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December 10, 2008

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A tale of 100 Australian Tests

Anantha Narayanan
Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Justin Langer and Adam Gilchrist with the Ashes trophy after Australia secured a 5-0 whitewash, Australia v England, 5th Test, Sydney, January 5, 2007
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As the title implies, this is an analytical look at the 100 Tests played by Australia between January 1, 2000 and now. This is a look at determining the extent of their dominance, the Why, and the possible What next.

There are a lot of similarities between the Australian cricket team and Roger Federer. Both dominated their respective games to a level unseen until now. Both had their achilles heal in the Indian team and Nadal respectively. However their overpowering performances during the rest of the period kept them right on top for a long time. They might have been beaten by lesser teams/players once in a while. But that did not make their conquerors World no.1.

When Djokovic defeated Federer at Melbourne, he did not move to (or claim) the No.1 position. Similarly with other players. It took one player, Nadal, to produce consistent top-drawer performances over a long period, across all surfaces, which propelled him to the top, displacing Federer. He won the Monte Carlo Open, Italian Open, German Open, French Open, Wimbledon, Canada Master's and Olympics and only then moved to the top position.

Even then, Federer only moved to No.2 and he showed the fire in him winning the US Open just as Australia have bounced back after their loss to India.

If India or South Africa want to unseat Australia, it is not sufficient that they beat Australia once a while. They have to back this up with consistent wins across the globe and against each other, and that too away. Until then neither team can claim the No.1 spot. Any views to the contrary are hollow and empty words.

Let us look at some tables summarising these 100 matches. These are mostly team-centric analysis with very few individual player references. The format of the tables has been designed to show the years and total horizontally to improve readability.

Summary of series results.

Total       Won by      Won by
Played    Australia   Other Team     Draw
All series        32          27           3           2
In Australia      17          15           -           2
Outside           15          12           3           -
The only series lost by Australia were against India during 2001 (1-2), against England during 2005 (1-2) and the recent one against India (0-2). The only series drawn were, surprisingly, both at home. The first one against New Zealand during 2001 (0-0) and the one against India during 2003-04 (1-1).

The three-Test series played against Pakistan during 2002, at Sri Lanka and UAE, has been taken as an away series. The ICC Test series (one match) has also been included in this table.

Only India have a good record against Australia. Of the five series played between these two teams during this period, two have been won by Australia, two by India and one drawn.

Summary of match results

2000  2001  2002  2003  2004  2005  2006  2007  2008  Total

All matches 8 14 11 12 14 15 10 4 12 100 Wins 8 8 10 8 10 9 10 4 5 72 Wins % 100.0 57.1 90.9 66.7 71.4 60.0 100.0 100.0 41.7 72.0 Losses 0 3 1 3 1 2 0 0 3 13 Losses % 0.0 21.4 9.1 25.0 7.1 13.3 0.0 0.0 25.0 13.0 Draws 0 3 0 1 3 4 0 0 4 15 Draws % 0.0 21.4 0.0 8.3 21.4 26.7 0.0 0.0 33.3 15.0 Inns wins 3 2 5 3 1 0 2 1 1 18 Inns wins % 37.5 14.3 45.5 25.0 7.1 0.0 20.0 25.0 8.3 18.0

Home matches 5 6 5 8 7 7 5 4 5 52 Home wins 5 3 5 5 5 6 5 4 3 41 Home wins % 100.0 50.0 100.0 62.5 71.4 85.7 100.0 100.0 60.0 78.8 Home losses 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 1 3 Home loss % 0.0 0.0 0.0 25.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 20.0 5.8

Away matches 3 8 6 4 7 8 5 0 7 48 Away wins 3 5 5 3 5 3 5 0 2 31 Away wins % 100.0 62.5 83.3 75.0 71.4 37.5 100.0 0.0 28.6 64.6 Away losses 0 3 1 1 1 2 0 0 2 10 Away loss % 0.0 37.5 16.7 25.0 14.3 25.0 0.0 0.0 28.6 20.8

Barring small periods of vulnerability, Australia have dominated world cricket during the past nine years, as evidenced by these figures. They have an overall win record of 72% and a loss record of only 13%, only one in eight Tests. It is not that they are only dominant at home, as most teams are. Their home win % is 78.8% as compared to 64.6% outside.

