Much has been made of the fact that this is England’s first Ashes tour down under where they won’t have to face the likes of Warne, McGrath, and Gilchrist – or The Freaks as I’ll call them for now – and that it is therefore our best chance of beating them on home soil since the 1986/7 tour.
There was some optimism before the ill-fated 2006/7 tour because of…well, now that I think about it I can’t recall why, but I thought I’d have a look and see if the optimism this time round is justified by the numbers.
I could’ve spent weeks looking at the numbers for this, so I had to restrict it somehow and the analysis is therefore necessarily limited and somewhat flawed, but humour me here; what I settled on were the 32 test matches Australia have played since Adam Gilchrist’s retirement (he was the last of The Freaks to retire) in January 2008 and the 32 they played before that.
The numbers are in fact quite stark, in the 32 matches of the 64 in question before Gilchrist’s retirement Australia scored at 3.7 runs per over, in the 32 since that drops to 3.3 – a 10% decrease in their run rate. There is also a corresponding increase in the run rate of their opponents, up 6% from 3.1 to 3.3. Before the last of The Freaks retired Australia scored, on average, 16% faster than their opponents, after they were gone Australia were just mere mortals – scoring at the same rate.
Just for kicks I looked up the stats for England over the same period, England’s run rate has stayed static over the entire period at 3.3 but they’ve managed to slow their opponents up, down from 3.4 to 3.2 runs per over. Basically it’s become almost completely even between the two sides.
It doesn’t end there though. The average for an Australian batsman in the 32 matches with at least one of The Freaks was 45. The average in the 32 games since? A mere 38.2, eminently human and a decrease of 16%. And again, as with the run rate, there is a corresponding increase in the bowling averages. In the 32 games with (usually) a McGrath or Warne to call upon, opposition wickets disappeared for, on average, 28.4 runs apiece, in the 32 games since that shoots up to 33 – again 16%, but an increase in Australia’s opponents’ favour this time.
For some more kicks, I ran the same numbers for England and lo and behold you find that the stats go from being massively in Australia’s favour to being almost entirely level. Since Gilchrist retired England’s batsmen have given up their wickets for on average 38 runs and have snared opposition wickets for on average 32.4 runs.
But the most striking of all the numbers is the win/loss percentages. Of the 32 matches with at least one Freak involved, Australia won 24, an impressive (to say the least) 75%, and lost just 3 (9%). Without them they were just a bunch of normal cricketers again, winning only 50% and losing more than three times as many as before (31%). England haven’t reversed their fortunes to quite the same extent but in the last couple of years England have won 46% and lost only 22%.
So we can see that since January 2008, by almost any measure Australia have declined and in some cases it’s a marked decline. England, by contrast, have improved bit by bit, in no areas are they streets ahead, but in almost every area they are better than they were, creating a significantly better team.
That said, it’s not as if we now have a rampant England team taking on a limping Australia – that will probably never be the case on Australian soil, but where Australia were previously freakishly good, they are now merely mortal. All the numbers point to a fascinating series, and let’s face it, we all know in our guts that this isn’t going to be a walkover for either side. Whoever wins it will probably do so by a whisker and like 2009 it’ll be a session here and a session there that sews it up. Home advantage and simply being Australians in Australia seems to push their noses in front, but then form and the settled nature of the side hauls England back level. If I have to stick my neck out I’ll say 2-2 and England retain the Ashes.
Article by Josh Green