This Ashes refuses to be normal

Warner, Wood and England all get weird.

The narratives were pretty much set on day four at the Oval. Australia were keeping the metaphoric urn, but England were seen as the slightly better team in this series and ahead of the moral Ashes. As for who the better team was overall, maybe that was still with Australia, but after days two and three from Old Trafford and day three at the Oval, it was getting harder to make that call.

David Warner was done. Usman Khawaja had been worked out. Mark Wood was the saviour. And England had so many more ideas in the field than Australia.

Today has been a bad day for the narratives.

David Warner batted really well. He basically looked as solid as we have seen him all this summer. And his innings against India in the final and at Lord's were the only other options. You could argue that this was as solid as he has looked overseas since his 66 at Rawalpindi on a very flat wicket. His last hundred away from home was in 2017 in Bangladesh.

This one was probably more like the knock in Rawalpindi, as this wicket had clearly flattened out. But either way, Warner looked completely solid outside of one inside edge he wasn't sure about, a flappy hook shot and then a slog sweep from Root.

But if you thought he was completely done, he certainly looked better than that. Of course, age robs you of your consistency, not your peak.

There was also Usman Khawaja, who I have always thought of as a binge batter. You look at his first-class career, and it's been up and down. A poor first year, followed by two really strong ones that make him an international player. Then he has three subpar years, followed by a good surge and another dip until he runs into this latest period. Watching him over the years has made me look for signs he is about to get really good or bad.

Like in the 2015/16 Big Bash season, where in four matches, he made 345 runs at a strike rate of over 160. He just gets on a run, and almost as quickly it turns off.

I thought in this series England had worked him out. Even his runs here in the first innings were torturous. Even by his often defensive nature, he almost gave up runs, and progressively through the series, England seemed to bowl better to him.

I mean it has now become funny to point out that Crawley and Khawaja are the two leading run scorers in this series. And yet Crawley is doubling Khawaja's strike rate. And despite the fact they have about as many runs as each other, the Aussie has faced 117 more overs.

This wicket seemed to assist him as it did Warner, and suddenly he was scoring at a decent rate and looking almost impregnable.

And while these two were batting with ease, where was Mark Wood? On Sky, Mark Butcher suggested England might be waiting for the ball to reverse to bring him on. Except when it started, he still didn't come on. And that didn't explain why he hadn't bowled a short spell early on.

We had to wait until the Australians were 30 overs in to see him, and then he was slow. Like, not for a normal bowler, but for him. If he crossed 88MPH at any point, I must have blinked. He still hit Khawaja on the head. But the man who changed England's fortunes in this Ashes suddenly looked either injured or tired. Three Tests in a row may not be a lot for a normal seamer, but for Wood, it's like running 200 metres across hot coals while people hurl swordfish at you.

If Wood was the difference between the teams, either the schedule, his body or the pitch seemed to nullify it.

But the most disappointing thing was that England looked flat even before him. They have become the best team in the world at just chipping away at teams with wickets. I call it the new parent method. They seem to have a checklist of plans. Start with the wobbleball. Get the ball replaced. Check if the ball is swinging. Bouncers. Reverse swing. Get the ball replaced again. Bowling dry. Spin. Part-timers. And then repeat.

Usually, somewhere along the way, they find a method. Today they used Joe Root and the footmarks for a long time. Against two left-handers, this seemed like a fine idea, and usually, Root would keep it quiet if nothing else. But he didn't do that, nor take a wicket. Yet they really persisted. Obviously, he bowled more because Moeen's groin is still broken.

Having Wood and Moeen less than right was an issue. But England took forever to try bouncers as well. At this point in the series, they have looked like the smarter team by a distance, and today they didn't. Australia didn't lose a wicket or completely punish them. How many runs the England batters might have taken from their lacklustre attack today?

While you never want to get too excited in a chase, Australia is in a good position from here. Maybe the rain means they have to bat a bit faster, which helps England. But maybe it rains again, and all they have to do is last a session and a half.

Before today the thought was Australia was lucky to be in their position. The first test was a coin toss, the third as well, and they were going to lose the fourth one. What is the narrative if they win with the eighth-biggest chase in history or draw from a position of strength as England looks flustered on the field?

Where does that leave the narrative or the moral Ashes that England had one hand on?

We have learned from this Ashes that neither team wants to make it through more than a few days without tearing up the script and starting from scratch.

A David Warner hundred in a massive chase that is done as slowly as Mark Wood is bowling is not how I saw this series ending. This is more of a Crashes than Ashes.