‘Summer of Smith’: How Aussies retained the Ashes
TIM Paine's team became the first Australian outfit in 18 years to arrive in England and return home with the urn safely stored away, at the end of a series that was at times low on collective quality but relentless in the drama it served.
A disappointing 135-run loss at The Oval robbed Australia of the series win they set out to achieve, but epic victories at Old Trafford and 'fortress' Edgbaston meant the tour was for the most part a successful one.
The tourists enjoyed a customary champagne shower on stage then later shared beers with England's squad in the rooms at The Oval, swapping stories after the most heated match of the series.
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Here's how the seven-week story unfolded ...
1st Test Edgbaston
Steve Smith's incredible patience and resilience which took the pain of a 12-month ban and all the question marks hanging over his head into an extraordinary 24th Test century in his comeback. The emotion on his face said it all.
And then he did it all again in the second innings to set the stage for Nathan Lyon to run riot on a wearing pitch and give Australia the perfect start to the series.
In a thoroughly dominant victory, on the scoreboard at least, there were enormous concerns that Australia's openers would have a tough tour as Cameron Bancroft and David Warner struggled mightily in both innings.
The pair foreshadowed the woes to come with partnerships worth just 2 and 13.
Man of the match
Nathan Lyon bowled Australia to victory with a day-five haul, but no one would deny Smith's twin centuries of 144 and 142 cemented his place as the world's best once again.
An absolute freak, Smith silenced the home fans and, you'd imagine, even earned the respect of the notoriously boisterous Hollies Stand.
2nd Test Lord's
Lord's was rocking on day two as the world's No. 1 batsman Steve Smith was tested in a hostile bouncer barrage from impressive debutant Jofra Archer.
For the best part of an hour the two went head to head in a duel which gripped the crowd as Archer's raw pace made a two-paced pitch unplayable. Until …
The sickening image of Smith, face down on the famous Lord's pitch having been struck on the neck by a savage Archer bouncer sent chills down the spine of any cricket fan.
It was a gruesome sight which had the potential to be a series-changer. Smith was forced from the field, then returned but was clearly not himself - and was later ruled out of the rest of the Test with concussion.
Man of the match
Ben Stokes produced a century of magnificence, drawing on his World Cup triumph at the same ground a month prior to treat Australia's famed attack with disdain in a brilliant unbeaten 115.
Little did we know his best was yet to come.
3rd Test Headingley
All out for 67! Oh, happy days!
After dogged half-centuries from Steve Smith's injury replacement, Marnus Labuschagne, and maligned opener David Warner allowed Australia to scrape together a modest first-innings target they let the quicks off the leash.
Josh Hazlewood took 5-30, well supported by Pat Cummins and James Pattinson, as Australia rolled the hosts for a miserable 67 inside 28 overs - with only Joe Denly reaching double figures.
How could anything go wrong from here?
With Australia one wicket from a victory which would retain the Ashes, Ben Stokes played what has been hailed as the greatest innings of all time to snatch it from their grasp.
His unbeaten 135 and last-wicket 76-run partnership with cult hero Jack Leach will haunt Australia, who fluffed their lines with dropped catches, frivolous reviews and a botched run-out which was fumbled by Nathan Lyon that would've secured a one-run win.
Man of the match
Ben Stokes nearly bowled himself to a standstill as he tried to drag England into the contest. And then produced one of the most remarkable Test knocks of all time. An incredible all-round performance.
4th Test Old Trafford
The scenes of jubilation on the faces of the tired and a nervewracked Australians as the giant screens showed three reds, confirming Craig Overton's dismissal - and sealing a tense victory to retain the Ashes for the first time on England soil for the first time since 2001.
An Australian side scarred from England's Headingley escape may have let doubt creep into their mind when their top order crumbled to be 4-44 on day four and give England a sniff - but Steve Smith quickly shut that down with a fine half-century.
And as the match dragged into the Manchester dusk, there were more than a few sweaty palms among the Australian outfit.
They needn't have worried.
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Man of the match
That man again, Smith, proved himself to be in otherworldly form as he smashed a double century and then an extraordinary near-run-a-ball 82 in the second innings to set up the Australian victory.
On any other day, Pat Cummins' lion-hearted efforts with the ball, and match figures of 7-103, would've taken the cake. But how can you deny Smith?
5th Test The Oval
There weren't many high points for Australia in the only Test on tour that they were thoroughly outplayed from start to finish.
But Matthew Wade's fighting spirit on day four, where he smashed a brilliant century to at least ensure it wasn't a cakewalk for England, was a strong end to the series for the recalled batsman.
But really, there wasn't much to smile about - Justin Langer's sour reaction during the trophy presentation said it all.
Where to begin?
This was Australia at their worst, and things went wrong from the moment Tim Paine won the toss and elected to bowl. It backfired instantly as Australia's fielders - Peter Siddle, Paine himself and then Steve Smith - dropped England captain Joe Root in a sloppy fielding performance that did not back up the bowl-first plan.
Two missed LBW opportunities, which weren't reviewed, compounded the pain as England racked up the runs.
But the true low point came in a shambolic batting effort on day two, rolled for 225 inside a day - conceding a 69-run first innings lead and well and truly handing back whatever advantage Paine had taken at the toss.
Man of the match
For once it was someone other than Steve Smith and Ben Stokes!
In a match where Wade smacked a century, Joe Denly fell six shy of his first at Test level and Jos Buttler's aggressive batting in both innings took the game away from Australia, it was Jofra Archer's first-innings six-wicket haul which proved most vital.