Ashes August 20, 2009

Fancy England scoring 1003 to win


It increasingly seems that when England pick Steve Harmison, they essentially pick a myth © Getty Images

Sit down. I have some stats that may or may not be relevant to the Oval Test.

• Australia are averaging 13 runs per wicket more than England – 46 to 33 – meaning that, statistically, they have dominated this series more than they did the series of 1990-91, 1994-95 1997 or 1998-99 which they won comfortably without having to sully their baggy green hands with an important final Test, and more even than in the famous 4-1 Lillee-and-Thomson-ignited drubbing of 1974-75. Nevertheless, thanks to Monty Panesar’s unbreachable bat, they have failed to translate this obvious superiority into champagne-spraying exultation.

As an incidental substatistic, at the equivalent stage of the 2005 series, Australia and England both averaged 30.87 runs per wicket – though, when an extra decimal place is thrown into the equation, England had a clear advantage of 3 thousandths of a run per wicket over. Good, close series, that one, with hindsight.

• If England do win (and assuming they do not hand Australia a 1938-style innings-and-500 drubbing), they will become only the 2nd team since 1902 to win an Ashes series despite averaging less than their opponents − in 1981, England won 3-1 despite averaging fractionally lower than Australia (26.38 to 26.52). Botham’s aura evidently made a 0.15 runs-per-wicket difference then – can Flintoff’s overcome a 13-runs-per-wicket deficit this time?

• If England drop Graham Onions for Flintoff, they will attempt to take 20 wickets with five bowlers who, in the last two Ashes series, have taken 65 wickets at an average of 50.12, with a strike rate of a scalp every 83 balls. If they continue on this form, they will need 277 overs to bowl Australia out twice for a combined total of 1002 runs (excluding leg-byes and byes).

England will therefore have to score 1003 in around 170 overs to win. The best tactic on winning the toss would be to insert Australia, bowl them out for 501 by mid-afternoon on day two, then smash a quick run-a-ball 1003 for 9 declared by just after lunch on day four, and bowl Australia out for 501 again to win with the last ball of the match. The only potential flaw in this plan is that the 11 batsmen who would have to do this have, over the same time span, averaged 30, and scored at three per over. Still, stranger things have happened. Albeit, not in cricket. Or reality.

• It increasingly seems that when England pick Steve Harmison, they essentially pick a myth. Either side of his annus mirabilis – from October 2003 to September 2004, when he took 70 wickets in 12 tests at an average of 19.8, against Bangladesh, West Indies and New Zealand – he has harvested just three wickets per Test at a Malcolmian, Prabhakaretic, sub-Pringlesque average of 37.5.

If you then remove four further ‘Tests’ against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, that average creeps above 40, into the realms where Madal Lals, Ashley Gileses and Guy Whittals roam. If you then get a bit cheeky and whip out his 11 for 76 on a bouncily helpful wicket at Old Trafford against Pakistan, England are now relying on a bowler who for the vast majority of his career against top-class opposition on non-trampolining pitches averages 43 – slightly worse than the career averages of fast-bowling legends such as Champaka Ramanayake, Nixon McLean, Pramodya Wickramasinghe and Nathan Astle. Most players’ careers can be statistically picked apart in some way, but these are ugly numbers in anyone’s notebook, particularly if that person is using their notebook to plot a series-clinching Test win against Australia.

There you go. You can’t argue with facts. Particularly when the facts are arguing with themselves.

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