Ashes retained! Aussies clinch final-session victory
Australia on verge of historic away series triumph with one Test to play, taking unassailable 2-1 series lead to ensure urn will remain in their possession
Andrew Ramsey at Old Trafford
9 September 2019, 11:00 AM AEST
For seven hours and 14 minutes on Sunday, the prospect of another England miracle hung tantalisingly in the Manchester air until Australia finally seized their chance and secured the Ashes.
The path to victory, and an unassailable 2-1 lead in the five-match series with a Test to play, was intermittently blocked by England's brave batting defiance but ultimately it was brilliant bowling and intuitive captaincy that sealed the 185-run win.
One and a half overs into the last hour's mandatory 16, Josh Hazlewood trapped the most stubborn of those stumbling blocks – seamer Craig Overton – lbw after the tailender had survived almost three hours at the crease.
Then, perhaps fittingly given the narrative running through this see-sawing series, Australia's 11 players stood transfixed to Old Trafford's giant video screens as Overton's desperate review was adjudicated.
When it upheld umpire Kumar Dharmasena's verdict, the winners leaped and embraced as Overton hunched over his bat in despair before he was consoled by his batting partner, Stuart Broad.
It had taken almost 15 angst-filled overs to prise out England’s last two wickets, and there lay more than a tinge of relief in Australia’s unrestrained and justifiable joy.
Having endured the horror of Headingley a fortnight earlier, Australia's bowlers held their nerve on another dramatic fifth day with Pat Cummins (4-43) leading the way before Hazlewood grabbed two vital scalps in the final session.
The first Aussie men's skipper to bring the #Ashes home from England since Steve Waugh in 2001. pic.twitter.com/Au7sNLqTqx— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) September 8, 2019
However, it was skipper Tim Paine's gut decision to introduce leg-spinner Marnus Labuschagne for an over as Overton and Leeds hero Jack Leach held firm into the twilight that changed the game's course.
After Labuschagne removed Leach who had survived more than an hour, he was replaced by Hazlewood who completed the job that Paine's team had set their sights on months ago.
Their final task will be to secure Australia's first Ashes series win in the UK since 2001 when they begin the final Test at The Oval next Thursday.
At the close on day four at Old Trafford, England coach Trevor Bayliss claimed his team would need a couple of centuries if they were to avoid defeat, needing to bat all day in pursuit of a notional 383 for an unlikely victory.
Steve Smith is the Player of the Match at Old Trafford. Another fair shout #Ashes pic.twitter.com/PYoegGNGAD— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) September 8, 2019
As it was, only one player (Joe Denly) reached 50, but it was the efforts of a couple of Somerset men (Overton and Leach) and Taunton-born Jos Buttler (34 in 151 minutes) that almost delivered another miracle in what had been a fairytale English summer.
But in the face of such relentlessly accurate and purposeful fast bowling, and with Nathan Lyon able to operate on a wearing day-five pitch with catchers crammed around the bat, Australia were always favourites.
And there can be no argument their win was fully and famously deserved.
There were, however, multiple moments throughout Sunday at Old Trafford when a stalemate loomed as a possible result.
The first hour passed with Australia's bowlers unable to make a breakthrough, raising belief among the sell-out crowd.
Then, despite the crucial loss of Ben Stokes prior to lunch when the proven match winner chose to walk after faintly edging a catch behind, another stoic partnership formed in the first hour after the resumption.
However, when Mitchell Starc fired out Jonny Bairstow immediately after the day's middle drinks break, England faced a further 50 overs with only their tailenders to support last recognised batter, Buttler.
But they rallied to the task, and pushed the match ever deeper towards another edge-of-the-seat final climax.
Overton survived two lbw shouts, the first on five when he was adjudged out on-field only to have the verdict overturned.
That decision came after an excruciating investigation by the third umpire as he searched for evidence of a possible inside edge from the Cummins' delivery that had thudded into Overton's pad, only for ball tracking to confirm it had struck him outside off stump.
An hour later, having taken his score to 14, Overton was pinned on the back leg by an in-swinging yorker from Hazlewood, but it was adjudged not out and it remained that way upon review.
DRS revealed the ball had swung so violently it would have speared past Overton's leg stump, and Australia's record with reviews slumped to a lamentable six successful from 27 attempts.
Buttler and Overton had taken England to tea at 6-166, and needing to withstand a minimum of 36 overs if the clouds that had begun sweeping low over Manchester allowed sufficient daylight.
Beginning the final session with victory a distant 217 runs away, England faced the polar opposite strategy to that employed at Headingley where runs were flowing.
Instead of deploying his men to the boundary rope, Paine brought close catchers around the bat and in the England players' eyeline, bringing the vital scalp of Buttler.
For much of his two-and-half-hour vigilance that yielded 34 runs, the usually aggressive right-hander had defended stoutly.
But the canny field change led him to shoulder arms to a delivery from Hazlewood that veered back into the right-hander and clattered into off stump.
The wearing Old Trafford pitch had become Australia's key ally, and it played a vital part in Jofra Archer's dismissal in the following over to a delivery from Lyon that all but scuttled along the ground.
