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To have scraped a draw from the fourth Ashes Test in Sydney will have felt like a victory for England.

Nine wickets down in the final over, with last man James Anderson asked to survive – it doesn’t come much closer than that.

But Anderson did survive, and for England to halt the Australian juggernaut when the home side were hunting yet another 5-0 clean sweep is no small feat.

No one will be getting carried away or popping the champagne corks. England remain 3-0 down and the Ashes are gone.

However, Joe Root’s side could have rolled over in the final two Tests and they have dug deep to ensure that is not the case.

For Anderson to have to shuffle out in the gloom, joining his old mate Stuart Broad, was brilliant drama that only Test cricket can provide.

Every fielder was around the bat, chirping with the comments designed to chip away psychologically at England’s resolve.

Yet, England showed some spirit, bottle and backbone. You can’t ask for much more than that.

It is just a shame we didn’t get such a tense finish when the series was still alive, because that really would have been special.

Avoiding a clean sweep does not excuse English cricket from answering the questions that have been thrown up by this Ashes tour.

The things that England must address in order to revive their Test team remain on the agenda, with some difficult decisions set to be taken in the coming months.

There will have to be some serious conversations about the structure and style of cricket in England, and whether is giving players the best chance of succeeding.

However, from small acorns do mighty oaks grow and maybe there will come a time when we look back on this and see it as a moment when the England Test team turned a corner.

They were a couple of seriously impressive individual performances, not least from Jonny Bairstow, who came through a horrible blow on the thumb from Pat Cummins to make 113 in the first innings and an important 41 in the second.

I have seen pretty much every run Bairstow has scored for England, and I rate that first-innings ton as his finest hour. It was certainly a reminder of the huge amount of character he brings to the team.

There seems to be a player in each generation who gets messed about by selection, and in this one it has been Bairstow.

That was partly to do with a technical flaw, a huge gap between bat and pad that saw him bowled too often.

But he has gone away and worked on that, with a first Test hundred in more than three years the reward for his endeavour.

Bairstow is a full-on character, someone unlikely to sit quietly in the corner. He is also an extremely versatile batsman, who can keep wicket or field in virtually any position.

It has always been my opinion that England have a better team when a settled Jonny Bairstow is in it.

Now, from a situation where he could have been written off for good at the end of this series, he will have the opportunity to make a regular role for himself.

England can also be pleased with the effort of Zak Crawley, who made a beautiful 77 in the second innings, batting with a fluency that eluded anyone else in the match – and I include Usman Khawaja with his twin hundreds.

The Kent opener played well on the front and back foot, but what impressed me the most was his temperament.

Like Ollie Pope, Crawley seems to have all the tools to succeed in Test cricket and it would be a real head-scratcher if he does not do so.

He will have to tighten up outside off stump, because at the moment he has a looseness that the best bowlers will exploit.

If he can learn that he has all the time in the world, then he can thrive in the Test arena.

What might England do with Crawley’s opening partner, Haseeb Hameed, for the final Test in Hobart?

Hameed has now had six consecutive single-figure scores, including two ducks, but given that England made the decision to drop Rory Burns after two Tests, I think it would be a backward step to return to him.

Burns has had no cricket since he was dropped, so what has changed? Hameed could be a man for the future, so it is a risk worth taking to see if he can kickstart his career in the way Crawley did in Sydney.

As for the rest, we know there will be at least one change, as Jos Buttler is heading home with a broken finger that could well require surgery.

We expect Sam Billings to come in for him, with England then waiting on the fitness of Bairstow and Ben Stokes.

Stokes, who has a side strain, surely won’t be able to bowl with the pink ball, under the floodlights, in Tasmania. If he can, then he really is superman, because side strains are horrible injuries for fast bowlers to endure.

If he can only play as a batsman, or is ruled out completely, then England will have to think of the make-up of their attack, perhaps again stocking it with an extra seamer.

A loss in Sydney would have been another step in the wrong direction for England.

Instead, they took a tiny step towards being the team they want to be. Now the challenge is to build on this in Hobart.

Jonathan Agnew was talking to BBC Sport’s chief cricket writer Stephan Shemilt



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