23 July 2023

Dropped catches, Leach injured and Moeen’s finger – Why England came up short

23 July 2023

England’s bid to regain the Ashes is over as a drawn fourth Test at Emirates Old Trafford meant Australia kept hold of their 2-1 lead and the urn.

Here, the PA news agency looks at some of the reasons why England came up short in their bid to claim the urn for the first time since 2015.

Leach ruled out

Trusted spinner Jack Leach has had terrible luck with injuries and illness in his career but a stress fracture in his lower back a couple of weeks before the series began was a particularly cruel blow. Up until that point, Leach had been an ever-present in the ‘Bazball’ era, taking three five-fors and a 10-wicket match haul in 13 Tests, emboldened by Ben Stokes’ more attacking leadership. Leach being ruled out – and a dearth of county spinners – meant England had to hastily revisit their plans for Australia.

Declaration on the opening day

England had Edgbaston rocking and Australia on the ropes, with Joe Root starting to unleash his full repertoire after reaching his century, but Stokes wanted a crack at the opposition before stumps. He called Root and Ollie Robinson in with England on 393 for eight, coughing up the chance of going well past 400 for four overs at David Warner and Usman Khawaja, both of whom survived until stumps. Even though England eked out a slender first-innings lead, the tense climax that later unfolded meant England really could have done with the extra runs to put Australia under the pump.

Dropped catches

Fielding has been England’s weak link, with questions over Jonny Bairstow’s return as wicketkeeper just 10 months after a horrific broken leg increasing with every missed chance – eight in total. In Birmingham, his fluffed stumping of Cameron Green and drop of Alex Carey cost England 78 runs, although the hosts were profligate in general. Root and Stokes were unable to hold on to tough chances off Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon respectively, the fine margins that proved the difference in Australia’s win.

Moeen’s finger

Leach’s absence led to Stokes sending out an SOS to the more mercurial Moeen Ali, who reversed his Test retirement. He has returned just six wickets at an average of 64.5 and been outshone by part-timer Joe Root at times. This was evident in the opener in Moeen’s first Test in nearly two years, where the increased workload caused a blister on his spinning finger that then burst, impinging his ability to land the ball in the right areas. He was unreliable in Australia’s run-chase, sending down 14 overs, one fewer than Root, who was much more dangerous only for Cummins and Lyon to get Australia home.

Happy hookers

At 188 for one in response to Australia’s 416 at Lord’s, England were cruising. Australia turned to a bouncer barrage in desperation on an unhelpful pitch and the hosts obliged. First Ollie Pope, then Ben Duckett – two short of a first Ashes century – and linchpin Joe Root all flapped uncertainly as England lurched to 222 for four. Harry Brook later fell into the trap as England coughed up a big first-innings lead, with suggestions – rejected by the dressing room – they had taken an attacking approach too far.

Carey outsmarts Bairstow

The stumping heard around the world. Bairstow ducked a bouncer from Green then, believing the ball to be dead, immediately strode down the wicket after scratching his back foot in his crease. However, Carey gathered the ball and immediately threw the poles down. Cummins upheld the appeal and while the incident awoke the beast inside Stokes, the Yorkshireman’s perfectly legal dismissal left the England captain with just bowlers for company as they fell short in the chase. The issue mushroomed to the extent that the Prime Ministers of both countries had their say over the ‘spirit of cricket’.


Defeats at Edgbaston and Lord’s meant England needed to be note-perfect – and have a little fortune – to regain the urn. They rebounded at Headingley and were totally dominant at Old Trafford, bagging a 275-run first-innings lead to leave Australia shell-shocked. The writing looked to be on the wall when they slid to 113 for four at the end of day three but there was just a 30-over window over the weekend – with a Sunday washout – because of atrocious weather in Manchester. The idea that England should have declared earlier to give themselves more time to bowl out their opponents was arguably voided by them taking just one more scalp as Australia closed to within 61 with five wickets left.

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