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31 Dec 2005
Mike Hussey has scored 595 runs at 85.0 in his first five Tests. Don Bradman, the only Australian to score more, scored 607 in his first five, but Bradman’s average was only 67.4 at that point. Four other batsmen – Conrad Hunte, George Headley, KS Ranjitsinhji, and Sunil Gavaskar – also scored more than Hussey in their first five Tests, but of these, only Gavaskar (a record 831 at 118.7) beats Hussey on both aggregate and average.
Mike Hussey set a record for all Tests by scoring 95 runs during his last-wicket stand with Glenn McGrath, passing the mark for an individual batsman set by Azhar Mahmood of Pakistan, who scored 89 out of a last-wicket stand of 151 with Mushtaq Ahmed in 1997. Hussey was only 27 not out when Glenn McGrath came to the crease. Only two batsmen, Nathan Astle, for New Zealand vs England in 1997, and Peter Willey, England vs West Indies in 1980, have made centuries after starting from lower scores at the fall of the ninth wicket. Johnny Taylor of Australia was also on 27 when the ninth wicket fell in Sydney in 1924-25, and went on to score 108.
Glenn McGrath, for his part, also set a record by becoming the first tailender to twice share in century partnerships for the last wicket; his previous effort was a stand of 114 with Jason Gillespie against New Zealand at the ’Gabba only a year ago. Nathan Astle is the only recognised batsman to share in two century stands for the 10th wicket.
Hussey gave a master class in strike-farming during the stand, facing almost exactly two-thirds of the balls bowled and scoring almost 89% of the runs. It was a contrast to the “sink or swim” attitude taken by some leading batsmen toward tailenders. Steve Waugh batted seventeen times in last-wicket partnerships with Glenn McGrath, but he faced only 200 balls to McGrath’s 235. He outscored McGrath, but only just (120 to 107), not much of a margin considering that he was usually past 100 during these partnerships.
Andrew Symonds hit five sixes in his first 50 runs on the way to 72 in the second innings in Melbourne. No Australian has done this before, and only two Australians have ever exceeded Symonds’ tally of six sixes in a Test innings: Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden, both of who have done so twice. Hayden’s Australian record of 11 sixes came in his 380 against Zimbabwe at Perth in 2003.
The risky decision to televise the whole of the Boxing Day Test into the local market seems to have been a winner. The first three days of the Test still drew an attendance of over 149,000. This is the highest three-day total for any Test in Australia since 1982-83, and is a record for all Australia-South Africa Tests. The only trouble is, the MCG is now so big that even a crowd of 40,000 looks scattered, and can hardly sustain a Mexican Wave. On an historical note, Tests attendances have been trending upward since the mid-1980s, when control of cricket was wrested back from PBL Marketing. However, crowd numbers have still not returned to the levels seen in 1974-77, just before the “Packer Revolution”.
If the South Africans had taken all of their catches in the Perth and Melbourne Tests, the Australian batsmen would have made only four half-centuries so far, and no centuries. Instead we have seen five half-centuries, in addition to the four centuries.
One factor that has increased scoring at many grounds is the use of boundary ropes inside the traditional fence. On the second day, I noted about 15 runs that would not have been scored if the fence boundary was used, about 5% of the runs scored. More difficult to quantify is the extra confidence these short boundaries offer to batsmen attempting big hits. There is also the effect of new bat technology: Matthew Hayden now uses a bat with carbon fibre in the handle. The poor bowlers have no such luxury: imagine the uproar if a bowler wanted to use a ‘new technology’ ball that swung, spun or bounced more. Cricket is definitely a game designed for batsman.
29 Dec 2005
I have posted another article the longer articles section, just a snippet from my 2000 book The Best of the Best, discussing the issue of the nightwatchman tactic and whether it works. Click on the link above
26 Dec 2005 Melbourne Test Preview
South Africa’s record in Melbourne is not strong: they have two victories in ten Tests, both coming in the one series back in 1952-53. A defeat at the MCG in 1931-32 was one of the most embarrassing scorelines ever: South Africa (36 and 45) lost to Australia (153) by an innings and 72 runs, in just 5 hours 53 minutes of playing time.
The drawn Test in Perth must have been a shock to the Australian system. It is highly unusual for Australia’s opponents to force a draw in the fourth innings, without help from the weather. Apart from the Perth Test, perhaps only two Tests from the last decade fit this description, and one of those was South Africa’s draw at the MCG in 1997-98. South Africa lasted 126 overs in the fourth innings at Perth; the last time a team batted longer than that against Australia, to draw a Test, was at Nottingham in 1972, when England batted out the last 148 overs.
The return of Jacques Kallis will probably increase the chance of a draw in Melbourne, especially if he bats like Jacques Rudolph. Rudolph took almost seven hours to reach his century at Perth; it was slowest century against Australia since Mike Atherton took 424 minutes to reach 100 at the SCG in 1990-91.
The MCG in recent times has been the lowest-scoring ground in Australia, at about 30.7 runs per wicket (off the bat) since 1989. The differences between grounds are not great – Sydney is the batsman’s favourite at 36.5 runs per wicket – but the MCG is also a slow-scoring ground by Australian standards. Only Adelaide (51.8 runs/100 balls) has seen slower scoring than Melbourne (52.0) in the last 4 seasons.
Although Shane Warne is the leading wicket-taker at several Australian grounds, and has a good average (24.7) at his home ground, his tally of 43 wickets at the MCG is nowhere near the record of Dennis Lillee (82 wickets at 21.9). But neither is anyone else’s. Four wickets for Shane will put him into second place for wickets at the ground, ahead of Hugh Trumble, who played his last Test more than a century ago. Warne is the only bowler since Trumble to take a Test hat-trick on the MCG (vs England in 1994-95).
Are the Australians “over-appealers”? The subject sometimes comes up in pre-match verbal sparring, so here are a few stats. In Perth, the Australians made 20 substantial appeals during the match, while the South Africans made 22. On the other hand, only five of the Australians’ appeals found favour with the umpires, compared to ten for the South Africans. So while they appealed less than the South Africans overall, they appealed unsuccessfully more often. Seven appeals on the last day were turned down, while only three wickets fell.
This is not necessarily typical. In the Adelaide Test against the West Indies, the Australians won nine out of 19 appeals, but the West Indies won only four out of 16.
23 Dec 2005
Australia has now gone 26 series (including one-off Tests) without losing the first Test of a series. The last time the team lost in an opening Test was in Sri Lanka in 1999, losing by six wickets.
In only his third Test, Brad Hodge has already collected a “first since Bradman” stat. He is the only Australian, apart from Bradman, to score a double century in the second innings of a Test match. Bradman did it in consecutive Tests in 1936-37, firstly at Melbourne (270), then at Adelaide (212), when Australia came from 2-0 down to win the Ashes 3-2. It is surprising that no other Australian have done this (even once), since 20 batsmen from other countries have achieved the feat.
Hodge scored his first double century only 32 days after his Test debut, the fastest for any Australian; only Mark Taylor (196 days in 1989) and Herbie Collins (203 in 1921) have previously scored 200s within a year of their debut. Once again, it is more common among players from other countries, five of whom even scored double tons in their debut Test. Hodge’s 203 came in his fifth Test innings, equalling Dean Jones and Sid Barnes, but in both those cases, the 200s came years after their debuts.
The concern over Adam Gilchrist’s batting form continues; his career average has now dropped in each of his last ten Tests. This is not a record, but Gilchrist will be keen to avoid the extremes of Mark Taylor (11 consecutive Tests in 1996-97), and Ian Healy, whose average dropped in his last 12 Tests, at which point he himself was dropped. Gilchrist has a way to go to match Grant Flower of Zimbabwe, whose average dropped in 16 consecutive Tests in 1999-2000.
When Shane Warne passed Dennis Lillee’s peak of 85 wickets in a calendar year, it was a major feature of newspaper and website reports. It is remarkable, then, to remember that when Lillee set his mark in 1981, nobody noticed. It was not mentioned in the major publications of the day, and it was not included in the massive 700-page Wisden Book of Cricket Records in 1993. It just shows that, even in cricket statistics, fashions can change. Lillee set his record (having passed Kapil Dev’s 74 wickets in 1979) in the Boxing Day Test but, understandably enough, the focus back then was on the fact that he had just broken Lance Gibbs’ career wickets record of 309.
