England fly to Australia on Friday, so it’s time to begin the pre-Ashes analysis and banter. Thus far, most experts seem to believe that the bowling attacks hold the key to success down under. However, they’re forgetting one important, albeit rather obvious, thing: the skill of the batsmen they’re bowling at is just as important.
Sachin Tendulkar made Shane Warne look average on a number of occasions. Meanwhile, Worcestershire’s own frog-in-a-blender, Jack Shantry, would look like Geoff Thompson if he was bowling at my co-editor, Maxie Allen; just between you and me though, I reckon I’d do alright against him (or at least manage to survive a few deliveries).
If we want to predict who is going to win the Ashes, therefore, we ought to take a good look at both batting line ups. We’ll do this with the help of cricinfo’s stats guru, and a look at the views of Justin Langer, the ‘spy in the ointment’ who wrote a covert report on England’s weaknesses before the last Ashes series – not that it did the Aussies a lot of good, ho ho ho.
Here are the test batting averages of the likely participants at the Gabba on 25th November. We’ll deal with the bowling averages in subsequent previews:
Watson 39.94 Strauss 43.11
Katich 45.96 Cook 42.78
Ponting 54.68 Trott 55.00
Clarke 48.91 Pietersen 47.80
Hussey 49.75 Collingwood 42.18
North 37.40 Bell / Morgan 42.92 / 32.00
Haddin 38.62 Prior 42.13
Johnson 22.88 Broad 28.10
Hauritz 25.05 Swann 25.11
Siddle 16.00 Anderson 12.55
Hilfenhaus 17.00 Finn 6.50
What can we glean from this? If we accept that Trott’s average is artificially high due to his marathon efforts against Bangladesh, the Aussie middle order looks streets ahead of ours. Ponting, Hussey and Clarke all average about fifty (the benchmark for a quality player), whereas England’s middle-order looked terrible against Pakistan. Kevin Pietersen has forgotten how to bat – and admits his confidence is lower than Ronnie Corbett’s navel – whilst Paul Collingwood hasn’t scored a run since the last time there was a campaign to drop him (which seems to occur approximately every eighteen months, depending on the number of runs being scored by the critics’ other best friend, Alastair Cook).
However, statistics can be misleading – especially if they are incomplete. In fact, there are two very important facts and figures omitted from the above list: the age of the Australian middle-order. Ponting and Hussey are fine batsmen, but they are both 35 years old (going on 36). Therefore, they cannot be expected to perform at their peak consistently. Meanwhile, Clarke has been struggling with his game as much as Pietersen and Collingwood. So perhaps England have the edge? We’ll have to wait and see.
Justin Langer has been on TV this week giving his thoughts on the upcoming series. He reckons that his old pal Andrew Strauss holds the key for England. We suspect he could be right. With Ricky Ponting already intimating that Alastair Cook is a weak link in the England side (you see, it’s not just us!) it is vital that the England skipper has a good series. We would have lost in 2009 had Strauss not played several blinders.
However, we urge you to look carefully at those statistics again. You’ll see that England hold a distinct advantage from numbers six to nine (presuming that Bell is selected ahead of Morgan). Haddin has missed a lot of cricket recently, so Prior has the edge in the wicket-keeping department. Broad is a better batsman than Johnson, and Swann is streets ahead of Hauritz, who has an inflated average. England may not possess many world class batsmen, but we make up for it by having strength in depth. Our conclusion? England will win the Ashes 5-0. And I’m Ryan ten Doeschate.