During this period Australia have lost only three Tests at home. The first was the dead rubber Test (at 4-0) against England during 2003. The other two have been against India during 2003 and 2008 respectively, both in live situations. This is an imposing record.

Away from home, the maximum losses have been against India (5 times) followed by England (3 times). Overall Australia's draw % has been a low 15%. Barring recent times, they have always gone for a victory, risking a loss.

Australia's best years have been 2000, 2006 and 2007 when they had a 100% all-won record. Their worst year has been 2008 when they have won less than half the Tests, the only such year during this golden period. Another measure of their dominance has been the number of innings wins they have achieved, 18 in all, an amazing 18% overall. However it must be seen that 11 of these wins (nearly 25%) were achieved during the first four years and the numbers have fallen off recently. Important to note that, during these nine years, not once did Australia lose by an innings.

If one looks at Australia's recent record, say during 2007-08, they have played 16 Tests, won 9, lost 3 (all against India) and drawn 4 matches. This is not the sign of a dominating team, especially the high proportion of drawn matches. The South African series will be a clear pointer to the Australian revival from this minor slump. If they win 3-0 or 2-0, they would have established their dominance. If they win 1-0 or draw the series or lose, there will be a clear sign of fall.

Now let us look at possible contributing factors, both for the dominance and the (possible) fall from such a dominating position.

Summary of partnerships

2000  2001  2002  2003  2004  2005  2006  2007  2008  Total

Aus:Innings 13 25 17 21 27 29 18 7 22 179 Aus:Op >100 2 5 4 1 4 2 0 1 3 22 Aus:Op >100 % 15.4 20.0 23.5 4.8 14.8 6.9 0.0 14.3 13.6 12.3 Aus:Op <10 6 8 4 5 3 6 5 0 5 42 Aus:Op <10 % 46.2 32.0 23.5 23.8 11.1 20.7 27.8 0.0 22.7 23.5 Aus:Op runs 438 1546 1060 776 1458 1365 602 498 1015 8758 Aus:Op avge 33.7 61.8 62.4 37.0 54.0 47.1 33.4 71.1 46.1 48.9

Opp:Innings 16 27 22 24 28 30 20 8 24 199 Opp:Op >100 0 2 1 2 2 3 0 0 2 12 Opp:Op >100 % 0.0 7.4 4.5 8.3 7.1 10.0 0.0 0.0 8.3 6.0 Opp:Op <10 8 7 6 11 9 7 5 3 7 63 Opp:Op <10 % 61.5 28.0 35.3 52.4 33.3 24.1 27.8 42.9 31.8 35.2 Opp:Op runs 232 1031 778 784 732 1077 534 196 1031 6395 Opp:Op avge 17.8 41.2 45.8 37.3 27.1 37.1 29.7 28.0 46.9 35.7

During this period, Australia have had 12.3% of their opening partnerships exceeding 100. This is a very high proportion, on an average once every 4 Tests. Contrast this with the all-Test figure of 8.1%. Almost all these partnerships have had Hayden and more than half have been with Langer. Taking all aspects the best year was 2001-02 when they averaged over 60 for the opening partnership.

The opening failures have also been reasonable, at 23.5%. This compares favourably with the all-Test average for failures which is 28.7%.

Let us look at what the Australian opening bowlers have done. The opposing teams have missed playing only one of the second innings (during a rain-affected match against New Zealand during 2001) and have had only 6% of opening partnerships exceeding 100, below half of the Australian numbers and well below the all-Test figure of 8.1%. The failures have been similarly higher, at 35.2%, much higher than the all-Test value of 28.7%.

We have successfully identified the first two reasons. The success of the Australian opening batsmen and bowlers.

