Ashes May 21, 2009

History and stats point to Ashes glory for England

Australia are in disarray – they lost their most recent Test, have not won a series in England for eight years, have never won a Test in Cardiff, are bringing a squad with only one front-line bowler who has ever taken a Test wicket in England
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Nightwatchman extraordinaire James Anderson has four ducks fewer than Don Bradman at the equivalent stage of his career © Getty Images
 

The announcement of the Australian touring party has cranked up the anticipation levels for the most hyped England series of recent times still further. This is a fortunate development, because the cricketing build-up, in the form of England’s alleged Test series against the supposed West Indies, has been numbingly undramatic, as is seemingly the modern way.

This was a short and not particularly sweet series, with most of the country, almost all of the cricket-watching world, and half of the participants seeming to take little interest in proceedings. England played increasingly well, confidently and decisively, but the overwhelming sensation as the visitors completed their contractual obligation of a second innings was: “What was the point of that?”

England failed to win even a single Test against West Indies for 16 years from 1974. They have just won two in a week and even the players themselves were struggling to look excited about it. There is much talk about the sanctity of Test cricket, but this series felt as special and meaningful as a Las Vegas wedding presided over by an unqualified Elvis impersonator who had lost his costume, wig and glasses in a poker game and was wearing a borrowed hospital smock instead.

The cricket-watching public stayed away in their millions. This was due to a number of mitigating factors, including, principally, that they are not imbeciles. Thanks to the internet, they now have easy access to meteorological records for the Durham area in May dating back thousands of years, as well as the ability to check scorecards from recent series in England and guess what kind of contest the West Indies were likely to provide. Perhaps they were also swayed by Chris Gayle’s pre-match posturing, which, following extensive computer analysis, has now been officially confirmed as the least inspiring team talk in the history of organised sport.

In five full matches since their abject capitulation in Jamaica, England’s batsmen − all of them, together, including Onions and Panesar − have averaged over 60 runs per wicket, with 12 hundreds and 12 half-centuries. This despite their best player, Pietersen, mostly saving his runs for when they are really needed, as is his tendency. They have now proved conclusively that they are good players against mediocre bowling attacks on friendly wickets backed up by fielders with sausages for fingers.

Whether this frenzy of accumulation has ironed out or merely camouflaged previous technical flaws will be revealed in two months’ time. The bowling was encouraging and impressive – Jimmy Anderson could have informed Taylor and Benn in writing several months in advance exactly where and when he was going to bowl those outswinging missiles of perfection to them, and they would still seen their off stumps annihilated. But (and this is a Mike-Gatting-sized but), West Indies are not Australia, and May is not July.

It is certainly unlikely that the Australians, tactical maestros that they are, will make the same mistake as Fidel Edwards, West Indies’ key bowler, in erroneously pinpointing Anderson as England’s key batsman. Perhaps the Barbados Ballista was duped by the Lancastrian’s world-record-breaking refusal to be out for nought – Bradman had four ducks quacking on his career board of shame by the equivalent stage of his career, and had taken 126 fewer wickets, making Anderson statistically by far the greatest all-round cricketer in history.

The upshot of all this is that my five-month-old son has already seen England score more hundreds (twelve) against West Indies than I saw in my first 12 years of cricket watching from 1981. He has also, more surprisingly, seen the West Indians plunder as many centuries (nine) off England’s bowlers as they did in 14 Tests between 1985 and 1990 – so he presumably thinks in his tiny bald head that Gordon Greenidge, Viv Richards and Richie Richardson were significantly worse than Devon Smith, Lendl Simmonds and Brendan Nash. Oh, the folly of youth. One day, I will sit him down and explain with the use of graphs why this is not the case. And he will humour me for a couple of minutes before putting on his Delhi Daredevils shirt and asking me what a Test match is.

History now points unerringly towards a home win in the Ashes – England have always won the urn after demolishing sub-standard opposition in a two-match early season series. Admittedly, this conclusion is based on the rather unscientific single previous example of 2005, but a fact is a fact. When you factor in that this West Indies team is better than the 2005 Bangladeshis, it becomes clear that England are all set to improve on their Ashes performance of four years ago, and win by at least 4-0.

They are, after all, unbeaten in six now, and coming off a run of three consecutive home Test wins. Australia, by contrast, are in disarray – they lost their most recent Test, have not won a series in England for eight years, have never won a Test in Cardiff, are bringing a squad with only one front-line bowler who has ever taken a Test wicket in England, have never won the Ashes with a player called Nathan in the squad, have not beaten the old enemy without a leg spinner for over 25 years, have never beaten England while there has been a black American president, have not won the urn when a Labour government in Britain has been within a year of being voted out of office, and traditionally struggle when a Queen has been on the throne for 57 years (England’s glorious win in 1894-95 will be preying on their minds day and night).

