Sunday, 9 August 2015

England victorious

Sunday, 9 August 2015
England have won the Ashes. With a match to spare. It's not something I dared to believe at the start of the series - I saw myself as optimistic in thinking England could spring some upsets and come out with a series draw. And yet they have pulled through, and in these past two matches in particular, utterly dominated the opposition. A young team unfancied at the start of the series, with a 5-0 whitewash 18 months earlier still casting its shadow, has come out with their hands on the urn. I feel like I've written a lot about turnarounds this summer, but this one topped them all.

Really, the Ashes were won within ten overs at Trent Bridge. Australia already seven wickets down, game - and series - pretty much over. Or was it just in the first five, half the wickets already fallen and the top order in tatters? Maybe it was even the game before, at Edgbaston, England coming charging back by dismissing Australia for 136 after suffering their own abject humiliation at Lord's. The series was far from over, but it felt like the tide had turned for good. But nothing can beat that single moment to truly seal the deal. The sound of the ball knocking into the stumps, a sound that might be the most glorious in the world. The roar that follows, both at the ground and in people's homes, their cars, any place people could possibly be following the match. Nothing can beat that feeling of jubilation.

England have had their share of standout performances this series, special moments that stay with you for a long time. Root in Cardiff, Anderson and Finn at Edgbaston, Broad and Root (again) at Trent Bridge. Ben Stokes added himself to that list. He didn't need to bowl in the first innings, but when called upon in the second innings he was exceptional. Stokes doesn't always swing the ball, but here he did and then some. In that innings it felt like he couldn't be kept out of the game - when he wasn't taking wickets he was a safe pair of hands at gully (and the wonder catch in the first innings must be mentioned here too - any excuse to mention that catch). Figures of 21-8-36-6 are special on any day, even more so when those figures are winning the most valued prize in English cricket.

The man I want to mention most of all though is the captain, Alastair Cook. Like so many others, I've been very critical of Cook on this blog in the past. He had never felt to me to be a natural captain, being too cautious and not having the natural instincts and tactical nous that can make a captain so great. Indeed, had England lost this series, the writing still might have been on the wall. In this series he hasn't led from the front with the bat - a brave but doomed innings of 96 at Lord's aside - never quite finding his luck. But he has certainly led on the field. England are united, playing cricket with smiles on their faces and with a joyful and attacking spirit, and Cook has led them admirably. This victory will represent a great personal triumph too - picture the man who led his team to a 5-0 defeat, and picture the man leading his team to such a glorious series win now. His stubbornness and refusal to back down, the trait that can be so frustrating, has helped carry him and his team all the way to victory.

At times like these, it's hard not to dream of the future. This is a massive win - and it feels like the start of something. Joe Root, now ranked as the best batsman in the world, is just 24. 24 too is Ben Stokes, a player who will frustrate at times, but who is always capable of bringing those magic moments like in the past few days. Mark Wood, handed the ball on the final morning and taking the winning wicket, 25. Steven Finn, hero at Edgbaston, still only 26. Jonny Bairstow, who is just finding his way back into the side, but another potential game changer is 25. Jos Buttler, who hasn't had the biggest impact in this series but is ever improving with the gloves, 24. Gary Ballance too, out of the team now but still with a bright future ahead of him at only 25. And more. I shouldn't get too carried away, because they will stumble - and probably soon with a tough winter schedule ahead and away wins at the moment being like gold dust. The new era is though starting to bear its first fruits, and there is certainly a lot of talent there to be excited about.

Right now I'm stuck in celebration mode. There have been so many ups and downs over this past year or so, and moments like these make all that pain feel so much better. This series may not go down as a classic - truthfully, the standard hasn't always been high and every match has been one-sided - but it's still one that's given us plenty of moments to remember. And still there is one match to go - a chance for England to make history by winning four matches at home for the first time. The Oval could be their victory parade, though Australia will still want to spoil their party. But for now they have time to celebrate, and a chance to relax, and rightly so. They've earned it. They've won the Ashes.

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