By Eshan Wickrema and Lachlan James
The cricketing world has witnessed a wildly seesawing, if not enthralling, contest during the 2015 Ashes campaign. Contrary to expectations, pre-series underdogs, England, lead bitter rivals, Australia, 2-1 heading into the fourth of five Test matches at Trent Bridge.
As the pivotal fourth match approaches, there’s one quandary at the forefront of every cricket diehard’s mind: Will Australia rediscover its form from the second Test at Lord’s, and keep the series alive with a dominant display? Or will England push on with its devastatingly efficient bowling attack to reclaim The Urn in an unexpected Ashes trouncing?
Let’s use data visualization and Business Intelligence software to see if England can claim a fourth straight Ashes series on home soil, or whether Australia can revive the form that saw it complete a 5-0 Ashes whitewash just 18 months ago Down Under.
Source: All data was obtained via www.espncricinfo.com
England vs Australia: Team batting and bowling averages (career and 2015 Ashes)
Note: Bowling averages are only made-up of full-time bowlers and genuine ‘part-timers’. Team batting average comprises individual averages of all squad members – after all, if you’re in the Test eleven, you have to bat!
- After three matches in the 2015 Ashes campaign, Australia has a stronger team bowling and batting average than England, despite being down 2-1 in the series
- Australia has scored its runs at an average of 29.82 per wicket
- England has scored it runs at an average of 27.29 per wicket
- As a team, Australia is averaging 2.53 more runs per wicket
- Australia’s bowlers have conceded 29.95 runs per wicket
- England’s bowlers have conceded 33.02 runs per wicket
- As a bowling unit, Australia has conceded 3.07 fewer runs per wicket
- In terms of career averages per team (assessing the career averages of individual players from each squad to derive a team average), Australia has a stronger batting average, while England has a better bowling average
- Australia’s squad has a Test career batting average of 36.11
- England’s squad has a Test career batting average of 32.35
- As a team, Australia averages 3.76 more runs per wicket
- Australia’s Test bowling unit concedes an average of 34.21 runs per wicket
- England’s Test bowling unit concedes an average of 32.37 runs per wicket
- England’s Test bowlers concede 1.84 fewer runs per wicket
Teams appear evenly matched in alternatingly lopsided contest
England began its 2015 Ashes campaign by playing some highly disciplined cricket, ‘taking the chocolates’ at Cardiff by 169 runs – in the face of hostile local and international media speculation about Australia’s anticipated dominance.
Australia then showed its mettle, wrestling back the ascendancy at the Home of Cricket in the second Test, defeating England by 405 runs for the loss of only 10 wickets across its two innings at Lord’s.
In a wildly oscillating series, England turned the tables back on the Australian’s during the third Test at Edgbaston, beating the Aussies by eight wickets inside three days. And, with both teams evenly matched on the stats sheet, it seems just as likely that Australia’s touring squad could fight back into the frame during the fourth test at Trent Bridge and extend England’s bizarre win-loss-win-loss world record (currently standing at seven matches in a row alternating between victory and defeat).
After the three matches of the 2015 Ashes contest thus far, Australia holds a marginally stronger batting and bowling average. Australia is averaging 2.53 more runs per wicket, with its bowlers conceding 3.07 fewer runs per wicket compared to England.
Assessing the Test career batting and bowling averages per team also underscores the closeness of the two squads. When batting in Tests, Australia averages 3.76 more runs per wicket, while England’s Test bowlers concede 1.84 fewer runs per wicket.
So, with batting and bowling statistics tightly matched, which individual members of each team need to improve to bolster their country’s chances of Ashes glory?
