Alastair Cook – A triumphant, if personally lacklustre, series continues with another innings full of graft but curtailed by a stroke that was played some distance from that ideal place – below the nose. If there is always an element of bad luck in the legside strangle, there’s always an element of batsman culpability if feet, head and hands find themselves so misaligned. Might also need to develop a few strategies – or bluffs – to deal with the inevitable passages in play when the ball neither swings nor seams. Set out to deliver The Ashes, and has – at the earliest opportunity too.
Joe Root – Will have enjoyed the fine catch that saw off David Warner, but not much else in a match that showed – not that he needed telling – that Test cricket isn’t always the walk in the park it appeared to be a Lord’s. Toughed it out for 90 minutes when needed in the curtailed second dig.
Jonathan Trott – Doesn’t seem quite himself, going at the ball with hands, sometimes slightly on the walk, rather than waiting for it with weight distributed over the crease and feet in the right place to play the ball. He’s giving a little of the that same impression one gets from Shane Watson – as if just a little affronted to find the ball not quite where he wants it. Not in a crisis by any means, but will want to feel the rhythm return to his batting and himself back in the comfort of The Zone, a place he seemed to occupy more than any other England batsman over the last four years.
Kevin Pietersen – August arrived and KP was taking guard for just the seventh time this season and, it later transpired, with his chronic knee injury giving him a nagging doubt about his future. Of course, KP specialises in shaping the world to coincide with his needs and a magnificently brave (can I say brave?) century was the result. Off to the faintest of nicks second time round to let him know that the game still had teeth. With the circus never long away from Planet KP, let’s not stay our appreciation of his batsmanship until we’re telling our grandchildren how lucky we have been to see him play.
Ian Bell – Those future tales of sublime play might yet feature Ian Bell if he continues his masterclass of orthodox batsmanship. It says something for his form this series that it was such a surprise to see him dismissed 40 short of the expected ton. It took a ball straight out of the McGrath catalogue of perfect lines and lengths to get him – and Ryan Harris might need a few more of those for Durham and The Oval.
Jonny Bairstow – In an England batting unit that comprises four men who tend to meet each ball as the textbook advises and two (KP and Trott) who prefer to work the ball to where they want it, Bairstow is looking for a slot in the latter camp. The problem is that the two strong bottom-hand South African raised players have crossed the half-century mark 80 times in 143 Tests and Bairstow has done so just four times in his 11. If he’s unlikely ever to become a Bell, will he become a Trott, with all that concentration, or a KP with all those strokes? If he hasn’t found an identity after 20 Tests, he might be in trouble, but he’s probably safe for now.
Matt Prior – Played sensibly to get England past the follow-on mark but can’t quite shake off his inconsistency on either side of the stumps. Has plenty of credit in the bank and the class to know that the form is coming. The only question is when.
Tim Bresnan – Chugged in and never bowled badly, but never really threatened to make something happen on a flat pitch. Has just nine wickets in his last six Tests and it’s two years since his last five-fer. With England committed to a four man attack, those figures place a big burden on the other three, for all the “bowling dry” that Bresnan provides. A crackpot stroke to be dismissed as nightwatchman won’t have helped his cause.
Stuart Broad – If I’m highlighting Bresnan’s figures, then Broad can’t escape censure for taking his wickets this series at pretty much twice the average and twice the strike rate as the Yorkie. But Broad has always been a streaky bowler and you can’t help thinking that there’s a few edges and a few LBWs to come and a five-fer waiting just round the corner. For him, the numbers just aren’t reflecting the bowling – with Bresnan, they just might be. Batted with great flair (again) to deal with a tricky fourth morning follow-on target.
Graeme Swann – If Warne revived the dying art of leg-spin a generation ago, can Swann be credited with reviving the dying art of orthodox off-spin? Australia keep giving him left-handed batsmen and he keeps knocking them over with drifting, hard spun deliveries that bite and jump or skid and squat. Australia is seldom a happy hunting ground for his type of bowler, so any psychological grip he can exert over the Aussie batsmen will be welcome come the return series.
Jimmy Anderson – England had bowled 178 overs before their attack leader snared his first wicket as Australia accelerated towards a declaration. A disappointing Test on his home ground, but swing is a capricious friend and is as likely to be back at Chester-le-Street as absent. But a scoreboard reading Australia 527-7 shows how much England need him.
