August 16, 2013

Much closer than 3-0

Despite the series scoreline, England's batting average is only 3.66 more than Australia's, which is the lowest since 1970 in a series with a margin of three of more Tests

A series win by a margin of three games is usually an indication of utter domination, of one team being significantly better than the other with both bat and ball. England currently lead Australia by that margin in the Ashes, and if they draw or win at The Oval it'll be the 59th instance, since 1970, of a team winning a series by a margin of three or more matches - 53 of those have been in series when the opposition hasn't won a single Test, and six when they've won a Test but lost four or more.

However, this series hasn't been a typical thrashing, as Andy Zaltzman also points out in this piece. The masterful Ian Bell aside, England's other batsmen have struggled to impose themselves on the Australian bowlers: Bell averages 71.42, but the next-best is Joe Root's 37.14, and even that was only because of one huge score of 180; in his remaining seven innings, Root has collected 80 runs. Cook, Trott and Bairstow all average less than 30, and while Kevin Pietersen has played a couple of important innings, his series average is only 34.50. Australia's bowlers have been persistent and difficult to get away, conceding 2.95 runs per over, but poor top-order batting, untimely weather interruptions, and several marginal calls going against them has undermined the bowling effort.

Despite the gulf in the series scoreline, Australia's batsmen have scored 28.81 runs per wicket, which is only 3.66 fewer than England's average; in percentage terms, Australia's average is only 11.27% lower than England's. This is the least among all series which have been decided by a margin of three or more matches, since 1970.

In terms of actual difference between the batting and bowling averages in these series, the next-lowest is 6.45, in the six-Test Ashes in 1978, when England beat a Packer-depleted Australia 5-1. That, though, was an extremely low-scoring series, with David Gower being the only batsman from either side to average more than 40. (Click here for England's averages, and here for Australia's.) Overall in the series, England's players scored 25.62 runs per wicket, and conceded 19.17 per wicket. While the actual difference was 6.45, Australia's average was 25% lower than England's, which is a significant difference compared to 11.27% in the current series.

In percentage terms, the next-lowest was also in a series involving Australia, but on that occasion they were the winners, as they overcame first-innings deficits in each of the three Tests to beat Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka. In that series, Australia averaged almost 36 runs per wicket, with Darren Lehmann and Damien Martyn scoring two hundreds each; Sri Lanka's average was 28.75, which was 19.42% below Australia's average.

England were at the receiving end of such a result too not so long ago, when they slumped to a 3-0 defeat against Pakistan in the UAE. That was a low-scoring series too, with the overall numbers very similar to the 1978 Ashes - Pakistan averaged 25.76 to England's 19.06, which, in percentage terms, was a fairly significant difference.

During this period (since 1970), there have been 11 instances of teams winning by a margin of three or more Tests despite the differences in averages being below ten. Among them are West Indies' 3-0 win in six Tests against India in 1983-84, when they had a point to prove after being beaten by India in the World Cup final, and England's 3-0 verdict in the four-Test series in the West Indies in 2004. In the latter series, West Indies lost the first three Tests comprehensively and then closed the gap in terms of series averages only because of Brian Lara's unbeaten 400, which helped West Indies score 751 for 5 and improve their series batting numbers.

Least difference between batting and bowling averages in comprehensive series wins*
Team Series Tests Result Bat ave Bowl ave Ave diff % diff^
England v Australia, at home, 2013 4 3-0 32.47 28.81 3.66 11.27
England v Australia, away, 1978 6 5-1 25.62 19.17 6.45 25.18
Pakistan v England in the UAE, 2012 3 3-0 25.76 19.06 6.70 26.01
Australia v Sri Lanka, away, 2004 3 3-0 35.68 28.75 6.93 19.42
Australia v New Zealand, away, 2000 3 3-0 31.31 23.90 7.41 23.67
West Indies v India, away, 1983 6 3-0 34.94 27.47 7.47 21.38
England v West Indies, away, 2004 4 3-0 36.06 28.36 7.70 21.35
England v Australia, home, 1977 5 3-0 34.84 25.73 9.11 26.15
England v Pakistan, home, 2006 4 3-0 43.60 34.32 9.28 21.28
Australia v India, home, 1991 5 4-0 35.13 25.83 9.30 26.47
Pakistan v Bangladesh, home, 2003 3 3-0 33.95 24.23 9.72 28.63
* Series wins by a margin of three or more Tests
^ Percentage by which losing team's batting average was lower than the winning team's

