The Spin | Ashes 2023: our writers’ end-of-series England v Australia awards

After a thrilling series, our team pick over the players and moments of the series, along with much more besides

Ali Martin

Player of the series Stuart Broad. He played all five Tests for the fifth home Ashes in a row, aged 37. He finessed 22 wickets. He scrapped like hell for two hours with the bat at Lord’s as Mount Stokes erupted and England’s pushback began. He then vaporised Warner in the win at Headingley, before finishing with a bail swap and a mic drop at the Oval. Magic.

Moment of the series Mark Wood well and truly catapulting himself into that fiery first spell at Headingley, changing the whole mood of the series (along with Chris Woakes, who really should have won the award above). It was 96.5mph, fast-twitch menace from one of the good guys, knocking over another in the previously immovable Usman Khawaja. Spine-tingling.

Mark Wood celebrates the wicket of Mitchell Starc in the final Test.
Mark Wood’s pace helped change the course of the series. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

Who took the ‘moral victory’ award? Things aren’t as easy as for Heather Knight’s England team, who won more matches and both white-ball series in their drawn Ashes. Instead, eight points apiece meaning we have to go to the time-honoured tie-breaker of boundary countback and what appears to be a 370-346 win for, er, Australia. Well I never.

Bazball verdict It works for England and produces compelling Test matches. It can be maddening and illogical, it could be sharper and less evangelical. But who knows, hearing Ricky Ponting and Justin Langer wax lyrical – and knowing Shane Warne would have loved it – maybe Australia will become the second opponent after Pakistan to give it a whirl.

Farewell to … Moeen Ali. He dutifully answered the SOS with an LOL and despite the lack of preparation delivered a fair few smiley emojis: two key wickets in Leeds, two century stands after stepping up to No 3, that final-day magic at the Oval. And he went past 3,000 runs/200 wickets, which made his old man happy. A joyous, elegant, classy Test cricketer.

What can we expect in 2025? “From the Vulture Street End … Jimmy Anderson.” However, it is the turnover of players between now and then that will make it so fascinating; a whole new cast who have a lot to live up to given the decade of Ashes champions on both sides we’ve just witnessed. Bravo.

Barney Ronay

Player of the series Jonny Bairstow. Scroll back through the details and pretty much every English act in this series, from selection to declaration to made-up rule storms, has basically been geared towards making Jonny feel good. Hopefully, he now feels good.

Momentof the series Rise of the red-trousered footsoldier. The battle of the Long Room plus subsequent mental disintegration as England has a collective four-day tantrum. Matt Renshaw’s point-and-laugh moment on the Lord’s pavilion stairs: snapshot in a nation’s decline.

Who took the ‘moral victory’ award? Pat Cummins, who smiled and never took the bait. Leader of a fundamentally nice Australia team who applauded England milestones (only Joe Root and Ben Stokes did this reliably for England) and didn’t react once to being constantly told his team were simply bystanders in the glorious saving of cricket.

Bazball verdict Love me, love my flaws. It helped produce some brilliant, gripping cricket, some sloppy, weird cricket and a genuinely fine series. England have done sloppiness enough times down the years without any Baz involvement and also been as dull as rain. A hit with the odd bum note. Next up: Bazball with a tiny strand of humility and the odd plan B.

Farewell to … Test cricket. RIP. Here lie the ashes of the Ashes. It was pretty good you know. But get ready for a calendar of grudging two-match series, the odd crushed-in, five-Test affair with two of the big three involved and all of it whipped into the tiniest of available spaces by ceaseless white-ball product and the whims of assorted cement manufacturers.

What can we expect in 2025? Player release certificates sought from the North Korean Pro-Smash league. The England captain, Ben Duckett, teases Broad back out of the comms box to bowl 73mph floaters to a hobbling David Warner for a grey-pound audience. Some 78% of English schoolchildren now rank polo, real tennis and Wii Fit Zumba ahead of cricket on their list of summer sports they’ve heard of.

Jonathan Liew

Player of the series Remember when England kept finding themselves 30 for three? Remember the carousel of scared sacrificial openers? Zak Crawley was meant to be one of those. At least, he wasn’t meant to take apart the world’s best new-ball attack, set the tone of the series and score 480 in 541 balls.

Moment of the series Has to be Woakes hitting the winning runs at Headingley. When Woakes walks out, the series is basically disintegrating towards an ill-tempered anticlimax. When he walks off triumphant, you can tell from the noise alone that it’s alive again.

