Ask Steven

Was Scott Boland's 18 wickets at an average of under ten a record for the Ashes?

And who holds the record for the most consecutive Tests at the end of which his average has gone up?

Steven Lynch
Steven Lynch
Sarfraz Ahmed exults after his hundred, Pakistan v Australia, 1st Test, Dubai, 2nd day, October 23, 2014

Sarfaraz Ahmed improved his average over 11 consecutive Tests up to November 2014  •  Getty Images

Who holds the record for the most consecutive Tests at the end of which his average has gone up? And what about the opposite record - average going down? asked Muhammad Hashir Hassan Khan from Pakistan
Two batters share the record for improving their batting average in the most successive Tests. Brian Close did so in 11 consecutive matches for England leading up to August 1963, and he was followed by Sarfaraz Ahmed of Pakistan, in 11 in a row to November 2014. Four players improved their average in ten successive Tests: another Pakistani, Mudassar Nazar (up to January 1983), Mike Gatting of England (up to August 1985), the South African fast bowler Andre Nel (to April 2006), and Sri Lanka's Angelo Mathews (to December 2014).
The opposite statistic was being discussed during the just-completed South Africa-India series, as both Ajinkya Rahane and Virat Kohli seemed to be in ever-decreasing circles, and went into the third Test in Cape Town after 14 successive matches in which their averages had gone down. Kohli stopped the rot at Newlands, but Rahane made it 15 in a row. Only Zimbabwe's Grant Flower lies ahead - his average dropped in 16 successive Tests leading up to November 2000. Five others match Kohli in going 14 Tests with a declining average: John Edrich (to August 1972), Darren Gough (July 1997) and Alastair Cook (July 2014) for England, Mark Greatbatch of New Zealand (October 1995) and Pakistan's Azhar Mahmood (May 2001).
Scott Boland finished the recent series with 18 wickets at less than ten apiece. Was this a record for the Ashes? asked Peter Daniels from Australia
Australia's incredibly impressive newcomer Scott Boland finished with 18 wickets at 9.55. Only four men have had a lower average in an Ashes series in which they took more than 12 wickets - and all of them were in the 19th century, when pitches were less trustworthy and batting techniques more rudimentary - although some might say England's haven't improved much since then!
Top of the list is the Yorkshire and England slow left-armer Bobby Peel, who took 24 wickets at 7.54 in the three-Test Ashes series of 1888. Another left-arm spinner, Lancashire's Johnny Briggs, took 17 at 7.76 in 1886. The Surrey seamer George Lohmann claimed 16 at 8.56 in Australia in 1886-87, while his Australian opposite number Charles "Terror" Turner had 17 at 9.47 in the same low-scoring series (the highest total in the two Tests was 184).
Just behind Boland comes the Surrey and England offspinner Jim Laker, who reaped no fewer than 46 wickets in the 1956 Ashes series at an average of 9.60. That included 19 victims - the Test record - in the fourth match at Old Trafford. No other bowler has averaged under ten in an Ashes series in which they took at least 13 wickets: England's Richard Ellison comes next, with 17 at 10.88 in the last two matches in 1985.
Has there ever been an instance of more than one batsman being dismissed for a pair in the same Test match? asked CJ Marland from New Zealand
There have been four Test matches to date in which three batters from the same side have bagged a pair. The first was in Auckland in 1954-55, in the match in which New Zealand slumped to 26 all out against England, the lowest total in Test history: Matt Poore, Ian Colquhoun (a king pair) and John Hayes were all out for 0 in both innings.
It happened next to England, against Australia in Adelaide in 1974-75, when Dennis Amiss, Derek Underwood and Geoff Arnold all bagged pairs, then to Pakistan against Australia in Perth in 1978-79 (Majid Khan, Wasim Bari and Sikander Bakht). The most recent occasion came in Chandigarh in 1990-91, when Marvan Atapattu, Rumesh Ratnayake and Graeme Labrooy all made two noughts for Sri Lanka against India. There have been exactly 50 other Tests in which two members of the same side bagged a pair.
There is one other Test that contained three: at Headingley in 2014, Lahiru Thirimanne and Dhammika Prasad bagged pairs for Sri Lanka, while Jimmy Anderson collected one for England (his second innings nonetheless lasted 81 minutes and 55 balls, and Sri Lanka won when he was dismissed by the fifth delivery of the last possible over). There are 18 further Tests in which a batter from both sides collected a pair.
Kevin O'Brien is on the verge of completing 2000 runs for Ireland in T20Is. Has anyone from a non-mainstream country made more? asked Sean Griffiths from Ireland
Kevin O'Brien has so far scored 1973 runs for Ireland in T20Is, which puts him in 15th place on the overall list. His compatriot Paul Stirling is above him - he's currently sixth on the list with 2606 runs. Just above O'Brien at the moment is Mohammad Shahzad of Afghanistan, with 2015 runs. All the others with more runs come from long-established Test nations. It remains to be seen whether O'Brien will add to his tally. His 38th birthday is fast approaching, and he was omitted from Ireland's T20I squad for their recent matches in the United States.
Apparently one of the relations of England's new wicketkeeper Sam Billings is a world champion - in what sport? asked Robin Downing from England
The Kent wicketkeeper-batter Sam Billings received England cap No. 700 before the last Ashes Test in Hobart. Slightly confusingly, he's actually the 699th man to play an official Test for England; the Glamorgan opener Alan Jones was recently presented with cap number 696 by the ECB, to mark his one and only appearance for England, against the strong Rest of the World side at Lord's in 1970.
Billings' cousin, Tom, has been the world champion is the sport of rackets (sometimes spelled racquets) since 2019, when he won the title in Detroit. He succeeded Bermuda's James Stout, who had beaten him in the 2017 final. For more details about Tom, click here.
Shiva Jayaraman of ESPNcricinfo's stats team helped with some of the above answers.
Use our feedback form, or the Ask Steven Facebook page to ask your stats and trivia questions

Steven Lynch is the editor of the updated edition of Wisden on the Ashes