Felix White, a musician, author, and co-host of the BBC’s Tailenders podcast, reflects on the captivating Ashes series and England’s thrilling triumph over Australia in the third Test. In his fourth column for Sport Newes Center this summer, White highlights the constant chaos that characterizes this series, defying expectations and delivering an enthralling spectacle.
The third Ashes Test, held at Headingley, witnessed a rollercoaster of events as England secured a nail-biting victory by three wickets. From bat-friendly blue skies to bowl-friendly cloud cover and nothing-friendly thunderstorms, the Test match unfolded with a tingling sense of excitement, keeping spectators on the edge of their seats. It refused to allow anyone to detach from the game, ensuring every moment was filled with anticipation and fear of missing out on crucial developments.
In the midst of watching the match, eyes wide open yet uncertain whether it was out of will or torture, there were instances when genuine chaos seemed to take over. Cricket is vulnerable to such a description—despite being a game that seeks to bring order and meaning to individual events that unfold in succession. We find pleasure in recording these events, juxtaposing the present with the past, and encapsulating them on a scorecard, narrating a story that concludes satisfactorily.
This series has been confrontational, disorienting, and strangely intrusive, largely due to the disorder that permeated the Headingley Test. The phases of play seemed devoid of any sense of order, leaving little time for comprehension even if there had been. The ground itself set the tone, eliciting a stunned, polite silence instead of the anticipated fervor that would demand the presence of riot police.
The chaos persisted as Mark Wood, resurgent and delivering one of the fastest spells in recorded Test history, unleashed his lightning-quick bowling upon Australia’s top order, leaving them with expressions as if they had just tasted battery acid. Yet, there was no consistent pattern to be discerned. Mitchell Marsh, drafted into the Australian XI at the last minute and Test-less for four years, countered Wood with composure, skill, and power, eventually reaching his “hundred on holiday.”
The denial of conventional wisdom continued to unfold with every passing moment. England, despite dropping nearly an entire Test match worth of catches, found themselves consistently within reach of a series-saving victory. When they collapsed in their first innings, resembling a crumbling paper with ever-widening cracks, Wood emerged after the lunch break swinging at everything in sight. To the surprise of many, he connected with numerous shots and, alongside an increasingly grimacing Ben Stokes, dragged England close to parity.
Unbeknownst to us at the time, a distinct pattern of chaos had emerged in this 2023 series. It now possessed its own order, featuring recurring cycles and habits. Regardless of the players, conditions, or game situation, momentum was destined to wildly swing from one side to the other, with neither team able to establish a firm grip on any match.
The realization struck like a spell cast over the entire ground at the end of day two, marking the exact halfway point of the series. Australia was gradually building a second innings lead, and the pitch showed no signs of offering any assistance. It appeared to be a moment where resistance would be broken, and the pendulum would swing back in Australia’s favor, as is often the case in the metaphorical arm-wrestle of Test cricket.
Just then, Marnus Labuschagne was dropped by Jonny Bairstow off Wood, leaving both bowler and wicketkeeper sprawled on the ground, avoiding eye contact. But inexplicably, Labuschagne was out in the next over, attempting an unfamiliar slog-sweep against Moeen Ali. It was a shot he rarely played. Moments later, Steve Smith gifted a catch off Moeen as well, another uncharacteristic shot for the methodical and precise cricketer. As Smith departed, gesturing back at Bairstow as if he had received a far worse remark than a simple “Cheers Smudge,” chaos had firmly established its own pattern.
This unbreakable pattern now encompassed every player. England and Australia were inseparable, unable to escape each other’s grasp and find breathing space. They had unlearned anything but holding on to each other for dear life, oblivious to how much fight remained in their opponent.
For the next two weeks, we may continue to assert, “You can’t make those mistakes at this level and get away with it,” but the truth of this summer’s Ashes is that perhaps you can. It operates under its own set of rules, its own dynamics. The clash of two teams with contrasting approaches, reigniting their animosity towards one another, both driven by desperation to win yet plagued by their tendency to squander opportunities, creates a series that transcends the boundaries of traditional Test cricket.