Who took the ‘moral victory’ award? Khawaja. Faced down the choux-faced hooligans in the Lord’s pavilion, faced down Ollie Robinson at Edgbaston, faced more balls than Crawley, Duckett and Moeen Ali put together, faced down the very idea of Bazball itself. In a series of wild swings and cheap thrills, Khawaja did it his way.

Usman Khawaja plays a pull on day four of the fifth Test.
Usman Khawaja had an eventful series despite his uneventful batting. Photograph: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

Bazball verdict Still a bit spiky and weird. Still a bit annoying. Still prone to maddening outbursts of stupidity. But still brilliant fun, still the glue binding together a disparate and atrophying team, still the best way of using these players, still English cricket’s best idea in years. And still unbeaten in a series.

Farewell to … Broad. Or more accurately, what he meant. English cricket will not be short of 83mph seamers. But in Broad’s hands – and occasionally his mouth – Ashes series never fell short of pure theatre. Broad lived for these summers. Built his career and his brand around them. Occasionally voided them.

What can we expect in 2025? It’s helpful to think of the Ashes as two separate contests: one a closely matched battle of equals, the other a kind of organised bloodsport. Unless England can unearth at least three genuine pace bowlers – or somehow get the 30-year-old Jofra Archer fit again – Australia are going to win so hard.

Andy Bull

Player of the series Broad took England’s first wicket of the series and six weeks later their last. In between there were 20 more, that brilliant, and very brave, innings at Lord’s, and so many other memorable moments, like his trick of switching the bails around on Marnus Labuschagne.

Moment of the series Crawley hitting the opening ball for four? Broad getting Labuschagne with the first delivery he bowled to him? Cummins’s fourth-innings charge on the last afternoon? And that’s just the first Test’s worth. But it had better be Stokes’s incandescent 155 on the last afternoon at Lord’s, after Bairstow had been stumped while wandering out of his ground.

Ben Stokes on his way to a spectacular 155 at Lord’s.
Ben Stokes swung his way to a spectacular 155 at Lord’s. Photograph: Matt Impey/Shutterstock

Who took the ‘moral victory’ award? The milliners. It was a seminal year for headwear, from England’s bucket, worn best by Moeen, who flicked up the brim, to the Australian’s warm-up beanies, worn high on the head with a pompom on top, to Broad’s combination of a rambo bandana and a floppy sunhat, to Root’s backwards baseball cap.

Bazball verdict Like Louis Armstrong said when they asked him to define jazz, “if you have to ask, then you’ll never know”.

Farewell to … The northern Test venues, Warner, any pretence of trying to make the players get through their stipulated 90 overs in a day, Khawaja, Stokes’s career as a Test match all-rounder, Robinson’s reputation as the next great English seam bowler, Broad, of course, oh and Lord’s air of grace and civility, if not, apparently, its divine right to host two Tests a year.

What can we expect in 2025? Depends entirely if England’s quicks are fit. If Wood and Archer are still playing Test cricket, it will be their best chance of winning in Australia since 2010-11, otherwise we can look forward to Anderson’s 750th Test wicket and his gruff insistence that his lack of impact in the series has nothing to do with the fact he’s 43.

Mark Ramprakash

Player of the series There were a couple of superb innings from him, but Stokes’s leadership has been more impressive still. He marshals his players expertly on the field, brings passion and empathy to the role, his side have a real collective mindset and everyone has completely bought in to his vision.

Moment of the series Something shifted with Alex Carey’s stumping of Bairstow at Lord’s. There were other reasons why things changed after this game but this was the moment that ignited England’s series and supercharged their motivation, while somehow causing Australia to lose their way a bit.

Australia celebrate Jonny Bairstow’s stumping.
Jonny Bairstow’s stumping changed the series. Photograph: Mike Egerton/PA

Who took the ‘moral victory’ award The big theme has been the clash between a side that has brought a one-day mentality to Test cricket and another with a more orthodox, traditional style. The contrast between Australia’s core of traditional Test batters in Khawaja, Labuschagne and Steve Smith and the all-out, guns-blazing, shot-playing, risk-taking Englishmen has been captivating.

Bazball verdict What Stokes, Brendon McCullum, Rob Key and the players have done is create a new approach to Tests to reflect the shifting landscape of cricket over the past 15 years. If you judge them on the engagement of the public and the level of entertainment they have delivered, it has been wonderful. If you judge them on results they came close, but it remains a work in progress.

