August 9, 2009

Ashes

A quick Sunday stat

Andy Zaltzman
Mitchell Johnson had Ian Bell caught at slip, England v Australia, 4th Test, Headingley, 2nd day, August 8, 2009
 © PA Photos
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As I write, Broad and Prior are launching a spectacular Headingley-81-style fightback – a blazing partnership that has so far brought 22 defiant runs in just 20-odd minutes. Whether this develops into the 350-plus stand that might give Graham Onions a chance to do a Bob Willis remains to be seen, so, with the game still poised so delicately in the balance, here is a statistic for you.

England’s number 3, 4 and 5 have in this game posted the worst ever Test performance by and England 3-4-5. The worst. In 890 Tests. Even counting matches when nightwatchmen have broken up the 3-4-5. Even in 19th-century games when the wickets sometimes literally had snakes in them. Ouch. (Counting only games in which numbers 3, 4 and 5 have been dismissed twice, which seems fair in the circumstances.)

Bopara, Bell and Collingwood mustered 16 runs between them in their six innings. Even by the most positive-taking of modern standards, this was ‘a bit disappointing’ and ‘something that needs building on’.

In fact it was the equal third worst performance by numbers 3 to 5 in the batting order in all Test history (excluding South Africa at Melbourne in 1931-2, when they used a completely different 3-5 in the second innings, to spectacular effect – Bell, Mitchell and Cameron managed to double the 5 runs accumulated by Christy, Taylor an Viljoen in the first).

South Africa can proudly claim both first and second place in this list of shame. They managed 12 in a Test in 1888-89, at a time when they still pretty much pitched up at the ground and asked passers-by if they fancied a game of cricket for a couple of days. And, least triumphantly of all, Keith, Endean and McLean – not the worst 3-5 in Test history by any measure – amassed 6 runs in the 1955 Oval Test. Scores of 5, 0 and 1 in the first innings paved the way for three second-knock ducks as Laker and Lock filled their spinny boots on a turning wicket.

So at least Bopara, Bell and Collingwood can claim to have done 166% better than the 1955 South African 3-to-5. A small consolation as they take their place in English cricket’s slightly embarrassed history books.

[A quick update – Prior is out. I daresay the odds are now even longer the 500-1 England defied 28 years ago. But Broad has just been dropped by Siddle. Could that be the crucial turning point? No. No. No. It could not.]

For English masochists, those who dislike England for whatever reason, and those who simply love the statistics of failure, here is a list of the worst ever performances by an England 3, 4 and 5. Please ignore if you are of a sensitive disposition, or closely related to the three batsmen involved. Thanks be to Statsguru.

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

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Posted by Nathan on (August 18, 2009, 3:53 GMT)

Another enjoyable read Andy, though perhaps a touch more 'serious' than most of your other columns. @Mark ... I think Mel has a point. Bringing up the names of just 3 overseas born players that have represented Australia is not quite the same as the ICC World XI that has represented England for many years. @Mark Checkley - 'Every Club Cricketer knows that if your plans are disrupted before the game, you FIELD' ... what the?!?! That worked a treat for Ponting in 2005 when Pigeon injured himself before the start of the second test. I've read some crazy things in these forums but your statement is right up there!

Posted by waterbuffalo on (August 14, 2009, 12:19 GMT)

At the start of the series in this column I said that Bopara would be found out. Easy to be a number three on the featherbeds of the Carribean or when the opposition would rather be playing T20, but against the Aussies you have to fight fire with fire. This guy puts everything in the air (Bopara)but you all know that already. What is surprising is that the names being tossed around as replacements are Trescothick and Ramprakash (combined age 76?). This points to a serious problem in depth as far as batting goes. Vaughan on one leg is better than Bopara or Bell, and it is obvious that Collingwood misses the confidence and aggression that Pieterson displays whilst batting at the other end. England do not have a hope of winning the last test which is a shame because they had the Aussies down and out and let them perform "the Great Escape". One century in four tests as opposed to 7 for the Aussies? The English should be glad it is only 1-1.

Posted by MartinAmber on (August 10, 2009, 16:03 GMT)

Sri: "Why is it that there are so few names to turn to...?"

That'll be the closed shop that saw England pick the same top five or six, regardless of form or opposition, for three and a half years after the 2005 Ashes. And now we sow what we reaped: everyone's scared to throw in a debutant, and the only alternatives are the romantic choice (Ramps), the fantasist's choice (Tres) and the pragmatic but unsatisfactory choice (Key).

