Pat Cummins and Ben Stokes hold the urn. Ryan Pierse I Getty Images

DON’T HATE the player, hate the game. Australia retained the Ashes with a damp squib of a draw in the fourth Test at Old Trafford and skipper Pat Cummins is getting roasted for his defensive tactics.

To recap, England were in the process of putting the Aussies to the sword after three days of play, enjoying a 61-run run lead and only needing another five Aussie wickets to even the series 2-2, which would have set up a nail-biting climax at The Oval this Thursday.

As it was, torrential rain caused play on the last day to be abandoned. Australia thus retained the Ashes, as tradition states that in the event of a drawn series, the team that won the previous series retains the urn – Australia won the 2022 Ashes series in Australia.

Cummins admitted that the victory was a hollow one. “There won’t be huge celebrations,” he said. “It wasn’t our greatest week.” He added that Australia won’t be content with just retaining the Ashes – they want to win them by claiming victory at The Oval.

But it’s the manner that the urn was retained that has called Cummins’ leadership into question.

Australian legend Glenn McGrath criticised the Aussie side’s tactics as “ugly and negative”.

“Australia’s job this week was to not lose this Test and retain the Ashes. They had to survive three days and they played this game in that survival mode,” he told the BBC.

“They’ve looked a bit ugly and negative doing it. Australia came in with a clear plan, probably not the usual Australia way, but they achieved it.”

Former England captain Michael Vaughan also piled on. “This is the number one team in the world and England have really dismantled them this week and it’s been an Australia side that has been playing for the rain. They’ve been playing for it all week.

“They picked a side that were just settling, with the deep batting and not playing a spinner. Their mentality and field settings and their negativity this week has been very, very unlike Australia.”

Serial Aussie antagonist Piers Morgan was also scathing in criticism of the victory, saying England was “robbed of the Ashes” and asking “Has there ever been a less-deserved retention of the Ashes?”

Is this fair cop or Pommy whingeing? Let’s take a closer look.

Is the Ashes over?

Yes, the Ashes have been retained by Australia but the series isn’t over, regardless of whether the Aussies have the urn in their checked luggage. Australia’s stated objective at the beginning of the series was to become the first side to reclaim the Ashes in England since 2001, a goal Cummins reiterated this week. If they win the final test at The Oval, they win the series 3-1. They can then duly celebrate (perhaps by donning Piers Morgan masks?). If England win and even the series 2-2, they can cherish an amazing comeback and claim a moral victory, something they’ve been doing a lot in this series.

Did the Aussies play in un-Australian way in the fourth Ashes Test?

It’s true that as the team with the series lead heading into the fourth Test Australia were more circumspect in their approach compared to England, who had to be aggressive knowing rain was likely on the last two days. As Kevin Bacon said in A Few Good Men, “those are the facts of the case and they are undisputed”. Yet it seems some former Aussie players and English fans alike ‘can’t handle the truth’: rain caused the draw, not Australia’s tactics. For the most part, the Aussies played as they always do: hard. Marnus Labuschagne’s second innings dig of 111 kept the English at bay. Who knows if he would have been able to keep it up on the final day? But you can be sure he would have tried his absolute darndest. If anything, it was England, as they have done all series under Bazball’s carte blanche charter, who played historically out of character. If you want to be facetious and really get up the likes of Morgan’s nose, then argue that England played in an un-English way. If that doesn’t work, mention Meghan Markle.

Why are the Ashes awarded to the previous winner in a drawn series?

Well, like many things in Test cricket, it’s always been done that way and frankly, it’s an anachronism that needs to change. It gives the team that won the previous series an unfair advantage and can lead, (though I don’t really think it did in this case), to the urn-holders playing defensively. It can also rob a series of stakes, creating the dreaded dead rubber, though as stated earlier, this series is still there to be won by Australia. Given England’s aggressive approach and appetite for moral victories, and the fact that Cummins and Australia have been hit with the worst possible insult from the murky depths of online sewers and talkback radio alike – un-Australian – you would expect both sides to play their backsides off in the last test. As they should.


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