The “Calendar Year” record can seem a bit contrived because it tends to split seasons, series and sometimes even Tests down the middle. It is worth asking, though, if we move away from the strict calendar year, what is the most wickets taken in any 365-day period? This is a challenging calculation, but it can be done with the right database. Shane Warne does not (yet) have this record
113 wickets, Mutiah Muralitharan, year to July 23, 2002 (14 Tests)
95 wickets, Shane Warne current (14 Tests)
89 Allan Donald January 18, 1999 (16 Tests)
88 Imran Khan February 4, 1983 (13 Tests)
87 Dennis Lillee November 27, 1981 (14 Tests)
82 Malcolm Marshall December 11, 1984 (13 Tests)
82 Glenn McGrath November 11, 1997 (15 Tests)
80 Anil Kumble December 19, 2004 (13 Tests)
It is surprising, considering the greatly increased schedule of Tests in recent years, that some of these totals were set back in the ‘80s, and that Lillee’s record stood for so long. It is a similar situation with the calendar year batting record: Viv Richards 1,710 runs in 1976 still stands, and by a considerable margin.
In their second innings in Perth, the first eight Australian batsmen all reached 20. This has happened only eleven times before in Tests. The only time an Australian team went one better, with the first nine all reaching 20, was at Birmingham in 1961, when Australia scored 516.
The South Africans dropped seven chances in the Perth Test, costing them a total of 311 runs, 228 from Brad Hodge alone. Hodge was dropped at 3 in his first innings of 41, and at 13 in his 203 not out. The deficit for South Africa rises to 364 if the “catch off a no-ball that wasn’t”, in Ricky Ponting’s second innings of 49, is included.
South Africa’s first-ever Test in Perth drew good crowds, partly thanks to the strong South African community in the West. The first-day attendance of 18,500 was the biggest crowd at Perth in a non-Ashes Test since the 1975-76 Test vs the West Indies, which drew 20,019 on the second day.
15 Dec 2005
Some interesting stats, showing those players who have either improved after bad career starts, or declined after good starts, have been presented by Travis Basevi and George Binoy on Cricinfo. A good read, although I think Basevi and Binoy have missed an interesting feature of the stats.
Of the batsmen who have improved the most, six out of the top ten are current or very recent players: Kallis, SR Waugh, Hayden, Gibbs, Atapattu, and Inzamam. There are no current batsmen on the list of those who have declined; Sherwin Campbell is the most recent.
So why have so many present-day batsmen improved so much during their careers? Is it because the individuals have improved, have conditions got easier, or have bowling standards declined?
The list of bowlers who have improved contains three current names – Flintoff, Cairns, McGrath – but the list of bowlers who have declined contains only one current name: Brett Lee. Now if batting standards were improving, you would expect more names on the declining bowlers’ list. And if conditions (such as pitches and batting equipment) were getting easier for batting, you would expect more bowlers to be declining than improving.
This suggests to me that it is getting easier to bat because of a decline in the number of good bowlers, not any decline in the quality of individual bowlers themselves. Quality bowlers, when they retire, are not being replaced in the same numbers.
If this is a problem, it is for individual countries to address. For Australia, the last two ODIs against New Zealand, where we saw what can happen in the absence of both McGrath and Warne, rang some more warning bells.
10 Dec 2005
New Zealand’s 320 at Wellington was the highest chasing score ever conceded by Australia in an ODI, and the 5th-highest all time, until Christchurch 3 days later.
The Wellington match was the highest-scoring ODI ever to be decided by a margin of less than four runs. The nearest thing was a one-run win to Australia (302) over Zimbabwe (301) at Perth in 2001. The West Indies (333) beat Sri Lanka (329) by four runs at Sharjah in 1995.
Brett Lee, in taking 1 for 85 at Wellington, equalled his own Australian record for most runs conceded by a bowler in an ODI. He now has the three most expensive analyses by Australians in ODIs, the others being 1 for 85 vs Pakistan at Cardiff in 2001, and 1 for 83 vs India at Sydney in 2004.
The fifth-wicket partnership of 220 between Symonds and Clarke was only three runs short of the record for all ODIs (223 by Jadeja and Azharuddin of India), and almost 50 runs better than the previous 5th-wicket record for Australia (172* by Darren Lehmann and Michael Bevan in 1998-99). It was the highest partnership for any wicket in an ODI in New Zealand.
Andrew Symonds’ 156 is the second-fastest 150 by an Australian in ODIs, and possibly the 8th-fastest all-time. I don’t believe that a list of the fastest 150s in ODIs has ever been published, so here is one:
109b L Vincent (172) NZ v Zim Bulawayo 2005
110b AC Gilchrist (172) Aus v Zim Hobart 2004
111b BC Lara (169) WI v SL Sharjah 1995
114b IVA Richards (181) WI v SL Karachi 1987
<117b DI Gower (158) Eng v NZ Brisbane 1983
120b ST Jayasuriya (151) SL v Ind Bombay 1997
123b MS Dhoni (183*) Ind v SL Jaipur 2005
125b A Symonds (156) Aus v NZ Wellington 2005
There are three or four other innings, including Kapil Dev’s freakish 175 off 138 balls in 1983, that might belong on this list, but the balls faced at 150 are not known.
Mick Lewis, aged 31 years 161 days, is the oldest debutant for Australia since Bob Holland (38 years 88 days) in 1985. The record for the oldest Australian on ODI debut is unlikely to be broken: Bob Simpson was 42 years 19 days when he played his first ODI in 1978.
6 Dec 2005
The fastest-scoring batsmen section has been updated. Some features:
- Gautam Gambhir has entered the list at #13, now that he has scored enough Test runs.
- Shahid Afridi is making up some ground on Adam Gilchrist as the fastest scorer in Tests.
- Owing to a programming gltich, results for the ICC World XI in October have not been included.
1 Dec 2005
Brian Lara’s 226 at Adelaide was remarkable in many ways, especially when contrasted to his teammates’ scoring. The West Indies’ 405 all out is the smallest total to include an individual score of over 225 in all Test cricket.
Lara scored 6.65 times more runs than the 34 of second-top score Dwayne Bravo. This ratio is a record for the West Indies. The all-time record is still held by Charles Bannerman, in the first innings of the very first Test in 1877, whose 165 was 9.17 times the next best batsman (18). Lara, in scoring 192 runs more than Bravo, set another West Indies record for a complete innings. The all-time record here is held by Don Bradman, whose 334 at Leeds in 1930 was 257 runs greater than the second-top score (Kippax 77).
Although Lara’s tally of eight double-centuries in Tests is still well short of Bradman’s 12 (one of the most formidable records on the books), Lara has now equalled the Don in terms of scores over 150. They share the record with 18.
With Sanath Jayasuriya recently omitted from the Sri Lankan Test team, Lara is now the oldest active player in Tests. He is about 4 months older than Shane Warne.
One sign that the West Indies may be too dependent on Lara can be found in the poor averages of the other batsmen when he is in the team. In the last 12 Tests that Lara has played, his teammates have averaged only 31.3 runs per wicket (recognised batsmen only). When Lara is not in the team, the same batsmen average about 38.8.
Mike Hussey scored 361 runs in the series. His batting average of 120.3 is a record for an Australian in his debut series (minimum three Tests). The previous record average was set by Albert Trott, 102.5 in 1894-95. Only two Australians have scored more runs than Hussey in their first three Test matches, led by Herbie Collins in 1920 with 424. But before Hussey starts thinking that Test cricket is an easy game, he should consider that second on that list is Michael Clarke’s 376. Clarke has since become the first winner of the Allan Border Medal to be dropped from an Australian Test team. It is also worth noting that Albert Trott never played another Test for Australia after his great debut.
Shane Warne is now the leading wicket-taker on four Australian grounds: Adelaide (50 wickets), Brisbane (64), Sydney (60) and Hobart (28). Although Warne has a good average at the MCG (24.7), his tally of 43 wickets there is barely halfway to Dennis Lillee’s record of 82.
In spite of the West Indies declining status as a Test drawcard, and a case of the “Dead Rubber Blues” for Australian players and spectators alike, the attendance at the Adelaide Test was encouraging. At 69,342, it exceeded the attendance at the equivalent match five years ago by about 10%. Total attendances at the three Tests were similar to the first three Tests on the last tour in 2000-01. Authorities will be pleased that all three Tests extended into the 5th day; the first two Tests of 2000-01 ended on the third day.
When Shane Warne dismissed Brian Lara in the ICC World XI match in Sydney in October, it was the first time he had taken Lara’s wicket in a Test since the Perth Test of 1996 –97 (2 Feb 1997).
Random Stat of the Day
Contrasting Tests: two days after the greatest Test of all, the Brisbane tie, ended, India and Pakistan began one of the dullest Tests ever. In Pakistan’s 1st innings, there was a spell of 11 consecutive maiden overs, and when India batted, Jaisimha scored fewer than 9 runs in a two-hour session before lunch. He batted through the day for 54 runs.
On the subject of “resting” bowlers, Steve Pittard writes: “Back in 1981 Dennis Lillee 'bunked off' fielding during 21 sessions in the Test series, whilst in the late 1980s a chap called bayliss substitued for no less than 7 of his team in an Australian state match. “
Pittard also reports that Ricky Ponting’s wicket in the fourth Test (Michael Vaughan) ended a record run of going wicketless in 21 previous innings bowling attempts. Mike Gatting held the previous record with 20.
