Ashes August 24, 2009

A frisky evening with Statsguru

Now that we’ve all calmed down a bit, I have another statistic for you
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Now that we’ve all calmed down a bit, I have another statistic for you. And it’s a good one.

A series that has seen England plumb some extremely murky depths ended with a second joyous and outstanding triumph. Broad’s meteoric spell on Friday was supported by superb batting on Saturday, leaving Australia with an unrealistically Himalayan mountain to climb.

Ponting and his men had been bafflingly, unAustralianly passive and negative in the field as England piled potentially crucial extra rocks on top of what turned out to be a 546-run Everest. They set off confidently enough, but Hussey and Flintoff then combined to steal Ponting’s crampons and send him tumbling off the mountain, and then Clarke was unluckily bullocked off it by a passing African rhino in a hang glider (if I may attempt to convey quite how unfortunate he was when run out). It remains a mystery why North and Haddin then chose to hurl themselves down a ravine when there were still technically enough rations to at least attempt to reach the summit. It was a strange way of proving that Australians never give up.

Yesterday was a great day for English cricket, and in particular for Strauss, whose batting and coin-tossing were of the highest calibre, sparking celebrations that, rightly, did not touch the wild exultation of four years ago. For my part, I celebrated with a romantic evening in with Statsguru, and, well, without wishing to go into too much indelicate detail, things got a bit frisky between us, and a statistic emerged. A beautiful, bouncing new-born statistic. And its first words were these:

England averaged 6.49 runs per wicket less than Australia in this series, but still won. This is the biggest runs-per-wicket deficit ever overcome to win a Test series. In the entire history of cricket, the human race and the universe put together. Here endeth the stat.

Let’s all take a couple of minutes to think about that.

 

 

 

 

Come on, concentrate.

 

 

 

 

Good. This was the 35th time in 539 Test series that a team has won with an inferior average (and only the second Ashes contest in which the statistically weaker side has triumphed since 1902). Never has that inferiority been greater than 6.49 runs per wicket. The previous record margin was 6.03, when England hoodwinked South Africa in 1998 after narrowly escaping with a last-wicket-remaining draw at Old Trafford. Coincidentally, that was Flintoff’s first series – his career has been bookended by two of cricket’s greatest statistical heists.

So, did England deserve to win the series? Taking the five matches as a whole, perhaps they didn’t. Taking the two sides’ performances in the final, winner-takes-all shootout at The Oval, they probably did. Taking Australia’s first innings failures at Lord’s, Edgbaston and The Oval, they certainly deserved to lose it.

This statistic certainly confirms that this has been one of the oddest Ashes series of all time – two teams equally capable of both very good and genuinely atrocious cricket produced a series that was close overall without containing a single close game. Four of the Tests were massively one-sided (first innings leads of 239 at Cardiff, 210 at Lord’s, 343 at Leeds and 172 at The Oval). Only very briefly at Lord’s was there a match in which both sides had a realistic chance of winning, and this was rapidly snuffed out on the final morning.

All in all, it was a bit like watching a boxing match in which the fighters were punching their own faces as often as their opponent’s, or a two-horse steeplechase in which the horses alternately sail majestically over one fence before ploughing face-first straight into the next without even attempting to get off the ground. Australia ended snout-down in the last, leaving England to prance past them and trot down the final furlong punching the air in delight that there were no more fences left to crash into.

The destination of the urn was ultimately decided by England’s belated competence and resistance in Cardiff, and by Broad’s magnificence at the Oval on a pitch where no other fast bowler made a significant impression.

From the crucial day-four rain in Cardiff to the toss and Michael Clarke’s supernaturally unfortunate run out at The Oval, England had better and more influential luck than Australia, and were certainly holding the right end of the umpires’ collective white stick. But, when the summer was reduced to a single winner-takes-all shoot-out, England produced the series’ best bowling (by Broad) and batting (by Strauss and Trott). And I stand by my previous assertion that the real man of the series, in terms of the player whose contribution proved most influential, was Monty Panesar.

I should also apologise for my assertion in the last blog that The Oval pitch was “an embarrassment”. It was not ideal – could a so-called ‘result’ pitch not be fast and bouncy, rather than crumbly and random? However, on Saturday, almost 400 runs were scored for six wickets (including three slogs and a run out), and four of the first seven Australian second-innings wickets were due to silly, silly batting, and one to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune picking mercilessly on Michael Clarke.