Also, it's perversely gratifying (even for an Englishman) for those of us who have actually watched plenty of cricket since 2005 to be proven right about this Australian side. The number of times I've seen North or Johnson written off by our media, or Australia described as a bunch of no-names.

Well here's the news. Ravi Bopara, described as "sublime" for taking apart the pathetic West Indians, is the ultimate no-name of this summer. According to Justin Langer, you don't even need to sledge him!

Posted by Alex on (August 10, 2009, 11:35 GMT)

Austrlia are better than England and always will be.

Posted by Alex on (August 10, 2009, 11:06 GMT)

Australia is still the best team in the world. This series has seen England swing the ball which is all they're capable of. As for "freddie" flintoff, look at the statistics, he hasn't done much over his career, you can say he's a great bowler and bastman but get real, he's useless. Cook; fends the ball and bores the bowlers, Strauss;cracks under pressure, always has an excuse, Bopara; go play some twenty/20 cricket, bell; county cricket is the go, Collinwood; traditional pommy batsman, boring as ****, Prior; can be a good keeper, makes his big scores against the west indies, broad; no way is he close to an all-rounder, or at least a good one, he's an all-rounder at sucking if possible?, Swann; bowled one good ball in his career, he can slog it and slog only,harmison; bowls short and crap, anderson; needs swing and is still useless, onions;get a real last name, another useless player. Australia just seem to beat Enlgand at everything,Australias are the best, Ponting's a star. ;D

Posted by jay on (August 10, 2009, 9:31 GMT)

With Langer's leaked memo(deliberately?) and the Aussie Fanatics admitting to having set off the fire alarm in the English team hotel, suddenly it is no longer a game. It is obvious that the Aussies will stoop very very low to achieve their aims. What about legal action against the Fanatics--- not just the English team but every guest in the hotel was affected by their sick joke, what if a sick person had suffered a heart attack as a result of the stress caused by evacuation at 4am.

Posted by elling 45 on (August 10, 2009, 9:14 GMT)

No doubting that the Aussies outplayed us in this match but lets not panic guys that just what the Aussies want. Bringing back semi retired test players and playing an out of form spinner is something the baggy greens will be relishing. There is no doubt that Ravi and Ian Bell dont inspire confidence but Graham Gooch started his test career with a pair so dont give up on them yet. Backbone is what is missing the most so maybe Rob Key coming in would help, I feel he has a calm about him and does'nt appear to worry too much about things.As for Langers dossier, well at first I was anoyed at his patronising comments about some of Englands players but have changed my mind since yesterdays result but still feel that England should stick it on the dressing room door at the Oval and use it as inspiration, I bet the Aussies would.

Posted by Sri on (August 10, 2009, 8:17 GMT)

Why is it that there are so few names in the hat to turn to when the incumbent lot of English batsmen fail to deliver? When it was Bell under the cosh just a few months ago,everyone wanted Shah - we all know how that turned out. Then, due to a stroke of good fortune, Bopara churned out 3 centuries in a row against an average bowling attack, and suddenly, he was God's gift to the English team. Key has always been in the frame. Ramprakash is as prolific as ever in the county circuit, although he is realistically never going to be in serious contention for a place in the national side again. Vaughan did everyone a favour by putting himself out of contention. Can nobody find a genuine set of top order batsmen in the country beyond this handful? Unless the selectors identify 20 such batsmen fresh off the county circuit and groom them for test cricket, we'll still be dishing out the same few names for the foreseeable future, with predictable results.

Posted by craig salotti on (August 10, 2009, 7:23 GMT)

The Poms have no chance at all of winning the last test, and very little chance of even salvaging a draw, which is still a loss for them. Their fragile minds and the pressure of their nation and press will see to that, as it has for countless years. This is evident in all sports England compete in. They have the "best football league in the world" and can't even muster a win in any significant competition. The return of the broken Freddy Flintoff will not be enough for the English side, which needs to be cleaned out and requires many, many years of rebuilding to find some decent players and talismanic players, which the team seem unable to win without.

Posted by P.Satish on (August 10, 2009, 7:11 GMT)

Hey, back off all the Bell-haters!! At least of those three Bell was the only one who played as per plan. I mean it is an open secret that Bell's average becomes 999.4 when playing Bangladesh while it becomes 9.994 when the big boys come to play. So he is pretty much doing whats expected of him!!

Bopara, hmmm, interesting to note that Tendulkar only backed him as a talent. Maybe Bopara took to it to mean he is the next Tendulkar i.e. "Boparar"??!!?? Or maybe "Tendulkara" was the original Bopara??!!??

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andy Zaltzman
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.

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