Five moments that produced the 2-2 result in the epic Ashes 2023 series
As England's great triumph at The Oval denied arch-rivals Australia an elusive Test series win on UK shores but couldn't avenge the prestigious urn in Ashes 2023, we recall the riveting five-match series that was and moments that left a telling imprint and impact on the proceedings and determined the two sides' fortunes.
While Australia kept their rising 'Bazball' rivals at bay in close-fought victories in Edgbaston and Lord's, when the chips were down, England came out roaring with more comprehensive triumphs in Headingley and The Oval either side of a rain-marred draw at Old Trafford. Here are five moments that could've tilted the scales either way and deeply influenced the 2-2 scoreline.
Stokes' ambitious Birmingham declaration
That declaration. What was Stokes thinking? The logic may have been to give England two bites at the red cherry against vulnerable Australian openers, but in opting to declare at 393/8 late on Day 1 of the first Test, the home team captain ended up denying his team crucial runs which ultimately made the difference in the thrilling encounter.
Even as centurion Joe Root was finding strong enough company from the English tail, the hosts called their men back rather than pushing towards 430-450 mark. Australia later rallied on a substantial hundred from Usman Khawaja to reduce the English lead to just seven runs and delivered a quality third-innings bowling display to keep the target down to tricky-but-manageable 281. In the end, they clawed over the finish line by two wickets.
Another 50 runs would've given Stokes the cushion to set aggressive fields and retain more catching men when Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon pulled off a courageous counterattack against the second new ball at Edgbaston.
Rain in Manchester and Day 4-5 at The Oval
The weather played a massive role at the fag end of the Test series, with torrential rains in Manchester denying England the opportunity to press hard for a victory and keep the Ashes alive. They were set for it after Australia were reduced to 5 down for 214 in the third-innings, still 61 behind England. But rains dented the English parade and Australia found their perfectly timed escape to bag the coveted urn.
The weather, however, ultimately smiled on England. Not once but twice at The Oval. Australia's promising ascent to 135/0 in 38 overs in the daunting chase of 384, the last thing the tourists would've wanted is a halt on the proceedings and rains coming around to break their rhythm for the rest of the penultimate afternoon.
Even on Day 5, rains critically cut short the time Australia had up their sleeves to score the remaining 249 runs and gradually took one result out of the equation, leading the tourists to force the issue to be able to get closer to the target, giving England greater chance to attack with the ball.
That, combined with rains spicing up the conditions and a controversial ball change resulted in a horrid Aussie collapse of 4 wickets for just 11 runs and gave England the upper hand. They won by 49 when one more solid partnership could've sealed the deal for Australia.
Moeen-Woakes pivotal to England's Oval win
The Warwickshire duo of Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes, who weren't even originally part of England's plans for the series, were the ones to provide them their sweetest memory at The Oval. It was Woakes and Moeen combining beautifully for the mini Aussie collapse that the tourists never recovered from. While the medium pacer used his nibbly wobble seam to extract precise movement both ways, the off-spinner found prodigious dip and turn on the last day to tame the opposition.
Moeen cameback from retirement for this Test series to give his red-ball career the more desired ending; Woakes perhaps earned the best feat of his understated career by finishing as England's 'Player of the Series' despite being sidelined for losses at Edgbaston and Lord's.
Switching strategy to Stokes during Headingley knock
But the turnaround for England truly began in the third Test at Headingley and specifically with another epic Stokes counterattack on Day 2. After finishing 263 all out on raging seamer, Australia reduced England to 87/5 and looked strong to take a sizeable lead. But the skipper had other ideas as he came out blasting the opposition attack and destroyed the Aussie bowling plans with a memorable 80.
With decent support from lower-order men Moeen Ali (21) and Mark Wood (24), Stokes managed to eat a significant portion of the Aussie lead, keeping it down to 26. As the momentum shifted England's way, the Aussies collapsed to 224 this time and England banked on their depth, with Woakes walking in at No.8 and Wood at 9, to propel past a tricky run-chase on the third afternoon.
During the whole entertaining passage of play, Stokes exercised his smarts astutely by targetting the shorter side during the odd overs in play in an important partnership with Stuart Broad. Only 18 runs were hit off the 41 balls bowled in the even overs against the bigger side; but an alarming 75 were made from just 47 balls in the odd ones to the shorter boundary.
In the end, Australia had to resort to bowling wider outside off to Stokes and force him to hit against the wind, which was a switch that worked as he was out caught in the deep.
Lyon's calf injury dents Australian plans
Talking of turnarounds, the Aussies would believe the calf injury at Lord's to their premier spinner Nathan Lyon was a massive one in context of the final three Tests of the series. Lyon was in fantastic rhythm with eight wickets taken in Edgbaston and was looking prime for a career-defining series in England until a fatal dive that ravaged his calf during the first half of Lord's Test. The spinner couldn't bowl in the run-chase and was ruled out of the tour after being left on crutches.
Even as the promising Todd Murphy impressed in parts, especially at The Oval, one couldn't help but feel what if Lyon was around to influence the Australian bowling plans in Headingley and Manchester. Lyon has always held a strong footing versus the English in Ashes contests and would've been a genuine threat for the left-handers in the batting unit and the tailenders.
He would've also given Australia greater control to rest and rotate their seamers, which did reflect on Pat Cummins ultimately losing sting off his bowling after going through the grind of six Tests over two months. Lyon left a massive hole in the Australian bowling attack as they had to then depend on their allrounders and a rookie tweaker to exercise leash on scoring and were short of another genuine wicket-taking threat.