Late order batting

2000  2001  2002  2003  2004  2005  2006  2007  2008  Total

Aus:Last3wPtsh 8 17 12 12 22 22 11 3 18 125 Aus:Last3wRuns 491 1139 591 507 1093 1468 664 165 1090 7208 Aus:Last3wAvge 61.4 67.0 49.2 42.2 49.7 66.7 60.4 55.0 60.6 57.7

Opp:Last3wPtsh 16 25 20 22 26 27 18 8 20 182 Opp:Last3wRuns 613 1301 759 1018 1187 1246 819 347 1000 8290 Opp:Last3wAvge 38.3 52.0 38.0 46.3 45.7 46.1 45.5 43.4 50.0 45.5

The last Australian 3 wickets, when asked to perform, have averaged 57 runs, much higher than the all-Test average of 48. A credit to the batting skills of Warne, Gillespie et al. The corresponding opposite team number has been 45, somewhat comparable to the all time figure, no doubt bolstered by the recent Indian late-order batting exploits.

Team batting and bowling summary

2000  2001  2002  2003  2004  2005  2006  2007  2008  Total

Aus:BallsBwled 6909 12768 9420 11146 15176 14458 10076 3744 13252 96949 Aus:RunsScored 3942 8042 6279 7596 8994 8944 6125 2436 7300 59658 Aus:WktsTaken 160 248 215 224 257 281 191 80 211 1867 Aus: RpO 3.42 3.78 4.00 4.09 3.56 3.71 3.65 3.90 3.31 3.69 Aus: BpW 43.2 51.5 43.8 49.8 59.1 51.5 52.8 46.8 62.8 51.9 Aus:DiffBatRpO 0.57 0.60 0.98 0.95 0.58 0.47 0.55 1.00 -0.02 0.58 Aus:DiffBowS/R 23.9 27.4 30.7 48.4 -0.5 14.1 28.8 59.7 8.7 22.0

Opp:BallsBwled 6780 14286 10289 13738 13693 14487 10355 4047 13666 101341 Opp:RunsScored 3226 7554 5176 7172 6795 7833 5340 1962 7568 52626 Opp:WktsTaken 101 181 138 140 234 221 127 38 191 1371 Opp: RpO 2.85 3.17 3.02 3.13 2.98 3.24 3.09 2.91 3.32 3.12 Opp: BpW 67.1 78.9 74.6 98.1 58.5 65.6 81.5 106.5 71.5 73.9

The RpO figure during this period has started and finished at either side of 3.5 with a peak of around 4 during couple of years (2001-02). This is way above the all-Test figure of 2.79. The overall faster scoring was one of the main reasons for the Australian successes and the reduction in draws.

The overall bowling strike rate has been an excellent 52 balls per wicket, as compared to 68 overall. Once every 8+ overs means they were looking at dismissing an opposing team within a day's play.

The opposing teams have also been quite good with an overall RpO figure of 3.12. However they have been way below par in their strike rate value which is more than 70. However remember this includes 6 Tests against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.

I have also introduced couple of other factors, differential in nature. One is the difference between the Batting RpO values of Australia and the opposing teams. Australia have exceeded the other teams by an overall substantial value of 0.58. Only once, during the current year, have the other teams matched the Australian figures. Similarly Australia have consistently captured a wicket every 22 balls more frequently than the opposing teams. Only during 2004 have the other teams managed to better Australia's BpW figure.

Summary of innings scores

2000  2001  2002  2003  2004  2005  2006  2007  2008  Total

Aus:Comp Inns 7 13 10 10 19 18 8 2 16 103 Aus:Inns<100 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 Aus:Inns<100 % 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 5.3 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 1.0 Aus:Inns 13 25 17 21 27 29 18 7 22 179 Aus:Inns>500 1 3 4 6 4 3 4 2 3 30 Aus:Inns>500 % 7.7 12.0 23.5 28.6 14.8 10.3 22.2 28.6 13.6 16.8

Opp:Comp Inns 16 19 21 20 24 26 17 8 18 169 Opp:Inns<100 1 0 3 1 3 0 0 0 0 8 Opp:Inns<100 % 6.2 0.0 14.3 5.0 12.5 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 4.7 Opp:Inns 16 27 22 24 28 30 20 8 24 199 Opp:Inns>500 0 3 0 1 1 0 1 0 3 9 Opp:Inns>500 % 0.0 11.1 0.0 4.2 3.6 0.0 5.0 0.0 12.5 4.5

During these nine years only once have Australia been dismissed below 100. That was on the worst pitch ever created (in India at least), at Mumbai during 2004. They have exceeded 500 a whopping 16.8%, one in every six innings. These figures are overwhelming and point to a batting might, possibly comparable to the 1948 Australians. Look at 2003, when one in four of Australia's innings exceeded 500. Surprisingly this was not a great year for Australia since they lost three matches.

