It’s a shame that England are ending an incredible summer on a disappointing note but there can’t be any debate that Australia 100 per cent deserve to win this Ashes series.
They have been the best side from day one. Having won at Edgbaston, they dominated the second Test at Lord’s, where they would have gone 2-0 up but for Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler giving England the chance to draw.
It was a similar story in the third Test at Headingley, where they were denied by a freak innings from Stokes that levelled the series.
At Old Trafford they won a good toss, made the most of the conditions and produced some outstanding bowling.
Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins led the way in Manchester, but James Pattinson, Peter Siddle and Mitchell Starc have all played their part.
Like England, their batting line-up is fragile but Steve Smith has been the difference. He was unavailable for the third Test and had he played the outcome would not have been the same.
Lack of appetite
Looking from the outside, there seemed a strange lack of appetite from England on the first couple of days at Old Trafford.
Players looked like they were being geed up whenever there was a huddle, and the general vibe was that they weren’t up for it.
By contrast, Australia were relentless throughout the match and England will have to be realistic and admit they were beaten by the better side.
Without Stokes’s miracle at Headingley, it would be 3-0 and they couldn’t have any complaints.
Back to drawing board
This series has shown that England need to go back to the drawing board in red-ball cricket.
Over two or three years there have been too many batting collapses and that has put the great attacking players lower down the order under pressure.
England need to find a balance between one-day and Test cricket, and that might mean looking for more players better suited to the four or five-day game, such as Rory Burns, who wants to bat for a long time.
Among the bowlers, the emergence of Jofra Archer is obviously exciting but guys like James Anderson and Stuart Broad aren’t getting any younger.
Still a great summer for cricket
Overall it has been an incredible summer for England – and more widely for cricket in this country.
Winning the World Cup was fantastic not just for the team but for the country and, although the Ashes disappointment is fresh, it won’t be all that we focus on when we look back on this year.
The drama of the World Cup and Stokes’s amazing performance in the third Ashes Test set cricket alight and I know a lot of people who don’t normally follow the sport have been taking more notice of this series as a result of the excitement those moments created.
The England and Wales Cricket Board need to grasp this opportunity to promote the Test game.
Now to save face at The Oval
It’s always difficult to find motivation for the last Test when the chance to win the Ashes has gone but England have an opportunity to at least save some face and draw the series at The Oval this week.
It is up to senior players like Joe Root and Broad to show their experience and remind others that every Test is important and any chance to play for England is an honour.
And if anyone gets in for a debut then it’s a fantastic chance to make an impression.
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