It was another bruising Ashes campaign down under for England who had moments in each of the five Tests they couldn’t take advantage of. Have any players left with enhanced reputations and who is looking over their shoulder?
James Anderson (17 wickets at 27.82)
Even on days – and there were many of them – when the ball refused to swing, Anderson demanded respect through his control and skills. The pace has long gone and, as a result, his potency is reduced but he hardly bowled a poor ball all series – his economy rate was 2.11 – and in delivering more overs than any other seamer (223.3; only Pollock and Walsh, of seamers, have bowled more overs in a series this century), he led from the front. Again and again, his captain relied upon him. Again and again, he set a standard to which others couldn’t maintain.
Dawid Malan (383 runs at 42.55)
Something of a breakthrough series. If a maiden century in Perth was the highlight, he passed 50 on three other occasions and generally coped with the quick bowling as well as anyone. There were moments – especially in Brisbane and Perth – when he failed to fully take advantage of his strong foundations but, with a slightly more open stance, he looked a composed and elegant player.
Craig Overton (61 runs at 20.66; 6 wickets at 37.66)
The figures are unremarkable but Overton showed impressive spirt with bat, ball and in the field. Having claimed Steven Smith as his maiden Test wicket in Adelaide, he produced a gutsy 41 not out – the highest score of the England innings – to give his side a bit of belief in an important partnership with Chris Woakes and then took an outstanding catch at long-leg. He dismissed both openers in the first innings at Perth, too, but was diagnosed with a cracked rib after landing awkwardly when diving for a caught and bowled chance. While he tried to continue – remaining committed in the field, too – his figures suffered and he was obliged to sit out the rest of the series. The suspicion lingers that his brother, Jamie, may have the greater future at this level due to his extra pace, but Craig made a good impression.
Joe Root (378 runs at 47.25; 2 wickets at 29)
While Root reached 50 five times (no one on either side reached 50 more often, but three of them came after the series was decided) and only Malan made more runs, he will know his failure to convert those starts into match-defining totals cost England dearly. There were moments, not least in Perth and Sydney, when leading this England team in the field looked almost impossible. And there were moments, not least at the start of the Adelaide Test, where his senior bowlers did him few favours. But Root soldiered on and, at times (notably Brisbane), looked innovative and bold in his captaincy. He deserves credit for ensuring the spirit in the camp never deteriorated as it did in 2013-14, but the side required a mountain of runs from his bat if they were to win and he was unable to deliver.
Jonny Bairstow (306 runs at 34; 10 catches and a stumping)
Made one fine century at Perth, when the series will still live, but failed to reach 50 in the rest of the series. Hampered in the first two Tests by the decision to bat him at No. 7 – and therefore with the tail – he was also caught up in the ‘buttgate’ nonsense. His keeping continues to improve and he showed some character in the second innings in Sydney. Sense remains that he is capable of more, though.
Chris Woakes (114 runs at 16.28; 10 wickets at 49.50)
While Woakes bowled with decent pace – he had the fastest average speeds of the England bowlers – and control, he failed to generate the lateral movement that might have troubled Australia. There was no doubting his effort – he ran 35 miles in the field in Perth – but a propensity to bowl just a little short perhaps didn’t help him find the swing that he might have done. And while he produced a couple of decent innings – notably 36 at Adelaide – he was never able to produce a match-shaping contribution. A recurrence of the side strain that ruined his Champions Trophy campaign ruled him out of the Sydney Test and rounded off a disappointing series.
Stuart Broad (136 runs at 15.11; 11 wickets at 47.72)
With his pace reduced and his ability to generate movement (particularly movement away from right-handers) diminished, this was a tough series for Broad. He worked as hard as ever and bowled few poor deliveries, but he simply lacked the pace to unlock these surfaces. It’s now been two years since he took a Test five-for.
Mark Stoneman (232 runs at 25.77)
Stoneman’s tour appeared to change after he was confronted by a barrage of short-balls in Perth. Until that point, he had appeared well-organised and competent in making two half-centuries and reaching 25 in four of his first five innings. After that barrage, however (which included a crashing blow on the helmet), he managed only 42 in his final four innings of the series and started to look just a little reluctant to come forward and, as a result, tentative outside off stump. The New Zealand tour could make or break him.
James Vince (242 runs at 26.88)
Vincible. And a reminder that ‘potential’ is the most over-used word in cricket. Vince flirted and teased and promised plenty but ultimately didn’t deliver. There were times when he looked every inch the Test batsman – not least when making 83 in Brisbane or 55 in Perth – and other times when he was, perhaps, unfortunate (such as receiving an unplayable delivery in Perth or being given out leg before in Melbourne despite hitting the ball). He clearly has time on the ball and the range of stroke to succeed at this level. But he has now played 12 Tests and has just those two half-centuries to show for them. Patience is wearing thin.
Tom Curran (66 runs at 33.00); 2 wickets at 100.00)
Faultless in terms of effort and admirable in terms of his ability to deliver his variations, Curran certainly didn’t let himself or the team down (except, perhaps, when over-stepping when bowling to David Warner). And, in terms of effort and delivering the best version of himself – and we can’t really ask for me – you could make a case for giving him 10/10. A lack of pace rendered him toothless, though, and suggested his international future may be predominantly in white ball cricket. Thrashed a few runs in the first innings in Sydney and showed some character in the second. But looked at least a place too high in the order when batting at No. 8.
Alastair Cook (376 runs at 47.00)
One huge innings cannot mask Cook’s inability to shape the series when it mattered. In reaching 40 only once and producing a match-defining contribution only after the Ashes had been relinquished, Cook was like a man who missed the wedding but filled his boots at the reception. And he did little to arrest the suspicion that his is a career in decline. His double-hundred in Melbourne was a terrific effort but it did come on a pitch so slow that it was censured by the ICC and against an attack missing Mitchell Starc. If returns like his – Cook has reached 40 once in his most recent 13 Test innings – are deemed good enough, England are in real trouble.
Mason Crane (1 wicket at 193)
Picked as a quick-fix solution to England’s long-standing spin issues Crane showed exactly what he is: a talented young man with a bright future. But he’s also one who is still learning his trade and it’s a particularly difficult trade, at that. So while he bowled some nice deliveries in Sydney, he also bowled quite a lot of poor ones and underlined the impression he is still a player in development. Despite the ugly figures, however, he stuck to it better than a couple of those who have been tried previously and remains one for the future.
Jake Ball (1 wicket at 115)
Rushed back from injury for the first Test, Ball soon took the wicket of David Warner but thereafter struggled and conceded nearly four-and-a-half an over in the match. Maybe short of overs and rhythm going into the game, all the pre-series talk of his suitability for conditions was soon forgotten as he was then ignored for the rest of the series. His modest batting – he looked almost defenceless against a bouncer barrage in Brisbane – did him few favours.
Moeen Ali (179 runs at 19.88; 5 wickets at 115)
He turned up on time and always wore the right kit but that was about as good as things got for Moeen. Unable to contribute with either bat or ball, Moeen had a horrible series and was probably fortunate to retain his place. Hampered by a side strain ahead of the first Test, he then sustained a cut finger during it with the combination clearly hampering his performance with the ball for the first half of the series. He’s not the first spinner to fail in Australia, of course, but there were few runs, either. He struggled against the short ball and the turning ball (Lyon dismissed him seven times in the series) and, having started the series at No. 6, ended it having not passed 40 once.