Although Bazball may be to Test cricket what punk was to rock ‘n’ roll—a faster-paced version with new catchphrases—this particular combination of teams in this specific moment feels like something entirely new. It defies even the understanding of the iconic 2005 Ashes series.
This series may be more flawed than Test cricket of the past, but it is also, for the most part, more brilliant. The chaos continued to unfold—the bludgeoning of Travis Head propelling Australia back into contention, Joe Root’s dismissal when victory seemed within reach, Harry Brook’s near-heroic moment abruptly cut short by a skied shot that sent Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins on a collision course, ultimately landing safely in the hands of the Australian captain.
Within this environment of fizzing energy and constant anticipation, the presence of Chris Woakes and Mark Wood at the end, epitomizing heartwarming reassurance, felt incredibly uplifting. Watching Wood play cricket these days is a moving and profound experience. He is aware that his body may fail him at any moment, yet every action he takes exudes youthful vibrancy. His contribution in this Test exemplified joyous and unassuming wisdom, reminding us to appreciate life’s fleeting moments of success.
Beside him, Woakes, playing his first Test in over a year, showcased a new touch of grey in his hair, becoming a much-needed access point to the entire spectacle. Both players are unlikely to be involved in the next Ashes on English soil, much like many members of the current England team. Through their central roles and ability to strike a balance between the team’s levity and their natural affability and humility, Wood and Woakes encapsulated this era of English cricket in a moment that cannot be replicated once this summer comes to an end.
As Woakes swung his bat and crashed the winning runs, reminiscent of Stokes’ heroics in 2019, he waited for Wood in the middle. When they collided, it was a testament to the rewards of perseverance, a victory for friendship and tenacity even in the face of despair.
For a conclusion born out of chaos, it was far more satisfying than anything order or purpose could have orchestrated. Now, England must hold on to this momentum and capitalize on it, as emphasized by Agnew.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Ashes series
What is Felix White discussing in his column?
Felix White is discussing the chaotic nature of the Ashes series, specifically focusing on England’s dramatic victory over Australia in the third Test. He reflects on the unpredictability, order-disrupting moments, and the enduring spirit of friendship in cricket.
How would you describe the atmosphere at the Headingley Test?
The atmosphere at the Headingley Test was filled with excitement and unpredictability. The match witnessed swings of momentum, jaw-dropping moments, and a tingling sense of anticipation. The ground itself set a contrasting tone with stunned silence instead of the expected fervor.
What is the significance of Mark Wood’s performance in the Test?
Mark Wood’s performance in the Test was remarkable. He bowled one of the fastest spells in recorded Test history and played a crucial role in bringing England close to parity. His energetic and youthful approach to the game added a sense of joy and wisdom amidst the chaos.
How did the chaos in the Ashes series impact England and Australia?
The chaos in the Ashes series kept England and Australia inseparable, making it challenging for either team to establish a strong foothold in any match. Momentum constantly swung from one side to the other, and both teams were driven by a growing desperation to win while struggling to avoid costly mistakes.
What was the significance of Chris Woakes and Mark Wood’s presence at the end of the Test?
Chris Woakes and Mark Wood’s presence at the end of the Test was symbolic and uplifting. They represented perseverance, friendship, and the rewards of staying committed even in difficult times. Their contributions brought a sense of reassurance and framed this period of English cricket as a unique moment in time.
How would you describe the overall impact of the Ashes series?
The Ashes series, filled with chaos and unpredictability, created a captivating spectacle that defied expectations. It showcased the clash between two teams with contrasting approaches, reigniting their rivalry and creating a unique atmosphere. While flawed, the series was deemed brilliant, leaving a lasting impact on both players and spectators.
More about Ashes series
- Tailenders podcast – Official website of the Tailenders podcast co-hosted by Felix White.
- Ashes series – Details and updates about the Ashes series.
- Headingley Test – Match report and analysis of the Headingley Test between England and Australia.
- Mark Wood – Player profile of Mark Wood on ESPNcricinfo.
- Chris Woakes – Player profile of Chris Woakes on ESPNcricinfo.