Ricky Ponting’s 156 at Old Trafford was the highest innings by an Australian on the fifth day of a Test since Bradman (173*) and Morris (182) famously chased down 404 at Leeds in 1948.
New Zealand scored 219 runs in a session against Zimbabwe at Harare. Not quite a two-hour-session record: Australia scored 236 between lunch and tea at Joburg in 1921, and England scored 233 in a session at Nottingham in 1954.
Following concern over my well-being from my better half, I checked my blood pressure about 2 minutes after the end of the Edgbaston Test. It was about 20 points above normal.
Geoff Boycott, in a county game for Yorkshire in 1982, batted right through the innings, being last out, yet was outscored by the #11 batsman. GB Stevenson scored 115 no, while Boycott was out for 79. Their 10-wicket stand was 149.
In the Sri Lanka/ West Indies Test at Kandy, Tino Best hit a ball into the covers. Replays suggested that he had been caught, but there was no appeal! The fieldsmen were under the impression that it was a bump ball.
The only captain to bowl himself virtually unchanged through an entire Test match (both innings) was George Giffen on his home ground of Adelaide in 1894-95.
When the enigmatic medium-pacer SF Barnes played for Wales against the West Indies in 1928, he took 12 wickets. He was 55 years old at the time, and hadn’t played Tests for almost 15 years, but was still rated by the tourists as the best bowler they faced that year.
“Freddie” Flintoff has played 47 Tests, the most by any player before playing against Australia for the first time.
24 Nov 2005 (belated)
Having won their last eight home Tests, and their last seven home Tests against the West Indies, Australia should be unbackable favourites for the Adelaide Test. The only worry could be the team’s tendency to fade towards the end of a series. In the last five years, Australia, in the last Test of a series, has lost five and drawn four out of 18 matches. This is quite a contrast to the opening Tests of series, where Australia has won 23 out of the last 25, with no defeats.
It is not an especially high-scoring ground historically, yet the Adelaide Oval has seen seven scores of over 500 in its last ten Tests. Only one of those matches was drawn. Australia has passed 550 in its last three Tests at the ground (including a Test lost to India).
Although Adelaide has not been a particularly friendly ground for spinners (who average 35.6 there over the last 20 years) Shane Warne needs just two wickets to pass Dennis Lillee’s record of 45 Test wickets at the ground. Unless, of course, Glenn McGrath, with 41 wickets at an average of 19, gets there first.
Damien Martyn will be ruing his lost place in the team. His Test average of 96 at the Adelaide Oval is second only to the Don himself (minimum 8 innings).
Considering that Australia and West Indies have played only 12 Tests on the Adelaide Oval, there is a remarkably rich history of memorable matches:
Hobart Test Notes
Brad Hodge’s 60 at Hobart was the best Test debut by a Victorian batsman since Gary Cosier scored 109 against The West Indies at the MCG in 1975-76. Apart from Cosier, the only Victorians to make centuries on debut have been Harry Graham (107 in 1894) and Bill Ponsford (110 in 1924).
Mike Hussey scored 168 runs in his second Test match. Only two Australians have scored more: Don Bradman (191) at the MCG in 1928, and Ross Edwards (183) at Nottingham in 1972. The record for all countries is 274 by Zaheer Abbas of Pakistan.
It seems that whenever Stuart MacGill and Shane Warne play together, it is MacGill who emerges with the better figures. In their eleven Tests together, MacGill has taken 58 wickets at 20.8, while Warne has 48 wickets at 30.1. MacGill has outshone Warne (statistically, at least) in nine of those Tests, including all six matches in Australia. It is surprising that Warne’s figures are worse than his career average, given that the pair are usually selected only when conditions favour spin. The two spinners have taken 53% of Australia’s wickets in those eleven Tests.
When Shane Warne took 0 for 48 in the first innings at Hobart, he had gone wicketless in two consecutive innings for the first time in 50 Tests (since a Test against India at the SCG in 2000).
The partnership of 231 between Matt Hayden and Mike Hussey took Australia to an 82-run first-innings lead, the biggest ever achieved by an Australian opening stand. The Test record for all countries (ignoring a recent farce involving Zimbabwe) is a 132-run lead by Hobbs and Rhodes when they added 323 for England at the MCG in 1911-12.
The 182-run stand of Bravo and Ramdin is the highest 7th-wicket stand conceded by Australia in a home Test. Although it is was the West Indies’ second-highest stand for this wicket in all Test cricket (excluding a partnership in 1974 where a batsman retired hurt), Bravo and Ramdin were barely half-way to the record of 347 (also against Australia) by Atkinson and Depeiza at Bridgetown, Barbados in 1955, which stood as the record for all first-class cricket for many years.
The official crowd of 12,254 on the second day at Hobart was a record for the Bellerive ground, thanks to a very large contingent of schoolchildren bussed in for the occasion.
The Australians have now gone eight Tests without effecting a run out. Though quite unusual, it is well short of the team’s record of 12 Tests set in 1989-90.
18 Nov 2005
The Test in Hobart is the seventh on the Bellerive Ground, and the first for the West Indies there. Although Tasmanian cricket fans will be pleased to see a Test there after an interval of four years, the match is also another sign of the decline of the West Indies in Test cricket; on this tour, for the first time ever, the West Indies will not be playing Tests in Sydney or Melbourne.
The ground has been a happy one for the Australian team. Australia is undefeated there, winning four times, and having much the better of the two draws, which were both rain-affected. Australia averages 46.9 runs per wicket in Hobart, totally outclassing their opponents’ 25.8. Australia has reached 500 on three occasions at Hobart, but their opponents have never passed 400.
An unusual feature of Tests in Hobart has been the relative failure of pace bowlers, who average over 40 runs per wicket on the ground. By contrast, it is the best ground in Australia for both finger spinners (average 29.1) and wrist-spinners (21.9). Shane Warne (24 wickets at 19.2) loves the ground, while Glenn McGrath’s figures, 13 wickets at 21.2, are at odds with those of other pacemen – yet another sign of his class.
There are strengthening signs that Australian selectors are looking for a new generation of Test cricketers. In the Brisbane Test, only six players remained from the team of 12 months ago. This is the biggest change in personnel in Australian teams (comparing teams at one year intervals) since 1989-90, when only four players remained from a year previously.
The team is also getting younger; the average age of the players is almost 18 months younger than the team of a year ago. This goes against a long-term trend towards an ageing team, that we have seen for more than 15 years. The current team is still not young by historical standards, but the change in age over the past year is the biggest since 1985-86, a time when Australian cricket was struggling and selectors were searching for a winning combination. The Australian team at Brisbane 12 months ago could boast 665 Test caps. This had declined to 582 caps a year later, and could be lower (depending on the final team makeup) at Hobart.
The West Indies will be desperately looking for a major contribution from Brian Lara. A score of over 150 would be his 18th in Tests, and that would bring him equal to one of Don Bradman’s remaining records. A sign of Lara’s importance to his team is his average of almost 92 runs per Test match, comfortably ahead of any of the Australian batsmen, who otherwise can match Lara when it comes to averages. Matthew Hayden scores about 86 runs per match, Ricky Ponting about 81. Only Bradman, and Lara’s compatriot Everton Weekes, have ever scored more runs per match than Lara, over a long career (minimum 25 Tests).
The Long Road to the Baggy Green
Brad Hodge’s path to Test cricket has been one of the longest for any Australian batsman. With 12,679 runs in first-class cricket at 46.8, Hodge has scored more runs before his first Test than any other Australian, with the exception, strangely enough, of Mike Hussey, who scored over 15,000 runs before his Test debut just a fortnight ago.
The great success of the modern-day Australian team, and the great rewards for those who hold on to their places in it, has made it harder than ever before for promising young batsmen to find a place. Since 1999, the average age for batsmen debuting for Australia has been just under 28 years, compared to 23 years for debutants from 1990 to 1995, 24 years in the 1980s, and about 25 years a generation ago (1967 to 1974).
If he debuts at Hobart, Hodge will be the fifth Australian to do so with more than 10,000 first-class runs to his credit, the others being Hussey, Darren Lehmann, Andrew Symonds, and Martin Love. (Simon Katich needed “only” 4680 runs before debut, but had to score another 2800 before his next Test) A generation ago, 10,000 runs was a respectable output for a whole career; now it is practically a prerequisite for Test selection. The typical debutant from the last seven years has needed more than three times as many runs before selection than those from 1967 to 1974 (on average, 8793 runs to 2584).
