Before I start, I'd like to point out that I'm well aware that this may seem somewhat premature. The Ashes isn't even over yet and already I'm proclaiming men of the series. The main reason for this is that I'm going on holiday tomorrow and want to get this out of the way before everyone gets their two-penny's worth in.
This list will consist of a few "honourable mentions" from each team and then an overall man of the series. Feel free to disagree with me, deride me, insult me, or whatever you deem fit.
These are just my opinions.
This has been a strange series for England. Despite having arguably been outplayed by Australia both with the bat and the ball, they find themselves on the verge of regaining the urn.
This just goes to show that cricket is all about seizing the initiative at the right moments and England have definitely done that. My honourable England mentions are:
1) James Anderson - Like most of his teammates, Anderson has blown hot and cold this series. When he's been good, he's been brilliant; when he's been bad, he's been terrible. I include him on this list primarily for some good bowling but also for his resolute batting.
His figures of 4-55 in the Australian first innings at Lords helped England on their way to victory. More impressive was his batting as the light dwindled at the end of day five in Cardiff.
2) Stuart Broad - This would have struck some as surprising before this test match but the figures don't lie—statistically, Broad has been England's best with the ball in this series, taking 17 wickets at an average of 27.8. While these aren't exactly great figures, they are at the top of the scale in what has been a batsman's series.
After a shaky start, Broad has produced in the last two matches, taking 6-91 at Headingley and 5-37 earlier at the Oval. The latter performance might just have won England the Ashes. His batting also deserves a mention, his average of 29.28 is better then all of Cook, Bell, Collingwood, and Bopara.
3) Andrew Flintoff - I couldn't do a piece on England's men of the series without mentioning Flintoff. Yes, he has been a tad out of knick with both bat and ball, but it's his final series and his figures of 5-92 in the Australian second innings at Lords that have helped him secure a memorable victory. So, he goes in.
This was an easy one to pick, as not many England players have performed well over the whole series. Only the skipper Andrew Strauss has shown anything approaching his best form and for that reason he must be England's Man of the Series.
He is the only England player in the top five batting averages for the series. He is the only England player with a century. He has also faced far more balls than any England batsman, evidence of his staying power at the crease.
Finally, he has captained his side well, inspired England to push on for the victory at Lords, and has handled the furore around the retirement of Flintoff like a true pro. Kudos Andrew Strauss.
Australia should have at the very least drawn this series. There, I said it.
They managed to pull a draw from the bag of victory in Cardiff and capitulated at Lords and the Oval(I say touching every wooden thing around me, as I'm well aware of England's ability to grab defeat from the jaws of victory).
That aside, Australia have played well and picking three players for honourable mentions was a difficult choice. Here are my selections:
1) Ben Hilfenhaus - Together with Peter Siddle, Hilfenhaus has more than compensated for the indifferent form of much-lauded Mitchell Johnson. He is Australia's leading wicket-taker with 20 wickets at an average of 26.42. He's the only player on either side who has been able to consistently swing the ball and fully exploit the English conditions.
2) Peter Siddle - Siddle is a player I've much admired throughout the series. The man is all heart. He's also bowled well, picked up wickets throughout the series and vying with Hilfenhaus for the best Australian bowler with 20 wickets at an average of 28.10.
3) Simon Katich - He isn't in his best form, granted, but Katich has rarely failed to set the Australian innings up. While Phil Hughes endured his travails, Katich just went about doing what he does best—quietly accruing his runs. Even during yesterday's abject batting collapse, he still managed a half-century, showing that the pitch had very little part to play in the Australian downfall.
Despite Australia having played well as a unit, there was only one man who could possibly be their Man of the Series.
Michael Clarke has been in imperious form: he has more runs than anyone else, at a higher average, with more boundaries.
I don't think it would be unfair to say that if Clarke had been Australia's captain, they would have fared better in this series.
He looks to have a good cricket brain, certainly better than the fortuitous Ponting, and has been leading from the front in this series. Definitely an Aussie captain for the future.
Really, this is no contest. Strauss has been good, but Clarke has been in simply epic form.
Therefore, Michael Clarke is my overall Man of the Series.
All my statistics were courtesy of http://stats.cricinfo.com/ci/engine/records/index.html?id=4249;type=series