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Opinion

Flem's Verdict: Stokes’ spirit of cricket goes out the window over catch while ICC needs to sort out ludicrous ball-swap farce

1st August, 2023
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1st August, 2023
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If you asked me a couple of months ago if I’d take winning the World Test Championship final and retaining the Ashes, I would have taken it and so would the Australian players.

There’s still a bit of a disappointment that they didn’t win the actual series against England but one thing is for certain – the Ashes rivalry is alive again.

The Poms have certainly closed the gap from the previous time we played them in Australia, even though Stuart Broad reckons that one didn’t count. We’re still chalking that up as a thrashing. 

The 2-2 result sets up an eagerly anticipated contest in a couple of years time when both teams will have a fair few new faces.

England are claiming a moral victory but I’m a traditionalist and I go by what the scoreboard says. 

They can have the Moral Ashes, we will have the Actual Ashes. Do they have an urn in the Moral Ashes or do they have a little heart trophy? 

Jonny Bairstow celebrates a stunning catch to dismiss Mitchell Marsh.

Jonny Bairstow celebrates a stunning catch to dismiss Mitchell Marsh. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Australia can feel hard done by about the ball change that happened during their fourth-innings run-chase.

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They were cruising along and I thought they were a fair chance to knock over the target of 384 at 0-135 but England managed to convince the umpires to change the ball and their choice of a replacement was ludicrous.

I hope that the Australians don’t have to ask for an investigation, the ICC needs to hold their own inquiry to work out how they got that decision so wrong. That cannot happen again.

How does it happen that a ball that was going slightly reverse gets replaced by a much newer one? 

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Usman Khawaja said later on he knew as soon as it was changed that it felt like a new ball not one that was supposed to be close to 40 overs old. 

The previous ball hardly moved the previous day – we wanted to keep batting because we were on a roll when play ended early.

England had a lot to say when rain cost them in the fourth Test but this time around, that was a massive blow for the Aussies. 

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Chris Woakes bowled beautifully on day five, you can’t take anything away from him, but they were handed a massive advantage with the ball change.

Ben Stokes harped on about the spirit of cricket earlier in the series after the Jonny Bairstow stumping incident at Lord’s but it didn’t seem to be on his mind when he asked for a review over his catch off Steve Smith. He’s had a shocker. 

He knew that he had dropped the ball after catching it and a few of his teammates convinced him to go upstairs but if England are following the spirit of cricket, shouldn’t he have said there and then that it wasn’t a fair catch.

You could tell by his expression straight away that he knew it wasn’t out.

And then when the correct not out verdict came back, he was having a go at the umpires about losing a review. 

Mitch Marsh walked when he knew he snicked one a little later and Stokes also had the opportunity to show good sportsmanship by saying he didn’t complete the catch and not review it.

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It’s hard for people who haven’t been in that situation to know the pressure you are under. You want to win the game and in the heat of the battle when you’re pushing for victory, you make decisions you probably wouldn’t ordinarily come up with. 

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 31: Ben Stokes of England calls for a review as Steve Smith of Australia is given not out during Day Five of the LV= Insurance Ashes 5th Test Match between England and Australia at The Kia Oval on July 31, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Ben Stokes calls for a review after botching the Steve Smith catch. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

White line fever and competitive spirit plays its part. This series there were plenty of pot shots about fair play, mainly coming from England.

But you don’t want to be a hypocrite and contradict yourself. And he has.

You can’t be selective when you talk about the spirit of cricket. 

I hope this talk about England not wanting to share a beer with the Australian players after the game is just a miscommunication because that’d be horrible if they didn’t want to do that.

At the end of a series like that you get a chance to get to know the opposition players a little bit better and particularly after everything that was said during the matches. 

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It was a great contest over all five Tests but the series wasn’t quite as engaging as the 2005 classic and that’s mainly because of the pitches and the tactics.

Bazball requires flat wickets and that took the air out of the contest on several occasions during this series with both teams resorting to short-pitched barrages. 

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 31: Chris Woakes of England celebrates the wicket of Usman Khawaja of Australia during Day Five of the LV= Insurance Ashes 5th Test Match between England and Australia at The Kia Oval on July 31, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Chris Woakes celebrates the wicket of Usman Khawaja. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

The bouncerthons and spread-out field settings don’t build the pressure as much as an even contest in traditional English conditions. 

I thought the Aussies batted well in that fourth innings at The Oval but they didn’t get the big score they needed from one of the top six.

They lost the game earlier with their bowling to guys like Ben Duckett and Zak Crawley. It was the fifth Test of the series and they still didn’t look like they knew where to target them.

Usman Khawaja was magnificent for Australia, finishing as the leading run-scorer for the series to remove probably the last blemish on his resume – getting bulk runs in England. 

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Todd Murphy showed he belongs in Test company with a solid match with the bat and ball. Australia should have bowled him more in the third Test and the result might have been different.

If Nathan Lyon didn’t get injured, I think the Aussies would have won 3-1 but Woakes and Mark Wood were the momentum-changers for England.

Woakes was the right choice for player of the series and Wood’s impact with his raw pace was just what they needed. 

Broad gets his fairytale ending in his final Test – he’s been enormous for England but also a legend of Ashes cricket. 

Pat Cummins of Australia poses with a replica Ashes Urn after Day Five of the LV= Insurance Ashes 5th Test match between England and Australia at The Kia Oval on July 31, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Pat Cummins of Australia poses with a replica Ashes urn. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

He’s got a lot of charisma. We need characters who polarise opposition supporters and he’s up there with Woakes and Mitchell Starc as the best bowlers in the series.

There will be a natural transition with Moeen Ali, David Warner and a few other players from both sides who won’t be there for the next Ashes in 2025-26. 

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England are back on the right track and cricket’s oldest rivalry is alive and well. Can’t wait for the next one. Looking forward to seeing who the next Ashes superstars will be. 

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