England win fifth Ashes Test by 135 runs despite Matthew Wade century as Stuart Broad and Jack Leach take four wickets apiece to draw the series
What a way to end England’s longest season and what a catch from the flying figure of Joe Root to complete a victory that sees the first drawn Ashes since 1972. Truly, English cricket has not experienced anything like this summer since the fabled year of 2005.
To Australia the Ashes but to England a share of the biggest series in Test cricket to add to their first World Cup after another dramatic day in front of another packed crowd that demonstrated again the enduring appeal of the longest form of the game.
And it finished with Root, who had the haunted look of a beaten captain before this final Test, flinging himself to his left to catch Josh Hazlewood and give his side the 135-run victory that could ignite a fresh Test start for England.
Australia never really looked like getting near their formidable target of 399 to win the series as well as retain the urn but how hard they made England work for a victory that was sealed just after 6pm by two catches by Root off successive Jack Leach deliveries.
And how brilliantly the unlikely and spiky figure of Matthew Wade played to make his second century of this Ashes before he finally became the eighth wicket to fall trying to lift Australia somewhere close to what would have been the fifth greatest chase in history.
Nothing summed up the drama and pure cricketing theatre we have been treated to throughout this summer than the battle between one of Australia’s irritants in chief in Wade and England’s new fast bowling sensation in Jofra Archer.
All series Wade has been a provocative presence at short leg aiming verbal blows at England, so much so that the stump microphone yesterday picked up Jonny Bairstow saying ‘let’s have the s***-stirrer’ when Wade first came to the crease.
Now here was Archer, making such an impact with white ball and red in his debut international season, digging deep during a mesmerising spell of eight overs to try to prise out the Big Bash captain who had questioned his loyalty to Hobart at Old Trafford.
Archer, who had been having one of his quietest days of the series, cranked up his pace above 95 miles per hour, hit Wade on the shoulder and shared both words and stares with a batsman who refused to back down within sight of his century.
It was Test cricket at its very best and it was a battle won by Wade when he came through the onslaught and then reached his hundred with a scampered single and a roar of triumph before finally being stumped by Bairstow off Root.
If that was the wicket that finally swung the match decisively in England’s favour then a victory that preserved Trevor Bayliss’s unbeaten home Test record in his final series as coach was inspired by a bowler who always rises to the Ashes occasion.
Stuart Broad, remember, began this summer far from certain of his Test place but it is always dangerous to write him off, especially when Australia are in town, and how brilliantly he has performed in the absence of his old strike partner Jimmy Anderson.
It was Broad, bowling faster and fuller this summer than for many a year, who sent back both Australian openers after slogging Pat Cummins for two sixes at the end of England’s second innings, dismissing David Warner for an astonishing seventh time.
And it was Broad, gloriously, who was then to claim the biggest scalp of them all in luring Steve Smith into a trap set by England and falling for just 23 as he flicked the new leader of England’s attack to Ben Stokes at leg-slip.
Broad’s four wickets in all made him the first England bowler to take more than 20 wickets in four Ashes series and there will be no doubt now over his place on the tours of New Zealand, South Africa and Sri Lanka this winter, even if Anderson returns.
There were four wickets, too, for Leach, the cult batting hero of Headingley who now proved he can do his principal job with the ball, firstly when he claimed Marnus Labuschagne with the help of a brilliant Bairstow stumping.
Considerable consolation then for England and, as Root said afterwards, a blueprint for how they can move forward in Test cricket now the World Cup has been won and the red-ball game will become their main focus again.
England will next week pick their strongest squad for the two-Test series against New Zealand in November which will now include Joe Denly after his 94 here extended his spell at the top of the order alongside the impressive Rory Burns.
But the biggest decision Ed Smith and his selectors, which will include input from senior coaches in the absence of Bayliss, will centre on whether Bairstow remains the best bet as keeper batsman after a disappointing series with the bat. Ben Foakes is a strong alternative despite a mediocre season with Surrey.
For now England can reflect on a memorable summer. It has been the year of Archer, super over hero of the World Cup and a formidable Test force. It has been the year of Stokes, the key figure on that tumultuous cup final day at Lord’s and then, better still, the maker of one of the greatest of all Test centuries in one of the greatest of Tests at Headingley.
And, for Australia, it has been the year of Smith, who started the series being constantly booed for his leading part in the cheating scandal that rocked his country but ended it on Sunday with a standing ovation from the Oval crowd for his Bradmanesque performances. He has been the biggest single reason why the holders retained the Ashes.
Australia looked an awful long way from Ashes winners in the aftermath of Sandpaper-gate but they prepared far more thoroughly than England for this series and became the first Australian side to claim the urn in England since 2001.
But Sunday belonged to Root and England at the end of a summer that has proved beyond doubt that this great old game is alive and kicking in all its various guises. A drawn Ashes but cricket has been the winner.