November 19, 2010

England's finest opportunity in two decades

There's little to differentiate the two teams, and England should fancy their chances of winning an Ashes series in Australia for the first time in more than 20 years

Through most of the last two decades, the result of an Ashes series in Australia has been a foregone conclusion even before the first ball has been bowled. England last won a series in Australia in 1986-87, by a 2-1 margin. Since then, they've lost five in a row, and each emphatically. In 25 Tests during this period, England have lost 18 and won three, one of which was a dead rubber.

However, there's reason to believe things could be different this time around, as much due to England's excellent recent form as Australia's problems with form and fitness. England are ranked higher in the ICC Test rankings, and have a better win-loss ratio in the last two years, winning 12 and losing four, to Australia's 12-6. In the corresponding two-year period before the previous Ashes series in Australia, Australia had won 15 matches and lost only two. Both those losses had come against England in 2005, but apart from that Australia had won almost everything, including beating South Africa in five out of six Tests, home and away, in 2005-06.

The batting and bowling stats between these two teams have never been this close recently, and that must surely fill England with hope. (The fact that Australia have named 17 players in the squad for the first Test shows how uncertain they are about their best combination.) In these last couple of years, there is little to choose between the overall numbers of the two teams, but one unusual number is the ratio of centuries to fifties for Australia - that's an aspect they're normally very good at, but during this period they've only managed to convert 24 out of 93 scores of 50-plus into hundreds; England have converted 27 out of 86.

Teams with bat and ball in Tests since Jan 1, 2009
Team Tests Bat ave 100s/ 50s Wickets Bowl ave Strike rate
India 17 46.50 34/ 52 257 39.66 73.8
Sri Lanka 15 44.99 24/ 37 202 42.18 76.2
South Africa 14 37.91 20/ 34 221 34.49 66.6
England 24 37.36 27/ 59 374 31.12 59.8
Australia 21 37.30 24/ 69 369 30.34 56.9
West Indies 16 29.25 16/ 32 187 46.06 84.3
New Zealand 13 32.76 16/ 31 195 43.35 79.9
Pakistan 18 25.69 9/ 42 266 36.33 65.8
Bangladesh 10 26.76 8/ 24 132 47.13 78.0

Australia's biggest advantage in the top five batting slots is in the opening position. Both the Australian openers who have played most Tests during this period, Simon Katich and Shane Watson, average a touch above 50, while Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook are in the mid-40s. The difference again, though, is in the conversion rates: between them, Australia's two openers have six centuries and 22 fifties in 63 innings, while England's have 10 hundreds and 13 fifties in 70. That also means, of course, that the Australians have been getting off to starts more consistently, which can't be a bad thing for the middle order. Not surprisingly, Australia's average opening partnership during this period is 57.65, while England's is only 43.40.

The overall averages for No. 3s from both teams are almost the same, but Jonathan Trott, England's current one-drop, has been in much better form recently than Ricky Ponting (though you obviously wouldn't rate Trott a better batsman than Ponting). However, England's overall average has been pulled down by the likes of Owais Shah and Ian Bell, who have also batted at three during this period.

The No. 4 batsmen from both teams have been disappointing, with the result that a slot usually occupied by the best batsman in the team has the lowest average. Kevin Pietersen, Michael Hussey and Michael Clarke are all struggling for runs: Pietersen has scored one century from 28 innings at this slot, which probably means he is due a change in fortunes soon. Clarke has slotted in at four for Australia recently, but he had a poor tour of India, with 35 runs in four innings. Clarke has done very well at No. 5, but the current incumbent, Hussey, has been no match for England's Paul Collingwood.

The biggest difference in averages is at the No. 6 slot, where the combined efforts of Matt Prior, Ian Bell and Collingwood have been much better than Australia's Marcus North, who has had a patchy start to Test cricket. In terms of average partnership for the fifth wicket, too, England's 56.72 is far superior to Australia's 45.48. In the battle of the wicketkeeper-batsmen, there's little to choose between Prior and Brad Haddin.

Position-wise batting averages for Aus and Eng since Jan 1, 2009
Position Aus - innings Average 100s/ 50s Eng - innings Average 100s/ 50s
Openers 78 50.08 8/ 24 84 44.14 10/ 14
No.3 38 42.59 2/ 12 40 41.89 4/ 5
No.4 38 35.77 2/ 8 38 32.91 1/ 9
No.5 38 49.70 5/ 8 36 47.19 5/ 9
No.6 37 36.97 5/ 4 36 51.38 5/ 6
No.7 34 37.43 1/ 7 36 40.96 1/ 10
Nos.8-11 112 19.26 1/ 6 118 20.45 1/ 6

The overall bowling averages are similar, but England have the clear advantage in the spin department, with Graeme Swann (105 wickets in 22 Tests, average 25.57) doing much better than Nathan Hauritz (50 wickets in 14 Tests, average 37.34). There's little to choose between the fast bowlers of both teams, though.