At the other end of the scale are the series where the scorelines completely justified the gulf between the teams. Take, for example, the first row in the table below: Sri Lanka were all over Bangladesh in the home series in 2007, winning all three Tests by an innings, and two of them by more than an innings and 150 runs. Sri Lanka averaged 95.50 runs per wicket with the bat, and 16.85 with the ball - they lost 16 wickets in the entire series, while Bangladesh lost 60. Also high on the list is India's humiliation in England in 1974, when they were bowled out for 42 at Lord's, which remains their lowest Test score. They lost two of the three Tests in that series by an innings. Thirty-seven years later they met with a similar fate in 2011, when they were annihilated 4-0 by a rampant England, losing two Tests by an innings, and another by more than 300 runs. India had a similarly dominant time against England at home in 1993, when they won two out of three Tests by an innings.

Nine of the ten most comprehensive series wins listed below were won by the home team, which isn't surprising. The only away series in the list below is the 1989 Ashes, when an unstoppable Australian line-up, under Allan Border, destroyed England 4-0. Four of Australia's top-order batsmen averaged more than 70 in that series. That's a stat that Michael Clarke and his team can only wistfully look at, given that in the current Ashes, Clarke's 49.42 is the best average by an Australian batsman.

Highest difference between batting and bowling averages in comprehensive series wins*
Team Series Tests Results Bat ave Bowl ave Ave diff % diff^
Sri Lanka v Bangladesh, home, 2007 3 3-0 95.50 16.85 78.65 82.36
England v India, home, 1974 3 3-0 67.87 19.54 48.33 71.21
Australia v Sri Lanka, home, 1995 3 3-0 72.11 28.16 43.95 60.95
Sri Lanka v Zimbabwe, home, 2001 3 3-0 61.46 19.10 42.36 68.92
Pakistan v Australia, home, 1982 3 3-0 62.41 24.85 37.56 60.18
India v Sri Lanka, home, 1994 3 3-0 54.23 19.65 34.58 63.77
England v India, home, 2011 4 4-0 59.76 25.55 34.21 57.25
South Africa v West Indies, home, 2003 4 3-0 67.31 34.94 32.37 48.09
India v England, home, 1993 3 3-0 57.28 26.05 31.23 54.52
Australia v England, away, 1989 6 4-0 57.86 27.71 30.15 52.11
* Series wins by a margin of three or more Tests
^ Percentage by which losing team's batting average was lower than the winning team's

Clarke's nemesis - Anderson or Broad?

Before Ashes 2013, James Anderson was clearly the one England bowler who had troubled Clarke the most: he had dismissed him six times in 255 balls, at an average of 25.50 runs per wicket. Stuart Broad, on the other hand, had dismissed him twice in 187 balls before this Ashes, at an average of 44.50.

In Ashes 2013, though, Broad has clearly been Clarke's biggest nemesis. Though Anderson dismissed him in the first innings of the first Test - bowled for a duck by a peach which pitched on off and straightened - since then it's been all Broad: he has dismissed Clarke five times in six innings. In this series, Clarke has averaged 67 against Anderson, and 14 against Broad. Clearly, there's been something about Broad that has bothered Clarke, which wasn't so earlier. Thanks to Broad's exploits in this series, he is only of four bowlers who has dismissed Clarke seven times in Tests, and his overall average against Clarke has improved to 22.71; against Anderson, Clarke's average has crept up to 31.42.

Clarke in Tests v Anderson and Broad
  Before Ashes 2013 In Ashes 2013
Bowler Runs/ balls Dismissals Average Runs/ balls Dismissals Average
James Anderson 153/ 255 6 25.50 67/ 114 1 67.00
Stuart Broad 89/ 187 2 44.50 70/ 137 5 14.00

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