December 12, 2013

WACA, England's blackhole

Andy Zaltzman
No light at the end of the WACA tunnel for England  © Getty Images
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The WACA has seldom been a happy place for England's Test team. Never, in the past 25 years. Six Tests, six defeats, a collective bowling average of 39 (their seventh worst out of the 29 Test venues where England have played at least three Tests since 1988), and a collective batting average of 19, making it England's worst venue with the bat over the past quarter of a century - their worst on any ground in that time.

In terms of venues at which to begin one of the greatest comebacks in the history of English sport, it is about as auspicious as a plump baby seal booking in for swimming lessons in a shark tank.

If England are to avoid surrendering the Ashes in the third Test of five for the sixth time in their last seven tours to Australia, it will take a Herculean effort. They have the players to do it. Whether those players can find the runs and wickets to do it is, of course, an entirely different kettle of out-of-form fish. It would, obviously, help if they stop hitting the ball in the air to fielders on the leg side - a strategy with little historical success - and if Australia's rampant destroyers with bat and ball can be reminded of the frailties that engulfed their game and their team relatively recently. Part A of that ought to be possible; part B might be.

Confectionery Stall Prediction: Australia to win by six wickets, or 143 runs.

Confectionery Stall Prediction Rate For This Series So Far: 0%.

And now, in advance of England's efforts to overcome historical precedent, a form book that contains some rude numbers and fruity language, and their own technical glitches with bat, ball and hands, a deluge of stats.

(Warning: these numerical nuggets are unlikely to prompt proud English cricket fans to rush out for that St George's Cross facial tattoo they have been vacillating over until the statistical time was right.)

* In the five Tests since Australia were obliterated at Lord's by a potent combination of England and themselves, their batsmen have collectively averaged 39.5 runs per wicket, and scored at 58 runs per 100 balls. England's have averaged 25.5, with a strike rate of 44. No England bowler has kept his economy rate below 3.2.

* Australia's bowlers have struck on average every 36 balls in England's two first innings in the series so far - currently the best first-innings strike rate any team has managed in a series against England since 1899.

● Australia's current economy rate of 2.59 is their best in an Ashes series since 1993, and their best in a home Ashes since 1978-79. England's batting strike rate for the year of 45.0 is their lowest since 2001.

* Matt Prior became the second wicketkeeper ever to bag five Test ducks in a year. Australia's Wally Grout did so in 1961, heroically achieving the anti-milestone in just 13 innings (compared to Prior's 22). Previously, no England keeper had ever scored four ducks in a year. In the process, the England gloveman equalled the record for most ducks by an England player in a year - nine players had done so previously (including Panesar and Anderson twice each). Prior's anti-joy was short-lived however - four overs later, Anderson bagged his sixth quacker of 2013, setting a new England record.

* England's numbers 6 to 11 in this series collectively averaged 11.5 in the first two Tests - currently, albeit only after two matches, their third worst such figure in an Ashes series, behind only 1886-87 and 1956. Their average partnership for the fifth to tenth wickets of 13.6 is currently the second worst performance by an English middle and lower order in any series of more than one match, beaten only by the 1998 home series against South Africa.

● From all three of those series, however, England emerged victorious. We know how exhaustive (and, perhaps, exhausting) England's preparations are. Perhaps their tail-end subsidences are a statistical stratagem based on these three series wins that will inevitably bring glorious success come Sydney in January. Perhaps not.

● By comparison, in England's three recent Ashes series wins, their numbers 6 to 11 have averaged 24.8 in last summer's victory, 29.1 in Australia three years ago, and 28.3 in 2009 - all in England's top ten mid-to-low order Ashes series collective averages. Australia's 6 to 11 are collectively averaging 50.7 after the first two Tests, which is currently their best ever in an Ashes series.

* Alastair Cook in 13 first innings since his hundreds in Mumbai and Kolkata last year: average 21, strike rate 34, with two half-centuries, and a highest score of 62.

