August 20, 2013

Ashes stats for any time and everywhere

On the train, under water, while chewing your food or sloganeering, these milestone numbers for the Oval Test won't let you down

This week's blog features some potential statistical milestones for which to look out in the fifth and final Test at The Oval this week. Use them, either predictively, before they actually occur, or with disconcerting speed as soon as they do, in order to impress and/or intimidate your friends, loved ones, work colleagues, dentist, accountant, origami instructor, jailer, dog, priest, mortal enemy, jury, self, midwife, member of parliament, or hostage. Or simply unfurl them to random passers-by, as and when the opportunity arises.

Stat: Ian Bell has scored 500 runs in the first four Tests. This currently puts him ninth on the all-time list of highest England run-scorers in a home Ashes series. He only needs 63 more runs, however, to leap up to third in that table, overtaking Denis Compton's 1948 tally of 562. Leading the way are Gower (732 in 1985) and Gooch (673 in 1993) - both of which were in six-Test series.

Suggested use: Romantic picnic. The mental image of Bell's mellifluous but steely batting is the perfect accompaniment to a cooling glass of white wine.

Back-up stat: Extraordinarily, this is only the second victorious home Ashes in which an English batsman has scored 500 runs - Gower and Gatting both passed the half-thousand mark in 1985.

Likely response from picnic companion: "Please, can you pass the gherkin?"

Stat: If Bell scores another century, he will become only the fourth player to score four hundreds in an Ashes series, after Herbert Sutcliffe in Australia in 1924-25, Wally Hammond four years later, and Don Bradman, in England in 1930. Bell would thus become the first player to score four hundreds in a home Ashes series. And the first England player to score four hundreds in any series since Compton against South Africa in 1947. And only the third player to score four centuries in a series since Mudassar Nazar did so against India in 1982-83 (following Jacques Kallis in 2003-04, and Mohammad Yousuf in 2006-07, both against West Indies). He would be the first player to score four hundreds in a series against Australia since Clyde Walcott clonked five three-figure scores in the 1955 series in the West Indies. Two centuries in the match would put Bell alone with Walcott in the exclusive Five Centuries in a Series Club.

Suggested use: Confuse a door-to-door salesman. A well-researched rant about players who have scored four centuries in Test series will be well outside his conversational comfort zone. He will move swiftly on to your next-door neighbour, taking his godforsaken pamphlets with him.

Back-up stat: Bell scored 504 runs against India two summers ago, and is one of only three England players to have scored 500 or more in two home series, alongside Compton (1947, and 1948) and Gooch (1990 v India, and 1993). Three visiting players have scored 500 in more than one series in England - Border (1981 and 1985), Greenidge (1976 and 1984), and Bradman (1930, 1934 and 1948).

Suggested conclusion: "The Sledgehammer has dispensed his Eternal Justice with a just vengeance this series, wouldn't you think? Now leave me alone, Mr Salesman, or I will make you watch my Gary Kirsten videos."

Stat: Alastair Cook currently averages 27.25 in this series, despite having scored three half-centuries in eight innings. Of the 1339 times that a batsman has reached 50 three or more times in a series, Cook's average is currently the fourth lowest ever. If he is out twice and scores 28 runs or fewer, or is out once for less than 4, he will overtake Rizwan-uz-Zaman's 24.62, currently the lowest series average by a batsman with three half-centuries. The lowest average with four half centuries is Graham Gooch's 27.6 in the West Indies in 1986 - so if Cook scores, say, 57 and 0, he will snatch that record from his Essex and England predecessor.

Suggested use: Marriage guidance counselling. Always best to get these things out in the open and discuss them like adults.

Stat: If Joe Root fails to score a half-century in either innings, he will become only the third England batsman to have played an entire home Ashes series, scored a hundred, and failed to pass 50 on any other occasion. Johnny Tyldesley did so in 1902, and Patsy Hendren in 1926, but, due to rain, played only seven and six innings respectively. Root has already played eight innings. History beckons for the young man.

Suggested use: Defuse awkward silence on a stalled bus or train.

Stat: England's bowlers have taken six five-wicket hauls in the series so far, the first time they have done so in an Ashes since 1986-87. If one of their bowlers takes five in an innings at The Oval, it will be the first series in which England have managed seven five-fors since the 1934 Ashes - the only time they have done so since the First World War.

Suggested use: Letter home. The parameters for what is worth writing home about have changed irreparably since the advent of email and social networking. If you are going to write an old-style physical letter home, you want to make it count.

Stat: The early-series deluge of tenth-wicket runs has dried up a little, but the aggregate of 422 is still the third highest ever in a Test series. Nine more runs will see the 2013 Ashes surpass its 1894-95 micro-urn predecessor. The record tally of 458, in the 1924-25 Ashes, is well within reach.

Suggested use: Proving sobriety to a nightclub bouncer. In the doorman fraternity, numerically detailed cricket statistics are widely considered to be incompatible with drunkenness.

