Ashes lessons

So England won back the Ashes. Hurrah! Before we get too carried away though, there are some important lessons to be learnt.

1. Statistics often lie.

Andy Zaltzman wrote an excellent series of Cricinfo articles during the series, culminating in a very amusing piece explaining why winning the final Test was statistically beyond England. England won the match by almost 200 runs. In the first Test, it was statistically clear that Monty Panesar and James Anderson would not be able to bat out nearly 12 overs to hang on for a draw. They did. Before the fourth Test the statistics suggested Stuart Broad should be dropped. He went on to take 6 wickets in that match, and 6 more in a match-winning performance in the final Test. Australia's Mike Hussey seemed equally numerically expendable before the Oval match, but went on to score a defiant century that gave Australia a chance of clinging onto the little urn.

At the end of the series, the statistics (Australia here, England here) tell us this:

Bowlers taking 20 or more wickets - Australia 3, England 0
Bowlers averaging under 30 runs per wicket - Australia 1, England 0
Batsmen scoring 270 runs or more - Australia 6, England 1
Batsmen averaging over 40 runs per innings - Australia 6, England 2
Centuries scored during the series - Australia 8, England 2

How did Australia lose the series? By being inconsistent, and failing badly at the critical moments. Twice they scored less than 220 in their first innings; both times they lost the match. England only did it once, and lost only that game.
Of the 8 Australian hundreds, 6 were scored in the two drawn matches, and only 1 in the two games England won. Conversely, both times an England player reached three figures it was in a winning cause.
It was similar with the bowling. An Englishman took 4 or more wickets in an innings 9 times, whilst Australians managed it only 7 times, three of these coming in their solitary victory at Headingley. England players managed 3 four-wicket hauls in the Lord's and Oval Tests, and won both matches.
Perhaps most simply and most galling of all, the Australian bowlers had 35 attempts at dismissing Monty Panesar in the second innings at Cardiff and couldn't manage it.

2. Momentum is meaningless.

After winning at Lord's and being in charge for much of the Edgbaston game, England 'had the momentum' going into the 4th Test at Headingley. They then got absolutely thumped. After meting out the thumping, Australia now 'had the momentum' going into the final Test. They then got absolutely thumped. Prior to the Oval match, Andrew Strauss said he wasn't convinced the phrase really meant anything, but no-one believed him. They should do now.

3. Pietersen is pivotal.

Regardless of whether you like him as a cricketer, or as a person, Kevin Pietersen needs to be in England's middle order whenever he is fit. The team can win without him, evidently, but Pietersen is feared by other teams, he can do things no-one else in the England team can do, and he scores lots of runs. Also, once he plays, a third of the 'who bats at 3-4-5?' problem is immediately solved.

4. Prior approval.

We already knew he could bat, now it seems Matt Prior's wicket-keeping is ok too. Maybe the debate about who should be behind the stumps has been put to bed?

And last but not least...

5. I understand very little about selecting Test teams.

I wouldn't have picked Jonathan Trott, and he went on to score 160 runs and look absolutely comfortable in the cauldron of Ashes cricket. I would have dropped Ian Bell, who scored a decent 72 in the first innings, and Steve Harmison, who bowled pretty well, especially in the second innings. I also demanded Stuart Clark to be selected rather than Nathan Hauritz, and Clark turned out to be singularly ineffectual, whilst Hauritz would surely have been useful on such a spinning pitch. Luckily the Australian selectors also chose Clark over Hauritz, so I don't feel quite so daft.

Roll on 2010-11!