A further incontrovertible statistical truth is that England have never lost a home Test match finishing in May (10 wins, 4 draws), leading to the unarguable conclusion that the ECB should have crammed the entire five-Test Ashes series into this sacred month, to be followed by a 53-match one-day international series to bring the summer to a lucratively rousing climax.

Andy Zaltzman was born a satirist. He has a weekly podcast with John Oliver at The Times

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • EnglishtotheCore on June 22, 2009, 3:36 GMT

    The best team will win. England.

  • The Shraink on June 17, 2009, 11:21 GMT

    It is an Ashes summer in England, and the Poms have just beaten an egg (West Indies)... of course they think they'll win. If the Aussies win the first test in Cardiff, the series will immediately be at 2-0, Lords is an automatic write-off for the poms, that is why it is not the venue for the first test. Pommie confidence is a wonderful thing to see. It is a beautiful bubble, inflated to grand proportions in the early Summer sunlight, kept wet by the English rain, and it floats gently and high on the hopes and dreams of the hopeful dreamers that are the barmy army and its cohorts... but reality is a prick!

  • Clean Sweep on June 10, 2009, 3:41 GMT

    Gordon Brown out... LBW bowled Hilfenhaus :)

  • Drop Bear on June 4, 2009, 21:06 GMT

    The comments on this article show that only about half of all Australians actually have a sense of humour.

    Nice work Andy!

  • Rahul Oak on June 4, 2009, 14:59 GMT

    And btw, I totally imagine the likes of 'nht' going on about "Never, ever, count the Aussies out of anything. If you watched their tour of South Africa ... yada yada" to be one of the types who watch Lord of the Rings and comment on how unrealistic hobbits (and elves for that matter) are. Cheer up mate!

  • Rahul Oak on June 4, 2009, 14:56 GMT

    So it's official. Andy Zaltzman is England's answer to Glenn McGrath (at least in making pre-series predictions and possibly twisting his ankle on rouge cricket balls).

  • santafanta on June 4, 2009, 11:35 GMT

    as we all know the poms will rely on their foreign players to try and make a fist the series, cant see England coming close unless Anderson can fires with bat and ball!!

  • nht on June 2, 2009, 20:10 GMT

    It just cracks me up the complacency of England and its fans. Never, ever, count the Aussies out of anything. If you watched their tour of South Africa earlier this year, you'd learn this. That tour was supposed to have been the coronation of South Africa as Test kings, but what we learned is Mitchell Johnson is one of the best all-rounders in the game today and Australian cricket is alive and well thank you very much. While I don't see Australia destroying England with five wins like 2006, I still see them pulling this out 2-1 or 3-1. Other than India and South Africa, England hasn't faced a serious test since the 2006 Ashes. Twice against New Zealand and West Indies is no indication of progress.

  • J Ci Swing on May 30, 2009, 5:34 GMT

    If Australia play at their best then Australia will win, but if they don't then England may win back the Ashes.

  • KG on May 30, 2009, 5:28 GMT

    Earth shattering this is. Worse is the fact Hughes has scored 3 centuries so by the law of averages he should have a horror Ashes series. Hey the WAGS are here too. Last time they came we lost 2-1 to the Saffas. Man this isn't looking good...

    yo Thom ease up. He was joking.

  • EnglishtotheCore on June 22, 2009, 3:36 GMT

    The best team will win. England.

  • The Shraink on June 17, 2009, 11:21 GMT

    It is an Ashes summer in England, and the Poms have just beaten an egg (West Indies)... of course they think they'll win. If the Aussies win the first test in Cardiff, the series will immediately be at 2-0, Lords is an automatic write-off for the poms, that is why it is not the venue for the first test. Pommie confidence is a wonderful thing to see. It is a beautiful bubble, inflated to grand proportions in the early Summer sunlight, kept wet by the English rain, and it floats gently and high on the hopes and dreams of the hopeful dreamers that are the barmy army and its cohorts... but reality is a prick!

  • Clean Sweep on June 10, 2009, 3:41 GMT

    Gordon Brown out... LBW bowled Hilfenhaus :)

  • Drop Bear on June 4, 2009, 21:06 GMT

    The comments on this article show that only about half of all Australians actually have a sense of humour.

    Nice work Andy!

