Radio Sport Mornings' host Jason Pine counts down the top 15 sporting moments of the year. Today: Number 12 - The Ashes.

The 2019 Ashes was one of the most anticipated cricket series in recent memory.

Steve Smith and David Warner were making their return to Test cricket following a one-year ban for the ball tampering scandal, and England were fresh off a win at the Cricket World Cup.

Australia were defending the urn and looking to become the first Aussie side to win an Ashes series on English soil since 2001.

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These five Tests would also be the first in the the ICC's new Test Championship competition, in which every game carried valuable points.


1ST TEST

In the first test at Edgbaston, England's all-time leading test wicket-taker James Anderson bowled just four overs before he was forced off the field with injury. It was to be his only involvement in the entire series, which proved to be pivotal.

Even in his absence, Australia slumped to 122 for 8 in the face of excellent bowling from Stuart Broad, before Steve Smith showed us what was to come, scoring 144 to help Australia through to 284.

England responded with 374, including a maiden test century for Rory Burns.

Cameron Bancroft and David Warner fell cheaply for the second time in the Test and by the time the 90-run deficit was knocked off, Australia were three down.

But Smith was again to the fore, this time stroking a masterful 142. With Matthew Wade also hitting a ton, Australia declared at 487 for 7, leaving England 398 to win in just over a day.

They got nowhere near it, collapsing to 146 all out, Nathan Lyon picking up his best figures against England - 6 for 49 - to bowl Australia to a crushing win.

2ND TEST

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Game two at Lords saw the Test debut of fast bowling sensation Jofra Archer, who'd played a massive role in England's World Cup win just a month earlier.

The first day was washed out and England made just 258 after being sent in, but then ripped through the Aussie top order leaving them 80/4 at the end of day three.

Steve Smith inevitably came to the rescue, reaching 80 before he was struck on the neck by a bouncer from Archer and forced to retire hurt.

He later came back out but was soon dismissed for 92 as Australia folded for 250.

Ben Stokes scored a superb, unbeaten 115 as England declared at 258 for 5, leaving Australia 267 to win.

The final day was affected by rain and as the players came back on the field, there was confirmation that Smith wouldn't feature again in the match and was replaced by Marnus Labuschagne, who became the first concussion substitute in Test cricket.

Controversy did loom around Smith's return to the crease earlier in the Test, and debate raged about whether or not concussion substitute's should be allowed.

Labuschagne would score a crucial and dogged 59 and despite three wickets each for Archer and Jack Leach the Aussies survived the day and drew the game.

David Warner's lean Ashes continued with a fourth successive single-figure score.

3RD TEST

Steve Smith was ruled out of the third test after undergoing concussion testing, and therefore missed an Ashes classic at Headingley.

Without their master batsman, the Aussies folded for 179 with Archer taking 6 for 45.

But that total was made to look quite impressive by a woeful English first innings, dismissed for just 67 in the 28th over, with Josh Hazelwood taking 5 for 30.

It was England's lowest total against Australia since 1948.

The Aussies fared better in their second innings but were still bowled out for 246 with Labuschagne making 80. That left England needing to complete their highest ever run chase in Test matches - 359 - if they were to win the game and square the series.

Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow came together at 159 for 4 and took England to 245/4, needing 114 more runs to win.

But after lunch on day four, England lost a string of quick wickets.

Bairstow, Buttler, Woakes, Archer and Broad all fell as England lost 5 for 41. They were 9 down - still needing 73 to win - while Australia required just one more wicket to retain the Ashes with two tests to spare.

Number 11 Jack Leach strode to the crease for England to join Stokes, wearing what would become an iconic set of spectacles.

Stokes would take the brunt of the Australian attack, never allowing Leach to face more than the final couple of balls of each over.

Stokes hit Lyon for consecutive sixes, then hit Cummins for another six in the following over.

He then hit two more sixes off Hazlewood and moved England to 338/9, with 21 runs needed to win.

On 116, Stokes sent a top edge off Pat Cummins towards third man, where Marcus Harris got his hands to the ball but couldn't hold on.

