It ended, not with a match-saving century or a game-winning delivery, but with bad light casting a shadow over the 2013 Ashes. Had that not happened, England could well have claimed their first ever 4-0 win over the Australians; as it was, a 3-0 will more than suffice. However, the two sides are a lot closer than the scoreline would have you believe, as reflected in the following combined XI of the teams' best players.
A belated second-coming to Test cricket, but worth the wait for being the only man capable of providing real stability opening the innings - for either side. He was the only opener for the visitors to make a century, and added a couple of 50s too, leaving him with an average of just over 40 for the series. Not bad for someone who had to wait five-and-a-half years between Test appearances.
Thrown in at the deep end as opener, after spending his Test career prior to the series at no. 6, Root initially looked to be sinking, before learning to swim with a fantastic 180 at Lord's. After that, he treaded water for the rest of the series - one half-century, and an average of 37.67 - but that was certainly better than his opening partner and captain, Alastair Cook, and enough to show he is the future at the top of an England innings.
A source of ridicule for much of the series, mostly for his preference of using his pad, rather than bat, to prevent the ball hitting his stumps. However, he smote his critics, and the England attack, with a mighty 176 batting at number three at The Oval, and somehow managed to end up as the second-highest run scorer in the series. At 32, and with 46 caps, he may finally have found his place in the Australian Test team.
A solid series, although not quite in keeping with his usual spectacular standards, especially against the Aussies. Injury had looked like it could rule him out of the third match; instead, he played and scored a century. Also added three 50s - including the fastest by an Englishman in an Ashes Test - and remains the one batsman truly capable of changing a game in the space of a few overs.
Unquestionably the Man of the Series, Bell was absolutely peerless for much of the series. His three centuries all came in games England won, although somewhat perversely he was never named Man of the Match at any point. His 562 runs - at an average of 62.44 - were well over 100 more than his closest rival (Watson) managed, and a compilation of all the late cut shots he played in the series should be pieced together and shown to every young aspiring batsman and voyeur of cricketing porn alike. Coming after a fairly barren 18 months in the Test arena, he dispelled any doubts about his class and place in the side.
Made perhaps the best century of the series - a stunning 187 at Old Trafford - and was perhaps unlucky to be on the receiving end of the two best balls of the series as well: Jimmy Anderson's at Trent Bridge and Stuart Broad's at the Riverside. Has proved himself to be one of, if not the most quick-thinking, innovative and brave captains in the game. If only he had the players to back it up...
Neither wicket-keeper had a series to remember with the bat, but Haddin's two half-centuries are certainly better than Matt Prior's none. However, it was with the gloves that Haddin showed his worth, taking a total of 29 catches to set a new Ashes record.
Broad had enjoyed a decent series up until the Fourth Test at Durham, where he produced a spell of fast-bowling to rival any in recent Ashes memory. The figures - 6-50 - don't quite do it justice, as he ripped through the Australian middle-to-lower order - the highlight being the aforementioned 'jaffa' to remove Clarke. Finished with 22 wickets at an average of 27.45, and managed some useful runs with the bat as well.
The leading wicket-taker of the series - 26 at 29.04 - he was arguably the biggest difference between the sides. There wasn't a huge amount between the batsmen or the seam bowlers, but Australia's combined spin efforts - Steven Smith, Nathan Lyon and, of course, Ashton Agar - could only manage 15 wickets between them. Also guilty of bowling the worst ball of the series - a full-toss to Rogers - and even that managed to get him a wicket.
Harris could make this XI simply for the fact that he managed to play in four consecutive Test matches, an achievement in itself for the seam bowler who, until this point, may have been built like a brick s***house, but had all the durability of the cheap, single-ply toilet roll found within. He is, however, brilliant when fit, and showed that here by taking a very impressive 24 wickets at an average of less-than 20, making him the pick of the pacemen on either side.
Faded slightly in the middle of the series, but Anderson is very much acknowledged as the leader of England's bowling unit, and indeed he led from the front straightaway, setting the tone with two five-fers in the opening match at Trent Bridge. Finished, like Broad, with 22 wickets, and once-again showed why he is the best bowler of swing in Test cricket.
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