Justin Rose won a big golf tournament. The British Lions won a big rugby series. Andy Murray won Wimbledon. All perfectly nice.
Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, and Everton will all have different managers next season. So will Bayern Munich and Real Madrid. All perfectly diverting.
But for a sport and a sporting contest plain-and-simply perfect, don’t bother looking anywhere but the Ashes. Summer! Cricket! England versus Australia! It will be thrilling, tense, and joyful – and, better still, at the end of it all England will have won.
Welcome, then, to this bumper Ashes preview – or, as you might prefer to call it, a blitzkrieg of pointed stats. To keep the heavy roller going, I’ll organize what follows thematically. Part one (today): Why Australia Will Lose. Part two (tomorrow): Why England Will Win. (But, hey, who’s counting?)
Australia Are Pretty Ordinary Right Now…
Right then, pads on, off we go.
Days before this coming Wednesday’s first Ashes Test when Australia decided to sack their coach, Mickey Arthur.
- Doesn’t augur well, does it? Arthur did just fine during a long spell in charge of a very good South Africa team; now he looks like a fall-guy for failing to keep a distinctly mediocre Australia team from acting up (staying out late, getting drunk, and starting fights).
Australian defeats in their last four Tests (all versus India).
English defeats in their last 17 Tests.
- (Two of which were against South Africa, who are better than India.)
Games played by Mitchell Starc and James Pattinson in Australia’s last ten Tests.
- Not good enough to play more often, or not fit enough? Either way, are these two bright young Australian fast bowlers more hype than substance? After all…
Games played by James Anderson in England’s last 50 Tests.
- If you really do have a world-class fast bowler in your ranks, you play him every chance you get.
Test matches played by Chris Rogers (age 35).
- Back in the day, even Australian batting legends started looking over their shoulders if they got to be too old (the people selecting them famously more pragmatic than sentimental). Roger’s swan-song ascent to his national team, on the other hand, smacks of rank desperation. (And still will, even if he does ok.)
Test matches played by Joe Root (age 22).
- Both England and Australia (Starc and Pattinson included) have a good amount of ‘great players for the future.’ Root, though, already looks the surest thing. And when you watch him walk out to bat, you see that he knows it too.
…Yet They Used To Be Fair-Dinkum Excellent…
(And, sure, likely will be again some day.)
Australia’s win percentage in Tests played by Glenn McGrath.
- From about 1996 to about 2006, the Australian cricket team were about as good as it gets: McGrath, Shane Warne, Adam Gilchrist, Ricky Ponting, and Steve Waugh to a man cast-iron all-time greats. In their era of dominance, it’s amazing that England ever beat them. (Thanks Mark Butcher!)
Australia’s win percentage in Tests since Glenn McGrath’s last appearance.
- AKA: what happens when cast-iron all-time greats decline/retire.
Tests, out of 57, in which Darren Lehmann was not selected for Australia, between his first Test (in 1998) and his first Test century (in 2003).
- How much of a difference can Australia’s new coach really hope to make? His country’s batting line up used to be irresistible – so stacked with talent that even a player as good as Lehmann could hardly get a look in. These days, it’s wooly and weak. Compare:
Darren Lehmann’s first class batting average.
Ed Cowan’s first class batting average.
Shane Watson’s batting average since the start of 2011 (in 15 Tests).
(At Least They Have A Good Captain.)
Michael Clarke’s batting average as captain.
- Conspicuously not ordinary…
(But So Do England.)
Alistair Cook’s batting average as captain.
- …And yet: slightly better!
And tomorrow, we’ll see why England will win…