The experience of modern debutants may be one reason why they have enjoyed so much success, at least at first. Since 1994, players selected primarily as batsmen have averaged 53.7 in their debut matches, rising to 75.7 if only the first Test innings are considered. These are remarkable figures considering that it includes some players who have not gone on to establish their Test places. The average score for all Australian recognised batsmen in the same period, dominated by the established players, is 45.1.
In the 1960s, batting debutants for Australia averaged 47, in the 1970s it was 33, and in the 1980s just 34.
Recent debuts for Australia (recognised batsmen only):
14 Nov 2005
There were some encouraging signs, on the first two days of the Brisbane Test, that the West Indies would be putting in a more competitive effort on this tour than on the last, which they lost 5-0. In their last outing at the ’Gabba in 2000-01, the West Indies looked an utterly beaten team by tea on the first day, and were behind on first innings by stumps (82 all out to 1/107). At least this time, the Australian dominance took about two days to take effect; unfortunately, the end result was almost as one-sided as the 2000 match.
In the lead up match against Queensland, the West Indies scored 612, just four short of the highest score by any West Indian team in Australia. This was against respectable bowling, and without Brian Lara. Their gradual disintegration a week later suggests that, even after the Ashes defeat, Australia can still command a considerable psychological advantage over most teams.
Despite their declining reputation in world cricket, the West Indians (who, for the first time ever, will not be playing Tests in Sydney or Melbourne) still drew a respectable crowd for the Brisbane Test. At 51,330, the attendance was higher than for the famous Tie of 1960-61, and was the second-highest ever for a West Indies Test at the ground. The record of 64,000 was set in 1975-76.
When the West Indies were all out for 129 in their second innings, it was the first time that both Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath had gone wicketless in the same completed Test innings. The nearest thing previously was a score of 8/287 by New Zealand at the same ground in 2001, where Glenn took 0/80 and Shane 0/61.
Warne has enjoyed remarkable success at the ’Gabba throughout his career. He has now taken more Test wickets there (64) than at any other ground. His bowling average there of 19.25, and his batting average of 34.8, are both far better than his averages elsewhere. This tremendous success is something of a statistical mystery, since the ’Gabba has been a graveyard for other spinners, who collectively, over the last 20 years, have averaged more than 50 runs per wicket on the ground.
The Australian team contained only six players who played in the corresponding Test against New Zealand a year ago. This is the biggest one-year change in the team since the late 1980s.
Ricky Ponting became the 13th Australian to score a century in each innings of a Test. Interesting to note that six of those 13 have been captains – almost 50% – when historically only about 17% of centuries by Australians are the work of captains.
The last three cases of a century in each innings by Australians have all been scored in Queensland. Matthew Hayden achieved this against England in 2002-03 at the ’Gabba, and also in Cairns against Sri Lanka in 2004.
3 November 2005
Comparing the magnitude of the biggest team innings is complicated by the fact that these innings are frequently incomplete, in the sense that they are terminated by declarations, or by the end of the match. While an innings of 3 for 550 is worth fewer runs than one of 600 all out, most would agree that the former is actually the more remarkable score. It is actually possible, by studying those innings which run to completion (or nearly so), to come up with a model to project the most likely final score for incomplete innings. How many runs might we expect from a team on 3 for 550, if it was allowed to complete the innings?
One of the most interesting findings merging from studying how innings progress is that the number of runs already scored has only a relatively minor influence on the number of runs that can be expected. Teams that reach, say, 5 for 200, will, on average, add another 105 runs before being all out. Teams on 5 for 400 will, on average, add 120. So doubling the starting point adds less than 15% to the potential of the batsmen to come. This is a surprising result.
What’s more, as innings go into more extreme realms, the expected additions flatten out altogether, or even go into reverse. A team on 5 for 500 can be expected to add 115 runs, while a team on 5 for 600 will add just 110. This may be because tailenders coming in at very high scores play with reduced intensity.
The analysis can be used to compare large innings, by projecting them to completion. Naturally, we are talking about statistical averages here; we can’t say for sure how many runs will be added in a specific case. But it does give a basis for comparison for the largest innings.
When projected to completion, the highest innings in Test cricket are:
21 October 2005
The World XI’s batting performance was the worst by any team on the Sydney Cricket Ground, in a completed Test, for more than 50 years, worse even than Zimbabwe and that West Indies team that lost 5-0 in 2000-01. The World XI were out for 190 and 144, at with an average of 16.75 runs per wicket. Back in 1951-52, the West indies were out for 78 and 213, averaging 14.6. That match was the last Test in Australia to be played before the introduction of fully covered wickets.
The match lasted just 252 overs. It was the shortest Test in Australia, in balls bowled, to see all 40 wickets fall for more than 100 years, apart from a 2004 Test in Darwin against Sri Lanka. So much for the 6-day format.
Sydney, normally a batting haven, favoured the bowlers in this out-of-season Test match. In the last 10 years, or the last 20 years for that matter, wickets have cost over 35 runs apiece at the SCG, but they cost only 21.9 runs each in this “6-day” match. The only SCG Tests with lower scoring in the last 50 years were in 1978-79 (v England) and 1993-94 (v South Africa).
Australia’s win came without exerting their full bowling strength. Glenn McGrath bowled only six overs in the second innings; only once has he bowled fewer overs in a complete team innings.
The World XI’s batting averages from the Test match and the ODIs make dismal reading. The batsmen came into the series with a combined total of over 100,000 runs in international cricket, but only Kumar Sangakkara was able to better his career batting average, and of the others, only Flintoff did not tarnish his reputation.
Here are some figures combining averages from the Test and ODIs, compared to their combined career averages from both forms of the game:
BC Lara, average 9.2 (career av. 47.6)
R Dravid, average 13.8 (career 51.2)
JH Kallis, average 26.0 (career 49.6)
V Sehwag, average 29.4 (career 39.4)
A Flintoff, average 30.2 (career 33.9)
Meanwhile, Smith, Inzamam, Pietersen, and Afridi provided very little work for the scorers. That leaves only Sangakkara, who scored 138 at 46.0 in the one-dayers, who could be pleased with his performance.
The World XI’s average innings length in the four matches was 42 overs, and they were bowled out in 50 overs, or less, every time they batted. At that rate, the Aussies won’t be complaining about “too much cricket”.
17 October 2005
Relying on Luck, More or Less
Some batsmen seem luckier than others. Luck is not an easy quantity to measure, but one way to get an indication of it is to look at dropped catches. It is possible, for the last few years anyway, to answer the question, which batsmen have benefited the most from dropped catches?
Taking the period from January 2004 to the end of the Ashes series, the batsmen dropped most times were
MP Vaughan 12 times (1395 runs)
MJ Clarke 11 (1004 runs)
V Sehwag 11 (1685 runs)
JA Rudolph 10 (1080 runs)
ML Hayden 10 (1648 runs)
Michael Vaughan leads the way, but newcomer Michael Clarke finished fast, being dropped 11 times in 26 innings. (Clarke did not often make great use of his chances, and only twice added more than 50 runs after being dropped.) At the other extreme, three batsmen were dropped only once in this period, the most successful being Daniel Vettori who scored 606 runs.
It is probably more interesting to look at the effect of these dropped catches on runs scored, and averages. Some misses are much more expensive than others: KC Sangakkara was dropped on 0 in his innings of 270 against Zimbabwe. Over a whole career, one might expect these to even out for most batsmen, but in a 20-month period, some batsmen definitely benefit more. If you recalculate averages assuming that every dropped catch had been taken, the averages most heavily affected are
V Sehwag 28.3 runs lost (70.2 Average would have been 41.9)
SR Tendulkar 24.9 runs lost (78.0 Average would have been 53.1)
KP Pietersen 21.0 runs lost (52.6 Average would have been 31.6)
RWT Key 20.8 runs lost (44.3 Average would have been 23.5)
RR Sarwan 19.7 runs lost (47.3 Average would have been 27.6)
The luckiest Australian was Darren Lehmann, who would have lost 17 runs off his average if all the chances he gave had been taken.
Sehwag leads thanks to chances he gave during his biggest innings: dropped at 68 on the way to 309, at 43 in an innings of 201, and at 15 in an innings of 173. Sehwag gained 679 runs in total thanks to missed chances, ahead of Sarwan (551), Sangakkara (506), Vaughan (488) and Justin Langer (487).
At the other end of the scale, Habibul Bashar of Bangladesh gained only 9 runs in all. He was dropped three times, but each time was dismissed very quickly thereafter.
Another way of looking at changed averages is in terms of ratio: who would have lost the greatest chunk of their average, in percentage terms, if all chances had been taken?
WW Hinds 48% 39.9 Average would have been 20.6
RWT Key 47% 44.3 Average would have been 23.5
Mohammad Ashraful 43% 28.2 Average would have been 16.0
DS Lehmann 42% 40.2 Average would have been 23.2
Shahid Afridi 42% 41.8 Average would have been 24.3
Statistical note: minimum 400 runs scored between Jan 2004 and Sep 2005. Results should be considered indicative only: the definition of a missed chance is sometimes subjective. Results depend on detailed report, which may not be absolutely complete for some Tests.