The opposing teams have been dismissed below 100 4.7% of the innings completed, slightly above the 3.84% overall. They have also exceeded 500 4.5% of the innings played, way below the overall 6.5%. Incidentally 7 of these 9 innings above 500 have been scored by India.

Finally the summarised reasons for the Australian domination. I would appreciate it if the readers do not write to me that these are obvious. These are not off-the-cuff subjective conclusions, as normally made. These are based on a thorough analysis and have been derived in an objective manner.

1. The success of the opening partnerships - both in terms of increased successes and considerably reduced failures.
2. The way the Australian opening bowlers have reversed the above trend, not allowing successes and the high number of breakthroughs very early in the innings.
3. An overall very high scoring rate.
4. A very high bowling strike rate despite the presence of the slightly lower-striking Shane Warne (57 bpw) throughout.
5. Rare batting failures and frequent batting successes in terms of innings scores.
6. The only reference to an individual in this team-centric analysis: one of the major reasons for Australian domination during these 9 years has been the performance of Adam Gilchrist, who scored 5130 runs at an average of 46.64 and effected 397 dismissals. That sort of all-round performance meant that Australia had invariably been able to play with an extra bowler/allrounder through the luxury of having Gilchrist bat at No.7.

What does the future hold for Australia. It is possible for Australia to lose their No.1 position, provided India maintains its very competitive recent Test performances, both home and away. They have to win away consistently and win at home comfortably. Similarly for the South Africans, with a lower degree of possibility. I am not certain whether any other team has the resources to test Australia over a long period. Pakistan lack a dynamic captain while England lack top-quality players.

Australia will go through a phase of re-building and will come back stronger. However the days of domination are probably over. The No.1 position will swing between 3-4 teams.

The same thing applies to Federer. He will win around 15-16 Grand Slam titles and probably go back to No.1, but not at the dominating level as exhibited earlier. So the similarities between Australian team and Federer will continue.

Anantha Narayanan has written for ESPNcricinfo and CastrolCricket and worked with a number of companies on their cricket performance ratings-related systems

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Posted by Amateur Black Page on (December 23, 2009, 18:47 GMT)

well.. it's like I thought!

Posted by BASS 1298 on (May 20, 2009, 11:22 GMT)

Really it is an amazing work done by the writer.This talks about the past glories of the aussies.Go Aussies!!!!!!!!

Posted by abaniumbano on (February 11, 2009, 4:27 GMT)

Interesting and communicative, but would make something more on this topic?

Posted by Aditya on (December 26, 2008, 18:18 GMT)

Excellent Analysis! Consistent performance by the Australian team over a Long period of time.Could you do a similar one for ODI's and it would be better if a comparison can be made between the Australian team in the 21st century and the West Indian team of the 80's. @Zeeshan Disagree with you completely.. The Australian team has dominated due the strong starts the openers and the top order has been giving them..they haven't been tested as much over the period under consideration. They have always been found wanting in series when they have encountered good fast bowlers ( 2005 Ashes 2008 in India now South Africa ). The team is a good one but the the greatest one of all time...the results in this decade sound so superlative due to the lack of competition from other sides..and during this period whenever the opposition team has looked settled they have given the Aussies a run for their money(England to an extent and India in general..barring South Africa until now (Hopefully)!