Stat: Both sides' top orders have struggled. The average partnership for the first three wickets in this series has been 26.0 - the second-lowest in the 51 Ashes series played since 1902. Another poor match would threaten the 1978-79 low-water mark of 25.1. By contrast, England's average stand for the fourth to tenth wickets has been 37.0 - their fourth highest in Ashes history, and best since 1938.

Suggested use: Self-distraction during invasive dental surgery. Contemplating the struggles of top-order batsmen is a proven facial anaesthetic.

< b>Stat: As well as Swann's 23-wicket series haul, Anderson and Broad have taken 17 each in the series. If either of them takes three at The Oval, it will be only the second home Ashes in which two England bowlers have taken 20 wickets - Botham (34) and Willis (29) did so in 1981. If both Anderson and Broad bag three victims in the match, it will be the third Ashes in which three England bowlers have taken 20, after 1907-08 and 1978-79. The only previous home series in which three England bowlers have taken 20 wickets is the 2000 rubber against West Indies, when Gough, Caddick and Cork all did so. Australia have managed three 20-wicket series hauls in England twice - 1993 (Warne, Hughes, May) and 2009 (Siddle, Johnson, Hilfenhaus), as well as at home in 1974-75, 1982-83 and 2006-07, when four bowlers took 20 wickets in the 5-0 thrashing of Flintoff's England.

Suggested use: Best man's speech. The key with a successful best man's speech is to surprise the audience. Wedding guests are all too familiar with hackneyed jokes cribbed from the internet, inappropriately lascivious comments about the bride's mother, and graphic descriptions of the groom's sexual escapades with a Bolivian trapeze artiste. The last thing they will be expecting to hear is the fact that Siddle, Johnson and Hilfenhaus all took 20 wickets in the 2009 Ashes.

Stat: Graeme Swann needs one more wicket to record the most wickets by an England spinner in an Ashes series since Jim Laker's 46 in 1956. If Swann takes five or more wickets in the match, he will become the highest wicket-taker in a series for England since Ian Botham took 31 in the 1985 Ashes. The highest English tally since then is Angus Fraser's 27 in the West Indies in 1998.

Suggested use: Trying to talk Graeme Swann down from a tree. If you find Mr Swann trapped up a tree, it may be best to coax him down with the promise of further entrenchment in England's cricketostatistical history.

Stat: If Australia lose at The Oval, they will have lost four Tests in a series for the second time this year, having previously done so only twice since the Bodyline series in 1932-33 - in their 4-0 whitewash in South Africa in 1969-70, and in the Packer-denuded Ashes of 1978-79, when England won 5-1.

Suggested use: Console a son or daughter who has just had some career-damagingly disappointing exam results. All failure is relative. They will probably not have done as badly as the 2013 Australians, who are now guaranteed to lose more Tests than they win this year - the first year the Baggy Greens have had a losing record in Tests since 1988.

Stat: Nine different players have taken wickets for Australia in this series. If one new wicket-taker emerges from the baggy greens' ranks at The Oval, they will set a new record for most different wicket-takers by an away team in an Ashes series.

Suggested use: Counteract the arguments of an evangelical preacher on a street corner.

Stat: Anderson and Broad have each claimed a ten-wicket match haul in this series - the first time England have had two ten-fors in a series since Derek Underwood took 11 and 12 at Lord's and The Oval against the 1969 New Zealanders, and the first time two different bowlers have taken ten in the same series for England since Tony Lock and Trevor Bailey did so in 1957 against West Indies (and the first time in an Ashes series since Barnes and Verity in 1934). If Swann, or Tremlett/Finn, or even the tragically underused Waqar-alike toe-crushing pace machine that is Jonathan Trott, takes ten at the Oval, it will be only the third time that three different players from the same side have returned a ten-wicket haul in a Test series - Laker, Bedser and Tattersall for England against South Africa in 1951; and Reid, McDermott and Whitney for Australia against India in 1991-92.

Suggested use: Pillow talk. It will either eternally solidify, or correctly shatter, a nascent relationship.

Stat: Australia's collective batting average this series is 27.45 - currently their second lowest in the 36 series of three or more Tests they have played this millennium, and their lowest in an Ashes since 1981. However, a decent match at The Oval would at least see them overtake the 2010-11 Ashes (collective Australia average: 27.91). If no Australian scores a century at The Oval, it will be the first Ashes since 1977 that Australia have scored fewer than three hundreds in the series. However, if no Australian bags a duck at The Oval, their series tally of five blobs will be their lowest in an Ashes series since 1993.

Suggested use: Ouija session with Don Bradman. His Australian pride will be stung by the parlous state of his nation's batting, and he will start pulling some strings to be allowed special dispensation to come back to life in time for the Brisbane Test in November.

Stat: England's highest partnership in six Tests this summer is the TV-umpire-assisted 153 added by Root and Bell in the second innings at Lord's. This is their lowest highest partnership of a home summer since 1999, when the best they managed in four Tests against New Zealand was a paltry 99. However, they have managed nine century partnerships this summer, making a total of 127 century stands in the last 12 home seasons (81 Tests), exactly the same number as they had made in the previous 25 home Test summers, from 1977 to 2001 (143 Tests).

Suggested use: Print out, then instantly shred.

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