I will post The Official Confectionery Stall Review Of The Series later in the week.

For those who enjoy tables, here is a list of the Top Ten Biggest Runs Per Wicket (RPW) Deficits Overcome To Win A Test Series. Commit it to memory, then destroy it.

A more accurate measure of the extent of cricketing superiority overcoming may be The Heist Percentage – the difference between the sides’ averages as a percentage of the losing team’s average. By this measure, England’s 2009 Ashes win is the 7th greatest heist in Test history – a 15.9% heist, some way off Australia’s burglary of the 1891-92 Ashes, when they filched the urn despite averaging 21.6% less than England. The injustice still rankles today, and clearly motivated Strauss and his men at the Oval. In fact, as Graeme Swann celebrated the final wicket, lip-readers would have seen him screaming the words, “This one’s for WG Grace and his boys.”

There you go. Now I must spend some quality time with the wife. If she sees me looking anything else up on Statsguru in the next month, she’ll start telling me she can’t go on with three of us in the relationship.

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

  • Prashant on September 5, 2009, 10:50 GMT

    where is "The Official Confectionery Stall Review Of The Series"

  • jogesh99 on August 29, 2009, 3:44 GMT

    So now that mediocrity has finally triumphed over, well, more mediocrity, can you please cover a series that has some character? And lets all give Andy an open topped BEST bus tour of the suburb of his choice, with Ponting as conductor.

  • Aneese on August 28, 2009, 13:54 GMT

    My my Mr Zaltzman, you truly are an entertaining cricket freak! Thank you for them truths that make us laugh and keep em coming.

  • Weez on August 26, 2009, 13:43 GMT

    Nice find - finally a stat that explains why it took South Africa 40 years to win in England...

    * Rob - don't blame the toss or the groundsman. The Oval pitch was a belter compared to the rubbish at the SCG in January. Blame Aussie arrogance - everyone knows the Oval turns yet they play an all-out pace attack - the toss wouldn't hv mattered if Australia batted properly on the second day - maybe they need to pay Mr Warne to be a net bowler - because since he left Australia hv completely lost the art of playing spin - even Duminy had them in trouble.

  • Rupesh on August 26, 2009, 9:18 GMT

    Regarding recent stats about the Ashes.

    I believe if you remove first test from all the calculation, you will find that both the teams are very close in all aspects.

    Run per wicket in last four test at Eng: 33.6 Aug: 34.0 ...very close whereas if you calculate for all 5 tests its Eng: 34.2 and Aug: 40.6.

    Australia played very well in first test only, after that both team were equal (or england didnt played well in 1st test)

  • ND on August 26, 2009, 8:46 GMT

    As a neutral observer to the series (South African supporter), statistician and cricket lover, I think the most apt description of the series is that of the boxers punching themselves as much as their opponents. The cricket failed to capture my imagination and lacked the magic of the recent Australia vs South Africa home-and-away series. It still rankles that SA lost at home though.

  • Rob on August 26, 2009, 6:11 GMT

    The toss won the ashes. Guess you have to kill me Marty. You can't tell me the curator would have given us the same pitch if Warne was playing still. Nor if England were playing India or Sri Lanka. Still regardless of this. The better team won the Ashes but the question is are they good enough to beat us at our home? Something they have still not done for neigh on 20 plus years.

  • Oliver Garrod on August 25, 2009, 21:22 GMT

    I think people getting upset at this are missing the point slightly. This is a curious stat. It's not meant to say that Australia deserved to win - it's just interesting. Good find!

  • Cricpundit on August 25, 2009, 18:36 GMT

    Nice work Zaltman. However, you are too generous giving credit to Clarke who does not deserve one. He was claiming all along with his captain that this is the biggest match of their life and both men were hopeless in the first innings when it mattered most and then ran themselves out when the game was on the line. Ponting has done many blunders as Captain, and see his actions in Cardiff and elsewhere when he was making atrocious faces at the 12th man and physio instead of concentrating on taking the wicket that mattered most. Those forays from 12th man could have cots an over or two, but he is grossing over the fact that Monty survived 11.3 overs and they could have survived an additional 6-12 balls as well. Ponting is no good. Brings Clark too late in the series and leaves behind Hauritz when it really mattered. This is not the first time. His blunders are too many to mention here, but England should be happy that he intends to tour in 2013. He can have the record all to himself.

