June 4, 2013

The stats Everest Joe Root is set to conquer

Andy Zaltzman
Joe Root drives through the covers, England v New Zealand, 2nd Investec Test, Headingley, 2nd day, May 25, 2013
Joe Root: evidence that England's selectors should not be ageist in their decisions  © Getty Images
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The final instalment of the little-noticed, oddly named and perfectly formatted ICC Champions Trophy begins in Cardiff on Thursday. Where I have been, the sense of anticipation has been as indiscernible as that of a highly experienced cow about to be mechanically milked for the 1000th morning in a row. Admittedly, I have been in Norway, where the build-up to major cricket tournaments seldom features high on the national news bulletins, shunted aside by more locally relevant stories about how great it is to have been sensibly long-termist with oil money, how herrings are a surprisingly excellent breakfast ingredient, and the latest government refusal to apologise to Britain for what the Vikings did on our shores.

Fortunately, I therefore missed the first two ODIs in England's series with New Zealand, in which the home team have ticked off box 1 on their Champions Trophy to-do list - avoid peaking too early. In the few hours between the end of the ODI series and the start of the Champions Trophy, I will post the Official Confectionery Stall tournament preview, and, if I can make sense of what is currently a veritable Jackson Pollock canvas of indecipherable stats, some thoughts on Jonathan Trott's ODI career to date. As a teaser, I can tell you:

(a) Since Trott's ODI debut in August 2009, England have played 85 completed ODIs. Trott has played in 57 of them - 31 wins, two ties, and 24 losses. Of the 28 ODIs that Trott has missed since his debut, England have won 14 and lost 14. Over the previous four years, England played 83 completed ODIs - 36 wins, one tie, and 46 losses.

(b) Trott averages 52.7 in those 24 defeats - almost ten runs ahead of the next highest-averaging player who has batted in 20 or more ODI losses (Michael Hussey, who averaged 43.0 in defeats), an almost Bradmanesque statistical isolation. But what does it mean? I have no idea.

In the meantime, a quick left-over stat from the Test series. Of the many positives to emerge from England's second Test performance was the continued emergence of a new generation of batsmen. Root and Bairstow became only the third pair of England batsmen both aged under 24 to score 50 or more in the same Test innings since the war - Cook and Broad did so twice against South Africa in 2008, and Gower and Botham twice against Pakistan in 1978, but on none of those four occasions were the two youngsters at the crease together.

Root and Bairstow thus created the first occasion that England have had two batsman aged 23-and-under batting together with 50 or more runs to both of their names since Len Hutton and Denis Compton scored 196 and 120 respectively at Lord's against West Indies in 1939. Let us all hope and pray to any available gods, real or otherwise, that the young 21st-century Yorkshiremen's joint success does not rile the current German leader Angela Merkel quite as much as Hutton and Compton's brilliant stand of 248 in 140 sparkling minutes clearly irritated her predecessor all those years ago.

Hutton and Compton were already established Test stars by then, and had become the fifth and sixth Englishmen to score Test centuries before their 23rd birthdays. Root became the 14th. The list of under-23 England Test centurions of the past 80 years now reads as follows: Hutton, Compton, Bill Edrich, Peter May, Colin Cowdrey, Ian Botham, David Gower, Mike Atherton, Alastair Cook, and Joe Root. Not too many duffers in that list, I am sure you will agree.

Root has thus elevated himself into illustrious statistical company. Those nine men before him on the list have collectively amassed 150 Test centuries, and 802 Test caps, 200 of which have been as captain. Seven of the nine have become England skippers, including all six previous 22-or-younger England centurions since the war. None of this definitely guarantees that Root will navigate a similarly Himalayan statistical career. But it probably guarantees it.

Historically, England have not trusted in youth as much as other nations. One hundred and three of their 655 Test players (15.7%) have made their debut before turning 23, compared with 737 of the 2077 Test players from the rest of the cricketing universe (35.5%). But amongst that 15.7% has been an unusually high proportion of batting leviathans. It was not only the Yorkshire crowd and the English cricket media who were rampantly excited at Root's superb innings. It was Statistics.

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

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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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