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Welcome to Part 2 of the Official Confectionery Stall Multiple Choice 2009 Ashes Quiz. Following last week’s four questions about the Lord’s Test, this week’s exam focuses more on the Edgbaston Test, which, if predictions about the weather and pitch prove true, is already shaping up to be one of the most exciting matches ever played in the Birmingham area which straddles July and August 2009.
Pencils at the ready...
5. Who is going to win at Edgbaston?
They’ve already broken one hoodoo – not having beaten Australia at Lord’s since Greta Garbo was still a proactive conversationalist.
In the oldest of all cricketing proverbs: One Brings Two. They will surely now break another hoodoo – not having beaten Australia in the next Test match after beating Australia at Lord’s since 1890. It will help if the team can follow the example of the majority of the English media, and forget how they only managed to escape from the jaws of defeat in Cardiff by first coating themselves in mayonnaise and climbing into those jaws.
Mitchell Johnson has set himself up perfectly for a startling return to form, catapulting England out on a docile pitch before slugging a match-winning century. Australia’s batsmen are averaging almost 10 runs an innings more than England’s in the series so far, and, as Michael Clarke himself said, his team is never more dangerous than when the chips are down. Recent history suggests this is almost as big a lie as his claim that this Australian team is as good as any he has played in, but you have to admire the lad for saying it anyway.
(c) No-one – it will be a draw
Rain is forecast, the pitch is reportedly flat as a demotivated pancake, and, more pertinently, both sides should have learned from their mistakes of the first two Tests, each of which were played on friendly batting surfaces, and each of which required batting of catastrophic ineptitude to lead make a positive result possible.
Even so, the runs-per-wicket for both sides put together (43) is so far the highest ever in an Ashes series. It will take something special for either side to force a defeat out of themselves.
Furthermore, in the West Indies, England proved masters at accidentally playing for the draw when they need to play for the win. They should therefore have no trouble playing for the draw when they actually need to play for the draw. Three stalemates would be enough to match the glorious 1926 and 1953 one-nil-out-of-five triumphs.
(d) No-one – it will be a tie
There has never been an Ashes tie. The last Edgbaston Test was the closest the two teams have ever come. There have been 321 Tests between these nations. Statistically, with only four results possible, around 80 of those should have been ties. It is long overdue.
6. All cricket fans will be hoping that Edgbaston is not scarred by further umpiring controversies of the sort seen and giggled/whinged about (delete according to hemisphere of origin) at Lord’s. What is the long-term solution to disputes such as the Hughes-Strauss-Koertzen-Ponting-Ball-Grass-Referral Incident?
(a) End all arguments by removing caught from the list of dismissals.
This will also encourage more exciting, aggressive bowling. Fast bowlers would be forced to bowl yorkers in an attempt to dismiss batsmen bowled or lbw, and bouncers in an effort to make batsmen retire hurt. In this age of breakneck modernisation, it could also herald a return to underarm daisy-cutters − cricket re-embracing its roots.
(b) Take the fielder’s word for it – we’re all adults, and it’s only a game.
The batting team must, however, be entitled to demand an instant on-field polygraph test to ensure the catcher is telling the truth. If it transpires that he has fibbed, he should be paraded around the boundary, booed and pelted with biscuits shaped like Colin Cowdrey.
(c) Alternating decisions – one out, the next one not out.
This new system was trialled at Lord’s – refer one, don’t refer the next. Statistics say that such a system will even out over the course of a series, or, at least, over the course of the rest of cricket history.
(d) Dye the entire outfield with a bright purple pigment.
This is a simple, error-proof solution to demonstrate conclusively whether or not a ball has bounced before thudding into a fielder’s hands. Only the 22-yards between the stumps would be left unpurpled. The ball would be thoroughly cleaned by the umpire before each delivery. After a disputed catch, the umpire would inspect the ball. If the purple pigment is visible on the ball, the ball would have been shown to have bounced, the catch would be duly disallowed, and the umpire would tut at the fielder concerned and start muttering about how the entire planet has lost the plot.
The pigment would have to be re-applied to the outfield between each over, to ensure a fair and even covering at all times. Batsmen would not be allowed to coat their bats in the purple pigment.