English and Australian individual batting averages (career and 2015 Ashes)
- Australian opener, Chris Rogers, has been a rock of consistency at the top of the order throughout the 2015 Ashes series to date, scoring at an average of 77 – that’s 33.37 more runs per innings than his career average of 43.63
- The only Australian players to exceed their career batting averages while on tour are:
- Of Australia’s underperforming middle order, Aussie skipper, Michael Clarke, has been the most disappointing, averaging just 18.80 runs per innings – that’s a mammoth 30.93 runs per innings less than his career batting average of 49.73
- Australia’s middle order batting has looked helpless during the 2015 Ashes series, with multiple out-of-touch batsmen (excluding Clarke):
- Adam Voges: Averaging 14.60 runs per innings – 25.40 runs per innings less than his career batting average of 40
- Brad Haddin: Averaging 14.50 runs per innings – 18.48 runs per innings less than his career batting average of 32.98
- Mitchell Marsh: Averaging 15 runs per innings – 15.70 runs per innings less than his career batting average of 30.70
- Shane Watson: Averaging 24.50 runs per innings – 10.69 runs per innings less than an already low career batting average of 35.19
Note: Steven Finn has not been required to bat in the 2015 Ashes series to date, and so has no batting average for the series.
- English young gun and likely captain-in-waiting, Joe Root, is leading the way with the bat for the hosts, accumulating runs at an average of 62.60 during the 2015 Ashes – that’s 7.58 more runs per innings than his career average of 55.02
- The only English players to exceed their career batting averages while on tour are:
- England’s top order has floundered massively during the 2015 Ashes campaign, with a number of undeforming batsmen:
- Jos Buttler: Averaging 13.40 runs per innings – 25.24 runs per innings less than his career batting average of 38.64
- Gary Ballance: Averaging 24.50 runs per innings – 23.26 runs per innings less than his career batting average of 47.76
- Jonny Bairstow: Averaging 5 runs per innings – 21 runs per innings less than his career batting average of 26
- Adam Lyth: Averaging 12 runs per innings – 10.20 runs per innings less than his career batting average of 22.20
- While Lyth does not have the fourth worst average differential, his series and career averages are far too low for an opening batsman
In two vulnerable line-ups, which batsman can hold their nerve?
So far, 2015’s fight for The Urn has been characterized by a battle of brittle batting line-ups. For Australia, it’s an increasingly insecure middle order that’s the cause of its batting frailty. For England, a vulnerable top order has been repeatedly exposed.
The potential problem for England is that it seems to be out of options to replace its underperforming batsmen. Buttler, Balance and Bairstow have all been in-and-out of the Test team of late, and all are underachieving and short on confidence. At the top, the long-term troubles of captain Cook have been well documented, with the English skipper just doing enough to avoid the wrath of the tabloids. Over the same period, a number of opening partners have come and gone with little success. And, with Lyth averaging a mere 12 runs per innings, the opening partnership remains an unsolved problem for England.
Australia’s batting issues seem a little more immediately fixable. Rogers has been the most consistent batsman of the series to date, opening partner Warner has begun to show signs of returning to form, while Smith’s double ton at Lord’s exuded class and swept aside concerns over his unorthodox technique in English conditions.
While Australian captain Michael Clarke is badly out of touch – with just 94 runs in six innings this series, he has a habit of pulling out a big innings when his team needs him (Cape Town 2014, anyone?). In addition, Australia’s second worst performing batsman, veteran Adam Voges, seems likely to be substituted for the in-form Shaun Marsh – a ready-made replacement and proven international performer. Additionally, Australia’s next worst performing batsman, Brad Haddin, has been replaced by, Peter Nevill, with the debutant wicketkeeper acquitting himself well thus far in his two Test career.