  • Rahul Oak on June 4, 2009, 14:59 GMT

    And btw, I totally imagine the likes of 'nht' going on about "Never, ever, count the Aussies out of anything. If you watched their tour of South Africa ... yada yada" to be one of the types who watch Lord of the Rings and comment on how unrealistic hobbits (and elves for that matter) are. Cheer up mate!

  • Rahul Oak on June 4, 2009, 14:56 GMT

    So it's official. Andy Zaltzman is England's answer to Glenn McGrath (at least in making pre-series predictions and possibly twisting his ankle on rouge cricket balls).

  • santafanta on June 4, 2009, 11:35 GMT

    as we all know the poms will rely on their foreign players to try and make a fist the series, cant see England coming close unless Anderson can fires with bat and ball!!

  • nht on June 2, 2009, 20:10 GMT

    It just cracks me up the complacency of England and its fans. Never, ever, count the Aussies out of anything. If you watched their tour of South Africa earlier this year, you'd learn this. That tour was supposed to have been the coronation of South Africa as Test kings, but what we learned is Mitchell Johnson is one of the best all-rounders in the game today and Australian cricket is alive and well thank you very much. While I don't see Australia destroying England with five wins like 2006, I still see them pulling this out 2-1 or 3-1. Other than India and South Africa, England hasn't faced a serious test since the 2006 Ashes. Twice against New Zealand and West Indies is no indication of progress.

  • J Ci Swing on May 30, 2009, 5:34 GMT

    If Australia play at their best then Australia will win, but if they don't then England may win back the Ashes.

  • KG on May 30, 2009, 5:28 GMT

    Earth shattering this is. Worse is the fact Hughes has scored 3 centuries so by the law of averages he should have a horror Ashes series. Hey the WAGS are here too. Last time they came we lost 2-1 to the Saffas. Man this isn't looking good...

    yo Thom ease up. He was joking.

  • John on May 27, 2009, 21:10 GMT

    this is utterly rubbish, Aus will smash Eng 5-0

  • bgc on May 27, 2009, 14:26 GMT

    Flintoff's (lack of) fitness is crucial

    How could you write about England's Ashes chances without mentioning Fintoff's fitness; and the devastating effect it will have if Flintoff is - by some miracle - fit?

    If Flintoff is fit then - obviously! - England will have to play him. And England can only play Flintoff by dropping somebody better, unbalancing the side, and destroying team cohesion.

    This could be the first Ashes to be decided by lack of injuries to a key player.

  • Sanya on May 27, 2009, 5:06 GMT

    Yeah mate, Anderson is the best all-rounder in cricketing history. Atleast England have the best bowlers in the world-jimmy, Sidey, Freddie & Stuart provides a good support by taking key wickets. I'm predicting England will win 2-0 or 3-0 as I don't expect Oz to win an Ashes test with such bowlers. BTW Nice work, amazing statistics, all the statistics you provided ensure us that England is gonna win it. Keep it up!

  • Sam on May 26, 2009, 9:16 GMT

    Mark, he already is giving us nightmares. And Thom, for pity's sake... If you're taking Andy seriously...

  • ted on May 25, 2009, 12:12 GMT

    5 nil the first time 80 years is the only stat you need to mention andy.if fat freddy does not play well be right.

  • mark on May 24, 2009, 10:05 GMT

    ha ha ha remember 2006 5-nil remember the name mitchel johnson he will be giving you poms nightmares real soon

  • Vineeth on May 24, 2009, 3:23 GMT

    Awesome work, Andy.

  • Louise on May 23, 2009, 11:33 GMT

    Very, very funny. I'm an Oz fan as well and I think it is a cracking article. So refreshing after all the po-faced talk of the Ashes.

  • Maurice Clark on May 22, 2009, 14:07 GMT

    Great article. Love the use of the statistics. What a great laugh to start the day.

    Hey Thom, you should lighten up a little. It was a satirical article! I am an auzzie, and I loved it.

  • Atul Bhogle on May 22, 2009, 13:33 GMT

    Take a bow, Mr.Zaltzman. For a name which appears suspiciously of German origin, your humour is on par with PGW!

  • Dom on May 22, 2009, 10:57 GMT

    Thanks for continuing to prove that cricket, satire and whimsy, and perhaps most crucially of all, statistics, are a delicious combination. The reference to your son's bald head made me think his hairstyle was much like yours.

  • Prasanth Nottath on May 22, 2009, 10:56 GMT

    I loved this line "One day, I will sit him down and explain with the use of graphs why this is not the case. And he will humour me for a couple of minutes before putting on his Delhi Daredevils shirt and asking me what a Test match is." Brilliant. Hilarious and thought provoking at the same time.

