Monday, 20 November 2006

The form guide

Everyone knows that since the last Ashes series Australia have been on a tear in Test cricket, winning 11 of the 12 Matches they have played. This included home and away series wins against South Africa, as well a crushing defeat of the West Indies at home and a series win in Bangladesh, though the first Test was trickier than anticipated.

Meanwhile, England have struggled to just 5 wins in the 13 Tests they have played since winning the Ashes, losing 4 and drawing 4. The two tours of the subcontinent turned out to be just as tough as expected, with England surprisingly losing 2-0 in Pakistan and drawing 1-1 in India. The latter was a triumph for a young team under the leadership of Andrew Flintoff. However, it was followed by a disappointing 1-1 draw at home with Sri Lanka. The only series they have won was against Pakistan at home, which ended in controversy, though the 3-0 result is in the record books, nonetheless.

However, what is less heralded is the form since the Ashes of the individual players who will contest the forthcoming Ashes battle. The pattern that emerges from the stats is of an Australian side dominated by the amazing feats of three of its batsmen and all the bowlers, whilst England have few leading lights, just a strong batting line-up and and a steady bowling unit.

Matthew Hayden, back to near his best, scored 1287 runs @ 58.50 in 12 Tests, with 5 centuries. Mike Hussey, in his debut season, clocked up 1139 runs @ 75.93 in 11 matches, including 4 tons. However, both were eclipsed by the extraordinary form of Ricky Ponting, who blitzed 1483 runs @ 78.05 and an astonishing 8 hundreds in just 12 Tests.

Amongst the rest of the potential batsmen for the first Test only Damien Martyn has scored a century - just one solitary hundred and an average of 39.33 in 4 Tests. Justin Langer, injured and lacking his usual resolve, managed just 392 runs @ 32.66 in 7 matches. Worse still for Michael Clarke, 119 runs @ 19.83 in 5 Tests, and Shane Watson, 50 runs @ 16.66 in 2 matches.

In contrast all of England's batsmen have shown consistent Test run scoring. Alastair Cook leads the way with 761 runs @ 54.35 in 9 Tests, including 3 centuries, closely followed by Ian Bell with 819 runs @ 51.18 and 4 tons in 10 matches. Paul Collingwood is not far behind having accumulated 921 runs @ 48.47 in 12 Tests, scoring 2 hundreds, and Kevin Pietersen maintained his Ashes form with 1124 runs @ 48.47 in just 13 matches, including 4 centuries.

Andrew Strauss, though not quite up with the other batsmen, has added 881 runs @ 40.04 and 3 tons in 12 Tests since the Ashes. Only Andrew Flintoff out of the top six has an average under 40. His 486 runs @ 30.37 in 10 matches, with no hundreds, reflects the drop in his batting form this year, though his stats are very respectable for an all-rounder, who has taken many wickets.

Neither of the wicket-keepers who will play at Brisbane are in good form, though Adam Gilchrist has been in better nick than Geraint Jones, who was dropped at the end of the summer. Gilchrist has managed just 491 runs @ 28.88 in 12 Tests, scoring only one century. This is not a terrible record, but way below his normal level of performance. Jones, who was picked primarily for his batting, has only scored 306 runs @ 19.12 in 11 matches since the last Ashes series, without registering a single hundred.

The home bowling attack have been on fire since their Ashes defeat. Shane Warne has bagged 62 wickets @ 26.16 in 12 Tests, whilst Brett Lee has claimed 52 scalps @ 27.15 in his 12 matches. Glenn McGrath, despite a long break to look after his wife, still managed 24 wickets @ 27.16 in 7 Tests. Stuart Clark, who may well be the fourth bowler at Brisbane, has taken 21 wickets this year @ 18.76 in just 4 matches.

The English bowlers have done well this year, especially considering the very different pitches they faced in Pakistan and India. Andrew Flintoff, as has been his wont over the last couple of years, has led the attack since the Ashes with 43 wickets @ 28.04 in 10 Tests. Just behind was Steve Harmison, who, despite the usual barrage of criticism, weighed in with 41 wickets @ 29.87 in 10 matches. Matthew Hoggard, the epitome of the steady opening bowler, took 49 scalps @ 30.22 in his 13 Tests, while James Anderson took 6 wickets @ 13.16 in his solitary match. Sajid Mahmood, up against Anderson for the fourth seamer's spot, managed 15 wickets @ 33.20 in his first 5 Tests.

The spinner issue should be clearcut, given that Monty Panesar bagged 32 wickets in his first 10 Tests @ 32.40, including some of the world's finest batsmen. This, including making his debut in India, that graveyard for even the greatest overseas spinners. It is a little unfair to hold Ashley Giles poor return of 3 wickets @ 82.33 in 2 matches against him, as he was carrying an injury, but he has not played a Test match since and should be ruled out of the first Test.

Whether recent form will have much of a bearing on the forthcoming series is impossible to gauge. However, it is one of the few pointers to the possible outcome of a series. If the stats I have detailed can be relied upon at all this Ashes battle will be too close to call and should be packed with top class performances.

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