  • Arvind on August 25, 2009, 12:38 GMT

    Some of the sentences you use are jewels ... England "hoodwinked" South Africa, Boxers punching themselves. LOL.

  • Prashant on September 5, 2009, 10:50 GMT

    where is "The Official Confectionery Stall Review Of The Series"

  • jogesh99 on August 29, 2009, 3:44 GMT

    So now that mediocrity has finally triumphed over, well, more mediocrity, can you please cover a series that has some character? And lets all give Andy an open topped BEST bus tour of the suburb of his choice, with Ponting as conductor.

  • Aneese on August 28, 2009, 13:54 GMT

    My my Mr Zaltzman, you truly are an entertaining cricket freak! Thank you for them truths that make us laugh and keep em coming.

  • Weez on August 26, 2009, 13:43 GMT

    Nice find - finally a stat that explains why it took South Africa 40 years to win in England...

    * Rob - don't blame the toss or the groundsman. The Oval pitch was a belter compared to the rubbish at the SCG in January. Blame Aussie arrogance - everyone knows the Oval turns yet they play an all-out pace attack - the toss wouldn't hv mattered if Australia batted properly on the second day - maybe they need to pay Mr Warne to be a net bowler - because since he left Australia hv completely lost the art of playing spin - even Duminy had them in trouble.

  • Rupesh on August 26, 2009, 9:18 GMT

    Regarding recent stats about the Ashes.

    I believe if you remove first test from all the calculation, you will find that both the teams are very close in all aspects.

    Run per wicket in last four test at Eng: 33.6 Aug: 34.0 ...very close whereas if you calculate for all 5 tests its Eng: 34.2 and Aug: 40.6.

    Australia played very well in first test only, after that both team were equal (or england didnt played well in 1st test)

  • ND on August 26, 2009, 8:46 GMT

    As a neutral observer to the series (South African supporter), statistician and cricket lover, I think the most apt description of the series is that of the boxers punching themselves as much as their opponents. The cricket failed to capture my imagination and lacked the magic of the recent Australia vs South Africa home-and-away series. It still rankles that SA lost at home though.

  • Rob on August 26, 2009, 6:11 GMT

    The toss won the ashes. Guess you have to kill me Marty. You can't tell me the curator would have given us the same pitch if Warne was playing still. Nor if England were playing India or Sri Lanka. Still regardless of this. The better team won the Ashes but the question is are they good enough to beat us at our home? Something they have still not done for neigh on 20 plus years.

  • Oliver Garrod on August 25, 2009, 21:22 GMT

    I think people getting upset at this are missing the point slightly. This is a curious stat. It's not meant to say that Australia deserved to win - it's just interesting. Good find!

  • Cricpundit on August 25, 2009, 18:36 GMT

    Nice work Zaltman. However, you are too generous giving credit to Clarke who does not deserve one. He was claiming all along with his captain that this is the biggest match of their life and both men were hopeless in the first innings when it mattered most and then ran themselves out when the game was on the line. Ponting has done many blunders as Captain, and see his actions in Cardiff and elsewhere when he was making atrocious faces at the 12th man and physio instead of concentrating on taking the wicket that mattered most. Those forays from 12th man could have cots an over or two, but he is grossing over the fact that Monty survived 11.3 overs and they could have survived an additional 6-12 balls as well. Ponting is no good. Brings Clark too late in the series and leaves behind Hauritz when it really mattered. This is not the first time. His blunders are too many to mention here, but England should be happy that he intends to tour in 2013. He can have the record all to himself.

  • Arvind on August 25, 2009, 12:38 GMT

    Some of the sentences you use are jewels ... England "hoodwinked" South Africa, Boxers punching themselves. LOL.

  • Arthur on August 25, 2009, 12:38 GMT

    Phew! Yes, Gatting's England in 1986-7 outscored the Aussies by 38.11 RPW to 33.83 RPW.