Shane Watson – Is his career going into reverse, as his bowling becomes (as it once was) more valuable than his batting? Got in and got out yet again with the bat, but performed another admirable blocking role with the ball. He’s not taking wickets, but he is bowling maidens – incredibly, more than any English bowler – so what now for him? Number 6 and the fourth seamer looks obvious, but this Australian team don’t do obvious.
Chris Rogers – Decided to treat the game like a county match (the form in which led to his selection) and immediately looked less nervous and more likely to build an innings. Got his side off to a good start after his skipper had won a good toss and silenced a few of his critics – including this one.
Usman Khawaja – Perhaps a little unlucky with both dismissals, but an unwillingness to impose himself is always going to keep bowlers in the game. Seems to play a little by numbers – and bowlers like that. Probably better than the alternatives at Number 3, so will keep his place for the rest of the series.
Michael Clarke – Showed the fluency at the crease that everyone knew was coming, the only surprise being a dismissal short of another double century. Though the pundits were largely in support of his first innings declaration, with a win required, he could have pulled out at 450 and given more time to his bowlers to get the twenty wickets. The Ashes have gone for another series, but can point to two Tests in which a just a couple more hours of play could have seen him going to Durham 2-1 up.
Steve Smith – Luck – good and bad – is part of the game: it’s what you do with it that matters. Not in the original touring party, Smith seized his chance well at Trent Bridge and seized another chance having had some fortune with the umpiring at Old Trafford. Two crass dismissals, but 244 runs were added when he was at the crease – that’s why he’s in the team and why he’s likely to stay there for the rest of the double-header.
David Warner – Ugly booing, ugly shot and ugly review in the first innings, but once he got that out of his system and was restored to the top of the order for the second innings dash, he looked a better player. Garnered some much needed good PR with a little self-deprecation in interviews and will find much less sting in the boos that follow him to Durham and The Oval. Wasn’t expected to be a big threat in English conditions, but his reputation as the man who just might take the game away from England, grew in his absence, and his return might just get a stable top six into the right order. Warner, Rogers, Khawaja, Clarke, Smith, Watson looks a lot more solid than the shaky six that started the series (Watson, Rogers, Cowan, Clarke, Smith, Hughes).
Brad Haddin – Just when everyone was writing his obituary notices as a keeper, he takes seven catches in the match, some of which were top drawer. Of course, he missed a few too, but he always has. Not at his bullying best with the bat, but, across the series, he averages more than any other Aussie in this XI – which isn’t bad for a bloke who’s not supposed to be as good as Matthew Wade.
Peter Siddle – Has become an ersatz Shane Warne, in that you know what’s coming, you know it’s going to keep coming, but you can’t really do much about it. Like Warne, he makes things happen too. Has 16 wickets in the series now at 22 – both numbers an improvement on Jimmy Anderson’s. He might have more too, if he were not inexplicably underbowled by his skipper. A tremendous effort from a thoroughly admirable cricketer.
Mitchell Starc – Mitchell Johnson was replaced because his left-arm swinging pace, though a wicket-taking threat, was too inconsistent and his classy late-order runs couldn’t compensate for his bowling shortcomings. Incredibly, Mitchell Starc has exactly those same strengths and weaknesses! Like Johnson, he seems to have difficulties lining up all the elements of his action to drive through the crease – but when he does, he’s a handful. If he can iron out a few kinks, he’ll be a big test on the hard wickets of Australia in the winter.
Ryan Harris – Though giving the impression that he’s as surprised as anyone to still be running when passing the umpire to deliver a ball, he then gets the new ball into the er… right areas to ask batsmen questions. Not as effective with the old ball, the seam of which does bite as much for him to move it that fatal half-width of a bat. Pays less than one run extra per wicket than Glenn McGrath and takes them at a better strike rate too. If he’s fit, he’s a handful – but what will he feel like come Friday?
Nathan Lyon – Was targeted in the first innings, but kept giving the ball a chance to spin and was just about to get his teeth stuck into a wearing pitch when the rain came down. Maybe not a world-beater, but, on the principle that you do what your opponents least want, is likely to stay ahead of Ashton Agar for some time yet.
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