7 October 2005
The Ashes wake-up call has created a challenge to Australian selectors. One challenge has been to decide who must make way for new blood; this is particularly difficult in the batting line-up. The reason is that none of the established batsmen has performed poorly over the last couple of years; there have been no obvious weaknesses, and that is one reason for the team’s still-outstanding record. The relevant batting averages since the beginning of 2004 are:
SM Katich 40.00
DS Lehmann 40.15
MJ Clarke 40.16
ML Hayden 40.20
AC Gilchrist 44.67
DR Martyn 49.54
RT Ponting 51.87
JL Langer 51.90
It is remarkable that the best Australian, Langer, has averaged only 51.9 in this period. There are no fewer than twelve batsmen from other countries with better averages over the same period, including Graham Thorpe, who was dropped from the England team. For Australia, the worry is that the weakest averages go to the youngest players. Eventually the axe fell on Martyn, who was especially unlucky given that he was victim to more than his share of poor umpiring decisions in the Abashes series.
Here are some other averages of major batsmen since January 2004:
GP Thorpe 62.74
R Dravid 66.09
SR Tendulkar 78.00
V Sehwag 68.73
Younis Khan 63.82
AB de Villiers 53.72
GC Smith 54.18
JH Kallis 80.89
BC Lara 65.59
CH Gayle 52.20
S Chanderpaul 61.23
Note three West Indians on this list. In spite of this, West Indies have won only two Tests (including one against Bangladesh) and lost thirteen of their last 20 Tests. Bowlers still win Tests, it would seem. There are no Australians, and only one (dropped) Englishman on the list, and yet these have been the most successful teams of the last 18 months.
With the Ashes over, Test cricket has gone straight from the sublime to the ridiculous, with all other recent Tests involving Zimbabwe of Bangladesh. The weakness of the game in these two countries can be measured by taking the ratio of their batting averages to bowling averages. Historically, Bangladesh’s record is as follows; remember that lower values indicate worse performances.
2000-01 Bangladesh 0.35
2002 Bangladesh 0.29
2003 Bangladesh 0.45
2004 Bangladesh 0.41
2005 Bangladesh 0.50
On the face of it, Bangladesh are improving a little, but don’t forget that two of their 2005 Tests have been against Zimbabwe, which has boosted the averages. In their other four Tests this year, Bangladesh have lost by an innings, and have failed to bowl their opponents out.
Zimbabwe’s complete historical record is:
1992 Zimbabwe 0.62
1993 Zimbabwe 0.67
1994 Zimbabwe 1.17
1995 Zimbabwe 0.75
1996 Zimbabwe 0.59
1997 Zimbabwe 0.83
1998 Zimbabwe 0.89
1999 Zimbabwe 0.59
2000 Zimbabwe 0.76
2001 Zimbabwe 0.86
2002 Zimbabwe 0.50
2003 Zimbabwe 0.61
2004 Zimbabwe 0.62
2005 Zimbabwe 0.47
There have been some years when Zimbabwe was moderately competitive, but the trend is ineluctably down at the moment. Their 2005 record, at an all-time low, is particularly dismal given that it includes those two Tests in Bangladesh.
Both teams fall short of an acceptable Test standard. There have been very weak teams in Test cricket before, but few have sustained batting averages less than half their bowling averages. For example, the West Indies, in their first five years of Tests (1928-33), were knocked from pillar to post, but their batting/bowling ratio, of 0.60, was still better than that seen from our two present-day minnows.
23 September 2005
The Table of fastest and slowest batsmen has been updated. Click here.
A new Longer Article has been posted, an historical study of the very first Test innings, Charles Bannerman’s incredible 165 (retired hurt) at the MCG in 1877, which holds a number of Test records to this day. Click here.
16 September 2005
The most closely-fought Ashes series in history came to a fitting climax at the Oval, where the Ashes were still up for grabs half-way through the last day of the last Test. This is the first time since 1962-63 that the Ashes were decided so late in a series.
They say that bowlers win Test matches, but Shane Warne must be wondering about that. Warne is the first bowler to reach 40 wickets in a five-Test series since Jim Laker (46 wickets) in 1956. It is the most wickets by any bowler for a losing side, apart from a couple of cases in six-Test series. Clarrie Grimmett, with 44 wickets in South Africa in 1935-36, is the only Australian to take more wickets than Shane in a five-Test series.
England’s 36 sixes in the five Tests is a record for any team in a Test series. The series total of 51 sixes is also a record. Kevin Pietersen’s seven sixes, during his 158 on the last day, passed the record for Ashes innings, held by Ian Botham since 1981. England’s scoring rate of 64.5 runs/100 balls is their fastest ever in an Ashes series, although short of Australia’s 71 r/100b in 2001. Australia’s rate of 62.0 is the fastest scoring by a losing team since the West Indies in 1975-76.
The last time Australia failed to reach 400 at any stage of a full-length series was in 1978-79, when the team had been decimated by the World Series Cricket split, and was thrashed by Mike Brearley’s England team. Australia trailed on first innings for four Tests in a row, the first time this has happened to them in a series since Allan Border’s team was crushed in the West Indies in 1984.
In the Ashes series, every one of Australia’s recognised batsmen fell short of their career batting average. Shane Warne scored more runs than Gilchrist, Katich, or Martyn. Justin Langer topped Australia’s averages with 43.8, the lowest “top average” for Australia for more than 20 years.
The bowling of both sides was notable for its intensity and tenacity. Australia conceded only two chanceless 100s in the series, Flintoff and Strauss at the Oval, and likewise scored only two such centuries, Ponting’s and Hayden’s.
Although much has been said about dropped catches, the Australian total of 15 for the five Tests was not especially high, being a typical rate for the team. England actually missed 22 chances for the series, above their normal rate of about 3 per Test. Australia did fail to run out any English batsmen; this is unusual, but it has happened recently, in 1997 and again in 1998-99.
There has been a sudden change in the number of lbws being decided both for and against Australia. During the last Australian summer, Australia lost 17% of their wickets lbw, but this rose to 24% in England. By contrast, the number of lbw decisions for Australian bowlers plummeted from 24% of the wickets in 2004-05, to 13% in England.
9 September 2005
Does Fortune Favour the Strong?
The 2005 Ashes has been a startling series, and a shock to system for some players. The finely-balanced Tests, and ever-improving technology, is also focussing attention on the umpiring. Australian fans feel that their players are getting some bad decisions. One way or another, there is a clear effect emerging in the statistics.
Even the broad stats tell a story: Australia has lost very close to the maximum 20 wickets per Test in the first four Tests, compared to 13 in the last Ashes series in Australia, and almost double the 10.6 wickets per Test lost on the last tour of England in 2001.
More striking are the changing patterns of wicket loss. LBW decisions, and catches behind, have often favoured the Australians in the recent past, but the situation has been reversed in England. When the current series is compared to Australia’s last home season, against Pakistan and New Zealand, there are some surprising changes.
The percentage of Australian batsmen out lbw has climbed from 17% of dismissals in the 2004-05 home season, to 22% in the Ashes series, while the lbw figures for Australia’s opponents have plummeted: 24% in the 2004-05 season down to 11% in the Ashes series. If the comparison is made between this tour of England and the last (in 2001, when Australian batsmen dominated) the change is a bit less dramatic, but still quite significant.
The figure of 22% Australian batsmen falling lbw is an especially high one considering that many of the Australians are left-handers facing right-hand bowlers, which normally affords a degree of protection. Even Adam Gilchrist, who has never been given out lbw in a Test in Australia, has succumbed in this series.
Nor would the figures for catches behind please the Australians. Against New Zealand and Pakistan last season, only 17% of the catches offered by Australian batsmen went to wicketkeepers, whereas this has risen to 37% in the Ashes series, and this latter figure could well have been higher if Geraint Jones was less generous with missed chances behind the stumps. This stat has also risen for Australia’s opponents, but by a much smaller amount, from 32% to 36%.
Figures for other “adjudged” dismissals – bat-pad catches and run outs – have also risen for Australia (from 3% to 11%), but fallen for their opponents (12% to 4%), although the numbers of actual dismissals are relatively small.
What these modes of dismissal have in common is the need, in many cases, for difficult umpiring decisions. It has long been suspected in many sports that umpiring tends to favour home teams, especially when they are dominant. It is not a matter of corruption, but perhaps just a common human tendency. For the Australian in this series, the net effect has been a “swing” of about 5 wickets per Test against them: these are wickets they would either have taken, or not lost, last season. For Australia and England, this is greater than the difference between the teams. Close defeats would be converted to close victories: the Australians might now have a 3-0 or 4-0 lead if the umpiring had favoured them as much as it did in 2004-05.