    Keep em coming, Andyman. You are the best thing to happen to us cricinfolovers since,...er... cricinfo.

  • RC on May 22, 2009, 10:30 GMT

    One of your best Andy!

  • Flash Ash on May 22, 2009, 9:04 GMT

    Thom, Get a life mate!! Everyone knows the Aussies like to dish it, but have real trouble taking it!!

    Great insights Andy, Jimmy can hold his head up high!!

    Cheers

  • rext on May 22, 2009, 8:16 GMT

    Yeah, very convincing but you overlooked our main weapon. We're digging up Don, propping him up at one end and you won't have a snowball's chance of getting him out! Unless you cheat. Again! And big Merv the selector will be there in his Hawaiian shirt should he be needed, and you all know what his intelligence can do. Yes I know, not much, but he won't need to do much to knock over a handful of Poms. And we're generally taller than youse and drink more beer, so what you could possibly base your assumptions on in the real world's absolutely beyond me!

  • giri on May 22, 2009, 8:12 GMT

    thats it, one more reason to keep freddie out of the ashes-james anderson is the best allrounder in test history. just one problem, after eng's win,who's gonna break the drinking binge record freddie set in 2005?

  • Vinod Gangaputhran on May 22, 2009, 8:10 GMT

    Wow....Andy-u r in good nick as usual.....nice opening...however the middle order and tail provided the real fireworks....nice statistical analysis....though you might want to add no Eng team lost when London was bombed either(ref-the 2005 bombings-and i am sorry if i have upset anyone'here by an attempt to make fun by drawing analogy to a tragic event-was never my intention to caus distress to anyone)...any wayz....how about writing on something on what it would take to get the likes of Warnie, mcgrath,gilly, Langer, Hayden, martyn, waugh to come of retirement to beef up the aus team...Adios

  • Aubs on May 22, 2009, 1:02 GMT

    Unfortunately, out of all your hilarious statistical stats at the end of this great article one of them might actually be a genuine reason for us losing the ashes. "have not beaten the old enemy without a leg spinner for over 25 years" is unfortunately a stat that now stands up head & shoulders above the rest. My kingdom for Warnie to un-retire!!!

  • JK on May 22, 2009, 0:17 GMT

    "Jimmy Anderson could have informed Taylor and Benn in writing several months in advance exactly where and when he was going to bowl those outswinging missiles of perfection to them, and they would still seen their off stumps annihilated" - hilarious!!! Excellent post AZ...may your tribe increase.....

  • thom on May 21, 2009, 21:01 GMT

    i guess im the only one here who didnt find that funny.. or maybe im the only aussie who read it.. you know what i did find funny.. all the poms in the comments section acting cool and cocky... hahahaha it seems like they actually think they can win a single match this series.. oh well.. im sure this comment will get a lot of nice backlash, but i dont care cos i wont ever be back on this comment board, BUT my response to all of it is this: in 2 months time.. come have a look back here and see who is right... we all know who it will be..

  • Shankar on May 21, 2009, 18:38 GMT

    The best by Andy - or should I say, to paraphrase Homer Simpson, the best 'so far'. Keep it coming!

  • Henwelder on May 21, 2009, 17:33 GMT

    Superb as always Mr Zaltman, i look forward to your quirky articles, they are one of the few things that genuinely make me laugh out loud. Many thanks.

  • tonyp on May 21, 2009, 17:31 GMT

    What I don't understand is why the undoubtedly brilliant Mr Zaltzman has time to pen this sort of thing when his statistical expertise could be of so much benefit in the commercial sphere. This is just the sort of meticulously researched extrapolation they so dearly need.

  • waterbuffalo on May 21, 2009, 16:14 GMT

    My favourite part was the black president, 57 years for the Queen and Cardiff, though now it does seem to make sense because didn't the aussies lose a WC match there once? Anyway, on the strength of this statistically miraculously attentive article I am changing my original score of 5-0 for the aussies to 2-2 with one rain out. God save the Queen and Posh Spice!

  • President Payne on May 21, 2009, 15:52 GMT

    I very nearly just got thrown out of the quiet section of my library upon discovering that James Anderson is, statistically, the greatest all-round cricketer the game has ever seen. Many thanks Mr Zaltman for making procrastination from revision so enjoyable.

  • Haseeb on May 21, 2009, 14:38 GMT

    As always, hilarious.

  • Summit on May 21, 2009, 14:20 GMT

    absolutely hilarious. the aussies would be shaking in their boots after reading this. the best part was that the aussies have never beaten england while there was a black american president. way to go..