Bowling for Australia and England since Jan 1, 2009
Team Tests Pace - wkts Average Spin - wkts Average Overall ave
Australia 21 292 28.53 77 37.22 30.34
England 24 257 31.98 117 29.22 31.12

The Gabba factor
All of the above stats, though, don't take into account Australia's sheer domination at the venue that will host the first Test, the Gabba in Brisbane. In 20 Tests here since 1990, Australia have won 16 and drawn four; the last time they lost a Test here was in 1988 against West Indies, during an age when they were still a force in world cricket. The Gabba is one of 37 grounds that have hosted 10 or more Tests since the beginning of 1990, but it's the only one where the home team hasn't lost even once.

The extent of Australia's domination is clear from the numbers below: since 2000, Australians have averaged very nearly 50 with the bat, and have scored 18 hundreds in 10 Tests; overseas batsmen, on the other hand, average 21.44 and have managed only three hundreds - Sourav Ganguly, Jacob Oram and Adrian Barath are the only ones to achieve the feat.

Australian and opposition batsmen at the Gabba since Jan 1, 2000
Team Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Australia 5643 49.93 18/ 27
Other teams 3946 21.44 3/ 20

Head-to-head contests to watch out for
Which bowler will want to bowl to a particular batsman, and which one will he want to avoid? The table below offers some clues. Mitchell Johnson had a mixed series in England in 2009, and his head-to-head stats are mixed as well - plenty of success against Bell, pretty good against Cook, but poor against Strauss. Ben Hilfenhaus, with his swing and accuracy, will probably have a better chance against Strauss, having already nailed him four times in the past.

For England, their leading bowler, James Anderson, hasn't had much success against the Australian top order. Ponting has relished the opportunity to bat against him, and even Clarke, who has been dismissed by Anderson more often than any other Australian batsman, has a decent average against him. Stuart Broad has done superbly against Ponting and Hussey, but, for some reason, Katich has gone into overdrive against him, scoring at 5.31 runs per over without being dismissed once. England's best bet against the left-hand batsmen could well be Swann: he has dismissed Katich and North three times each, and Hussey and Johnson twice each. Against left-hand Australian batsmen he averages 28.80, and he has dismissed them 10 times; against right-handers he averages 69.75, with only four wickets in 459 deliveries.

Head-to-head contests
Bowler Batsman Balls Runs Dismissals Average
Mitchell Johnson Ian Bell 72 37 4 9.25
Mitchell Johnson Andrew Strauss 175 116 1 116.00
Mitchell Johnson Alastair Cook 95 67 3 22.33
Ben Hilfenhaus Andrew Strauss 269 116 4 29.00
Ben Hilfenhaus Alastair Cook 154 79 1 79.00
James Anderson Ricky Ponting 280 204 1 204.00
James Anderson Michael Clarke 164 121 3 40.33
Stuart Broad Ricky Ponting 136 83 3 27.67
Stuart Broad Michael Hussey 107 66 3 22.00
Stuart Broad Simon Katich 88 78 0 -
Graeme Swann Simon Katich 152 53 3 17.67
Graeme Swann Marcus North 184 113 3 37.67

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Pelham on November 21, 2010, 16:04 GMT

    @Mervo: I suspect the reason no-one has answered your question until now is that not only is it irrelevant to the article by S Rajesh, but also it is based on a complete distortion of the facts. Not only do England lack a West Indian player: there is also no-one int the Test team from New Zealand, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, or Bangladesh. Of the first choice XI, nine went to school in England, including the captain, who was born in South Africa to British parents, spent only a few years of his life there, and has always held British nationality. Only Pietersen and Trott started their first class careers in South Africa, and they both developed their game to become Test cricketers by playing in county cricket, Trott to a great extent but Pietersen to some extent as well.

  • Dummy4 on November 21, 2010, 1:39 GMT

    Dear 'stats editor', oh dear oh dear...

    Two major flaws in your logic that the teams are evenly matched: a) In test cricket it is (based on historial data) about 50% harder to win away than at home b) Australia have played a lot more away matches in the last couple of years than the other top four test nations

    If you look up the batting and bowling averages of the eleven players likely to play on each side over the last two years, England comes out on top.

    However, if you look at the England players' average AWAY vs the Australia players at HOME, then Australia's team stats beat England by a mile. Look them up and you'll see.

