Oxymoron – that’s the first thing that must ideally hit your mind when you see the headline ‘The Royal Ashes’. How can the word Ashes be associated with Royalty, right? The top two run-getters and the joint second highest wicket-taker in the recently concluded Ashes are all Royals. All these Royal contributions made for a series that made us sit on the edge of our seats, lose our fingernails and go for regular blood pressure check-ups. Here’s how the four Royals enthralled us through the English summer.
Steve Smith: 774 runs
Firstly, this man must have been under tremendous pressure, making his return to Test cricket. Secondly, the crowd wasn’t at their warmest behaviour towards him during the World Cup, and then the Ashes. Yet, Steve Smith usurped all the attention and went on to score a whopping 774 runs in just 7 innings from 4 Test matches.
It all started at Edgbaston, where he turned into a sharp thorn entering England’s flesh. Smith scored 2 contrasting centuries in the match. The first came in an hour of Australia’s need, as he ensured that the team put up a respectable total. The second had domination written all over it, as Australia looked to set a target for England. Smith’s return wasn’t just a mere comeback, it was an announcement, that he was back to continue from where he left off.
The second Test saw the much-awaited duel between Smith and Archer. A bouncer by the latter struck Smith, and he was forced to walk off the field. He came back and was dismissed in the 90s and couldn’t bat in the second innings. He was ruled out of the third Test on precautionary grounds Once again, questions were cast over Smith when he returned for the fourth Test. He put all doubts to rest with a sublime 211, albeit with the help of a couple of lives. In the second innings, Smith returned to add some more salt to the wounds, with a quick-fire 82.
The final Test meant one final exhibition of this wonder nature has produced for us. Smith scored 80 in the first innings, going past the 700-run mark in the series. Smith broke an array of records on his way to becoming the leading run-scorer in the series, by a mile. He is currently the number 1 ranked Test batsman in the world.
Jofra Archer: 22 wickets
England are in trouble on the field. What would you do? Bring in Jofra Archer and throw the ball to him. In just his maiden Test series, Archer managed to collect two 6-wicket hauls to his name. He also struck many batsmen with his vicious pace and bounce. It still leaves us astounded with what looks like minimal effort at the bowling crease.
On his debut at Lord’s, Archer impressed everyone with sheer pace. He had the Australian batsmen hopping and fending awkwardly. He claimed 5 wickets in the Test and made headlines imeediately. However, it was the next match that showed his true capabilities. Archer swung the ball at seering pace and got returns of 6/45 in the first innings at Leeds. In Smith’s absence, the Aussies collapsed for 179.
Archer’s second 6-fer came in the final Test at Oval. He had dismissed both the openers cheaply, and then when the Aussies looked steady, he came back on to rattle them. Archer finally cleaned up the tail and picked up 6 wickets for 62 runs. In James Anderson’s absence, Archer stepped up and went on to become Joe Root’s go-to man in the series. Let’s just say that a star was born in Test cricket.
Ben Stokes: 441 runs
Sir Ben Stokes – that is what they want to call him these days. And, we are right behind them. Ben Stokes has come of age this year. He had a dream run in the World Cup, and expectations were high of him for the Ashes.
We saw some quality bowling and match-winning performances with the bat from this all-rounder during the series. Stokes’ stand-out performance came in the Headingly Test match. With their backs against the wall, he first bowled a brilliant spell to pick up key Australian wickets. His contribution with the ball went a long way in keeping the target under 400.
What he did with the bat at Headingly will be etched in memories for a lifetime. His single-handed efforts to take England to victory has transferred him into the league of Ashes legends. England were staring at defeat, and Australia were just one wicket away from victory. If you look back, if Australia had won the Test, the series wouldn’t have been drawn. Stokes played some audacious strokes, 11 fours and 8 sixes In all. In all, Stokes scored 441 runs and was just behind Smith for most runs in the Ashes. His tally includes two fifty and two centuries.
Jos Buttler: 247 runs
By his usual standards, Jos Buttler had an average series. However, if we dig deeper into his numbers, we can find several instances where he has been part of a match-turning partnership or has ensured that England’s lower order wasn’t exposed easily.
Buttler’s noteworthy performance came in the final Test at the Oval. His 70 in the first innings proved crucial for England in an attempt to go past 200 and aim for 300. England finished with 294 on the board, as Buttler steered the ship with the tail. The Boss scored at a decent strike rate as he amassed 70 off just 98 balls with 7 fours and 3 sixes. In the second innings, Buttler stuck around as wickets fell at the other end. He stretched England’s lead beyond 350, taking it closer to 400.
Buttler showed glimpses of form from the fourth Test. He did not have good returns in the first three Test matches but caught up by scoring nearly 200 runs in the last two matches.
While there were three Rajasthan Royals teammates in the English setup and one in the Australian one, there was a lot of mutual respect and appreciation on both sides for each other. When Smith was hit by Stokes in the first Test, he immediately went up to him with immense concern. Jofra was worried when Smith was struck around his neck off his bowling and mentioned that it’s never a good sight to see anyone get hit that way. Smith had numerous words of appreciation for Archer’s bowling. He was quite vocal about how he is such a rare talent in one of the press conferences. “You don’t get guys bowling 90+ miles an hour growing on trees.”
The Royals lit up the Ashes with some amazing performances. Their exploits and match-winning contributions have already gone into history books. Those who watched Jofra’s venomous spell, Stokes’ Superman-like knock and Smith’s unorthodox dominance in the series have a tale to share with their grandchildren in the years to come. We must indeed thank them for such a thrilling series!