As I write this piece, the last round of the English County Championship is being played, with the top two, Somerset and Essex, going head to head to decide the champions. It is the end of arguably the most memorable summer of cricket in the birthplace of this great game.
Of course, we had the thrilling World Cup final, where the hosts finally conquered the world after trying for 44 years and losing three finals. In addition to which, this past Saturday saw the T20 Blast Finals Day also go down to the wire, as Essex overcame defending champions Worcestershire on the last ball.
In between all the limited-overs overturns and domestic drama was the small matter of the Ashes between arch-rivals England and Australia. This was a very intense series, not just because of the rivalry, but the fact that it was played over a period of just six weeks, very draining, physically and mentally for all involved.
Below I will list the highs of the latest instalment of the 140-plus year contest.
1. Best Match:
Third Test at Headingley, Leeds, Yorkshire
This match will live long in the memory, for fans of both teams and neutrals alike. England bowled out the Aussies for 179, who were missing batting maestro Steve Smith, who had gotten hit in the head in the previous match and had to miss this one. However, in true fashion, the men from down under ripped through the vulnerable batting line-up of the hosts to skittle them out for 67.
In the second time around at the crease, the away side put up much more of a fight, with Smith's replacement Marnus Labuschagne making 80, to go with his 74 in the first. That set England a daunting 359 for victory to keep their Ashes hopes alive. Given their poor performance in the first innings, the deteriorating pitch and their fragile batting line-up, it seemed all set for an Australian victory.
The start, as usual, was not great, as both openers went cheaply, before a 126-run partnership between the two Joes, skipper Root and Denly to give them some hope. They both went back to the pavilion within just 18 runs between each other and it was now up to the all-rounders and bowlers to face up to the much-heralded Australian attack.
Up stepped Benjamin Andrew Stokes!
The all-rounder had contributed massively to ending England's search for a first ODI World Cup trophy and here again, he showed his mettle. First, in partnership with wicket-keeper Jonny Bairstow where the pair added 86 runs, however, what seemed like a theme during the series, a batting collapse ensued, as they fell from 245-5 to 286-9...
A further 73 runs were required and in came last man Jack Leach. Stokes started ramping up the pressure on the bowling and played some sumptuous strokes, the best of which was probably a reverse sweep for six from off the bowling of spinner Nathan Lyon!
The New South Welshman had a glorious chance to end the match with the score at 357-9 and England still needing two runs to win; Stokes played a reverse sweep that went straight to short fine-leg, Leach took off from the non-striker's end and was half-way down the pitch when the throw came in, but the 31-year old failed to collect the ball properly and missed the run-out chance.
It seemed destiny was smiling on the hosts...
The man with the most famous pair of glasses in cricket Leach fended off a short ball and they scampered a single, the scores were level and the very next ball, Stokes sent a short and wide ball crashing to the cover boundary and victory was sealed.
2. Best Player:
Steve Smith - Australia
The former captain who returned to the international game after "Sandpaper Gate" scandal last year in South Africa, certainly made up for lost time. The 30-year old scored 774 runs, which included a double century, two other centuries and a couple of other scores past 50. The performance is made even more remarkable given that he got hit in the head in the first innings of the second Test when on 80, did not bat in the second innings at Lord's and had to sit out the third entirely. He was the only batsman from either team that looked comfortable throughout the contest.
3. Breakthrough Player:
This was a tough one, to just pick one, and so went for two, one from each team.
Jofra Archer - England:
The fast bowler only recently made his international debut, after a relaxing of the rules and following his exploits in the World Cup, confirmed his status as a rising star in the game in the longest version. He was not picked for the first Test, but played the rest of the five-match series and grabbed 22 scalps at a phenomenal average of 20.27, which included two five-wicket hauls. His running battles with domestic teammates Smith and Matthew Wade were also highlights of his debut Ashes series.
Marnus Labuschagne - Australia:
A dream summer for the South African born player. He started off the season playing for Glamorgan, scored three centuries in the first four matches of the County Championship. He became the first batsman to go past 1000 runs and was picked for the Ashes squad. He created history when he became the first cricketer to come in as a full substitute, as he replaced Smith after he was hit in the head in the second innings at Lord's. The 25-year old went on to score 281 runs including five scores past 50. He replaced the current best batsman in the world and exceeded all expectations.
Steve Smith being applauded off the field in the final Test
As he came out to bat each time, Smith was loudly jeered and booed by the partisan crowd, who did not let the former skipper forget about his cheating past. However, after a quite legendary performance in the series, as he walked off after being out, the crowd at the Oval in Surrey. The locals realised that they had just witnessed a once in a generational batting display and paid Smith a due. Rivalry is one thing, and even though, personally, I had no problem with the jeering of Smith, it was a nice gesture on the English fans to clap for him at the end of the Ashes.
The next Ashes contest is in 2020-2021 in Australia and both nation's preparations has already started as they both look to "get one over" on their arch-rivals.