Nottingham: England’s comprehensive Ashes victory over Australia was built on a purposeful and well-drilled team that combined the perfect blend of youth and experience. (England Enjoy Swinging Time)
Series draws against West Indies and New Zealand showed glimpses of promise but also worrying inconsistencies which suggested stalwarts like Graeme Swann, Jonathan Trott, Matt Prior and Kevin Pietersen had not been adequately replaced. (Emphatic Win Ends England’s Inconsistent Run | Cook Surprised at Triumph)
The vibrant cricket that won back the Ashes, however, proved that the new team has come of age.
Alastair Cook adopted a more aggressive approach as captain, James Anderson and Stuart Broad led the pace attack, while Joe Root and Ben Stokes provided the youthful energy to deliver at key moments of the series.
Although he did not make a century in the first four tests, Cook is back to his best at the top of the order, a calming presence for the players around him. (Beaten Clarke Pleads for Patience)
Anderson produced an inspired spell at Edgbaston, taking advantage of favourable conditions to complete figures of 6-47 which set up an eight-wicket win.
England’s leading wicket-taker was ruled out of the fourth test with a side injury but Broad assumed responsibility, bowling an inspired spell on the first morning at Trent Bridge to complete career-best figures of 8-15 and skittle the Australians for 60.
Root, 24, confirmed himself to be a batsman of the highest class.
His composed 134 set up the first test victory in Cardiff and it was the Yorkshire right-hander who capitalised on Broad’s heroics with a fluent innings of 130 to lay the platform for the series-clinching win.
Stokes, who batted superbly in the first test against New Zealand, was subdued against Australia before springing to life with the ball at the perfect moment on the second afternoon at Trent Bridge.
Chris Rogers and David Warner were compiling a patient opening partnership that could have dragged Australia back into the match when the firebrand all-rounder put his hand up.
Three quick wickets before tea and a magnificent catch to dismiss Steve Smith turned the game firmly back England’s way.
Other players made cameo contributions to the triumph.
Ian Bell, under pressure for his place and promoted to number three, made two half-centuries at Edgbaston, the second guiding England calmly to a modest victory target of 121.
Moeen Ali proved once again what a useful weapon he is at number eight in the order, a quickfire 38 on Friday lifting his team after Australia grabbed five early wickets.
Jos Buttler had a disappointing series with the bat but kept wicket well, taking a couple of superb diving catches at key moments and energising the team.
Mark Wood and Steven Finn also contributed with the ball.
Finn bowled a superb spell at Edgbaston to complete figures of 6-79 and confirm his re-emergence as a test bowler while the livewire Wood claimed three wickets in the second innings at Trent Bridge and had the honour of delivering the ball that sealed the Ashes.
Jonny Bairstow scored a fluent 74 at Trent Bridge after being recalled in place of Gary Ballance and the only England player to fail to make a significant contribution was opener Adam Lyth.
He endured a difficult series and must be under pressure after failing to get past fifty, although there are few alternatives and he will surely get another chance at The Oval to cement his place as Cook’s long-term partner.