* England have failed to score a hundred in the past three Tests. If no one posts three figures in Perth, it will be their first four-Test run without a hundred since 1999, when their batsmen failed to trouble the honours boards in six consecutive matches.

* Brad Haddin, having scored 94, 53 and 118, has become the second wicketkeeper to pass 50 in his first three innings in an Ashes series. Gilchrist did so in his one innings in each of the first three Tests in 2001 (152, 90 and 54), which was also the only previous occasion on which a keeper had scored 90 or more in two innings in an Ashes series. Haddin's current series is the 11th instance of a keeper hitting three 50-plus scores in an Ashes series.

* England were bowled out for under 200 in their first three innings of an Ashes for the first time since Gregory and MacDonald blasted them away in 1921. Evidently, England have not learned as much about playing high-paced bowling in the intervening 92 years as they might have done. (They would have also been out for less than 200 in all four innings in the first two Tests of 1950-51 had they not plumped for a sticky-wicket-affected declaration at 68 for 7 in their first innings of the series.) (But let's not harp on about that, it was ages ago.)

● England have lost more Tests in Perth since 1990 than they have lost at Old Trafford or Trent Bridge, despite only playing there once every four years. If they lose for a seventh consecutive time, Perth will hop into joint second place on the list of grounds where England have lost most often since 1990, behind only Lord's where they have played 42 Tests in that time (losing ten of them).

● Cricketing gods, please have mercy.

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

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Keywords: Stats

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Posted by Sigismund on (December 15, 2013, 23:11 GMT)

Who has done what to the cricketing gods? What did Alastair Cook do to that lamb in a previous existence? How has MJ seemingly earned the favour of Zeus? How come Australians appear immune to hubris? And where is the nearest tall building?

Posted by Number_5 on (December 12, 2013, 22:47 GMT)

Nice work Andy. If its any solace, Aus had demolished Eng at Lords for a long time such that it was known as our home away from home. With many punters tipping Aus to win purely on this basis. This all changed recently and it could do the same here for Eng....BUT it wont. Mitch loves this place more than you and I need oxygen. If Aus bat first it will be over in 3 days. Pray that Eng win the toss.

Posted by Robertito on (December 12, 2013, 22:33 GMT)

Anyone can point out that hitting the ball in the air to fielders on the leg side is a strategy with little historical success. What England need is for someone to come up with an alternative strategy that can lead to victory. As a starting point, how about hitting the ball along the ground to the boundary?

Posted by danaan on (December 12, 2013, 18:56 GMT)

England have to go all pace. If they are going to play a spinner they should go with Monty. Bowled with more revolutions in Adelaide and Clarke/S.Smith and Bailey just love using thier feet. Bail's especiay has been given the license to go after Swann. Cook needs to mak runs (an test average of 47 does not put you wit the greats), Anderson needs to look like he is going to get someone out (And I don't mean threatining to punch George Bailey in the face off the ground). Australia wil be iffy If Broad bowls well and Watson plays poorly again, we can't rely on Clarke and Haddin all the time. GO AUSSIES bring the ashes back !!!

Posted by Fogu on (December 12, 2013, 13:03 GMT)

Very nice Andy. Always humorous. Nice way to start a day by reading your column.

Posted by SurlyCynic on (December 12, 2013, 12:32 GMT)

Isn't Swann England's 'blackhole'?

Posted by Biggus on (December 12, 2013, 12:29 GMT)

Short of a seance to summon up the spirit of Sydney Barnes and implant it in Tim Bresnan I can't see it happening Andy.

Posted by EagleDave111 on (December 12, 2013, 11:42 GMT)

Reaching for the rope rather than the face paint after reading that foreboding litany.

I am hopeful that England can rise from the ashes of the current Ashes with a good performance at the WACA. Hopeful but not confident - much like our batsmen it seems.

It would be nice to see at least a draw though - just so the Boxing Day test has some meaning - especially as its the only one I can watch due to not having to get up for work!

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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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