England, Australia, and the No.6 slot
The No.6 position has been the most prolific one for England in the last two years, but Australia have struggled, thanks to Marcus North
England have bested Australia in almost all aspects of the game in the first two Ashes Tests, but one area where the home team will feel particularly let down is the No.6 position in the batting line-up. Luminaries such as Steve Waugh, Allan Border and even the current captain, Ricky Ponting, have occupied that position with much distinction, but the current incumbent, Marcus North, isn't a jot on those names.
On the other hand, England's Ian Bell has fitted into that position superbly: his 76 at the Gabba was the highest score of England's first innings and helped them achieve a semblance of respectability, while in Adelaide he took full advantage of an already demoralised Australian attack, helping himself to an unbeaten 68. So while Australia's No.6 has mustered 49 runs in three innings in the series so far, England's has scored 144 and been dismissed once.
The No.6 position hasn't traditionally been a highly rewarding one in terms of runs for England, but over the last couple of years it's been one of their strengths: since the beginning of 2009, England's No.6 batsmen have averaged an outstanding 54.28, which is next only to Sri Lanka's average. They are also the only teams with 50-plus averages at that slot, though India come close. Australia are fourth in the table, but the gulf between their average and those of the top three teams is huge.
It's equally surprising to see that the team which brings up the rear in this table is South Africa. They've had some pretty useful No.6 batsmen too in the past, but thanks largely to JP Duminy's poor form of late, that position has contributed very little for South Africa in these last two years. In fact, they're the only team without a century at this slot. Bangladesh's numbers look much better due to their irrepressible captain Shakib Al Hasan, who averages almost 42 at that position.
|Sri Lanka||25||1137||56.85||3/ 3|
|New Zealand||25||865||34.60||2/ 4|
|West Indies||28||874||32.37||2/ 6|
|South Africa||24||578||26.27||0/ 5|
England's numbers over the last two years are quite unusual, though, compared to what they'd achieved in the past. In the 1980s and 1990s, they averaged only about 28, while the average between 2000 and 2008 was also below 30. In the past two years, they've pretty much doubled those numbers, with Bell, Paul Collingwood and Matt Prior all contributing handsomely. The average has also gone up because England have often played a specialist batsman at that position recently, rather than allrounders who've often occupied that slot in the past.
In fact, in these last two years, the No.6 position has been the most prolific one for England, and the only one with a 50-plus average. The position-wise averages are as follows: openers 48.29; No.3s 45.94; No.4s 38.28; and No.5s 45.92.
|Jan 2000 to Dec 2008||193||5220||29.49||10/ 31|
|Jan 2009 onwards||38||1737||54.28||5/ 8|
For Australia, the numbers are moving in the opposite direction. In the 1980s and 1990s, they had such a steady flow of excellent No.6 btsmen that opposition bowlers didn't get too much relief after taking the first four wickets. The average was nearly 40 in the first nine years in the 2000s too, but since then it has slipped to 35.29. In 2010 it drops even further, to a mediocre 28.23.
|Jan 2000 to Dec 2008||156||5408||39.76||14/ 28|
|Jan 2009 onwards||40||1306||35.29||5/ 4|
England wouldn't mind that too much, though, since their own line-up is in able hands. Among their batsmen who've scored at least 500 runs at this position, Bell is in second place in terms of averages - next only to Robin Smith - while Prior and Collingwood are also in the top ten. The highest run-getter at this slot for England remains Tony Greig, who averaged 43.50 for his 2741 runs.
|Robin Smith||19||822||58.71||2/ 5|
|Ian Bell||28||1235||56.13||5/ 5|
|Patsy Hendren||15||712||54.76||2/ 2|
|Matt Prior||12||535||53.50||1/ 4|
|Les Ames||17||695||53.46||3/ 1|
|Maurice Leyland||15||720||51.42||3/ 3|
|Peter Parfitt||16||620||47.69||3/ 1|
|Derek Randall||15||635||45.35||2/ 3|
|Paul Collingwood||25||996||45.27||3/ 5|
|Tony Greig||67||2741||43.50||7/ 15|
Over the last decade, only a couple of batsmen have done better than Ian Bell at No.6, which shows just how well he has been going. Shivnarine Chanderpaul has been exceptional, with seven hundreds and as many fifties in just 28 innings, while Hashan Tillakaratne's stats are outstanding too. Apart from those two, only Bell and VVS Laxman have scored 1000-plus runs at averages of more than 50.
|Shivnarine Chanderpaul||28||1545||70.22||7/ 7|
|Hashan Tillakaratne||24||1088||60.44||3/ 3|
|Ian Bell||28||1235||56.13||5/ 5|
|VVS Laxman||61||2669||54.46||5/ 19|
|AB de Villiers||41||1730||46.75||3/ 10|
|Tilakaratne Dilshan||52||2087||46.37||5/ 8|
Nought for No.8
This one is an interesting spot which came from Gabriel Rogers, an occasional contributor to the It Figures stats blog. He wrote in to say that while plenty of runs have been scored in the first two Ashes Tests, one batting position has gone completely runless in the series so far. In the first Test Stuart Broad and Mitchell Johnson got one-ball and 19-ball ducks, and in Adelaide Ryan Harris bagged a king pair. That means the No.8 batsmen have played four innings in this series, faced 22 deliveries, and haven't scored a single run yet. Let's see if Perth can break this jinx.
S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo