By Jim Birchall @birchalljim 

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The bi-annual contest between cricket’s two most disliked teams  (if you are a Kiwi) has concluded in an unfulfilling 2-2 draw.

Unfortunately for England, the concept of the Ashes allows for only the holder to retain the urn in the event of a draw, quite dissimilar from them being ‘awarded’ the World Cup recently.

So Australia retains the urn on the back of England’s inability to remove Steve Smith, and England (Ben Stokes), capitalised on  Steve Smith’s absence in the third test.

Jofra Archer announced his arrival on the world scene putting his supreme skill-set on display to collective “ooohs” and “ahhhs” from drunk Madchester fans.  Having previously been only sighted by the general populous via flashes of brilliance in assorted mercenary T20 competitions, the smiling assassin showed he was the real deal by almost decapitating the Aussie batting lineup.

From  an Australian perspective they will obviously be ‘Stoked’ (no pun intended) at the 2-2 result and locking up the replica urn for another two years, as their batting order still looks dodgy, and we critique below:

Cameron Bancroft/Marcus Harris – last years villain sheepishly made his way back into the test scene after sand-paper irregularities and showed he is probably not capable at this level, at least not against a swinging ball, and was quickly sidelined for the equally unimpressive Marcus Harris who averaged fuck all, and must be close to being banished to state cricket Siberia.

Davey Dumb dumb Warner – if you google’d ‘poetic justice’, it would probably have a link to Warner trudging off after leave-nicking another off Stuart not-so-little. A fighting 71 in the third test offered hope to green and gold supporters, sadly it was the only highlight in a series of scores that resembled binary code. Should be ok however once he gets back to the asphalt smooth decks of the lucky country, and swaps the Duke for Kookaburra.

Usman Khawaja, in and out (of the side) more often than a $2 hooker, Uzzie continues to under-produce when compared with Ponting-era capabilities at first drop. Long term will have to battle with the emergence of  Klerksdorp-native Labuschagne.

Steve Smith, it’s all been said really, for a guy who looks like he’s just dropped 8 pingers and a litre of Red Bull on the way out to the middle to perform like that is truly remarkable.

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Marnus Labuchagne, cemented his spot by ‘doing it tough’ as reflective-vested scaffolders might exclaim from the end of the bar at a Brisbane RSL. He would not have been out of place storming the beach at Normandy, he also gets bonus points for having a fun name that reminds one of lasagne and champagne.

Travis Head,  “gimme Head till I’m dead” was the catch-cry last time I attended a 50 over game at the SCG. Travis spanked the NZ attack to all corners, and the feeling amongst the proletariat was this guy could play. Perhaps it was a pipe dream, as a modest return relegated the vice-captain to Gatorade and towels duty.

Mitchell Marsh, for a guy the public react to the same way as you would if he had just run over your dog, MM raised the proverbial middle finger to the haters with his impressive five- for. His batting was the usual hit and miss, but he must have gone a way to alleviate fears of Australia not having a quality all-rounder since Ronny McDonald.

Tim Paine, the modern-day Mike Brearley will go down (justifiably) in history as the man who retained the Ashes in England, a feat not seen for some time. A measured leader, Paine did struggle to implement attacking fields when it was probably required, and at best is just keeping the seat warm for Superman (Steve Smiths’)return. Alex Carey is a superior batsman and capable enough gloveman, so Paine would do well to retain his spot after the Ashes glow has been extinguished.

Peter Siddle, for the casual cricket observer banana-masticating vego ‘Sidds’ should be the epitome of everything that is wrong with Test cricket.However by employing a line and length that would make Ron Jeremy happy, he did an excellent job of keeping things in check and enhanced his reputation as a good man to have in the trenches.

James Pattinson – Brother of ‘English as tea’ Darren, had a solid enough return to the test fold after a terrible injury run. Now sporting tattoo sleeves that unfortunately raise him to  Jade Dernbach-level douche-baggery.

Patrick Cummins- it’s not just Pat’s piercing blue eyes that are dreamy, his devotion to the craft sees him justifiably the worlds number one seamer. His batting has improved a lot as well, and he is now on the path to greatness provided his body, as fragile as Dresden China can withstand the rigors of repeated torment.

Josh Hazlewood, carefully managed and looked as dangerous as ever, bar a couple of spells.

Mitchell Starc, the pock-marked school bully, one of only two ‘Mitch’s’ in the current eleven, still struggles to terrorise as he does with the white ball. Still, his horses for courses selection for the 4th test was inspired.

Nathan Lyon, Not much return for ole’ rat face who was sent scurrying back to the deep dark sewer of offspinners who have tried and failed to make an impact in England.

England

The top order looked unsettled, and with Root underperforming initially, the “best team on paper” was far from convincing at the crease.

Rory Burns, boasting an East17 haircut and a sheer bloody-mindedness at the crease coupled with hands as safe as Area 51. The Alastair Cook replacement has been found.

Joe Denly, Pushed into opening after batting inexplicably at 4, made a solid (and arse-saving) 94 on the back of a couple of fifties, interspersed with a few short stays. Looks a decent player, making a fist of test cricket after a few years of county hopping. The true test will come next season to see if he is still a realistic option aged 34. A couple of scores in the forthcoming NZ series should see him avert a seat next to Malan, Stoneman,  Vince etc on the express service to the wastelands of county cricket.

Joe Root (Rooooooootttttt), quietish series which saw his average drop a few runs and slip down the pecking order of world batting supermen. Class is permanent et cetera

Ben Stokes,  having surpassed Ed Sheeran and Prince Harry as England’s favourite Fanta-pants, the former anti-hero was even offered a nomination as New Zealander of the year. This was politely turned down, however, he is probably in line for an MBE, after all, Colly got one for “making 7 at the Oval” in 2005.

Jason Roy , Dreamed of being the new KP, but has a gap between bat and pad bigger than Watford. Not a test player’s arse, and Ed Smith finally put him out of his misery for the 5th test.

Joss Buttler- Like other famous butlers Jeeves and Benson, Jos was headed for extinction in the test arena until he pulled finger and showed what everyone knew he could do.

Jofra Archer, I’ve run out of superlative’s to describe this excitement machine who reminds me of a less sleazy Chris Gayle. The UK press has already blown their collective load over everything he has done, so let’s have a  fun fact:

Jofra is a type of rice enjoyed by people in west Africa. It is an excellent companion to goat curries and bean dishes. 

Woakes/Bairstow- hopefully someday test cricket will be blessed to see a Woakes/Stokes/Foakes combo, until then we are stuck with ‘Mr Personality’ Jonny, who would not look out of place as a yeoman warder at the Tower of London.

Stuart Broad, suburb performance from former “shit bloke”. His humiliation of Davey made him the real-life embodiment of the meme guy your girlfriend told you not to worry about.

 

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Moeen Ali, quiet tests from a quiet man. Will struggle to play for England again with the emergence of Leach.

Craig Overton, honest toiler, better than his brother. Could play a coal miner in a movie about Maggie closing the pits.

Jimmy Anderson, The Burnley lip didn’t have much opportunity to swing his way into the history books etc, robbing the world of making a decision in cricket’s biggest dickhead contest with Warner. Sadly the lythe frame that has served him so well for a thousand tests may have reached expiration, and the England selectors may be inclined put him out to stud.

Jack Leach, a cult hero for holding up an end, (it doesn’t take much these days to become one), the cricketing version of Moby with a strange running style, has a little bit about him and should be a useful performer in coming years.