Headingley's other last-day bating sensation, Leach, was promoted above Broad to number 10 and for more than an hour in the fading Manchester light he looked like might manage it again.
Leach showed no fear against Australia's seamers armed with old ball and then new, and few difficulties against his fellow finger spinner Lyon as he staved off 49 deliveries for his dozen runs.
But the surprise introduction of leg spinner Labuschagne into the attack on the cusp of the game's final hour saw Leach fall to the 50th, when he fended a ball that bounced sharply and was bunted to short leg.
That signalled the start of the game's final hour and Australia surged to exorcise the ghosts of Leeds as well as grasp the urn that had been beckoning for more than a day.
Since the previous opportunity to retain the Ashes had lipped from their grasp at Headingley, Australia have been at pains to explain they did not panic during that final, frantic hour but made some misjudgements.
There was certainly a methodical calm that characterised the bowling and fielding early on the final day at Old Trafford, largely because England were never seriously going to chase down the victory target.
It was therefore a battle to survive, and the occasional boundary found by Denly and Jason Roy upon resumption did not bring about immediate changes in field, or hasty revision of plans.
Not that the frustrations were altogether excised.
A couple of lbw appeals in the opening half-hour drew interest from Paine, but also a prudent refusal to review.
Chances were being created – a slash from Denly that flew above the head of third slip, a hard push forward from Roy that brought an inside edge that took a similar trajectory over short-leg, a Denly sweep that fell metres in front of deep square leg.
The first hint that perhaps nerves were starting to jangle with Denly and Roy surviving largely untroubled through the first hour to add 38 runs came shortly after the first drinks break.
Starc stood at the top of his run-up ready to continue his spell, when Paine waved frantically from behind the stumps and summoned Cummins to the bowling crease.
Starc had only just begun operating around the wicket, a suggestion that that the ball – then 24 overs old – was showing the first hints of reverse-swing.
Whatever the reason, it proved to be inspired.
With the final delivery of his first over, Cummins speared a ball through Roy's flimsy forward defence to flatten the relegated opener's off stump.
It was the fifth time Roy has been bowled in as many Test appearances, and the third consecutive innings he's had his stumps rattled by Australia's quicks.
And so it continues! #Ashes pic.twitter.com/OZb7eP3wgY— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) September 8, 2019
Roy's removal brought the true Headingley hero, Stokes, to the crease, and while circumstances suggested he was unlikely to lead another headlong pursuit for the England target he had also previously shown he's England's most accomplished defensive batter.
From the way Stokes began his innings 49 minutes before lunch – it took him 15 deliveries to find his first run – he was setting himself for another game-defining knock.
But two balls later, the left-hander shouldered arms to a ball from Cummins that jagged in at him and Paine took it smartly while tumbling to his right.
The Australia keeper bounced to his feet claiming a catch as the slips fielders who flanked him began their own celebration, even though Cummins' appeal was less convincing and something of an afterthought.
But as umpire Marais Erasmus remained stonily unmoved at the bowler's end, Stokes suddenly tucked his bat under his arm and began walking towards the England dressing room.
Given that Erasmus gave no indication of raising his finger, and Australia's woeful track record of successfully employing the video review system, it's unclear what outcome might have been reached had Stokes stood his ground.
The technology that purportedly detects the slightest noise of ball on bat indicated a slight aural disturbance as the ball whizzed past the underside of Stokes's parrying blade.
Whether that would have been sufficient to deliver a clear verdict will never be known, but what was beyond question was Stokes' frustration at such a tame dismissal as he slammed his bat on the steps leading to the Old Trafford sheds.
At lunch, having lost 2-69 from 27 overs during the morning session, England might have felt some satisfaction with their position if only one of those wickets was not the totemic Stokes.
The responsibility of saving the game, and the immediate fate of the Ashes, therefore lay with not out pair Denly and Jonny Bairstow, as well as England's final specialist batter Buttler who was next man in.
When Denly surrendered soon after the break to the sharp spin and fizzing bounce extracted by Lyon, for a dogged 53 scored in almost three hours, it was effectively left to Bairstow or Buttler to 'do a Stokes'.
Then, when Bairstow departed for 25, it was down to the tail and for a compelling couple of hours, they seemed up to the task.
But ultimately, the sheer weight of Australia's bowling battery prevailed and the Ashes remain in the hands of Paine's team for the next few years.
England XI: Rory Burns, Joe Denly, Joe Root (c), Jason Roy, Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow (wk), Jos Buttler, Craig Overton, Jofra Archer, Stuart Broad, Jack Leach
Australia XI: David Warner, Marcus Harris, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Matt Wade, Tim Paine (c, wk), Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood
2019 Qantas Ashes Tour of England
Australia squad: Tim Paine (c), Cameron Bancroft, Pat Cummins, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, David Warner.
England squad: Joe Root (c), Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Joe Denly, Jack Leach, Craig Overton, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes (vc), Chris Woakes.
First Test: Australia won by 251 runs at Edgbaston
Second Test: Match drawn at Lord's
Third Test: England won by one wicket at Headingley
Fourth Test: Australia won by 185 runs at Old Trafford
Fifth Test: September 12-16, The Oval