    Even though we've now won the Ashes twice since then, Gatting's victory rather grows in stature in the light of this stat, and I hope Strauss can repeat the feat in 2010-11.

    It is very interesting that England have featured in so many of these series since 2000 though. Does it suggest that our team is mentally tougher than they are given credit for? To come back from horrible pastings in some matches of the series and emerge victorious overall is pretty impressive.

  • Arthur on August 25, 2009, 12:08 GMT

    Hey, people should calm down, this is just a bit of fun, that's all. It *is* interesting that a series can be won by the side that does best in the key moments (England) whilst doing worst on average.

    It doesn't make the result unfair, though it should giv epause to thought for anyone proclaiming this England side to be on the verge of being world #1.

    Anyway, I did 2006-7. Ahem. Australia (59.56) England (26.35). I can't imagine there are many 5 or 6-test series with a greater difference.

    Also, this whole palaver raises the question of when the last time was that England scored more runs per wicket than Australia? I'm off to check Gatting's victorious tour of Australia...

  • Arthur on August 25, 2009, 11:57 GMT

    I worked this out too - it is quite something.

    I also had a look at the numbers for 2005, which are England (31.85 RPW) and Australia (32.25 RPW).

    The main difference being, as everyone already knows, that both bowling attacks were a lot weaker in 2009 than in 2005. Be interesting to see how overwhelming the Aussie advantage was in 2006-7...

  • Merri on August 25, 2009, 11:07 GMT

    At tennis, you may score fewer points yet win the match. In US presidentials, you may score fewer votes yet be elected. At cricket, you may score fewer runs yet win the series. So what ?

    Or, putting it otherwise, the system forgives one hopeless mathc if you perform well in others. And that's a virtue.

  • William Gates on August 25, 2009, 9:24 GMT

    And don't forget that other peculiarity of a stat. And definitely worth more frisk. South Africa are NUMBER 1 in world at both forms of rugby [7s and 15man game], both forms of cricket [2020 is just not cricket, tho i am drawn to it] and also, wait for it, numbero uno at both forms of the 800m - men and women. USA, Britain, USSR, Australia, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Ireland, nor Venezuela can claim to have held this position in the World, Universe even. Frisky enough?

  • Noodles on August 25, 2009, 9:14 GMT

    Maybe you should try advanced hair studios - eh zaltzy....

  • Surya Shekhar on August 25, 2009, 8:37 GMT

    Ultimately, the bowlers win the match as they have to take 20 wickets and Australia does not have quality bolwers to pick them up. After McGrath, Warne there is a hollow in the Aus team which is still unfulfilled.

  • EpuurSiMouve on August 25, 2009, 8:05 GMT

    I'm getting really tired of all this averages nonsense. This may comes as a surprise to some people, but Test series aren't decided on an aggregate score over all the matches, hence our loss to W Indies after dominating 3 of the 4 tests. We won 2 tests, Australia won 1 - thats the only stat that is of the remotest relevance.

  • Craig on August 25, 2009, 7:48 GMT

    Awesome,can't wait for your articles when England are on their way here to SA, I look forward to that.

  • TroySexhammer on August 25, 2009, 7:33 GMT

    Brilliant Andy, love the boxing / horses analogy.

  • Hamish on August 25, 2009, 6:58 GMT

    Oh andy, you spade. It was a bit of a heist, wasn't it? I think at the end of the day it was England's greater standard dev. that did it. When they were bad, they were worse, but when they were good they were better and they had better timing. If I had to pick a key moment, Monty's last stand would probably be it. I am still trying to work out just exactly how he did it.

  • aby mathew on August 25, 2009, 5:27 GMT

    To Hell with statistics. , England played beautiful cricket, and just like i predicted a stunning victory inside 4 days. You win , you just let others figure out all those silly records you have written and rewritten, Australia was just not good enough to break this highly spirited and committed english bunch. They wanted this urn back more badly after the mauling they recieved the last time around(5-0, in aus).

