December 11, 2008

# Facts + maths = truth

Some statistical pointers to how England will perform in the Test series, generated with a combustible cocktail of fact and inappropriate mathematics

The Confectionery Stall is quite open about its statistics fetish, however much society at large may disapprove. Here are some statistical pointers to how England will perform in the Test series, generated with a combustible cocktail of fact and inappropriate mathematics:

• Graeme Swann has at last been selected for his Test debut. In November, his fellow offspinner Jason Krejza entered his 12-wicket debut Test for Australia in Nagpur with a first-class average of around 50 – half as much again as Swann’s 33. Therefore, if all goes according to the form-book, Swann will take 18 wickets in the Chennai Test.

• Kevin Pietersen hit 28 sixes in his first 14 Tests. He has cleared the advertising-cladded ropes only 16 times in the following 29 matches. If his rate of maximum-thwacking continues to decline at this rate, he will hit only four sixes in his next 44 Tests. And none thereafter. By his mid-thirties, he will be the dullest batsman in world cricket.

• In his first 43 Tests, up to and including his 11-wicket match haul against Pakistan at Old Trafford in 2006, Steve Harmison took 174 wickets at an average of 27.74, with a best of 7-12. In his last 15 Tests since then, he has taken 42 wickets at 46.66, with a best of 4-48. If Harmison’s decline continues at this rate, in his next 15 Tests, he will take 29 wickets at 78, with a best of 1-192.

• In series in which Paul Collingwood has scored his runs at more than 47 runs per balls, he has averaged 50. When he has scored at less than 41 per 100 in a series, he has averaged 25. Therefore, if Collingwood can raise his scoring rate to a perfectly-achievable 59 per 100, his average will rocket up to a doubly-Bradmanesque 200. Come out swinging, Paul. You cannot fight statistics like that.

• If England want good starts to their innings, they must hypnotise Andrew Strauss before the match starts, and convince him that Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma are in fact Chris Martin and Kyle Mills in disguise (with Martin bowling left-handed for a bet) – because excluding four consecutive innings against New Zealand earlier this year in which Strauss scored two centuries and two half-centuries, he has averaged 26 in his last 36 Test innings since losing the captaincy before the start of the 2006-07 Ashes, with no hundreds and only five half-centuries. This strategy is dependent on England winning the toss and batting first – even under the deepest possible hypnosis, it is inconceivable that the Middlesex man could mistake Virender Sehwag for Aaron Redmond.

• As a batsman, Monty Panesar has passed 1 only once in his last eight Tests, obviously burdened down by the stratospheric expectations generated when, in the space of six heady months in 2006, he swept Muralitharan for six and on-drove Stuart Clark for four (the latter a shot of such unimprovable left-handed magnificence that it seemed that England had at last, after 75 years of vain searching, unearthed its new Frank Woolley – only this 21-century version was a more dangerous bowler, as well as a batsman of bewitching grace).

In all, Panesar has passed 10 only four times in his Test career – but in those matches, he has taken 23 wickets at an average of 24, with three five-wicket innings. In the 29 Tests when he has not excelled with the bat, Panesar’s bowling average balloons to nearly 34. Clearly, he is England’s most important wicket. India’s bowlers should be targeting Panesar more than any other batsman.

England, for their part, should be giving Monty round-the-clock batting coaching. It must be worth the ECB’s effort and funding – let it not be forgotten that Panesar had a better batting average after his first 12 Tests than Don Bradman, Len Hutton or Viv Richards had after their first 1. (Or Graham Gooch after 2.) (Or Mike Gatting after 3.) (Or Martin Crowe after 4.) (Or Jacques Kallis after 5.) (Or Bill Edrich or Wasim Akram after 8.) (Or Marvan Atapattu after 9.) (Or Kenny Rutherford after 12.) (The list goes on.) (Probably.) (Until: Or Courtney Walsh after 132.) (Where it ends.)

Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer