Stats Analysis

Steven Smith's Bradmanesque Ashes bash

With Steven Smith and Pat Cummins in fine fettle, Australia had the better numbers in a closely fought series

S Rajesh
S Rajesh
Steven Smith, the Don of the 2019 Ashes  •  Getty Images

Steven Smith, the Don of the 2019 Ashes  •  Getty Images

The five-Test Ashes series ended 2-2, but Australia were slightly ahead on most of the key numbers. They scored more runs per wicket, more hundreds, had a higher control percentage with the bat, and took more wickets. England had a slightly better strike rate with the ball, but the Australia bowlers were far tighter in terms of control, conceding only 2.96 runs per over to England's 3.56.
The Smith factor
Steven Smith towered above everyone else in the series, despite missing one Test with injury. His aggregate of 774 is the fifth-highest ever in an Ashes series, but the fact that it came in a relatively low-scoring series makes his achievement even more remarkable. Smith scored 200 runs fewer than Don Bradman did in the 1930 series, but in terms of percentage contribution to Australia's runs (excluding extras), the two performances are at par: Bradman scored 35.5% of Australia's runs off the bat in 1930, which was exactly Smith's contribution in the four Tests he played in this series. (Australia aggregated 2180 runs off the bat in the four Tests Smith played; in comparison, Australia scored 2743 runs in five Tests when Bradman scored 974 runs in 1930.)
Smith's numbers were great against the entire England attack, incouding their two best bowlers. Though he fell twice to Stuart Broad, Smith scored 193 runs against him at a rate of 71 runs per 100 balls; against Jofra Archer, his strike rate fell to 57.3, and he also suffered a blow to his head which kept him out of one Test, but Archer bowled 164 balls to Smith without getting him out.
The most successful against Smith was Chris Woakes, who otherwise had a pretty quiet series, taking only ten wickets in four Tests. Woakes dismissed him three times - once each at Edgbaston, Lord's and The Oval - and went at less than three an over against him, which are outstanding numbers especially when compared to how the rest of the bowlers fared against Smith.
Among the bowlers who bowled at least 100 balls to him, Smith's lowest control percentage was against Archer (81.7%).
Overall, Smith's control percentage in the series - percentage of balls that he either middled or didn't play a shot at - was 85.7. It was the best among batsmen from either team, which isn't a surprise, but what is surprise is the fact that Tim Paine is in second place, with 85.2%. However, while Smith got out once every 24 false shots (which includes beaten, edged, or mistimed strokes), Paine only averaged six errors per dismissal. In third place was Marnus Labuschagne, at 83.5%. England's top batsmen in terms of control were Ben Stokes (80.8%) and Jonny Bairstow (80.4%).
The two sides of Broad
Twenty-three wickets at 26.65 were impressive returns for Broad, and his around-the-wicket line of attack completely neutralised the threat of David Warner, and indeed of all the other left-handers in the Australian top order. When he came in from around the stumps against the left-handers, Broad took 16 wickets for 167 runs, at an average of 10.37, and a strike rate of 22 balls per wicket. Since the start of 2002, this is easily the best around-the-wicket haul in a series for a right-arm fast bowler against left-hand batsmen; the next best is only 11.
It was incredible to watch, as no left-hander could find an answer to Broad's attack from that angle. Matthew Wade did better than everyone else, scoring 44 and getting out just once when Broad operated from around the stumps, while Usman Khawaja averaged 40, but the rest were miserable: Warner averaged five, Marcus Harris eight, and Travis Head 10.33.
However, while Broad was almost unplayable when bowling to left-handers, he failed to find the right answers when bowling to right-hand batsmen, particularly the two who made all the difference to Australia's fortunes in the series. Against Smith and Labuschagne, Broad had collective figures of 2 for 271, off 70 overs. That's a run rate of nearly four an over, and a wicket every 210 balls. Against all right-handers, he averaged 55.28, which is nearly three times his average against them in the two previous Ashes home series. Over those two Ashes series - in 2013 and 2015 - he had dismissed Michael Clarke seven times at an average of 16.14, while Smith himself had fallen to Broad five times, and averaged just 24.4. This time, though, Broad - and the rest of the England attack - clearly came out second best against Smith.
Aussie pacers outdo Broad and Co.
Home conditions and the Dukes ball should have given the advantage to England, but despite the efforts of Archer and Broad, Australia's fast bowlers won the pace battle, thanks largely to the outstanding duo of Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood. Between them, they took 49 wickets at 20.53, compared to 45 wickets for the Archer-Broad combine, at an average of 23.53. England were also hit hard by the absence of James Anderson; Woakes and Craig Overton, who shared third-seamer duties, managed only 12 wickets in five matches at 36.5, while Ben Stokes - despite an extraordinary spell of bowling at Headingley - took only eight wickets at 45.25. In comparison, Australia were better served by their support cast of James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, and the two Mitchells - Starc and Marsh: together, they took 23 wickets at 29.30.
The most impressive aspect of Cummins and Hazlewood was the way they kept almost all the England batsmen in check, with most of them averaging poorly against them. The one exception was Stokes, who averaged 51.5 against Cummins, and didn't have an average against Hazlewood because he wasn't dismissed by him in 119 balls. (Stokes averaged 51.66 against Nathan Lyon too.) The other England batsmen all came out second best against Cummins and Hazlewood.
England's batsmen versus Cummins and Hazlewood
Batsman Bowler Runs Balls Dsmissals Average
 RJ Burns  PJ Cummins  95  291  4  23.75
 RJ Burns  JR Hazlewood  66  136  3  22.00
 JL Denly  PJ Cummins  69  192  2  34.50
 JL Denly  JR Hazlewood  59  221  2  29.50
 JJ Roy  PJ Cummins  31  71  3  10.33
 JJ Roy  JR Hazlewood  21  53  3  7.00
 JE Root  PJ Cummins  69  118  3  23.00
 JE Root  JR Hazlewood  52  151  3  17.33
 BA Stokes  PJ Cummins  103  130  2  51.50
 BA Stokes  JR Hazlewood  73  119  0  -
 JM Bairstow  PJ Cummins  34  118  1  34.00
 JM Bairstow  JR Hazlewood  39  63  2  19.50
 JC Buttler  PJ Cummins  41  145  5  8.20
 JC Buttler  JR Hazlewood  70  103  2  35.00
In terms of false shots induced by the bowlers, though, Archer finished on top among the bowlers who played at least three Tests: the percentage of false shots played off him was an extremely high 25.6%, which means one in four balls produced a false shot. Cummins was close behind with a percentage of 24.4, while Siddle was third, somewhat surprisingly, just ahead of Hazlewood.
Opening woes, and other partnership stats
In 20 opening stands for the two teams through the five Tests, the average partnership was a shocking 12.55; Australia's average was a miserable 8.5, while England were almost twice as good (but still poor) at 16.6. The only 50-plus opening stand of the series was in England's second innings of the last Test, and even that would have ended at four had Harris accepted a regulation slip chance off Joe Denly. The average of 12.55 is the lowest in any Ashes series of more than three Tests.
Australia's first two wickets fell with next to nothing on the board almost every time, but they were bailed out by solid middle-order partnerships, with the average for each of the next three wickets exceeding 44, and the sixth almost touching 40. England had problems at the start too, but Rory Burns was a revelation, Denly made useful contributions, and Joe Root passed 50 four times despite an underwhelming series overall. England's most productive partnership was for the third wicket, which averaged 67.3 with three century partnerships, and three more exceeding 50; in fact the average for no other wicket from either team passed 50.
DRS pains for Australia
This is the one aspect where England lorded it over Australia. Getting it right in the field is never easy; it requires a collaborative effort from those who are best-placed to see the action, a cool head to take a rational decision within 15 seconds, and then perhaps some guesswork as well. Paine almost never got the hang of DRS - out of 13 reviews he called for, he only got one decision overturned: on the last day of the series, when Archer gloved one down the legside. England got seven decisions overturned out of 21 reviews in the field, a 33% success rate.
England won this battle, but in other aspects, Australia were a shade better, and that is reflected in most of the numbers in this series.

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. @rajeshstats