  • Damien on May 21, 2009, 13:53 GMT

    So, that's obviously incontrovertible proof! England will win the Ashes. Damnit. And us Aussies will just have to find some way to encourage Warne out of retirement. Anyone got a spare chocolate bar?

  • Anant on May 21, 2009, 12:03 GMT

    Thats a wildly entertaining post! You're statistical observations are awesomely creative...BUT don't be too quick to dub it a metaphor or an exaggeration..ever heard of the butterfly effect? a single flap of a butterfly wing in one part of the world can cause nuclear war in another! so..lets see now..new black president implies 'change' implies good tie-ups with the UK on dealing with this recession implies strengthened UK economy implies better bank balances for cricketers implies KP and his brethren are in high spirits implies England win the ashes! There u go Mr. Zaltman!

  • Suhas on May 21, 2009, 11:35 GMT

    Andy, you're all right. I eagerly look forward to a 4-0 England victory as, among other reasons, it would be most interesting to read what you make of it

  • Rehan on May 21, 2009, 10:18 GMT

    This was the best article yet! It had me chuckling the whole way through, and I even read paragraph twice because it was so funny! Andy, you are a genius! Keep up the magnificent nonsense!

  • Jas on May 21, 2009, 9:56 GMT

    mate, thats bloody hilarious!

    If only I could answer my stats exam in the same manner!

  • Avni Malhotra on May 21, 2009, 8:28 GMT

    Hahaha!! you mesmerize me (and turn me into a laughing buddha!) every time you put your pen to paper Mr. Zaltzman!! And you have given so many statistically "significant" facts that now i earnestly hope england wins the Ashes!! Black US Prez lucky for the english?? OMG!! But Ashes or not.... please keep up the good work and continue to tickle our funny bones!!

  • Sam on May 21, 2009, 7:13 GMT

    So, we're going to win the Ashes then? I'm not scared of those Aussies. How can I be, I've never heard of any of them.

  • rob heinen on May 21, 2009, 6:58 GMT

    My guess is that the ECB has done their numbers as well, came up with the same conclusion as you and planned the 2 test series against the West Indies solely for that reason.

  • Andyroxmysox on May 21, 2009, 6:36 GMT

    first!

  • No featured comments at the moment.

  • Andyroxmysox on May 21, 2009, 6:36 GMT

    first!

  • rob heinen on May 21, 2009, 6:58 GMT

    My guess is that the ECB has done their numbers as well, came up with the same conclusion as you and planned the 2 test series against the West Indies solely for that reason.

  • Sam on May 21, 2009, 7:13 GMT

    So, we're going to win the Ashes then? I'm not scared of those Aussies. How can I be, I've never heard of any of them.

  • Avni Malhotra on May 21, 2009, 8:28 GMT

    Hahaha!! you mesmerize me (and turn me into a laughing buddha!) every time you put your pen to paper Mr. Zaltzman!! And you have given so many statistically "significant" facts that now i earnestly hope england wins the Ashes!! Black US Prez lucky for the english?? OMG!! But Ashes or not.... please keep up the good work and continue to tickle our funny bones!!

  • Jas on May 21, 2009, 9:56 GMT

    mate, thats bloody hilarious!

    If only I could answer my stats exam in the same manner!

  • Rehan on May 21, 2009, 10:18 GMT

    This was the best article yet! It had me chuckling the whole way through, and I even read paragraph twice because it was so funny! Andy, you are a genius! Keep up the magnificent nonsense!

  • Suhas on May 21, 2009, 11:35 GMT

    Andy, you're all right. I eagerly look forward to a 4-0 England victory as, among other reasons, it would be most interesting to read what you make of it

  • Anant on May 21, 2009, 12:03 GMT

    Thats a wildly entertaining post! You're statistical observations are awesomely creative...BUT don't be too quick to dub it a metaphor or an exaggeration..ever heard of the butterfly effect? a single flap of a butterfly wing in one part of the world can cause nuclear war in another! so..lets see now..new black president implies 'change' implies good tie-ups with the UK on dealing with this recession implies strengthened UK economy implies better bank balances for cricketers implies KP and his brethren are in high spirits implies England win the ashes! There u go Mr. Zaltman!

  • Damien on May 21, 2009, 13:53 GMT

    So, that's obviously incontrovertible proof! England will win the Ashes. Damnit. And us Aussies will just have to find some way to encourage Warne out of retirement. Anyone got a spare chocolate bar?

  • Summit on May 21, 2009, 14:20 GMT

    absolutely hilarious. the aussies would be shaking in their boots after reading this. the best part was that the aussies have never beaten england while there was a black american president. way to go..