The Ashes is one of cricket’s main contests, held twice every four years between the two oldest teams England and Australia. The buildup to this particular test series has been as exciting as I have seen. England appear to have their best chance of winning in Australia since they last did so in the 1986-7 season. They have prepared very well and most of their key players appear to be in good form. Amazingly, out of 65 series played between the two teams, only 5 of them have been drawn series – of the remaining 60 Australia narrowly leads the head-to-head 31-29 .
Australia recently had one of the most dominant periods for any team. Between early 1999 and the end of 2007 they only lost 2 matches at home! More about this period of dominance here and here. A key to this was being blessed with so many great players born within a short period. Below is a list of the number of Australian test cricketers born in each year of the 1970s.
|Year of birth||Number of Australian Test players|
Note how many players were born from 1970-1971. It is quality of this group that is mind-blowing and is what largely prevented many players born in the late 1970s to represent their country. Consider this list:
born in 1970: McGrath (124 tests, 563 wickets @ 21.64), Langer (105), Slater (74), Lehmann (27, averaged 57+ in first class cricket), Bevan (18, one of the best ODI players, also averaged 57+ in first class cricket), Fleming (20, 75 wickets @ 25.89), Bichel (19, many 12th man appearances)
born in 1971: Gilchrist (96 tests, 416 dismissals, one of the most destructive batsmen I have ever watched), Hayden (103, 8625 runs @ 50.74), Martyn (67), MacGill (44, 208 wickets @ 29.02), Blewett (46), Elliot (21, also averaged 47 in first class cricket)
Add to this stalwarts in Warne, the Waugh twins, Ponting as well as firepower bowling in Lee and Gillespie, and it was a formidable combination!
Now all of those players but Ricky Ponting have retired and Australia’s test ranking now sits at 5th. Their home record is no longer at the dizzying heights of 1999-2007, having lost a series in 2008-9 for the first time in 20 years. At the Gabba (Brisbane) their record remains formidable with no losses since the 1988-9 series. England would be happy to leave that match with a draw. There is an interesting article about the varying fortunes of visiting players in Adelaide and Sydney versus the remaining grounds here.
Let’s see how the teams for the first test stack up in terms of their batting/bowling ratings (according to cricketratings.com). Note that a rating of 700 is considered very good. Interestingly the highest ranked batsman from either team only has a current rank of 14 (Australian vice captain Michael Clarke). It would appear that England’s strength is in its bowling, boasting 3 players in the top 11 and 2 in the top 5. Australia’s most successful bowlers in the post Warne-McGrath era have been Stuart Clark and Mitchell Johnson but the latter has not fired in recent times. I expect Bollinger to play a part in the series too.
Test cricket ratings (world rankings in parentheses)
|Watson||647 (25)||441 (35)||Strauss||644 (26)|
|Katich||735 (15)||127 (75)||Cook||628 (30)|
|Ponting||731 (17)||Trott||733 (16)|
|Clarke||738 (14)||113 (77)||Pietersen||648 (24)|
|Hussey||626 (31)||Collingwood||617 (32)||90 (83)|
|North||511 (45)||202 (62)||Bell||643 (27)|
|Haddin||553 (40)||Prior||611 (34)|
|Johnson||317 (89)||735 (7)||Broad||490 (49)||650 (11)|
|Doherty||DEBUT||Swann||335 (82)||858 (2)|
|Siddle||562 (19)||Finn||484 (29)|
|Hilfenhaus||560 (20)||Anderson||744 (5)|