After such a lengthy hiatus away from a prominent position on the global sporting calendar, the longest and most respected form of cricket returned over the festive period in dramatic fashion. The Ashes provides the pinnacle of this longest format for English and Australian players and fans alike.
Such an emphasis on the shorter formats of the game has provided a plethora of competitive opportunities over the past few years for cricketers however there are few that can provide the same level of intense scrutiny that accompanies an Ashes Tour. With only a handful of test matches in order to prepare for one of the biggest series’ in an English cricketers’ career, there was an air of uncertainty around the quality of cricket to be expected as much as there was around the tour taking place at all.
With so much uncertainty surrounding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the strict rules surrounding the Australian borders, an Ashes tour down under was, for a considerable amount of time, a long-shot for fans cricketing fans the world over.
Despite the uncertainties, Englands isolated for 10 days in order to get into Australia.
It took Australia a fraction longer than that to win the series.
The story before the Ashes 2021
England fans received a resounding boost in the build up to the tour when Ben Stokes, an integral member of the England side in all forms of the game, was declared fit to travel following a short-term injury. After his historic 135* at Headingly in the 2019 Ashes, Stokes brought with him a proven assuredness at the summit of this passionate and heated rivalry; an attribute that would be essential to any chance England had of winning the Ashes in the cauldron of Australian cricket.
For the tour of 5 Test matches, the talismanic Joe Root led an England side that boasted a number of dominant and world-leading exponents of the bat in the shorter formats of the game. Root himself, alongside Stokes, Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow all possess the ability to take the game away from any side in world cricket. The England Captain would also find himself named ICC Men’s Test Cricketer of the Year at the conclusion of the series.
Coming into the tour, England knew that they would have to win 3 of the 5 tests in order to secure the Ashes with Australia acting as the current holders following the retention in their 2019 tour of England. Winning 3 of 5 against any test side would require a commanding performance but even more so against the 3rd ranked Test team in the world that boasted the number 1 test batsman in the world in Marnus Labuschagne and the number 1 test bowler in the world in Pat Cummins.
The story of the Ashes 2021
At the Gabba in Brisbane, England were welcomed on their tour with a stark realisation of what they were truly up against. After a blitz with the ball, England succumbed to 147 all out in their first innings of the series, before Australia amassed an impressive 425 with Travis Head outscoring the entire England team with a hard-hitting 152 of his own.
Despite a fightback led by the England Captain which saw the tourists reach just short of 300, Australia rattled off the 20 required to win by 9 wickets and set the tone for what would prove to be a miserable tour for England.
The second test saw a move to the Adelaide Oval however, for England, the scenery seemed to be the only change to that which they experienced in the opening Test. A mammoth 473-9d from Australia left England training by 237 at the end of their first innings. Despite a glimmer of resistance in the final innings that pushed Australia to the final session, the hosts wrapped up a comfortable 275 run victory to put themselves on the brink of victory.
The Boxing Day Test at the MCG is always one of the highlights of an Ashes series. For England however, it proved an embarrassment. Despite a routine 267 from the hosts, a capitulation from England saw them hand an innings and 14-run victory, and the Ashes to Australia early on the 3rd day. A humiliating 68 all out (28 of which went to the captain) sparked a plethora of questions about the preparedness of this England side and the gulf that at Test level that the shortened versions of the game had to answer for.
In the 4th Test, a final wicket stand saw Jimmy Anderson, so often the star with the ball, navigate a perilous final 2 overs to secure a last ditch draw for the tourists, which would prove their only brief glimmer of hope through the tour. After failing to amass over 200 in the final test, England limped to a 4-0 series defeat and a very public dismantling in the longest and oldest format of the game.
The issue with Test Cricket
Such a focus on the shortened versions of the game to draw in crowds and spark an excitement around domestic cricket has come at the expense of the longer formats of the game. The debate between the new generation of cricketers and the purists of the game has come to fruition as a result of a saturated calendar providing England with just 12 Tests through 2021 to prepare for the tour. Despite the T20 World Cup taking precedent through October and the immediate build up to the tour, the domestic County game has suffered at the hands of innovative formats such as The Hundred so whilst athletes are exposed to a wealth of opportunities throughout a calendar year, the prospect of elite red-ball cricket is still a scarcity in comparison to its’ white-ball counterpart in England.
The draw and financial revenue amassed from the well-marketed competitions has been a huge boost to the game as an entity however, if England are to return to the summit of the oldest format of the game, the players need the exposure to the format in order to compete with the worlds’ best.