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THE INSIGHT EDGE, WITH IG: ASHES 2021/22 REVIEW

Using data, analysis and insight is key to performance in both investing and cricket. Here, CricViz analyst Patrick Noone looks back on the 2021/22 Ashes series.

Defeat for England inside three days in Hobart confirmed yet another Ashes loss for them on the road, condemning them to the wrong side of a 4-0 score line and their 13th loss from their last 15 Tests Down Under. Australia winning the series was no surprise, but the manner of the defeats and the meek surrender of England in all but one of the five Tests has prompted mass introspection into the state of English cricket. Issues as far-reaching as the domestic schedule, the volume of international games, the IPL and the systemic inequality in the English schooling system being cited as potential causes for the Three Lions’ current malaise. Delving into those factors is for another day and for the ECB to address as they see fit. For now, we can simply look at where the series was won and lost, and just how superior Australia were in every department.

No statistic illustrates England troubles with the bat quite as starkly as the fact that they failed to pass 300 in any of the ten innings they batted, an ignominy they had not suffered in an Ashes series since 1958-59. By contrast, Australia passed 400 on three occasions, declared four times, and only lost 83 wickets across the series compared to England’s 99. 

The basic numbers paint a grim picture for England’s batters and the underlying ones do little to bring any cheer to the beleaguered tourists. In their defence, it should be highlighted that they were facing an exceptional bowling attack at the top of their game. Using Expected Average, an advanced metric that uses ball-tracking to illustrate what we would expect a team to average based on the quality of deliveries faced, we can see that Australia’s bowling attack collectively produced an xAve figure of 25.5, the second lowest ever recorded in a five-match series in the ball-tracking era (2006-present).

Table

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While that figure lends some mitigation to England’s batting struggles, it needs to be noted that while Australia’s Expected Average with the ball was 25.5, England’s actual average with the bat was just 19.37 runs per wicket, giving a differential of -6.13. To put this into context, the only entry higher in the Expected Average list above was India’s against England in 2018 when Virat Kohli’s side registered an xAve figure of 24.9. On that occasion, England’s actual average was 29.64, a differential of +4.74.

What this means is that, back in 2018, England were able to cope with the quality of India’s bowling in a way that they were not against Australia this time around. Through a combination of skill and good fortune, England were able to outperform expectations with the bat four summers ago. It therefore shows that in the face of some extremely high-quality bowling, England still can be said to have underperformed, based on this metric.

Conversely, England recorded an Expected Average of 27.9 with the ball across the series. This is a perfectly respectable figure – the seventh best on record, as the table above shows – but Australia were able to outperform that figure by registering an actual average of 33.83 runs per wicket, a differential of +5.93. These numbers might not sound significant – four runs here, five runs there – but over the course of a five-match series they are enough to create a chasm between two sides who might appear more evenly matched on paper than is played out in reality.

Finally, England did not help their cause with some of the quality of their fielding. Over the course of the series, 19 chances were put down, giving them a catch percentage of 72.8%. Since fielding data began being collected in 2006, England have only once registered a lower catch percentage in a five-match series. 

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The cliché of ‘catches win matches’ doesn’t necessarily always hold true – England’s last tour of Australia was actually one of their better catching series but that didn’t translate into any wins – but there does come a point where those kinds of numbers hamper a team’s chances of winning matches, as well as negatively affecting the differential between Expected Average and actual average. The quality of England’s deliveries might have been good enough to produce better results than they did, but if those deliveries don’t go to hand, it only increases the chances of Australia increasing that differential and thus their chances of winning matches. 

Debate will rage for many months over issues such as selection for individual matches, the rotation policy and the hierarchy of English cricket. All of these have contributed to a greater or lesser extent to England’s series loss, but what these numbers show is that, on a fundamental level, Australia played the balls they faced better than England did. It might seem an overly simplistic, even obvious, analysis of England’s failings Down Under, but it nonetheless highlights how fine margins can open up into the wide gulf we saw between the two sides during the series. 

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