August 9, 2013

Australia's pace attack their one saving grace

England have dominated most aspects of the Ashes so far, but the one area where Australia have trumped them is fast bowling

So far in the Ashes, it's clear that England have been the better team. Australia dominated the third Test and were denied a chance to press for victory by the weather, but England were far superior in the second, while the first Test became close only because of two splendid - but completely unexpected - last-wicket partnerships. England have had the better top-order batsmen and the better spinner - both by a considerable margin - but the one area in which they have been second-best in the three Tests is the fast-bowling department. Familiarity with the Dukes ball and the conditions should have been an advantage for James Anderson and Co, but so far the Australian quicks - led by Peter Siddle and Ryan Harris - have trumped them, taking more wickets at a better average, strike rate and economy rate. (Click here for the series averages for Australia, and here for England.)

Coming into the series, fast bowling was always expected to be Australia's greatest strength, but there was also plenty of expectations on them given that the team's batting and spin bowling looked much weaker than England's, on paper at least. In the first three Tests, the pace attack has withstood the pressure well. Despite bowling at batsmen who are clearly better equipped at playing pace and swing than their own, the Australian attack has excelled, taking 43 wickets at 27.51. They have also maintained the pressure by keeping the scoring rate under check, going at only 2.69 runs per over.

The stars have clearly been Harris and Siddle. Harris' 11 wickets have come at 18 apiece, and only two of his 11 wickets have been lower-order batsmen. Harris has been especially effective against Jonathan Trott, and is the main reason why Trott has scored only 122 from six innings in the series so far - Harris has dismissed him three times conceding only 16 runs from 33 balls. Siddle is Australia's leading wicket-taker with 16, at an average of 21.68, and has had exceptional success against Kevin Pietersen and Matt Prior, dismissing each three times. (He has dismissed Pietersen seven times in all Tests, at an average of 17.42 runs per dismissal.) Shane Watson has taken only one wicket in 61 overs, but he has contributed immensely in keeping it tight, going at 1.86 runs per over.

England's pace attack, on the other hand, hasn't been as effective as expected against a less-than-formidable batting line-up. However, Graeme Swann has more than made up for that, taking 19 wickets - the most by any bowler in the series - at an average of 27.36. Swann has been particularly potent against the left-handers - and there are plenty of those in the Australian squad: 11 of his 19 wickets have been those of left-handers, at an average of 18; against right-handers, he has conceded 40 runs per wicket. James Anderson has been the clear leader among England's fast bowlers, with 15 wickets at 26, including two five-fors and a ten-wicket haul. The batsmen he has dismissed most often are the lower-order ones (though in Australia's case it could be argued that the tail has offered more resistance than some of the top-order batsmen): Siddle has fallen four times to Anderson, and Starc three times. In terms of bowling stats, the disappointments for England have been Steven Finn (two wickets at an average of 58.50) and Stuart Broad (six wickets at 52), though Broad has clearly bowled better than those numbers suggest and has had more success against Michael Clarke than any other England bowler.

England and Australia's fast bowlers in the Ashes
Team Wickets Average Strike rate Econ rate 5WI/ 10WM
Australia 43 27.51 61.1 2.69 2/ 0
England 30 34.10 63.1 3.24 2/ 1
England and Australia's spinners in the Ashes
Team Wickets Average Strike rate Econ rate 5WI/ 10WM
England 22 25.13 50.7 2.97 2/ 0
Australia 7 63.14 124.2 3.04 0/ 0
Batsman v bowler stats in the Ashes so far
Batsman Bowler Runs Balls Dismissals Average Run rate
Kevin Pietersen Peter Siddle 39 90 3 13.00 2.60
Matt Prior Peter Siddle 22 57 3 7.33 2.31
Jonathan Trott Ryan Harris 16 33 3 5.33 2.90
Jonny Bairstow Mitchell Starc 20 45 2 10.00 2.66
Joe Root Ryan Harris 21 74 2 10.50 1.70
Michael Clarke Stuart Broad 63 120 3 21.00 3.15
Usman Khawaja Graeme Swann 42 91 3 14.00 2.76
Chris Rogers Graeme Swann 23 72 3 7.67 1.91
Phil Hughes Graeme Swann 9 76 2 4.50 0.71
Shane Watson Tim Bresnan 23 34 3 7.67 4.05
Left-handers Graeme Swann 199 466 11 18.09 2.56
Right-handers Graeme Swann 321 572 8 40.12 3.36
Michael Clarke Graeme Swann 121 208 0 - 3.49

