Stokes Defends Strategies Amid Australia’s Continued Ashes Hold
What should our response be to this outcome?
Defeat is a familiar sensation, and one that can be weathered because of its recurring presence.
Yet this scenario is unique. It’s not the lack of victory that stings, but the inability to even compete, and the implications of that which are difficult to swallow.
The opportunity was there, glaringly obvious. From a disheartening 2-0 down, England rallied and seemed poised to level the Ashes 2-2.
Australia appeared distressed, their baggy green caps unravelled. The prospect of a showdown at The Oval, anticipated as the grandest Test cricket festival this nation has ever witnessed, was tantalizingly close.
But it was abruptly wiped away, in the merciless rain at Old Trafford.
England thwarted by weather, resulting in Australia holding onto Ashes
Cummins calls Ashes retention via a draw ‘strange’
‘We gave it our all,’ says Stokes lamenting the drawn match
Consider the journey that brought us here. Moeen Ali’s finger, Ben Stokes’ knee, Harry Brook’s bowling stint against Steve Smith. Alex Carey’s stumping, Alex Carey’s hair transformation. Jonny Bairstow’s constant dissatisfaction with his peers. Zak Crawley’s performance, reminiscent of the legendary Don Bradman.
All that effort leading to a climax as disappointing as Sherlock’s final episode.
After three intense Tests, where the decisive moments occurred towards the end, the most one-sided battle of the series was brought to a close by a rain-soaked Sunday in Manchester.
England tried to lift spirits with a soccer match and a brass band in the stands, but to no avail. The rainwater pooling on the outfield was a physical manifestation of our despair.
Neither team will depart with any sense of satisfaction. England remains Ashes-winless for eight years. Bazball won’t see its crowning moment. The team that dislikes draws must now accept that a series draw is their best-case scenario.
Australia may possess the Ashes, but they do not hold dominance. Not yet. They still could clinch the series 3-1, thereby laying to rest the specter of the 2-2 draw from 2019 when they were superior and should have been victorious. Pat Cummins’ squad can still break their 22-year winless streak in England.
Four years prior, Australia celebrated retaining the Ashes on this very ground, with Smith comically donning glasses in an apparent jibe at Jack Leach.
Now, they might consider praising Zeus, Freyr, Tomasz Schafernaker, and all other rain gods. Even before the climactic Sunday, Josh Hazlewood and Marnus Labuschagne admitted that they wouldn’t mind a downpour, indicating that their ambitions of winning had faded. A distinctly un-Australian sentiment.
No doubt, a loss here would have pegged Australia as underdogs at The Oval. They still might be, considering their luck hasn’t improved since their controversial support for Carey’s stumping of Bairstow during the second Test’s conclusion.
They may be disadvantaged by Nathan Lyon’s absence, but they had their primary spinner for a more substantial duration than England had theirs. Leach didn’t even make it to Edgbaston.
Lyon’s absence can’t justify Australia’s mismanagement of his replacement Todd Murphy, who was left out of this match.
It fails to account for David Warner’s ongoing struggle in England, and the steadily declining performance of the top-order batsmen. Smith’s dip during the busy summer aligns with his confession of not getting enough sleep during Tests. He probably hasn’t had a good night’s sleep since mid-June.
Cummins describes Ashes retention via draw as ‘strange’
Cummins will likely be most troubled by the breakdown of his team and their performance under the aggressive batting onslaught England unleashed at Old Trafford. The England team scored an astounding 592 runs in less than 108 overs, ruthlessly outclassing the Australians.
Cummins himself had an economy rate exceeding five runs per over for the third consecutive innings, and along with Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc, they conceded a staggering 392 runs from a combined 75 overs.
As captain, Cummins seemed bereft of ideas, hindered by too many trying to lead. Smith moved about frustratedly, like a man who knew he had never lost any of his six Tests as an Ashes captain.
Australia’s bid to recover from the Old Trafford rout will be boosted by the comfort of knowing the Ashes are no longer at stake at The Oval. A potential deflated England side, with their Ashes dreams dashed, might also play in their favour.
While the primary spoiler of the Sunday match was the Manchester weather, England has only itself to blame for relying on the elements. Their early losses in the first two Tests put them in a tough spot.
Fielding blunders at Edgbaston and a nightmarish first innings batting performance at Lord’s left England scrambling. Prior to Old Trafford, they had favourable conditions for most of the series. They won every toss.
If Carey’s stumping did spur England on, as coach Brendon McCullum anticipated, why did it require a 2-0 deficit and perceived injustice to stir Stokes’ men to action?
On the eve of the first Test, Stokes was asked whether England’s approach would secure them the Ashes.
“If it doesn’t, oh well,” he nonchalantly replied.
Now, having experienced the highs and lows of the last four Tests, and having been the pillar of the England team at Lord’s and Headingley, one wonders whether he can remain as indifferent.
Stokes, who typically emphasizes the journey over the outcome, may yet look back at this as a crucial opportunity squandered.
Considering his knee’s condition, this might be Stokes’ final home Ashes series. It’s surely the end of an era for a group of players that have been England’s mainstay for over a decade.
Eight of the England XI at Old Trafford are over 32 years old. Of those, maybe only Joe Root will still be playing when Australia next visits in 2027. Bairstow and Stokes might play in Australia in 2025-26, but that seems unlikely for Mark Wood, Chris Woakes, and Stuart Broad.
Moeen has practically confirmed his Test retirement after this series, while James Anderson, for the first time in an illustrious career, is facing questions about whether age is catching up with him. With only four wickets in the series and an eight-year winless streak against Australia, his future is uncertain.
The final home Ashes Test for this group should be a motivating factor for England in the fifth Test, despite the Ashes being out of reach.
Their impressive home record against Australia is still intact – an England victory would extend it to 26 years before the Australians return.
There’s a significant gap between a 2-2 and a 3-1 outcome, the latter of which feels incredibly unjust at this point.
England must put aside the disappointment of the Old Trafford downpour and steel themselves for one final attempt at The Oval.
‘Did the rain rescue Australia?’ Vaughan & McGrath discuss the fourth Test.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Ashes 2023
Who retained the Ashes in 2023?
Australia retained the Ashes in 2023.
Why couldn’t England win the Ashes in 2023?
England’s hopes of winning the Ashes in 2023 were dashed by persistent rain at Old Trafford, resulting in a draw which allowed Australia to retain the Ashes.
What was the state of the series before the rain-affected match at Old Trafford?
Before the rain-affected match at Old Trafford, England had managed to stir from a 2-0 deficit and was on the verge of leveling the series at 2-2.
Who were some of the standout players in the 2023 Ashes series?
Key players in the 2023 Ashes series included Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali, Harry Brook, Alex Carey, Jonny Bairstow, and Zak Crawley.
What was the atmosphere like at Old Trafford during the match?
What challenges did Australia face during the 2023 Ashes series?
Australia faced several challenges, including the loss of key player Nathan Lyon, a struggling David Warner, and an overall declining performance from the top order, most notably Steve Smith. Despite retaining the Ashes, they did not necessarily hold the upper hand in the series.
Which England players are likely to retire after the 2023 Ashes series?
Eight of the England XI at Old Trafford are aged 32 or older, with only Joe Root likely to remain for the next visit of Australia in 2027. Moeen has pretty much confirmed his Test return will end after this series. Serious questions are also being asked about whether age has finally caught up with James Anderson.