Farewell to … Broad. A great competitor, an intelligent cricketer and a man who knows how to plan a big send-off. He is very smart at reading the game and working out situations and he worked this one out brilliantly, walking off with everyone completely on his side and having given a wonderful career a fairytale finish.

What can we expect in 2025? Something completely different. England’s bowling group will be transformed by then and Australia could have lost half their first-choice side. There are big transitions coming and the next Ashes will test who has handled theirs the best.

Emma John

Player of the series An unbreakable tie between Khawaja and Woakes, who bestrode this see-saw series. Khawaja’s patient runs were the perfect response to England’s hyperactive approach and Woakes was the rescue remedy England needed with Jimmy Anderson malfunctioning and Stokes too crocked to bowl. And there was his vital batting at Headingley and the Oval.

Moment of the series Nathan Lyon receiving a standing ovation at Lord’s as he limped to the crease with a calf tear. His heroic 13-ball innings out-Cowdreyed the man who is supposed to personify the Spirit of Cricket. The very next day the Australia team and the Lord’s members proved its non-existence.

Nathan Lyon (right) and Stuart Broad at Lord’s.
Nathan Lyon defied a torn calf to bat in the second Test at Lord’s. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images

Who took the ‘moral victory’ award? Stokes. He stuck to his philosophy of not-minding-losing even when England lost. He stuck to his chosen players even when Bairstow was wearing lead trousers behind the stumps. He followed up his Hulk-smash century at Lord’s with an even more important innings on one leg at Headingley to keep his team in the series. And now an entire nation believes that he would have brought England back from two-nil down to the greatest Ashes victory of all time if it hadn’t been for the rain.

Bazball verdict It did not regain the urn but it did exactly what it promised, so you can’t really argue against it. Thrills, spills and an Ashes that threatened to explode our brains on a daily basis. Failure doesn’t matter, it turns out, when you fail this entertainingly.

Farewell to … Low-key retirements. Sure, Broad deserved a send-off but the mawkish buildup to his guard of honour felt longer than Oppenheimer.

What can we expect in 2025? Two new captains, probably. Stokes’s body seems highly unlikely to make it to the rematch and the pressure on Cummins’s leadership in the second half of this series was telling.

Simon Burnton

Player of the series Khawaja has been the most consistent batter but this has not been a Khawaja series. It has not been unshowy. It has not been a bit slow. Its skillset was not to be a consistent series. It was to be exhilarating at times, disappointing at others, but always entirely of itself. It has, in other words, been a Crawley series.

Moment of the series Lyon limps out to bat at Lord’s. There was the comedy of him having to leave the dressing room alongside the previous batter to have a chance of not being timed out, the shame of a brilliant player being ruled out of the series through injury, the sheer grit involved in forcing himself through the pain barrier and the knowledge with hindsight that Lyon’s departure contributed to Australia surrendering a 2-0 lead.

Who took the ‘moral victory’ award? For all the controversy over the Bairstow stumping, the sportsmanship seen throughout the series has been excellent (particularly, it must be said, from Australia; England had a couple of dips). Franchise cricket has established bonds between players of different nationalities and the game has grown more friendly as a result. The moral Ashes go to more moral Ashes.

Bazball verdict England have been very slightly less successful than they have been fun, but I would criticise nothing about them except their loyalty. Anderson earned his place in the final two Tests over the past 20 years, rather than the last six weeks.

Farewell to … Warner. But for a blip at Headingley he had a fine series, which did not stop people constantly questioning his place. Impressively, Broad’s retirement planning was so rigorous that he transferred Warner from his pocket to Woakes’s (who took his wicket in Australia’s last four innings) before making the big announcement.

David Warner after the final Test at the Oval.
David Warner enjoyed an impressive series, Headingley aside. Photograph: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

What can we expect in 2025? If England can go to Australia and have fun while they’re there that alone would be a near-miraculous turnaround, but this thrill-seeking side should manage it. They should also be confident of winning, if not the urn itself, at least a game that isn’t a dead rubber.

This is an extract from the Guardian’s weekly cricket email, The Spin. To subscribe, just visit this page and follow the instructions.


Ali Martin, Barney Ronay, Jonathan Liew, Andy Bull, Mark Ramprakash, Emma John and Simon Burnton

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