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Five reasons why Australia retained the Ashes

This series is destined to be known as 'Smith's Ashes' like 1981 campaign became synonymous with Ian Botham

PHOTO: REUTERS

Australia retained the Ashes after a 185-run win over England in the fourth Test at Old Trafford on Sunday left them 2-1 up with one to play in the five-match series.

Here, AFP Sport looks at the key reasons why Australia are keeping hold of the Ashes:

SMITH'S ASHES

This series is destined to be known as 'Smith's Ashes' as surely as the 1981 campaign became synonymous with England great Ian Botham.

Star batsman Smith's series figures speak for themselves as he scored 671 runs at 134.2 including three hundreds, with a highest score of 211 at Old Trafford.

And yet they don't tell the whole story.

READ MORE: Smith says retaining Ashes in England is bucket list moment

This is Smith's first Test series since he completed a 12-month ban for his role in a ball-tampering scandal in South Africa that cost him the Australia captaincy.

But the 30-year-old's first Test innings since suspension saw him score 144 at Edgbaston, a hundred that helped Australia recover from 122-8, and he followed that up with 142 in the second innings of a match his side eventually won by 251 runs.

In a campaign when top-order batsmen on both sides have found runs hard to come by, Smith, now back on top of the Test batting rankings, has been operating on a different plane despite missing England's dramatic one-wicket win in the third Test at Headingley with a concussion suffered when struck by a Jofra Archer bouncer in the drawn second match at Lord's.

"I thought Virat Kohli was the best batsman I've ever seen because of the way he plays in all forms, but Steve Smith... That's another level," said Australia coach Justin Langer.

INJURED ANDERSON

Much of England's pre-Ashes planning revolved around having their attack led by all-time leading wicket-taker James Anderson.

But the fact he bowled just four overs in the series before breaking down with a calf injury at Edgbaston arguably cost them the chance to make the most of their early dominance in that match.

England's Anderson apologises to teammates

Pacers Stuart Broad and Jofra Archer have bowled well in his absence but England would have been a stronger side had Anderson been fit and firing.

AUSTRALIA'S PACERS

Australia came to England determined to do everything they could to compensate for the possibility of having a fast bowler breaking down by including a quintet of pacers in their squad whom they could rotate alongside off-spinner Nathan Lyon in a four-man attack.

It's a policy that has paid dividends with the outstanding Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc kept on their toes by fellow pacers Peter Siddle and James Pattinson.

CATCHES WIN MATCHES

Australia have been better in the field this series, with opener Cameron Bancroft and middle-order batsman Matthew Wade leading the way at short leg, while the first innings at Old Trafford saw Archer drop a caught and bowled chance when Smith had made 65 while Jack Leach's no-ball then also cost England an opportunity to get rid of the Australia star.

SHORT GAP BETWEEN WORLD CUP AND ASHES

Playing a World Cup and an Ashes in the same season with just a short gap between the two may have made commercial sense to English cricket chiefs but it left several of their senior batsmen with precious little time to get acclimatised to the very different demands of Test cricket.

The idea that Jason Roy would simply carry his one-day form into the Test arena always seemed a stretch, and so it proved, while England captain Joe Root has made three ducks in this Ashes series.

In contrast to Roy, Australia's all-rounder Marnus Labuschagne made four successive fifties after coming in as Smith's concussion substitute at Lord's.

Root did not want to make an issue of it, insisting "we are in the position we are".