The Confectionery Stall

Pat Cummins is a village cricketer

That and other vital learnings from the Perth Test

Andy Zaltzman
Andy Zaltzman

That moustache? Village written all over it  •  Matt King - CA/Cricket Australia/Getty Images

England and Australia continued their unwelcome recent tradition of having an Ashes series decided with a vast swathe of cricket still to be played. The number of decisive final Tests in the last 25 Ashes series remains stubbornly stuck at four (1982-83, 1985, 2005 and 2009), and the rivalry has generally been rather more exciting in the anticipation than the actuality.
England fans are now wistfully harking back to the halcyon days of the 1990s, hoping that Joe Root and his team will roll back the years to those glorious dead-Test victories that used to form a reliable landmark in the cricketing calendar; or to 1979-80, when England were clobbered 3-0 in a three-Test series but had sensibly declined to put the urn up for grabs (a highly successful strategy that has fallen into mysterious disuse); or to the 1870s, before the Ashes had come into existence.
Nevertheless, there are always lessons to be theoretically learned, and positives to pretend to take. Here, then, are the Five Things We Learned at the WACA.
1. Hundreds lose you Test matches, as do 237-run partnerships
As well as Dawid Malan and Jonny Bairstow played, England proved the age-old cricketing adage that "hundreds might win you Test matches, but it helps if (a) the rest of your team does not crumple around you like an origami giraffe in a thunderstorm, and (b) two players on the opposition team do not make hundreds that are daddier than yours".
Their partnership was England's fourth highest in a Test defeat (Paul Collingwood and Kevin Pietersen's 310-run prelude to England's slow-motion abattoir of a fifth day in Adelaide in 2006-07 still leads the list), and the 12th highest by any pair on a losing team.
It was only the ninth time England have lost a Test in which they have scored two first-innings hundreds (they have won 71 and drawn 59 such Tests), and the first since that Adelaide match, a game that all England fans would pay serious money to have surgically removed from their memory banks, as soon as that medical procedure becomes available.
2. Dawid Malan now stands with the all-time greats. In one statistic, at least.
He gave an outstanding display of steely and silken batsmanship in Perth, and joined a beyond-illustrious roll call of Visiting Players Who Have Made a Century and a Fifty in the Match in a Test Defeat in Australia. The previous eight players to do so were Kane Williamson, Virat Kohli, Kumar Sangakkara, Jacques Kallis, Sachin Tendulkar, Saeed Anwar, Desmond Haynes and David Gower, a tidy collection of willow-wielders who between them currently have a tally of 218 Test centuries.
England proved the age-old cricketing adage that hundreds might win you Test matches, but it helps if the rest of your team does not crumple around you like an origami giraffe in a thunderstorm
Malan also became the eighth England player since 1924-25 to lose an Ashes Test despite scoring a hundred as well as a half-century, after Jack Hobbs (twice), Herbert Sutcliffe (three times), Maurice Leyland, Bill Edrich (twice), Cyril Washbrook, Ken Barrington, David Gower (twice) and Graham Gooch.
The Middlesex left-hander would probably have preferred to become the seventh England player to make a pair in a victory over Australia, but he can console himself with a place among cricketing legends who have suffered the sweet-and-sour stir-fry emotions of personal success amid team failure in Australia.
3. Jonny Bairstow is the greatest wicketkeeper-batsman of all time. In the opening innings of Test matches.
He now averages 45.3 as a wicketkeeper - 64.4 in 21 innings in the opening innings of Tests, with four hundreds; 34.0 in the second, third and fourth innings of matches, after he has kept wicket, in 34 knocks, with a highest score of 83. (By comparison, the overall figures for all wicketkeepers since 2000 are as follows. Innings one: average 36.3. Innings two, three and four: average 31.3.)
Of the 50 wicketkeepers who have batted 16 or more times in the opening innings of Tests, Bairstow's average is the highest, ahead of Matt Prior (55.9). (Quinton de Kock averages 65.7 from 15 innings, but I was not going to let that spoil the stat. He can wait. For another week.)
4. England's selectors have got it all wrong
The writing was on the statistical wall for Moeen Ali, as he completed his superb 2017 home Test summer with 30 wickets at an average of 21.3. He was the seventh England spinner to take 30 Test wickets in an English season, but only the third to do so in the summer preceding an Ashes tour. Graeme Swann did so in 2013 (36 wickets at 25.1), and Tony Lock in 1958 (34 at 7.4, against a sub-world-beating New Zealand team).
Swann went on to take seven wickets at 80 in the 2013-14 calamitoshambles, and Lock hauled in just five victims at an average of 75 in England's 1958-59 catastrodebacle. The lesson was clear. Do not take spinners to Australia on the back of a successful home summer.
5. Pat Cummins is a village cricketer
In my time as a regular village cricketer, before interventions such as (a) working at weekends, (b) having a wife and children, and (c) no longer having the time to stand in a field for two entire afternoons every weekend, I used to spend two entire afternoons every weekend standing in a field. Occasionally, I would drop a catch, or, when batting, squirt a few past gully in between failing to hit the ball off the square.
One of the immovable traditions of the sport of village cricket then, and I assume now, is that any batsman who made 50, or bowler who took five wickets, had to buy a jug of beer to share around the teams in the pub afterwards. Anyone who was out in the 40s was therefore, quite justifiably, accused of the heinous crime of Jug Avoidance. At that level, you simply have to convert your 40s into fifties.
Cummins has been out three times in the 40s this series. He is clearly good enough to score fifties. He simply chooses not to. He has become only the fifth player in Test history to make three 40-plus scores in a series when batting at No. 9 or lower. (The others were Bhuvneshwar Kumar, for India in England in 2014; Graeme Swann, in the 2009 Ashes; Syed Kirmani, against West Indies in 1983-84; and Tufty Mann, for South Africa against Australia in 1949-50, the only 40-plus scores of his 19-Test career.)
In a little-observed moment of statistical history, by avoiding his jug at Perth, Cummins became the 50th player to be out three or more times in the 40s in a series - one more and he will tie the record, held by Dilip Vengsarkar, Jeffrey Dujon and Virender Sehwag - and only the sixth to be out in the 40s in the first innings of the first three Tests of a series.
Cummins has scored 127 in the first innings of Tests this series, a figure that puts him joint sixth on the combined list, and well ahead of the star English batsman Alastair-Joe Root-Cook, who has made only 90 first-innings runs between himself.
However, Cummins' studious evasion of his jug must be causing deep ructions in the baggy green dressing room, which will no doubt be torn asunder as England roar back into contention in Melbourne and Sydney.

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