Ashes 2019 breathed new life into Test cricket
The torchbearer of Test cricket - Ashes - was arguably Test cricket's biggest extravaganza last year and the gripping cricket that we all got to witness quashed many growing concerns related to the dying popularity of Test cricket as the arch-rivals ensured entertainment galore for fervent cricket fans.
The series ended in a draw, Australia retained the precious urn and perhaps marked the start of a new era by redeeming themselves following the infamous events at Newlands.
Australia have been battle-hardened after the intense brawl with Brits and have remained unbeaten since then. England salvaged their pride after the series-levelling comprehensive victory at Oval and their Ashes campaign spoke volumes of the burgeoning growth as a team over the past few years.
The hero of the World Cup, Ben Stokes, continued to hog the limelight in the Ashes as well. He set Headingley Cricket Ground ablaze with a startling and counter-attacking one-man-army show that allowed England to snatch the victory from the jaws of defeat in the riveting cat-and-mouse affair.
The 76-run partnership with the unsung hero, Jack Leach, who got life off Nathan Lyon's misfield, made that Test into a heart in mouth affair.
Stokes and Leach's incredible 76-run-partnership took the game away from Australia © Getty Images
Ben's unbeaten 135-run onslaught brought the entire cricket world on a standstill and the innings was very typical to his World Cup final madness.
The vociferous crowds rooted for the home side with every ounce of energy which put all thoughts of Test cricket's questionable health to bed. If players bring their A-game, show commitment and remain fiercely competitive, then without a shadow of doubt Test cricket will always hold a special status in the eyes of fans.
England kept the Ashes alive in a memorable game and it was quite a dramatic turnaround after they surrendered in the first innings on a paltry 67 where the chief tormenter was the bowling machine, Josh Hazlewood, who bagged a sensational fifer.
Smith's insatiable thirst for runs
The indomitable Steven Smith and the terrific southpaw David Warner were back into the fold and, as expected, grabbed the limelight upon their comeback in international cricket; the former was very keen on making up for the lost time while the latter became Stuart Broad's bunny and got a pair in the fourth test at Old Trafford.
Smith - the player of the series - showed his insatiable thirst for runs, plundered 774 runs in seven innings and remained a bugbear for England's bowling attack.
The man who is endowed with amazing hand-eye coordination and quick reflexes, the ex-Australian captain's majestic batting display, hauled his side out of trouble in the first Test where he scored 144 and his grinding rebuilding work took his team out of a dicey situation.
Smith endured constant boos, loud jeers and reminders of the ignominious Sandpapergate scandal - that haunted him in the year of international cricket isolation - but in the final Test, even the passionate crowd at Kennington Oval was compelled to give the maestro a standing ovation—and he deserved it thoroughly.
England, on the other side, were led down by Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler and captain Joe Root. The trio hit a purple patch in the ODI format in 2019 and much more was expected from the experienced campaigners, howbeit they couldn't live up to their reputation and looked meek in pressure situations. Jason Roy had a forgettable Ashes too and even swapping positions with Joe Denly didn't change his fortunes.
Archer bursting onto the scene
Jofra Archer, the 24-year-old phenom, was menacing, to say the least. While we missed watching James Anderson in action due to his nagging injury, Jofra provided a different kind of thrill to the spectators in the veteran's absence. He inspired his team in the second Test at Lord's with hostile bodyline attack and the exhilarating battle between him and Smith became the major talking point in cricket circles.
Smith was forced to miss three innings after he was smashed on the neck by a brutal bumper from Archer at Lord's but he came back unscathed and struck a double ton at Old Trafford, proving that nothing can ruffle him as England tried to crack the Smith code.
We can't wait to see the two phenomenally skilful players on the battlefront again. While Jofra, being on top of his game, hurled nasty short balls, strangled Smith down the leg side and nailed seething yorkers, Smith gave him fitting riposte with some wristy pull, hook and unconventional cut shots off the back foot.
Labuschagne grabbed the opportunity
Smacking him on the bonce didn't help England's cause because it paved the way for another genius, Marnus Labuschagne, who was waiting anxiously on the fringes and since that opportunity to step in as a concussed substitute for the very first time in Test cricket, he has managed to cement his spot in the Australian batting line-up. Such has been his form that the legendary batsman Ricky Ponting has envisaged the 25-year-old as future captain.
Another important cog in Australia wheels was the number one ranked bowler - deck-hitting enforcer - Pat Cummins. After battling injury for many years, he has matured into a potent strike bowler and he took wickets at will. He seems to be at the pinnacle of his career and is easily the juggernaut of fast bowling.
The pace triplet coupled with Nathan Lyon's magic matched the likes of Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee and Shane Warne's quality. The Ashes triumph inspired plenty of confidence in Tim Paine's led side as they cruise along in the ICC Test Championship and due to the potent pacers alongside quality batsmen, Australia has so far emerged as a strong contender to clinch the maiden Test Championship title.