Joe Root guides England to victory in final Ashes Test, as series is drawn 2-2
Captain grabs key wickets with ball, including centurion Wade, as hosts complete 135-run win at The Oval – but it is Australia who take home the urn
At the end of a summer in which they won the World Cup for the first time despite finishing level with their opposition in the final, England halved the Ashes – yet saw the opposition go home with the spoils.
Cricket does not always make perfect sense. The facts of the matter were that England won the final Test at The Oval by 135 runs, to force a first drawn Ashes series since 1972.
And yet, on account of the fact Australia already held the urn, it was they who retained them. All of which makes a whole lot more sense than the boundary count-back rule invoked when England became world champions against New Zealand.
It had been left to Joe Root, the harrowed England captain, to apply the finishing touch to the win that levelled the series on Sunday.
First, he ended the defiance of Matthew Wade, who made a plucky century on Day 4 as Australia battled the inevitable in pursuit of the 399 they had needed to win.
Root had the left-hander stumped by Jonny Bairstow for 117, the second of two wickets he took with his brand of occasional off-spin.
Wade was the eighth batsman out, with the score on 260. After he went, the end came quickly, and Root was involved in both the final two wickets to fall, too.
Each came off the bowling of Jack Leach, Nathan Lyon sweeping into Root’s waiting hands at square-leg before, off the very next ball, Josh Hazlewood found the England captain at mid-wicket. This time, he took the catch diving one-handed to his left, and ensured England ended their golden summer on a high.
Although Root added the gloss, the win was brought about by Stuart Broad and Leach, who shared eight wickets evenly between them on the day.
“We were excellent this week, having lost the toss, to play as we did was fantastic, we drove the game all the time, and got there in the end,” Root said.
England took until the penultimate scheduled day of the series to hit upon a successful plan to dismiss Steve Smith.
Until that point, the Ashes had been a tour de force for the master batsman. After scores of 144, 142, 92, 211, 82 and 80, he signed off with a mere 23.
It was the first time in 11 innings against England in Test cricket that he had not scored at least 50.
In this series itself, the only previous times he had been out for less than a hundred he had been either showing the effects of concussion, flu, or hitting out to set up a declaration.
This time, England had a fair claim to suggest they had hatched a proper plan for him. Broad pushed him back in his crease with a succession of short balls, then had him caught at leg slip by Ben Stokes.
Whether there is much longevity in such a plan of attack against Smith feels unlikely, but at least England could celebrate this minor triumph.
The biggest compliment he received was a standing ovation by The Oval crowd. At the start of the series, and for most of the time after, too, whatever Smith did was generally met with boos.
The grudging respect he was afforded this time, ironically after his lowest score of the series, was long overdue. His haul from four matches was 774 at an average of 110.57.
“It meant a lot,” Smith said of the ovation, after being named player of the series.
“It has been an amazing couple of months here in England with the World Cup and the Ashes. The cricket has been absolutely spectacular.
“I have loved every minute, and am really proud I have been able to perform for Australia and help bring the urn home.”
Updated: September 15, 2019 10:10 PM