2 September 2005
Even though they have often looked second best in this series, the Australian’s fighting qualities have produced some magnificent finishes. With the exception of a famous comeback win against Sri Lanka in 1992 (Shane Warne’s first Test success), Australia has never come so close to winning a match from so far behind. Nearly all matches where there is a first-innings lead of over 250 end in an innings, or very large, victory.
In statistical terms, England’s decision to enforce the follow-on was a risky one, and it nearly backfired. In the last 30 years, teams enforcing the follow-on have won 81% of the time, and have even lost a couple of Tests, but teams in similar positions but choosing to not enforce do better, winning 93% of matches, with no defeats.
Australia has lost just six Tests in the last three years. Glenn McGrath has missed four of those Tests. The team’s 29-6 record since March 2002 becomes 21-2 with McGrath at the spearhead. Without McGrath the win-loss ratio is 8-4. A sign of the future for Australian cricket, perhaps?
With 47 in the first innings of the Trent Bridge Test, Brett topped the score for the second time in the series. He is the first Number 10 batsman to do this twice in a series, and only the second #10 to do it twice in a career.
The Australian batsmen have now made 20 scores of over 40 in the series, but only once (Ricky Ponting) have they converted the start into a century. Australia would probably have won if one batsman had gone on to make a century in the second innings at Trent Bridge. Australia scored 387 in the second innings with a top score of just 61. In all Test cricket, no team has scored so many runs with such a low top score.
When the TV Quiz Show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire turned to cricket last week, there was a confusing error. The answer identified Graeme Pollock as having the second-highest Test batting average of all time (presumably to Bradman), when one of the other choices, Barry Richards, actually beats Pollock’s average (72.6 to 61.0)! Pollock is correct if you set a certain qualification, such as 15 Test matches, but that wasn’t mentioned in the question. Richards is the correct answer if the qualification is 4 or more Tests. The strictly correct answer is Don Bradman, whose average of 99.9 is second to Andy Ganteaume of the West Indies, who scored 112 in his only Test innings. Fortunately, the contestant concurred with the question-setters, and won his $32,000.
22 Aug 2005
The result of the Manchester Test is an illustration of a little-noticed trend in Test cricket: it can be more difficult to win batting first than batting second. Since 2000, teams batting second have won more Tests than teams batting first, by a ratio of about 57:43. The main reason seems to be that teams batting last sometimes have an escape hatch of playing for the draw, and it is much more difficult for bowling teams to play for draws.
Imagine a Test with the same scoring (and weather) as the Manchester Test, but with the teams batting in opposite order. Team One scores 302 off 85 overs, Team Two, 444 off 113 (with rain interruptions). If Team One then scores 371 for 9 off 108 overs, they lead by only 229 with 63 overs to play. From this position, a draw is unlikely unless the last-wicket pair can bat for more than 10 more overs. A team that, like England, is capable of scoring 280 off 63 overs in its second innings would have little trouble with the likely target.
Now I’m not saying that the Manchester Test would have gone just this way if the innings had been reversed, but I am saying that a Test with such scoring would almost certainly not be drawn.
It is also worth noting that in drawn Tests since 2000, the team batting first has led on first innings about 63% of the time, to 37% for the team batting second.
The Manchester Test set an Ashes record of 64 “listed” no-balls (hat tip: Dennis Pittard). The previous record was 62 in the Brisbane Test of 1982-83. However, that Brisbane Test was in the days when no-balls did not attract a penalty when scored from; there were actually 83 calls of no-ball in that match. The practice of penalising all no-balls was introduced about a year later. The record for all Tests is an incredible 103 “listed” no-balls for a Test in the West Indies (v Pakistan) in 1976-77. It is not known how many unlisted no-balls were bowled.
England’s sundries at Edgbaston very nearly cost them the match. They conceded 71 to Australia’s 34 in a match they won by only 2 runs.
Correction: The practice of penalising all no-balls was introduced only in 1998-99 in Australia. It was the debiting of no-balls and wides to bowlers’ analyses that was introduced in 1983-84.
19 Aug 2005
The Ashes have never seen anything like it, at least in living memory. Two cliffhanger finishes in a row. Back in 1902, the fourth and fifth Tests, decided by 3 runs and one wicket respectively, generated similar tension, but even then, the last Test was a dead rubber, with the Ashes already decided. The 1907-08 series started with a two-wicket win to Australia and then a one-wicket win to England, which is probably the nearest parallel in Tests with Ashes still at stake.
Remarkably, Lee and McGrath (who has not been dismissed in the series so far) are the first 10th-wicket pair to hold out for a draw in an Ashes Test. It has happened fourteen times before in other Tests. Three of those innings involved Australian batsmen: vs West Indies in Adelaide 1960-61 (Mackay and Kline), and again in 1968-69 (Sheahan and Connolly), and vs New Zealand at the MCG in 1987-88 (McDermott and Whitney). Another famous last-wicket stand in a drawn Test, Border and Alderman at Port-of-Spain in 1984, actually occurred in the third innings of the match, with Australia in the lead.
Matthew Hayden has now played 28 consecutive Test innings without exceeding 70, equalling an unwanted record, of sorts, for an Australian specialist batsman. He may find encouragement in the fact that Syd Gregory, who had a similar run of 28 innings from 1899 to 1903, scored a century in his next dig. Hayden is also well short of the sequences of Allan Lamb and Mark Ramprakash of England, who both played 42 consecutive innings without passing 70.
It took until the fifth day of the third Test for the Australians to post their first individual century. This is the longest wait for an Australian century in a series since the team took over the Number One ranking from the West Indies in 1995. Simply losing 59 wickets in three Tests is a very unfamiliar experience. The last time Australia lost so many wickets in the first three Tests of a series, Kim Hughes resigned the captaincy in tears.
With two Tests to go, England have already hit 26 sixes, the most by a team in any Ashes series, a mark previously set by Australia with 22 in five Tests in 2002-03. The records for all series is 32 by West Indies in India in 1974-75 in five Tests, 31 sixes in three Tests by Australia in India in 2000-01, and 31 by the West Indies in five Tests at home in 1985-86.
11 Aug 2005
Australia’s loss by two runs at Edgbaston was the closest Ashes Test ever played. It also continued a now time-honoured tradition. Australia have not won a really close Test match for more than 50 years, since beating the West Indies at Adelaide by one wicket in 1952. Since then there have been the two famous Ties at Brisbane and Chennai, and two losses by one wicket, one of them a particularly painful one at Karachi in 1994 when Mushtaq and Inzamam put on 57 runs to win. There have also been six losses by less than 15 runs, three of them in spite of epic last wicket stands: 70 by Border and Thomson at Melbourne 1982-83 (lost by three), 40 by McDermott and May at Adelaide in 1992-93 (lost by one), and now 59 by Lee and Kasprowicz.
Not since the Brisbane Tie has a Test match been so laden with both tension and entertainment. At 72 runs per 100 balls, the Edgbaston Test ranks fourth among the fastest-scoring Tests of all time, and is by far the fastest-scoring Test to feature a close finish. The fastest Test of all was a draw between South Africa and Australia in 1902.
Edgbaston lacked only a century or two; it is very unusual for Australia to play two consecutive Tests without any scores over 100 on either side. There have been no fewer than 19 scores of 40 or more in the two Tests.
The Test started with quite a bang. England scored 407 off just 79.2 overs, at more than 5.1 runs per over. It was the fastest-scoring first day in any Test involving Australia, and no team in Test history has been bowled out for over 400 in fewer balls. And leaving aside occasional slaughters of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, no team has scored at a faster rate in an innings of over 350.
Brett Lee is carving out a place among the most entertaining bowlers ever. He gets wickets or he gets clobbered, sometimes both at once. In conceding seven 6s in the match, Lee set a new record for a pace bowler. (The 16 sixes hit by England is also a team and Ashes record.) Lee conceded 111 runs off 17 overs in England’s first innings: no bowler has ever conceded more runs off fewer overs in a Test innings. Lee already holds the record for most runs hit off a fast bowler in a Test match, 276 against India at the SCG in 2004, and he is the only Australian bowler to concede over 80 runs in a One-Day International, having done so twice.
There have been comments along the lines that the farcical Test match between New Zealand and Zimbabwe at Harare would “only be of interest to statisticians”. Cricket statisticians are entitled to take umbrage at such remarks. We don’t like such matches either, perhaps even less so than other circket followers, since they can make a mess of the record books, and devalue records and statistics in general.
5 August 2005
Australia’s Ashes Edge
England’s capitulation in the first Test at Lord’s, coming in spite of fine recent results (a record 10 consecutive home wins), raises questions about their ability to rise to the Ashes occasion. England seems to find a new level when they play Australia. Unfortunately, the level is lower. But why did Australia look so dominant: is it simply a difference in ability, or is there a psychological edge?
