England have produced two draws this summer, and while the first might ultimately be looked back on more fondly as it brought a trophy, the second carries plenty of meaning too.
In July England won the World Cup without winning the final in normal time. Today they lost the Ashes despite not losing the series.
And yet, as was repeated in every interview at The Oval, 2-2 does indeed sound better than 3-1.
The first drawn Ashes series since 1972 meant it was Australia popping the champagne corks and lifting the famous urn, but England’s 135-run win in the fifth Test did, in the words of visiting captain Tim Paine, put a “dampener” on proceedings.
Sublime to ridiculous
After losing the fourth Test at Old Trafford to surrender any hope of reclaiming the Ashes, a dampener was the best England could hope for.
Yet when Joe Root clung onto a brilliant one-handed catch at midwicket to dismiss Josh Hazlewood and seal the win with a day to spare, it felt like more.
Throughout a topsy-turvy series there have been many legitimate questions asked of England, who have so frequently veered from the sublime to the ridiculous.
They left it until the final Test, and undoubtedly received some assistance from their opponents, but a convincing win went a long way to reassuring themselves and their doubters.
Root himself is the biggest beneficiary of England finishing an unforgettable summer on a high note.
With a second unsuccessful Ashes series guaranteed following the 185-run mauling in Manchester, the wolves were beginning to circle around England’s captain.
His tactical decisions on the field, declining record with the bat and failure to convert starts into centuries had begun to develop from whispers into fully-voiced concerns.
Although scores of 57 and 21 at The Oval failed to silence his critics, the closing stages had his name front and centre.
His off-spin had Mitchell Marsh grabbed at short leg by Jos Buttler before he stepped up to finish off the innings. Matthew Wade was stumped for 117 to break the final resistance and low catches in the legside did for Nathan Lyon and Hazlewood as Jack Leach returned 4-49.
Root’s bowling and catching may not be his most important assets to England, but they provided a fitting conclusion to a vital win for team and captain.
The positives don’t stop there either. Leach’s efforts were exactly what was required from a spinner in the fourth innings.
Stuart Broad’s brilliance, especially against left-handers, saw him lead the attack in the absence of Jimmy Anderson and finish with 23 wickets at an average of 26.65.
Jofra Archer’s emergence as a world-class Test pace bowler was assumed yet shouldn’t be downplayed; 22 wickets at an average of 20.27 is an exceptional return.
Throw in Rory Burns’s 390 runs in 10 innings at opener and Joe Denly’s battling 94, and England have ticked more boxes.
With Trevor Bayliss leaving, England need a new head coach. Thankfully they don’t need many other replacements.
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