Many experts have spoken about this Australian unit being one of the worst to tour England, but as a fast-bowling unit this team has outdone five of the last nine, and each of the last three sides which came to England. The last time an Australian fast-bowling attack averaged less than 27 in England was in 1997, when the pace line-up included Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie and Michael Kasprowicz. McGrath had an outstanding series, taking 36 wickets at 19.47, Gillespie averaged 20.75 and Kasprowicz 22.14. With Paul Reiffel in the mix, the pace attack took 77 wickets at less than 23.

England's best in the last few home Ashes was in 2005, when their four-man combination of Simon Jones, Andrew Flintoff, Steve Harmison and Matthew Hoggard took 75 wickets at 27.89. Australia had a strong attack on paper too, with McGrath, Gillespie, Kasprowicz, Brett Lee and Shaun Tait, but McGrath's injury after a couple of matches and Gillespie's poor form meant they were clearly second-best in the series. England's worst displays were in 1989 and 1993, when they conceded more than 50 runs per wicket; over those two series, England were thrashed by a 1-8 margin.

Australia's and England's pace attacks in their last nine Ashes campaigns in England
  Australia England
Year Wickets Average SR/ ER Wickets Average SR/ ER
2013 43 27.51 61.1/ 2.69 30 34.10 63.1/ 3.24
2009 66 31.75 50.8/ 3.74 54 38.75 65.3/ 3.55
2005 52 39.05 57.4/ 4.07 75 27.89 47.2/ 3.54
2001 60 28.30 49.3/ 3.44 46 40.13 58.0/ 4.14
1997 77 22.62 45.0/ 3.01 74 32.14 55.3/ 3.48
1993 57 30.52 63.0/ 2.90 45 54.40 101.2/ 3.22
1989 92 26.63 53.2/ 2.99 52 57.17 107.9/ 3.17
1985 62 41.91 68.1/ 3.69 63 32.03 61.8/ 3.10
1981 102 23.86 51.1/ 2.79 92 23.56 55.2/ 2.56

In terms of the batting by their top six, though, Australia's stats so far in the series is their worst since 1981, when they averaged 30.17 in the series. Clarke's century has been their only one in three Tests so far, though Australia's batsmen have two Tests to improve that tally. The last time they scored only one hundred in an Ashes series in England was in 1968: in a series that was drawn 1-1, Bill Lawry's 135 was the only century, though Australia's batsmen went past fifty 15 times in that series.

England's top six are having their best Ashes since 1985, when they averaged 56.70. With Cook and Trott averaging less than 25, though, there's plenty of room for improvement. For that to happen, they'll have to do a much better job against Australia's pace attack.

Australia's and England's top 6 in the last nine Ashes campaigns in England
  Australia England
Year Runs Average 100s/ 50s Runs Average 100s/ 50s
2013 1067 31.38 1/ 7 1254 38.00 4/ 7
2009 2114 45.95 7/ 11 1747 32.96 2/ 12
2005 1820 33.70 3/ 8 2082 35.28 5/ 11
2001 1953 52.78 8/ 6 1781 31.24 2/ 10
1997 2133 35.55 7/ 8 2025 31.64 3/ 10
1993 2769 55.38 9/ 12 2509 34.84 2/ 19
1989 3175 67.55 7/ 18 1797 27.64 4/ 8
1985 2145 34.04 4/ 8 2665 56.70 8/ 9
1981 2022 30.17 5/ 9 1739 24.15 1/ 10

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on Twitter

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • dummy4fb on August 13, 2013, 9:11 GMT

    Sorry S Rajesh, but your article only goes to show (me, in any case!) how misleading stats can be! I'm an Aussie supporter and I think that while the stats go some way to telling the story of this series, the biggest explanation has been that Eng have been better in the critical moments - think Bell's & KP's hundreds, think of the last wicket partnerships by Eng's tail in the last 2 Tests against an Aus attack that had just set itself up for the knock-out blow.