A close look at England’s catching suggests that psychology may be important. Catching reliability, in theory, should be largely independent of opposition strength. The England fieldsmen dropped seven catches at Lord’s, while Australia dropped no clear-cut chances. Seven is the worst result for England in the last three years. It marks an extreme change from their two Tests against Bangladesh in May, where only one dropped chance was recorded. (Bangladesh, by contrast, dropped more chances than they caught.)
The Lord’s performance was out of character. England, in 2004, were the most reliable team of catchers, dropping about 2.7 catches per match, to Australia’s 2.9. The highly regarded Kevin Pietersen put down three on debut. It may be possible to bring too much intensity to one’s cricket; could a more relaxed attitude help with the “soft hands” that top slips fieldsmen talk about?
2004: Catches Dropped by Teams
Team Catch Drop % dropped
England 153 36 19%
Australia 161 43 21%
India 138 40 22%
Sri Lanka 125 39 24%
South Africa 92 30 25%
New Zealand 95 31 25%
Pakistan 64 27 30%
West Indies 107 49 31%
Bangladesh 51 31 38%
Zimbabwe 26 19 42%
In 2004, Marcus Trescothick was England’s most reliable catcher, taking 18 and dropping only one chance. Graham Thorpe, at the other extreme, dropped 10 and took only 12 catches. Worth noting, however, that Trecothick’s reliability in 2003, and so far in 2005, is not as good. Among Australians, Adam Gilchrist’s drop rate is 14%, just ahead of Michael Clarke at 15%.
Strangely enough, the only player with more than ten catches and no misses was Tatenda Taibu of Zimbabwe. Apart from him, Zimbabwe actually dropped more catches than they took in 2004.
The most expensive miss of the year went to Zimbabwean Tinashe Panyangara, who dropped Kumara Sangakkara before he had scored, in an innings of 270 at Bulawayo. During the year, only three batsmen reached 200 without giving a chance, including Brian Lara, who gave just one (half-)chance, at 293, in his record 400 not out. Chanceless centuries are much more common; in 2004, 64% of centurions reached 100 without a chance.
The 2004 survey also produced figures for different fielding positions, seen in the next table. As far as I know, this sort of analysis has not been published before. A couple of interesting features: keepers are the most reliable catchers, at least partly thanks to their equipment, while bowlers are the most butter-fingered, dropping 39% of catches. Undoubtedly, this is due to the fact that bowlers cannot prepare for catches in the way that general fieldsmen do. Point and cover fieldsmen seem to have a hard time, perhaps because it is hard to sight the ball before it hits the bat from there.
Dropped Catches by Position, 2004.
Dropped Caught % dropped
Keeper 70 365 19%
Slip 97 332 29%
Gully 23 73 31%
Short/off side 11 42 26%
3rd man 1 8 12%
Point 16 47 34%
Cover 15 46 32%
Mid-off 14 48 29%
Caught and bowled 36 92 39%
Short leg 18 63 28%
Mid-on 6 41 14%
Mid-wicket 19 73 26%
Square leg 13 54 24%
Fine leg 6 44 13%
Note: whether an incident can be classified as a missed chance can sometimes be subjective, so these figures have, by necessity, a
Random Stat of the Day
When Australia scored 5 for 27 in their painful final innings at the Oval in 1956, it took them 38 overs. The first run took 6 overs, and at one stage Jim Laker bowled nine consecutive maidens.
Curiously, West Indies have not faced Shane Warne in a Test match since 1999. The last time Brian Lara was dismissed by Warne in a Test was back in 1997.
It has been reported (Mike Selvey in The Guardian) that Hershelle Gibbs used at least 47 different bats in a single year. As it happened, Gibbs played exactly 47 innings in senior cricket in 2004, scoring just 1547 runs. Apparently the bats are not rolled or hardened, thus offering more spring and power, but wearing out incredibly quickly.
When Chris Gayle hit 317 at St. John’s (tiny ground , fast outfield) he hit 37 fours and only 2 threes. When Bob Cowper hit 307 at the MCG in 1966 (big ground, slooow outfield, no boundary ropes), he hit 20 fours and 26 threes. Overall the conditions probably lost Cowper over 50 runs.
When Charlie Bannerman scored his 165 (retired hurt) in the inaugural Test match of 1877, he needed only 40 balls to advance from 50 to 100, after facing about 100 balls to get from 25 to 50.
In the classic Sydney Test of 1894, Australian keeper and captain Jack Blackham was injured during England’s second innings and had to leave the field. George Giffen took over as captain, put himself on to bowl in the very next over, and then bowled 50 consecutive overs, taking 2 for 102, before England were dismissed. This is the longest known bowling spell in any Test in Australia. Australia lost the match by 10 runs.
Makhaya Ntini’s 13 for 132 at Port-of-Spain is the best match bowling analysis by a South African bowler. It is also the first time that a bowler from any country has taken 13 or more wickets after failing to take a wicket in his previous Test.
The most consecutive ODIs from debut for a player from any team is 172 by Andy Flower, starting in 1992, up to April 2001.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul (203*) and Wavell Hinds (213) made double-hundreds in the same innings, against South Africa in Georgetown. They were the first West Indians to do this since Garry Sobers (365*) and Conrad Hunte (260) against Pakistan at Kingston back in 1958.
GM Carew of West Indies made his Test debut in 1935, but it would be more than 13 years before he scored his first run or took his first catch (he never bowled in Tests).
29 July 2005
It’s déjà vu in the first Ashes Test as England batsmen seem to have forgotten how to win. Australia’s 239-run win comprehensively ended a record 10-match home Test winning streak for England, and tarnished their 21-4 win-loss record since they last met Australia. Every batsman except Pieterson was dismissed at least once for a score of six or less. The last time England were dismissed twice in a match for less than 200 was more than 50 Tests ago; it will not help their morale to point out that the previous occasion was in the 2001 Ashes series, at Trent Bridge.
England’s last four batsmen all made ducks. It is 10 years since this happened to a Test side: that was England again, in Melbourne in 1994-95. A touch of symmetry at Lord’s: England’s first five batsmen out in the match all failed to reach double figures, just like the last five (or six).
England’s fieldsmen seem to find a new level when they play Australia. Unfortunately the level is lower. Seven dropped chances at Lord’s, compared to just one miss in two Tests against Bangladesh in May. England average around 2.7 dropped chances per Test (in the last year and a half), which is actually better than Australia’s average of 2.9 chances down per match. At Lord’s, though, there was no comparison. Australia did not miss a chance.
Kevin Pietersen was just the 12th player to top the score in both innings on Test debut. Only four of these players, G Gunn, M Dilawar Hussain, L Amarnath, and AW Greig, scored over 50 in both those innings. Pietersen scored his team’s only half-centuries in the match. Tony Greig, that other South African import, is the only other batsman to do this on debut: that was at Old Trafford in in 1972, where Greig made 57 and 62.
Note that “top score” here only applies where all eleven players batted in the innings.
22 July 2005
The Ashes series has started with a bang. Seventeen wickets fell on the first day at Lord’s. This is the biggest wicket haul on the first day of an Ashes series since 1896, when 18 wickets fell, also at Lord’s. It is also the largest number for any series start in England since then. It is a reminder of the original “Ashes” Test in 1882, when 20 wickets fell on the first day, and another 20 on the second, Australia winning by seven runs. Let’s hope the current Test lasts longer than that, if only for the sakes of the fans, some of whom have paid hundreds of dollars for seats on the third and fourth days.
Congrats to Glenn McGrath on his 500th Test wicket during his first-day “Pfeiffer”. Much will be written about this, but one very unusual aspect to McGrath’s day is also worthy of comment. Many bowlers have taken five or more wickets on the first day of a Test, but very few have done it for teams bowling second. The last man to do this in an Ashes Test was Australia’s Frank Laver at Manchester in 1909, whose figures of 8 for 31 are the best by any bowler achieving the feat. (The feat was more common before 1914, when over rates were high and poor wickets commonplace.)
McGrath is only the fourth bowler to achieve the feat since 1914. The others were Lala Amar Singh of India in 1936, Bill Johnston for Australia v West Indies at Adelaide in 1952 (the last year of uncovered wickets in Australia), and Gary Gilmour in Auckland in 1973. More than 1000 Tests have been played since Gilmour’s day.
Even rarer is one bowler taking the first five wickets to fall, and doing it so cheaply. Only one bowler in Test cricket history has ever taken the first five wickets to fall, and left the batting team in a worse position. That is none other than Jason Gillespie, who had the West Indies 5 for 17 at Melbourne in 2000. On that occasion, McGrath went wicketless, but conceded only three runs in his first eight overs while Jason was mowing them down at the other end. Gillespie’s five cost 14 runs, so in that sense he was more expensive than McGrath yesterday, who had conceded only seven runs when he took his fifth wicket. However, Gillespie also went on to take the sixth wicket, which fell at 23.
