Lies, damn spies, and statistics – a look at the Ashes batting battle

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.

James Morgan


  • Statistics can be misleading as the last ashes series showed – Australia scored more runs per wicket, had higher opening partnerships, won more sessions during the tests yet lost the series. A single spell from an inspired bowler (e.g. Broad 5 wickets at the Oval) can win a test and therefore the series yet average over 30 for the series. I hate the phrase ‘hitting the ground running’ but it is true in this series. England need to win the first hour, the first session, the first day of the first test as I am not sure that they are good enough to play catch up cricket.

  • Morgs, you also forget to note that Ponting, Hussey and (to a lesser extent) Clarke’s averages over the last 12-18 months have been on the slide. Nonetheless Australia in Oz, different animal…

    • Thanks for joining the debate Chris. You make a really good point mate. I think I read that Ponting averages in the mid to late 30s over the last 12 months. Recent form is really important. Good players get dropped even though they’ve got impressive overall career stats. Robin Smith finished his career with a test average of nearly 44, yet it cannot be denied that he was geneally useless in his last few matches! However, we’ve got to remember it works both ways. Collingwood, Cook and KP haven’t been playing like batsmen that average over 40 during the last 12 months. Maybe their past glories are behind them too??? Age doesn’t always dictate when a batsman’s career is on the slide. Gooch was arguably at his best in his mid to late 30s, whereas Cook looked a better played on debut that he does now.

      • Bit of a tangent, but these were Robin Smith’s last 13 test innings (vs Windies & SAfrica!)

        61, 90, 46, 41, 44, 1*, 43, 52, 44, 34, 2, 66, 13

        And in the middle of that had his face rearranged by a Windian bouncer!

        So a lack of hundreds meant his average was down a bit, but he was still arguably England best player. The clue in his axing rests rather more on 1997 being an Ashes summer and a belief that he was incapable against Warne. As were the rest of the England team, but the rest weren’t quite as good against pace bowling to provide the contrast!

  • Like the last series, both teams are pretty close on the face of it. Both have key, quality players out of form – KP, Clark, Hussey, Cook, Collingwood, and Ponting is below his previous superhuman best.

    In the home series Englands long tail of Jimmy, Swann and Broad made lots of runs. I’m sure they will start with Broad at 8 hoping they do the same and buidl scoreboard pressure and the bowlers can take 20 wickets, but if things don’t go to plan i.e. Swann finds, like most fingerspinner, that Australia is an offies graveyard and they bring an extra seam bowler, probably Tremlett in (with monty for SCG) then will be interesting to see if Broad can move up to 7 and Swann 8.

    • Good point. Poor old Judge never really recovered from his travails in 1993,at least in reputational terms. Very probably, he was sent to the scrapyard when he still had mileage left in him. When Cook produces a run of scores like that, they make him vice captain!

      • He was one of the victims of Illingworth’s disastrous period in office, where he seemed to set about ending the careers of our best players because he didn’t like the look of them. Terrible, terrible, manager.

  • As England seem reluctant to part with 6 specialist batsmen, I wonder if they would consider playing 2 seamers and 2 spinners at some venues e.g. Sydney. At least spinners can bowl long spells without losing much effectiveness. You could also make the argument that Swann and Monty are 2 of the best 4 bowlers in England, especially if (as I suspect) Anderson struggles. The attack would look a bit thin with Broad and Finn opening up, followed by 2 spinners, so I’m not sure I’d go that way, I’m just interested to know whether it’s something England would consider. India occasionally go that way in home matches. Obviously, Australia is rather different to India, but there have been times in the past when the Aussies played McDermott and Funky Miller, followed by Warne & Tim May. Monty obviously isn’t in the same class as Warne, but he should at least provide control, whereas I’m not so sure about Anderson. Also, there must be an argument that spin is the one area where England have a clear advantage over Australia – so why not try to take advantage of that?

    I’m not necessarily advocating that England pick an attack of Broad, Finn, Swann & Monty … I’m just putting it out there. If it was up to me I’d pick 5 bowlers, as I don’t think a 6th specialist batsman is guaranteed to score runs any way (I worry that our batting is very weak) whereas a 5th bowler will always make a contribution, even if it’s just lightening the workload of the other 4 bowlers, so they can bowl at full pace for longer. Ashely Giles never took many wickets, but his overs ensured Freddy & Harmy could bowl at 90mph. When Fred played in a 4 man attack, he was often forced to operate as a stock bowler and his effectiveness was reduced … and he invariably got injured too!

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