Australia then wasted a review - which would come back to haunt them - when Pat Cummins rapped Leach on the pad. It was given not out, and the DRS confirmed the ball had pitched well outside leg stump.

Stokes hit another six off Nathan Lyon and England now needed just two to win.

Two balls later, Leach should have been out.

He was stranded going for a non-existent single, but Lyon fumbled as he tried to gather the throw from backward point.

Off the very next ball, Stokes should have been out LBW attempting to slog-sweep - umpire Joel Wilson gave it not out and Australia had no reviews left. The ball was pitching on middle and leg and shown by Hawk-Eye to be hitting the stumps.

That was the final ball of the over so Stokes was unable to rotate the strike and Leach had to face a new over from Pat Cummins. A single for Leach from the third ball of the over to leave England needing just one run to win. Stokes stepped up, and promptly cut the next ball from Cummins through the covers for four to give England the victory.

Ben Stokes. The man who had broken New Zealand hearts just weeks prior, had done it again to the Aussies, completing England's highest ever run chase in Tests.

He finished unbeaten on 135, in a quite astonishing innings, including 11 fours and eight sixes. He and Leach had added 76 together, of which Leach had contributed just one solitary run.

Only once in the history of Test cricket had a last-wicket pair scored more to secure victory.

It was a remarkable finish to a gripping test match and the series was tied up at 1-all with two to play.

4TH TEST

The fourth test at Old Trafford saw the return of Steve Smith, and his notable absence from the third Test was seen in vivid colour.

Coming in at 28 for 2 after seven overs on the first morning, he spent 8 and half hours at the crease.

He ended up with 211 in Australia's first innings of 487 for 9 declared.

England responded with 301 before Smith was in the runs again, this time making 82 as the Aussies declared at 186 for 6 in their second innings.

Needing 383 to win, England lost 2 cheap wickets late on day four and faced a day of resilience and resistance as they looked to draw the test and keep the series alive.

They lost two wickets in each of the first two sessions and went to tea at 166 for 6.

But Buttler and Archer were both out early in the final session, leaving England 8 down and on the brink of Ashes defeat for the second time in two tests.

Jack Leach - promoted to No.10 after his heroics at Headingley - joined Craig Overton, and the pair saw off the new ball and dug in for a ninth-wicket stand that chewed up the best part of 15 overs.

Desperate for a breakthrough, Aussie captain Tim Paine tossed the ball to the part-time legspinner Marnus Labuschagne, who provided an immediate breakthrough. Jack Leach caught by Matthew Wade for a valiant 12 from 51 balls.

10 balls later, it was all over.

Overton trapped LBW by Hazelwood, England all out 197, and Australia had officially retained the Ashes on English soil for the first time since 2001 with a test to spare.

5TH TEST

The fifth and final test was at the Oval and with the Ashes safely retained, Australia were now seeking a series win while England's best outcome was a squared series.

Sent in, England were bowled out for 294 with Mitchell Marsh producing a career best 5 for 46.

Australia could only make 225 in reply with Steve Smith inevitably top scoring with 80 and Archer capturing his second 6-wicket bag of the series.

England dug in on day three and the early part of day four to post 329, leaving Australia an unlikely 399 to win.

With half a mind on a return home, Australia were bowled out with a day to spare for 263 to lose by 135 runs.

It was the first drawn Ashes series since 1972.

But it mattered not, because while a tie might win you a 50-over World Cup final, a tied test series isn't enough to win back the Ashes.

It had been a gripping series however.

Ben Stokes' heroics at Headingley will live long in the memory, while Jofra Archer emerged as a test match fast bowling force.

For Australia, Cummins, Hazelwood and Lyon combined for 69 wickets, but Steve Smith was undoubtedly the man of the series.

On his return after a 17-month sandpaper ban, Steve Smith only failed to pass 50 once in seven innings, eventually scoring 774 runs at an average of 110, showing just why he is one of the greatest batsmen of the modern era and playing the key role in his nation retaining the famous urn.

Top 15 sporting moments of 2019
No 15 - Eliud Kipchoge's sub-two hour marathon
No 14 - The Rise of Bianca Andreescu
No 13 - Courtney Duncan becomes MX World Champion