  • Marty on August 25, 2009, 5:18 GMT

    I am sick of hearing that Aus got raw deal from umpires. In the 5th test Eng lost 2 wickets to no-balls and Watson was plumb LBW pretty early on in his innings and not given out. Umpiring was crap but hardly a massive advantage to Aus. No-one mentions the attrocious umpiring during the 5-0 'whitewash' in the Ashes downunder. Adelaide should never have been lost (okay the English batting was terrible but so were some of the umpiring decisions against them eg Strauss and Harmison) and in Melb the only batsmen to get runs were Hayden and Symonds and both should have been out early on - not quite as bad as when the Indians dismissed Symonds 5 times at Sydney the next year and he was not given out on a single occassion. Aussies bleat on and on about bad ump decisions but over look the charmed run they got for many years.

    And if one more person says the toss decided that match I am going to kill them. 3 of 4 innings 350+ makes a good cricket wicket, good bowling from Broad cost Aus.

  • Graham on August 25, 2009, 4:36 GMT

    How different would the stats be if you took out Australia's first innings at Cardiff. That's the thing about cricket, one team can dominate a game but both teams can come out even in the result.

  • Saurav on August 25, 2009, 3:36 GMT

    Strictly Okay. Still better than everything else though. :)

  • KC on August 25, 2009, 3:26 GMT

    First things first. I apologize for predicting defeat for Eng. But as the great game reminded us, cricket lovers should remember the investment advisory: "Past performances are not indicative of future profits" or rather, "Past mediocrity is not indicative of future incompetence" to make it more appropriate to England's final display. Either way, I do sincerely hope that the English will not rest now that they have conquered the world (in their minds, the Ashes do qualify as the Rest of The World), but go on to achieve greater things. They have achieved this without mammoth contributions from their super heroes. They also have confidence in their leader to make things happen. Hearty Congratulations to both the teams. Australia came in with an in-experienced side. Yet they managed to take the series to the final test and the final day. There is only so much that Ricky can do.Others must step up and claim their place in the team.Otherwise, they will be just another bunch of plodders

  • Brad from Oz on August 25, 2009, 3:12 GMT

    Another witty and funny piece there Zaltz! This article makes it a little easier to lift my head from the shameful doldrums to see the light, just before ploughing into another steeple fence. Gold!

  • Andrew on August 25, 2009, 3:08 GMT

    It has been odd to see a team with the top runscorers and wicket takers not win the series. I think it just shows that we (australia) just lacked that killer instinct when we were in front (quite unusual for an aussie side) where as England were able to do just that. I think we have entered the twighlight zone were Australia re really England and England are really australia. Queue the spooky theme music.

  • Darren on August 25, 2009, 2:50 GMT

    In 2005, Australia lost because McGrath stood on a ball and Ponting was an idiot and chose to bowl. In 2009 Australia lost despite England losing Pietersen for most of the series and Flintoff for a game; therefore England deserved to win. Having said that, the toss decided the Oval test match and therefore the series. The curator there should get to keep the urn for the next two years.

  • Gerard Syms on August 25, 2009, 0:35 GMT

    Cor,blimey, Andy! If I did like you and statsguru, my missus would've been off already!Anyways, congrats to your countrymen on a well-deserved and earned victory against Oz. (They had it coming, didn't they? Too bloody cocky!) Also, if you check your RPW table, isn't it interesting that either England or Australia have been involved in all of the top ten depicted bar, of course the one between Pakistan and India? What do you make of that, mate?

  • David Barry on August 24, 2009, 23:44 GMT

    Funny stuff, and excellent stats!

  • Paul Varley on August 24, 2009, 23:35 GMT

    That's a pretty amazing statistic. Interesting to see some of the other series in there, like our loss to the West Indies earlier this year and our 2-1 win in Sri Lanka in 00/01 (all the more astonishing because that series had no drawn matches). Nice find :)

  • Rob K on August 24, 2009, 22:39 GMT

    In mathematical statistics, mean averages are invariably given with standard deviation or variance, and this is what is missing from cricket analyses. Usually, this is fair enough, but in such a series where momentum swings ruled, England's consistency in first innings has proved to be the most important stat. England reached 300 in four of five first innings, the Aussies, just two. 7 of Australia's hundreds were either made at Cardiff or in the second innings when the game was lost. At Cardiff, England's performance in the first innings, of over 400, should have been enough, had the nerves not kicked in quite so drastically. As much as people go on about how dominant Australia were there, if you score 400 in the first innings, you shouldn't, and probably won't lose. In contrast, low first innings scores will leave you chasing the game, as Australia were more often.