English and Australian individual bowling averages (career and 2015 Ashes)
- By the numbers, Mitchel Marsh has been Australia’s standout bowler, with the best bowling average in the 2015 Ashes series (21) – a positive differential of 35.75 runs conceded per wicket compared to his career average to date (56.75)
- Despite boasting the second best bowling average during the 2015 Ashes (22.50), Josh Hazelwood has been less effective than his Test career average (20.34) – conceding 2.16 more runs per wicket
- Nathan Lyon has bettered his Test bowling average of 34.07, conceding just 26 runs per wicket during the 2015 Ashes campaign – that’s 8.07 fewer runs per wicket
- Mitchell Starc has almost mirrored his Test bowling average (32.11) during the 2015 Ashes (31.66) – but most pundits still claim he is underperforming given his talent
- Spearhead Mitchell Johnson appears to be the greatest bowling underachiever in Australia’s 2015 Ashes series, averaging 33.60 runs per wicket compared to his career average of 27.78 – that’s a negative differential of 5.82
- Shane Watson does not figure on the above chart because he has failed to claim a single wicket during the 2015 Ashes campaign
- Frontline English quicks, Steven Finn, Stuart Broad and James Anderson have troubled Australia’s batsmen, all bettering their respective Test career bowling averages during the 2015 Ashes series to date
- Finn made a dreamy Test return, averaging 14.62 runs per wicket compared to his career bowling average of 28.19 – a positive differential of 13.57
- Broad has bettered his Test bowling average of 29.67, conceding just 27.41 runs per wicket during the 2015 Ashes campaign – or 2.26 fewer runs per wicket
- Similarly, Anderson has outshone his Test bowling average of 29.38, conceding 27.50 runs per wicket during the 2015 Ashes campaign – or 1.88 fewer runs per wicket
- All-rounder Moeen Ali, and fringe bowler Mark Wood, have been below their career averages (35.38 and 39.21) during the 2015 Ashes series (45.55 and 50) – a negative differential of 10.17 and 10.79 respectively
England’s pace attack hold the edge
As we know, it’s a tight tussle between Australia and England’s bowling units, which (aside from Australia’s resurgence at Lord’s) have held sway over the opposition’s batting units during the series.
As a bowling unit, Australia has conceded 3.07 fewer runs per wicket during the first three matches of the 2015 Ashes series compared to England’s attack. Conversely, England’s Test bowlers concede 1.84 fewer runs per wicket based on the career averages of both bowling units.
But pure statistics can be a little misleading in this instance. In a series where the seamers have been dominant, England’s pace attack holds the edge. Frontline quicks Broad, Anderson and Finn are all conceding fewer runs per wicket than their career averages. The resurgent Finn is averaging an impressive 14.62, while Broad (27.41) and Anderson (27.50) are both conceding comfortably fewer than 30 runs per wicket.
Australia’s much hyped pace attack has struggled by comparison – not that they’ve played badly. Both Hazelwood and Johnson have conceded more runs be per wicket in the 2015 Ashes series (22.50 and 33.60) than their Test career bowling averages (20.34 and 27.78). Starc has managed to marginally better his Test bowling average during his Ashes campaign (32.11 vs 31.66). Unlike their English counterparts, none of Australia’s first choice pace attack have conceded fewer than 20 runs per wicket, with the inconsistent Mitchell Johnson and Mitchell Starc both conceding more than 30 runs per wicket.
However, the absence of James Anderson for the fourth Test (side strain) just made things interesting.
So, will England’s pace attack be able to maintain ascendency without Anderson – its all-time leading Test wicket-taker?
England’s Test record with and without James Anderson (May 2003 debut – present)
Note: ‘England’ refers to all tests played by England since May 2003. ‘England without Anderson’ includes all games played by England since May 2003 in which James Anderson did not play. ‘James Anderson’ refers to all games played by Anderson since his Test debut in May 2003.
- England has the best winning percentage in Test matches played without Anderson (46.94%)
- England’s winning percentage for matches in which Anderson has played (45.79%)
- England’s winning percentage since Anderson’s debut in May 2003 (46.15%)
- England has the lowest losing percentage in Test matches played without Anderson (20.41%)
- England’s losing percentage for matches in which Anderson has played (29.91%)
- England’s losing percentage since Anderson’s debut in May 2003 (26.92%)
- England has the highest rate of drawn Test matches played without Anderson (32.65%)
- England’s rate of drawn matches in which Anderson has played (24.30%)
- England’s rate of drawn matches since Anderson’s debut in May 2003 (26.92%)
No Jimmy? No worries!
As counterintuitive as this might sound, England is better off without Anderson – according to the stats, anyway.
Arguably England’s best Test bowler of all-time – who cares? Fifty-three wickets in eight tests in Nottingham (at an average of less than 20, including a 10-wicket haul in the 2013 Ashes series) – whatever!
Since making his debut in May 2003, England’s Test record indicates that the team actually lifts in his absence. England has the best winning percentage in Test matches played without Anderson (46.94%), the lowest losing percentage for matches without Anderson (20.41%), as well as the highest rate of drawn matches without Anderson (32.65%).
Prediction? The Urn looks set to return to the birthplace of cricket (that’s England, if you weren’t sure).
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