    NB. The ICC's test team rankings foolishly do not award higher ratings for away wins than home wins. This means that a team playing a lot of away matches (like Austraila over the last couple of years) is goign to end up with an artificially low ranking.

    (By the way, I'm English)

  • Steve on November 20, 2010, 22:26 GMT

    Hi Bollo. Thanks for the correction about the Fosters swill... we (as a rule) don't drink it in England either. As for true blue Aussies.... I though you guys played in Canary Yellow and Green! The 'true blues' are the guys who so far have been giving the land down under some cricket lessons.... Long may it continue too - but I suspect some harder times are ahead? On the beer front; you don't want to live here in Arizona - I cant get a good pint anywhere! Thinking about brewing my own.... got to follow the games with a pint in hand.... Fair Dinkum! Good luck to you, the Aussie side and may the best team win! COME ON ENGLAND!

  • Dummy4 on November 20, 2010, 11:27 GMT

    Ricky's heydays are gone! When he was leading the team filled with some of the Greatest players of his country, he didn't need much to work out as there was no need of Captain for such a strong team. Now except him, all others are retired, he's struggling so much to give the positive result. His stats might give an illusion that he is one of the Greatest skippers sadly that was not. He might be one of the greatest batsmen of his era, but not a Great captain. Subsequently, when his team and his captaincy is under scrutiny he is failing as a consistent batsman. I am very sure that this Ashes trophy will not come to his kit and there is a high chance to see a new captain for the Kangaroos probably after the 2011 World Cup. Whosoever, Aussies are no more vulnerable, dominant and vibrant. The Ashes 2010-11 would be the beginning of the end of a Super power.

  • Dave on November 20, 2010, 10:08 GMT

    @phoenixsteve, merely setting the record straight. I well might be eating humble pie, but certainly not with Fosters. No true blue Aussie touches the stuff, we just export it to the Poms lol.

  • dennis on November 20, 2010, 8:09 GMT

    I dont take any notice of stats when one team (Australia) is in a rebuilding phase...the Australian team is full of players playing Test Cricket...they are not Test cricketers....there is a subtle difference... therefore England will win this series...and thats the bottom line...

  • Steve on November 20, 2010, 4:29 GMT

    Sorry Bollo your about to get a wake up call and join the other inahbitants of Planet Earth...... as Paul Revere said... "the British are coming!" Humble pie probably tastes good with Fosters anyhow....... COME ON ENGLAND!

  • Dave on November 20, 2010, 2:51 GMT

    `In 25 tests during this period, England have lost 18 and won 3, one of which was a dead rubber.` In fact all 3 times England have won in Australia since 1986 have been in dead rubbers. In 2006/07 they lost 5-0. In 2002/03, England won the 5th test, to lose 4-1. In 1998/99 they won the 4th test, Australia having retained the Ashes after the 3rd, to lose 3-1. In 1994/95 they again won the 4th test, after Australia had retained the Ashes in the previous test. In 1990/91 they lost 3-0. So, in fact England have not won a `live` Ashes test in Australia for nigh on 25 years. And long may that continue!!

  • Mick on November 20, 2010, 0:02 GMT

    England have a clear advantage with Swan being Englands best bowler. Australia probably dont have a spin bowler that rates in their top 10 bowlers. Couple this with the less than dominant batting performances over the last couple of years and they should consider Steve Smith. Obviously he is not going to take bags of wickets and could be expensive, but it would be good to develop him and with Watson and Smith as all rounders and Haddin / Payne as the wicket keeper Australia could field 8 genuine batsmen with 3 fast bowlers. I dont think taking 20 wickets for either side is going to be a huge issue this series and lets face it there are not too many draws in test cricket these days unless they lose days through rain. I think this strategy would work in all tests except maybe Adelaide. There haven't been too many domestic games that have produced big scores this season and some have been over in 2 days.

  • Steve on November 19, 2010, 23:04 GMT

    Interesting reading this but too much head to statistics shouldn't be given. Although I note the graet Sir Len Hutton's comments I believe the game has changed since his days. Nuetral umpiiring have evened the playing field somewhat and furthermore I think the UDRS will help too! Not that I'm saying the Aussie umpires used to cheat.... they were just affected by pressure! In India and Pakistan it was even worse and sometimes it seemed like our 11 against their 13! For me the key is going to be about scoring 500 runs in the first innings - whoever can consistently do this will win I believe. This Aussie side is having some problems - but they are still agreat side and we will do well to beat them. My chief concern is England's middle order and wwhether KP & Trott c will deliver? Roll on next week - it's going to be exciting! COME ON ENGLAND!

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