    And about the pitch at the Oval favouring the team winning the toss massively ... The scores don't really suggest that!

  • Arjun on August 24, 2009, 20:18 GMT

    Well done mate, quite incredible humour mixed in with some great statistics throghout the series. Keep going!!

  • Bingo Haley on August 24, 2009, 20:11 GMT

    Lovely!!

  • Vid on August 24, 2009, 19:10 GMT

    Andy, the most telling stat is this one: Australia took twenty wickets in only one match. Good batting might ensure that a team does not lose, but only good bowling will allow them to win. Australia did not have the bowlers to do that, and so were the poorer team. No "heist" about it at all.

  • scorpio_on_blue_moon on August 24, 2009, 18:51 GMT

    Hint of 'threesome' in the last paragraph !!! Is this over-excitement or what ???

  • Fazeel Javaid on August 24, 2009, 17:17 GMT

    I'm quite satisfied that you have changed ur stance (slightly though but rightly 2) on the pitch. Can't wait for your next blog Mr.Zaltzman.

  • Muhid Zakaria on August 24, 2009, 17:12 GMT

    Oh andy andy andyyyyy :D no words whatsoever can truly describe the emotions felt by england fans at the fall of Mr.Cricket :D congratulations to England :D Glory be to the Queen :) Cheerio

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  • Muhid Zakaria on August 24, 2009, 17:12 GMT

    Oh andy andy andyyyyy :D no words whatsoever can truly describe the emotions felt by england fans at the fall of Mr.Cricket :D congratulations to England :D Glory be to the Queen :) Cheerio

  • Fazeel Javaid on August 24, 2009, 17:17 GMT

    I'm quite satisfied that you have changed ur stance (slightly though but rightly 2) on the pitch. Can't wait for your next blog Mr.Zaltzman.

  • scorpio_on_blue_moon on August 24, 2009, 18:51 GMT

    Hint of 'threesome' in the last paragraph !!! Is this over-excitement or what ???

  • Vid on August 24, 2009, 19:10 GMT

    Andy, the most telling stat is this one: Australia took twenty wickets in only one match. Good batting might ensure that a team does not lose, but only good bowling will allow them to win. Australia did not have the bowlers to do that, and so were the poorer team. No "heist" about it at all.

  • Bingo Haley on August 24, 2009, 20:11 GMT

    Lovely!!

  • Arjun on August 24, 2009, 20:18 GMT

    Well done mate, quite incredible humour mixed in with some great statistics throghout the series. Keep going!!

  • Rob K on August 24, 2009, 22:39 GMT

    In mathematical statistics, mean averages are invariably given with standard deviation or variance, and this is what is missing from cricket analyses. Usually, this is fair enough, but in such a series where momentum swings ruled, England's consistency in first innings has proved to be the most important stat. England reached 300 in four of five first innings, the Aussies, just two. 7 of Australia's hundreds were either made at Cardiff or in the second innings when the game was lost. At Cardiff, England's performance in the first innings, of over 400, should have been enough, had the nerves not kicked in quite so drastically. As much as people go on about how dominant Australia were there, if you score 400 in the first innings, you shouldn't, and probably won't lose. In contrast, low first innings scores will leave you chasing the game, as Australia were more often.

    And about the pitch at the Oval favouring the team winning the toss massively ... The scores don't really suggest that!

  • Paul Varley on August 24, 2009, 23:35 GMT

    That's a pretty amazing statistic. Interesting to see some of the other series in there, like our loss to the West Indies earlier this year and our 2-1 win in Sri Lanka in 00/01 (all the more astonishing because that series had no drawn matches). Nice find :)

  • David Barry on August 24, 2009, 23:44 GMT

    Funny stuff, and excellent stats!

  • Gerard Syms on August 25, 2009, 0:35 GMT

    Cor,blimey, Andy! If I did like you and statsguru, my missus would've been off already!Anyways, congrats to your countrymen on a well-deserved and earned victory against Oz. (They had it coming, didn't they? Too bloody cocky!) Also, if you check your RPW table, isn't it interesting that either England or Australia have been involved in all of the top ten depicted bar, of course the one between Pakistan and India? What do you make of that, mate?