Posted by Raj on (December 25, 2008, 13:29 GMT)

This is the most objective analysis I have ever come across. I am a die-hard Aussie fan because I believe the ONLY yardstick for World Dominance is CONSISTENT performance, and Australia is exemplary in this respect. I like winners,not losers, or whingers, who are desperate to think Australia is declining. East or West, Australia is the best - both home and way. 16 consecutive Test wins, not once, but twice. Match that. Three ODI World Cups in succession. Match that. No country can. Thaty's why Australia IS and will ALWAYS be Number One. [[ Thanks. Ananth: ]]

Posted by Ananth on (December 20, 2008, 6:25 GMT)

This is in response to Aditya's query on Australia's results sans McGrath. Given below is the summary. Mat W D L W% McGr-124- 84-20-20-67.7% NoMc- 33- 18- 7- 8-54.5% Tot- 157-102-27-28-65.0% It is true that the results with McGrath are significantly better than those without McGrath.

Posted by Sumit on (December 19, 2008, 18:11 GMT)

I think Mcgrath and warne made the greatest difference between Australia and rest of the teams. Early strike by Mcgrath rarely allowed opposition to settle and then warne came into the act.Take Mcgrath or warne out of picture you see Australia piling up runs but somehow their bowlers can't take the necessary 20 wickets.Even India owns her recent success more to her bowlers than her batsmen.

Posted by Jagadish on (December 19, 2008, 13:05 GMT)

In my opinion, until and unless Australia are beaten consistently home and away over the next couple of years, they will remain #1. Remember that for all the talk of India troubling Australia, they've only won 2 tests in Australia in the last 2 series, and lost a series at home. South Africa've probably been fared worse. [[ As I have written the Aus-Saf series will be a pointer. If Saf loses badly, all talks of an Australian demise are premature. Atready the signs are that the opposite teams, barring India to a certain extent, get intimidated by Australia's aggression, especially at home. During the three days of the Perth test, Saf have been ahead 3/4 times but I would rate Aus win at 70/30. Note how Symonds/Haddin, Haddin/Kreicza (and assorted other partnerships), came out attacking when down. Ananth: ]]

Posted by Zeeshan Ahmed on (December 19, 2008, 8:44 GMT)

May be history best team. We can compare it the best team of Bradman or the team of W Indies in 70's and 80's. This team of Australia have comparison with Bradman's ideal team also (Players from all over the world). Batting comprises of such a great players that even they can build two teams from it easily and the bowlers are also excellent. At one stage, bowler like Lee cannot have a chance in this ideal team. From opener to middle order, all are specialist batsmen like Ponting, Hayden, Langer and others. In bowling history best leg spinner Shane Warne and leading wicket taker in fast bowling McGrath and others are the beauty of their game. In my opinion, Shane Warne is the only bowler of this century who can turn match from any position to his team favour. I think he is no. 1 bowler of this century because he has played very few macthes against weak teams like Zimbabwe and Bangladesh and his wicket taking ability is equivalent at opponents' home too as compare to other spinners.

Posted by Aditya on (December 18, 2008, 7:11 GMT)

excellent analysis. 2 questions: what would the analysis of the indian and south african team, in the recent past, along the success dimensions show? looks like india has got a good opening pair, and opening bowlers who are taking wickets early and a wicket-keeper batsman who is critical. second question: how many of australia's losses came without McGrath? if i remember correctly, he didn't play in any of the 3 losses against england in 2005 and also didn't play in a couple of losses against india. [[ Aditya, Will do a Ind/Saf analysis at the beginning of next year. Also will respond to your query on Australia sans McGrath within a few days. Ananth: ]]

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Anantha Narayanan
Anantha spent the first half of his four-decade working career with corporates like IBM, Shaw Wallace, NCR, Sime Darby and the Spinneys group in IT-related positions. In the second half, he has worked on cricket simulation, ratings, data mining, analysis and writing, amongst other things. He was the creator of the Wisden 100 lists, released in 2001. He has written for ESPNcricinfo and CastrolCricket, and worked extensively with Maruti Motors, Idea Cellular and Castrol on their performance ratings-related systems. He is an armchair connoisseur of most sports. His other passion is tennis, and he thinks Roger Federer is the greatest sportsman to have walked on earth.

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