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Ashes 2019: ‘Right team retained urn but England will be desperate for draw’ – Agnew

The rightful team has retained the Ashes.

Australia were always one step ahead, apart from the miracle at Headingley, and the tourists’ 185-run win in the fourth Test at Old Trafford showed that was just a remarkable one-off.

Tim Paine’s side were better prepared than England.

They had the goal of becoming the first Australia team in 18 years to retain the Ashes in England absolutely in their sights. After they were beaten by England in the World Cup semi-final, they had three more weeks to completely focus on red ball cricket.

England went on and won that astonishing World Cup final and it took a long time to come down to earth afterwards – those who played in it were exhausted and rightly enjoyed the victory.

If England are totally honest, the World Cup was the main priority of this summer and that was vindicated by them winning it for the first time.

But it’s never really possible to play both one-day and Test cricket to the highest standard – how does one coach really prepare two teams to win a World Cup and an Ashes in the same summer?

England were also coming from behind for most of the series.

They never really got over the loss of all-time leading wicket-taker James Anderson after he bowled only four overs in the first Test at Edgbaston before a calf injury kept him out of the rest of the series.

It might not have turned out differently had Anderson been fit but, regardless, it was a wretched way to start and England have been trying to claw their way back since.

The best England can now hope for is victory in the fifth Test at The Oval, starting on Thursday, to draw the series 2-2.

There is no reason why they can’t and they will be hell-bent on victory, not least because the World Test Championship points on offer could be crucial in qualification for the final further down the line.

If England can beat Australia at The Oval then they will reflect on a pretty successful summer.

But Australia will not take their foot off the gas and will want to win the Ashes outright.

This already means a lot for Australian cricket following the past 18 months since the ball-tampering scandal – they will feel it has redeemed them and the more games they win, the further it moves them on from that very dark place they fell to in South Africa.

For England to win at The Oval they have to perform like they did in the second half of the Old Trafford Test, when they had Australia 44-4 in their second innings and fought bravely with the bat to try and salvage a draw.

They will wonder what happened on that first day, when with the exception of Stuart Broad they didn’t seem to turn up – it cost them the game.

As predicted, England’s batting has been very fragile, apart from some fine individual performances, and they showed character at Headingley and Old Trafford.

Australia have had the incredible Steve Smith piling on runs despite a lot of uncertainty around him and he has formed enough partnerships to get his side into strong positions to then let loose their big fast bowlers.

Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood in particular have been in a different league.

Broad has had four really strong matches – back at the start of the summer there was some thought he might be saying farewell after The Oval but that clearly won’t happen now.

It has been really good to see him back to his best and taking responsibility in the absence of Anderson, as he so often seems to do.

But he’s been on his own a bit. Jofra Archer has had impressive spells but in contrast the Australia pace attack have been relentless in wearing down England’s batsmen.

England have named an unchanged squad for The Oval but I can see all-rounder Sam Curran coming in, perhaps for Jason Roy, if Ben Stokes’ shoulder injury means he can’t bowl and plays as a batsman instead.

It is very difficult being the losing Ashes captain and Joe Root has not had a brilliant series with the bat so people inevitably start talking about the captaincy affecting his form.

It’s not easy coming into that job having never really captained a side before and it’s a situation England cricket finds itself in all the time.

I can’t think of anyone in or around the team that could possibly replace Root.

That’s not the only reason Root should stay on, of course – he is steeped in cricket and does get quite careworn in defeat, but that shows he deeply cares.

The job really matters to him and he will be bitterly disappointed.

England will have a new coach once Trevor Bayliss steps down at the end of this series and that will be an opportunity for Root.

When a new coach joins an existing captain they tend to listen to what the captain wants and Root will be able to call more of the shots.

He has a good sense of humour but he’s also a very steely character so will not be happy with what has happened in the Ashes.

It will be a test of his ability as captain to get England improving, starting with how they go at The Oval.

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