a la James Anderson and Chris Broad.
Wood (now 33-years old) who made his Test debut in 2015 against New Zealand at Lord’s has played only 29 Tests in the eight years since. However, he has always given his 100 per cent to England whenever he has played and his wickets tally stands at 97 with four five-wicket hauls.
In ODIs, he has snared 71 wickets at an economy rate of 5.42 in 59 matches whereas in T-20s, in 28 games, he has 45 wickets at 8.35. If his form and fitness hold, he can comfortably play till he is 37-38-years old and end up with over 200 wickets.
Woakes too did well in this Test which could prove to be his come-back to the Test arena. At 34-years, he still has two-three years of Test cricket and perhaps even limited-overs cricket ahead of him. And if he does as well as he did in this Headingley Test match, then there is no reason why he should not be able to play cricket at the highest level for at least the next two-three years.
Woakes’ problem has been that he has often been overshadowed by Stokes through all these years they have been playing together. But his contributions to England’s cause cannot be overlooked. He has been one of the world’s top all-rounders in the last few years and his record over his 46 Test matches is also respectable. He debuted against Australia at The Oval in 2013. He has scored 1,717 runs with 137 as his highest. Besides, he also has six 50s.
In ODIs, he has 160 wickets from 112 matches with 3 fifers and an economy rate of a healthy 5.45. He has played only 29 T-20s and has snared 27 wickets at an economy rate of 7.95 which shows his effectiveness as a run-restrictive bowler.
A lot has been said of the senior B—Ben Stokes—who today is one of the world’s top cricketers. It is the other B—Brook—who deserves a lot of attention and deservedly so given his spectacular performances since his debut for England last year.
The 24-year-old who debuted in Test cricket less than a year ago (September 2022) against South Africa has amassed 1,028 runs in just 10 Test matches—in fact, he holds the world record for being the fastest to 1,000 runs in terms of balls faced (just 1,058 balls).
An integral part of England’s Bazball, Brook has already collected four centuries and five 50s with 186 as his highest. He has an astounding average of 64.25. In three ODIs, Brook has a highest of 80 runs from three games while in 20 T-20s, he has scored 372 runs with 81 as his highest with one 50 and a very healthy strike rate of 137.77.
An interesting fact that needs highlighting here is that in his first nine Test matches itself, Brook has scored four 100s and an equal number of half-centuries. If he continues in the same vein, cricket connoisseurs will be guaranteed eye-catching cricket over the next decade and beyond.
England will be making history if it wins the remaining two Tests and thus the series after being 0-2 down. The addition of the 2 Ws to the 2 Bs has considerably strengthened the English team and the momentum appears to have shifted England’s way.
England’s 2 Bs and 2Ws have combined well to turn the tables spectacularly on the Australians in the third Test match. The foursome has also served notice to the Australians that the latter now have a fight on their hands.
What appeared to be a romp in the park for the Australians after their second Test victory, has now transformed into a tough, no-holds barred contest for supremacy in the remaining two Tests. Australia needs to win just one more match to triumph in this series while a draw will be enough to retain the Ashes trophy.
England will need to win both the remaining Test matches to reclaim the Ashes while a draw and one more win will help it square the series. However, given the way England has been playing in the last year, it is a no-brainer that it will continue with its Bazballstyle of play and go for broke. England is now on the front foot and with the momentum behind it as well, England could just achieve what is considered near-impossible in the Ashes—that is, bouncing back from a 0-2 deficit to win the series 3-2.
This has been achieved only once before—by a Don Bradman-skippered Australian team in 1936-37. Will a Ben Stokes-skippered England be able to repeat this feat more than eight decades on?
A point to be noted here is that had the rub of the green not gone Australia’s way in the first two Tests, the scoreline could now well have been 3-0 in England’s favour. England lost the first two Test matches very narrowly.
The induction of Mark Wood and Chris Woakes has injected more potency into England’s bowling and also added a little more muscle to its latter-order batting—both aspects of the game which helped England best Australia in the Headingley Test.
The last two Tests—at Manchester and The Oval—thus acquire crucial importance for both the teams. England will be making history if it wins the remaining two Tests and thus the series after being 0-2 down. The addition of the 2 Ws to the existing 2 Bs has considerably strengthened the English team and the momentum appears to have shifted England’s way.
England will be trusting its Bazballstyle of play to demolish the Aussies. Whether England succeeds or not remains to be seen but whichever way the series goes, cricket lovers are in for a treat.