But onto tomorrow, and the start of the most eagerly anticipated Test series in world cricket. England will want to show that cricket can keep up with the incredible success British sport has had in areas such as athletics, rugby union, cycling and most recently tennis. And of course, a series win this summer, and they level the number of Ashes won between the two nations to 31 victories each. Australia, meanwhile, have been written off, not least by Sir Ian Botham, who can’t see them even scraping a single draw over this and the next series.
Each day I will be dissecting the previous ten Ashes series (1993 – 2010/11) to see if they can provide a clue as to what we can expect this year. And today, we start by looking at whether batting first or second is important.
Batting First or Second?
So taking the 52 Tests over the last 10 series (the 1993 and 1997 series both had 6 Tests, the rest 5) we can count how many times the team batting first won, drew and lost.
What is curious though is that the sides batting first scored 332 on average, but the sides batting second averaged 336. This is due to a few matches where one side batted first, got out cheaply, and their opponents went on to make a huge score, skewing the data. And the three matches where the side batting second had the highest lead were all in the last Ashes, 2010/11:
2nd Test: Australia 245, England 620 (lead of 375)
4th Test: Australia 98, England 513 (lead of 415)
5th Test: Australia 280, England 644 (lead of 364)
Which leads us onto the next question, is batting first less of an advantage nowadays?
We can see the number of times the side batting first has won, drawn and lost over the last 10 series, and look for a trend:
Overall, batting first has been an advantage in the Ashes – as it is often considered to be in First Class cricket. However, this advantage generally seems to be diminishing, if it hasn’t disappeared completely.
Whoever bats first tomorrow will be looking to beat the average first innings score of 332. To do this, they will most likely have to bat across more than one day, but more on first day scores tomorrow.
For related information, this time related to limited-overs cricket, and setting versus chasing, see my friend's blog: Part 1 & Part 2.