Traditionalists will of course bleat about how cricket has always been played on a green surface, players will complain about getting purple all over their clothes and faces, and groundsmen will whinge about the added workload and potential toxicity of a substance that may have to be radioactive in order both to be sufficiently purple and not to cause interference on TV pictures.
Surely, however, reaching a fair decision is more important than any of these minor quibbles, in this day and age?
7. Last week, I promised to ask the question: How much will England miss Kevin Pietersen? On reflection, this can now be more productively phrased: Which of the following true statistics about Ian Bell is the most misleading?
(a) Ian Bell averages 25 against Australia
The widely-accepted idea that Ian Bell has ‘never really done it against Australia’ is true in the sense that he has never really done it against Australia, but false in the sense that the statistics point unerringly to him doing it in no uncertain terms this time.
Whilst only a mathematical Luddite could dispute that Bell averages 25 in his 10 Ashes Tests, and has been out in single figures 11 times in his 20 innings, it should also be remembered that he averaged 17.1 in 2005, but a much more respectable if scarcely abacus-shattering 33.1 in 2006-7.
This represents a 93% series-to-series improvement. If the Warwickshire Whirlwind continues to ski the right way up this graph, he will average 64 this year, 124 in 2010-11, and 240 in 2013, by when he will be universally recognised as the greatest player of all time.
It should also be remembered that Bradman scored six ducks against England, so he wasn’t all good either. And, in the 2006-07 series, Bell scored more runs than Strauss, Cook, Flintoff, Panesar, Prior, Bopara, Botham, Barrington, Compton, Hutton, Hammond or Hobbs. Or Gilchrist or Langer.
(b) Ian Bell averages over 40 in Test cricket
This puts him above, among others, England stalwarts such as Stewart, Atherton, Hussain, Lamb, Gatting, Greig (both Tony and Ian), Fletcher, Woolley and even Hutton (Richard, admittedly, not Len). He averages 48 in the first innings when games are shaped, averages 47 batting at No. 4, 74 with Strauss as captain, 45 in England, and 43 in third Tests (although he’d better perform at Edgbaston – he averages 18.5 in the fourth and fifth Tests of series). And he averages 297 when Kevin Pietersen is not in the team.
Against this, he has mostly played on nice and friendly pitches, it’s a batsman’s game these days, averages mean less and less in modern Test cricket, he filled his boots against Bangladesh at the start of his career (see Pietersen-absent stat above), filled them again against a fairly weak Pakistan attack in 2006, since when he has scored three centuries in three years. And you can dress a statistic us as smartly as you like, but it doesn’t guarantee that it will be dancing cheek-to-cheek with truth at the end of the evening.
In summary, Ian Bell could have done better, Ian Bell could have done worse. Bearing in mind the class of his best innings and finest strokes, however, the overall feeling is that Ian Bell’s career has so far been like a fillet of prime sirloin made into an adequate stroganoff. Neither inedible, nor incredible.
(c) Ian Bell averages 1.3 catches per match in Ashes Tests
This compares domineeringly against Kevin Pietersen’s figure of 0.3. So he is effectively worth one extra innings per Test. Which means that Bell’s batting average of 33 is in effect almost identical to Pietersen’s 50.
8. Which part of their game will Australia have to improve most to avoid repeating their disappointing performance at Lord’s?
c) Rudi Koertzen.
And, finally, as a tie-breaker in case the scores are level:
9. Will there ever be another Test pitch with genuine pace and bounce in it?
b) Probably not.
The deadline for completion of the quiz in order to win the chance to captain your country in a Test match is 1st January 2019. Answers to follow at some point before then.
Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writerFeeds: Andy Zaltzman
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Andy Zaltzman was born in obscurity in 1974. He has been a sporadically-acclaimed stand-up comedian since 1999, and has appeared regularly on BBC Radio 4. He is currently one half of TimesOnline's hit satirical podcast The Bugle, alongside John Oliver. Zaltzman's love of cricket outshone his aptitude for the game by a humiliating margin. He once scored 6 in 75 minutes in an Under-15 match, and failed to hit a six between the ages of 9 and 23. He would have been ideally suited to Tests, had not a congenital defect left him unable to play the game to anything above genuine village standard. He writes the Confectionery Stall blog on Cricinfo.