Smith, Stokes, Archer and Leach: reflections on a dramatic Ashes

Steven Smith: so good you need to exclude him to analyse the series Getty Images

At the end of an epic Ashes tussle, with Australia retaining the urn in the first drawn series since 1972, ESPNcricinfo's writers who covered the drama pick out their players and moments to remember

Player of the series who isn't Steven Smith

George Dobell, senior correspondent: Rory Burns for England. To have scored (at the time of writing) more runs than all the other openers combined, in conditions in which batting against the new ball has been desperately tough has been a fantastic effort. Alastair Cook, for all his achievements, never made as many runs in a home Ashes series as Burns has this summer. And Cook never made a home Ashes century either.

Pat Cummins for Australia. His incredible fitness allowed him to bowl sustained, hostile spells. His pace almost never dropped and he rarely bowled a poor ball. The delivery that bowled Joe Root in Manchester belongs in a museum.

Daniel Brettig, assistant editor: Cummins. At least one outstanding spell in every Test, took the big wickets at the start of fourth innings at both Edgbaston and Old Trafford, and generally was the heart and soul of the bowling attack. Twenty-nine wickets without a five-for is not only a record for a Test series but also an accurate reflection of his sheer consistency and durability.

Melinda Farrell, presenter: Ben Stokes, if only for the fact his performances have broken through to the general public in a way that hasn't been achieved for years.

Alan Gardner, associate editor: Stokes has moved mountains all summer from an England perspective, but without the vice-like grip applied by Cummins' bowling, Australia would not have succeeded in their goal of retaining the urn.

Andrew Miller, UK editor: You can make outstanding cases for Cummins (29 wickets at 19.62), Stokes (441 runs and that Test) and Jofra Archer (22 wickets). But for his relentless leading of England's line, particularly in the absence of James Anderson, and for the manner in which he's had Australia's most dangerous batsman, David Warner, in his pocket, Stuart Broad edges it for me.

Moment of the series

Dobell: The latter stages of Stokes' innings at Headingley were incredible. For the most incredible moment, pick between the reverse-slog-sweep six off Lyon or the sweep off Josh Hazlewood. Both were ridiculously good.

Brettig: Nathan Lyon's final over to Stokes at Headingley - unforgettable.

Farrell: Every ball, every second, every excruciating heartbeat of the final over at Headingley.

Gardner: The Jack Leach tuck off the hips for his one run at Headingley. Now you knew it was happening.

Miller: Stokes' winning boundary at Headingley was unsurpassable as an individual moment of theatre. But Archer's felling of Steve Smith at Lord's actually had wider ramifications for the series. England dominated in Smith's absence at Lord's, won in his absence at Headingley, and, until The Oval, never looked like prising him out in any other way. That moment was surely the difference between 3-0 and 2-2.

Innings of the series

Dobell: Stokes' Headingley innings was incredible. But whether it was better than Smith's masterclass at Edgbaston is impossible to say.

Brettig: Stokes at Headingley was the most memorable, but Smith's double-century at Old Trafford is the innings that decided the series.

Farrell: You could so easily give it to Smith's double at Old Trafford, where he seemed invincible but how can you pass Stokes' audacious, thrilling performance at Headingley. Will be talked about for decades.

Gardner: In isolation, this one ought to be Stokes, for the virtuosity of Headingley. But for series-shaping context, Smith's 144 at Edgbaston takes the cake.

Miller: Innings of the decade, more like (with apologies to Kusal Perera). It's quite something for Smith to emulate Bradman (and even produce his own greatest knock, the first innings at Edgbaston) without actually producing the greatest batting of the summer. But nothing can rival Jack Leach's 1 not out from 17 balls Stokes' magnum opus at Headingley.

Bowling performance

Dobell: Take your pick: Stokes' seemingly endless spell at Headingley. Yes, I know it was split by four balls from Archer and the close of play, but it kept England in the series. Hazlewood was brilliant at Headingley and didn't deserve to be on the losing side. Archer's fiery spell to Smith at Lord's will linger long in the memory. But Cummins was relentlessly good.

Brettig: Archer at Lord's, blew life into the series like a fresh wind to the sails of a square rigger.

Farrell: Really hard to choose from several contenders here. Hazlewood and Cummins have been consistently brilliant, Broad has been terrific with the new ball, and Stokes' 25 overs at Headingley kept them in the game. But I'm giving it to Archer, for his burst at Lord's, when he took Smith out of the game and lived up to the excitement that his Test debut had promised.

Gardner: Before the Lord's Test, Justin Langer openly wondered about how Archer would go when pushed into his "second, third and fourth spells". He was actually into his fifth spell, with more than 20 overs under his belt, when he rattled Smith, first on the arm, then the neck, while pushing the speed gun up to 96mph. Spine-tingling in more than one sense, and unforgettable theatre.

Miller: The entirety of Archer's duel with Smith at Lord's. The blow to the head was just the culmination of an incredible edge-of-the-seat fast-bowling display.

LOL moment

Dobell: From the moment Tim Paine called for that silly review in the dying moments of the Leeds game, it seemed inevitable it would cost him.

Brettig: Paine getting a fielding review right at his last available opportunity after 13 attempts.

Farrell: Where was Stokes hit?

Gardner: Smith's fend to leg slip in his final innings of the series. Bowled for and got - at a mere cost of 774 runs.

Miller: Anything to do with Paine's use of DRS. By the end, he seemed almost as shot to bits in making a T-sign as poor old Kumar Dharmasena did in raising his finger.