England’s top order collapse to be five for 21, in 16 overs, after being 0 for 10, was extraordinary. Only twice has England lost their first five for fewer runs. Both occasions were on unplayable wickets in the 1800s, most “recently” a loss of 5 for 14 at the SCG in 1895, and even then they did not lose the five in the span of eleven runs. It is surprising that England have so rarely suffered such collapses. There are more than 30 other instances of other teams losing their 5th wicket for 21 runs or less, and it happened to the West Indies against Sri Lanka just last week.
15 Jul 2005
The dropping of Graham Thorpe from the England team is a sign of a new era for England, and for the team’s selectors. It is hard to remember a time when England had such batting resources. Even so, dropping Thorpe is risky and controversial. Over the last 18 months, Thorpe has averaged 62.7 in 17 Tests, the highest for any regular England player over that time. He also has a successful record against Australia, averaging over 45. In fact, he is the only England player with both extensive experience and a good record against Australia. A couple of factors may have influenced the selectors: Thorpe has made himself unavailable to tour for England later this year, and selectors may not have forgotten that he has been available for only one Ashes Test since 1998.
There is a dramatic contrast in England’s batting ranks between the 2005 team and the 2001 team. Four years ago, England could not bring a single player into the series with a career average of over 40. Now, England has the luxury of dropping Thorpe in spite of his recent success. England’s recognised batsmen have achieved a combined batting average over 50 in the last 18 months, and with young guns Ian Bell (Test average 297) and Kevin Pietersen (ODI average 87) raring to go, it is almost an embarrassment of riches. It remains to be seen how rich the team will look after the rigors of an Ashes series.
Thorpe’s omission creates a remarkably clean slate for England. The England XII can only boast 25 Ashes Tests between them, and some established players like Flintoff and Strauss will be making their Ashes debuts. Flintoff, in fact, has set an all-time record by playing 47 Tests before meeting Australia for the first time. The Australians, by contrast, have a combined total of 131 Ashes Test caps, although it is surprising to find that the batting stalwarts Hayden, Langer, Martyn and Gilchrist have each played only ten or eleven Tests against England.
In fact, the Engalnd XII is the least experienced team in
England's Ashes history, with the exception of the very early days of the
Fingleton’s Faulty Memory
It’s funny how prejudices can colour our memories. Jack Fingleton, Test player and journalist, was often a voluble critic of his contemporary Don Bradman. Among his criticisms of the Don was a claim that Bradman was a strike hog. He wrote, in Batting from Memory, that “it was not possible to have much of the strike while Bradman was there. He was such a fleet and superb runner between the wickets that he always managed to manipulate the strike.” This is not a trivial charge. The implication that a teammate plays selfishly is a grave allegation in the eyes of Australian cricketers.
Time for a reality check. Ball-by-ball Test records show that, during Fingleton’s Test partnerships with Bradman (mostly in 1936-37) it was Fingleton who received over 58% of the strike to Bradman’s 42%. In their world-record sixth-wicket stand of 346 at Melbourne, Fingleton faced 412 of the 698 balls bowled (59%) to Bradman’s 286 balls. It was much the same story in their other partnerships.
The imbalance probably has more to do with Fingleton’s very slow scoring (hence fewer strike-rotating singles) compared to Bradman, than with any conscious attempts to gather the strike by either player. It is possible that the Don sometimes attempted to manipulate the strike to restore some sort of balance, but if so, he was mostly unsuccessful.
Where records survive, Bradman averaged 51-52% of the strike with all partners. The slight excess above 50% can partly be put down to Bradman’s batting with tailenders, when he was within his rights to manipulate the strike. In his two great partnerships with Bill Ponsford in 1934 (388 at Leeds and 451 at the Oval) Bradman received 50.8% of the strike.
8 Jul 2005
The tie in the NatWest Series final at Lord’s was the 21st tie in a One-Day International, and the second for England v Australia, the previous occasion being at Trent Bridge in 1989. This was the first tournament final to be tied since the very first ODI tie, in a B&H World Series final in February 1984. Australia have now played in eight ties in ODIs, more than any other nation; it was England’s fourth.
The result has maintained – just barely – a golden run for Australia in the pressure of finals cricket. The last time Australia lost a tournament final was in 1999, in the Aiwa Cup in Sri Lanka. Since then, Australia has won thirteen finals, with one washout and one tie. Australia performs much better in finals that in run-of-the-mill ODIs, where they lose about 20% of the time, sometimes, as we have seen, to weak opponents. Their peerless record when the pressure is on suggests a psychological component: it is mirrored by the fact that Australia, while losing the occasional Test, have lost only one “live” rubber in their last 43 Tests (v India at Adelaide 2003-04).
In the final it was strange to see the Australian score come to a standstill for 28 balls at a score of 93, stranger still considering Andrew Symonds and Michael Clarke were at the crease. This is the longest scoreless spell for Australia in an ODI, at least in recent years. Earlier this year, England managed 29-ball standstill in Johannesburg, involving, oddly enough, the dynamic Kevin Pietersen. There was 30-ball spell by England at Lord’s in 1988, but perhaps the longest ever was 45 balls by Canada v England during the 1979 World Cup, when the Canadian captain FA Dennis took 47 balls to get off the mark.
The disappointment felt by the Australian players at not finishing England off was obvious. England’s first five batsmen had all failed to reach double figures. This is the first time in an ODI between two Test-ranked nations that such a failure did not lead to defeat.
Is Mike Hussey the new Michael Bevan? Hussey has played the middle-order pinch-hitter to perfection so far, and can boast an ODI average of 129, the highest by any Australian after 10 ODI innings, although still shy of Kevin Pietersen’s average of 162. Hussey scored 229 runs before his first ODI dismissal, breaking the previous record of 208 held by Michael Clarke. For good measure, Hussey’s strike rate so far is 95.6 r/100 balls, higher than Adam Gilchrist’s! Early days yet.
1 Jul 2005
When slicing and dicing the cricket stats every which way, sometimes a result emerges which, if not entirely surprising, is startling in its clarity. This has happened with a dataset I have collected, covering the head-to-head stats for every bowler vs batsman combination in Tests since 1999. The name that emerges is Glenn McGrath, the ultimate giant-killer.
The stats are collected from CricInfo’s Player v Player and Ball-by-Ball records for each Test. While neither record, in its on-line form, is complete, in combination they become nearly so, allowing results of about 97% of Test cricket since March 1999 to be analysed. About 300 Tests are covered, sometimes with small gaps here and there. The resulting stats are therefore not exact, but should be reliable.
It is interesting to be reminded that, although Tests are more frequent than ever, sometimes players do not meet face-to-face for long periods. Over the last six years, the number of balls bowled by Shane Warne to Brian Lara is exactly the same as the number bowled by Mutiah Muralitharan to Sachin Tendulkar, that is, zero. In that time, Tendulkar has hit 170 off Warne and only been out twice to him, Lara has hit 272 runs of Muralitharan for only three times out. In Warne’s absence, Lara has hit 393 runs off Stuart MacGill, the most by any batsman off a single bowler in those six years.
But the “startling” stat I described emerges when you look at different bowlers’ records against the elite batsmen as a group. If you look at balls bowled to batsmen with career averages over 45, some bowlers do better than others. All bowlers concede over 40 runs per wicket against such opposition, with one major exception. The averages of major bowlers against elite batsmen are:
Shoaib Akhtar 41
M Muralitharan 50
SK Warne 50
The gap between McGrath and the next best is very large. Few batsmen have been able to handle Glenn well: the only batsman with a head-to-head record against McGrath that is better than his overall batting average is Hershelle Gibbs, who averages 69 against him. No other major batsman has an average better than 40. Looking at an Australian bowler’s toughest opponents, the Indian lineup, Dravid averages 21, Sehwag 23, Tendulkar 18, Laxman 28, and Ganguly 14 when pitted against McGrath.
The value of Glenn McGrath to the Australian team has never been more clearly demonstrated.
The Test career of Eknath Solkar, who died this week, was at first sight solid and unremarkable. It is surprising, then, to see that Solkar’s name comes out tops on one list of Test cricketers.
Turns out that Solkar was the most enthusiastic collector of catches in Test matches, outside wicketkeepers. Solkar took, on average, 1.96 catches per match in Tests, well ahead of Bobby Simpson (1.77), and none other than WG Grace (another surprise at 1.77). Solkar was a fixture at short-leg, in a team rich in off-spin bowlers (India in the 1970s). His effectiveness there contributed to that team’s success about as much as his 1000 or so runs.