    Aus have played well - better than was expected of them by most before the start of the series - but it's only been at the non-critical moments of a Test and in short bursts. Eng, on the other hand, have played below expectations (maybe they were artifically high to begin with?) - are they really that much better a team? The stats may say so, but I still wonder. Then again, maybe I'm just used to Aus steamrolling Eng from the 90's & 00's!

  • handyandy on August 10, 2013, 14:09 GMT

    You have to wonder how England will fare in Australia.

    Australia's bowlers will be even more effective on Australian green tops. Australia's batsman will also perform better under Australian conditions.

  • ballsintherightareas on August 10, 2013, 9:17 GMT

    Excellent article! Helps to dispel many of the myths being touted by the pundits.

  • ravi_hari on August 10, 2013, 6:27 GMT

    If you look at it the difference is not much between the two teams. Especially in batting England has scored only 187 runs more and averages 7 runs above Aussies. The number of 50s is the same for both. However, the two telling differences is in the spin department and the centuries scored. While Swann is the leading wicket taker, Aussies spinners until Durham were worst than part timers. Agar and Lyon were totally ineffective in the 3 tests. Lyon's tally in Durham will improve that a little bit but Swan is expected to pocket many more in the 4 possible innings. On the batting fron, the inability of big guns like Watson to score big and the inability to convert starts into tons has been the bane of this team. If Aussies had matched England's 4 centuries, the series would have had a different score line. Can Aussies turn around in the last 2 tests and even the averages? Lets hope they come near to doing that.

  • Chris_P on August 10, 2013, 1:51 GMT

    The pace squad selected for the tour all deserved to be there. They are all very good in their own way so I never had issues with whoever they they picked. And the stock of reserves left back home is equally impressive. Cummins, Hazelwood, Coulter-Nile, Sayers, Cutting Copeland (who would have sizzled in England btw) to name a few. And I know there are plenty of younger bowlers coming through the system we will be hearing about in a few years but where are our batsmen. A big concern, very big. We got plenty of T20 exponents but nearly all of them haven't got the temperament for test cricket. Anyone who states T20 hasn't affected test cricket is living in denial IMHO.

  • Shan156 on August 9, 2013, 23:23 GMT

    2009 - if someone who was not aware of the series result were to look at the batting and bowling averages of both teams, they would have said that Aus. were comfortable winners. Yet, England won the series 2-1. It is winning the important moments that counts the most. While the Aussie pace attack have better results in this series, Eng's is worse only because of that one innings in OT. These stats don't matter much anyway. At the end of the day, Eng. have retained the Ashes. That would make it 12 years since the Aussies have won a series in England. If we bat with some sense in the next innings and the next test, we will win the series too.

  • Shan156 on August 9, 2013, 23:20 GMT

    1989 was a nightmare, straight out of a horror movie, it even makes our efforts in 1993 better even though 1993 was a thrashing too. That is how bad 1989 was.

    @PrasPunter, miles ahead, eh? Even assuming it is true (it is not!), what is the use? Aus. are 2-0 behind. While they have had a good 1st day at Chester, they haven't won this test yet, have they? Siddle and Harris were there in 2010-2011 too and Eng's supposedly inferior attack bowled us to 3 innings victories in your backyard. Aus. are not a great team as their supporters want us to believe. They are a mediocre side as was evident in their 4-0 thrashing by India. Eng. batsmen are totally out of form.

    cricinfo, please publish.

  • PFEL on August 9, 2013, 21:20 GMT

    Funny seeing the Stats of 2009 Ashes, Australia had played much better cricket but just got unlucky at the wrong times. Seems to always happen to them on Ashes tours lol.

  • dummy4fb on August 9, 2013, 15:03 GMT

    Looks like England haven't changed much in decades, Reason for their wins is the fact that Australia have slipped in their batting even the numbers say that.

  • andrew-schulz on August 9, 2013, 13:37 GMT

    I don't think you can say this attack has outdone the 2001 attack just because the average is lower. Surely there are many other factors in making this judgement. Poor and irresponsible use of stats.

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