The Data Day: Our Ashes Rolling Blog – Fourth Test
Welcome to The Data Day, our rolling Ashes stats blog for 2021-22. Here, we use data to try and make sense of what just happened and why. And when we can’t, we ask our models what they think.
January 9, Day Five
Australia 416-8 dec & 265-6 dec / England 294 & 270-9
Whitewash? Avoided it, mate. On an enthralling day of Test cricket, England hung on for a draw on the last day of the fourth Test in Sydney. In doing so, they’ve avoided the ignominy of a 5-0 clean sweep in Australia.
It all came down to Stuart Broad (8*) and James Anderson (0*) to bat out the last 12 deliveries to survive. The fact that the result of the game boiled down to two of England’s bowling greats batting against the bowling of one of Australia’s greatest batters in Steve Smith, just shows the wonderful peculiarities that Test cricket throws up.
The day started with Zak Crawley in fluent form. He top-scored with 77, his second-highest score in his Test career and was imperious against anything short, hitting 13 fours, 10 of which came on the legside. In Australia, there have been just four England opening batters who have scored 50+ in an innings at a higher strike rate.
For all of Crawley’s promise, there was another disappointing outing for his fellow opener Haseeb Hameed, who recorded his sixth single-figure score in a row. With just 80 runs across eight innings in this series, it’s clear the Hameed experiment is over for now.
For the first time in seven Tests in Australia, Joe Root failed to make a half-century in either innings, as Scott Boland got him caught behind. Boland continued his freakish start to his Test career, with another three wickets. Across his last three Test innings, he’s taken 13-67.
Root’s dismissal brought Jonny Bairstow to the crease to join Ben Stokes. Both were carrying injuries, and both batted with grit. Stokes made a 123-ball 60, the fourth time he’s scored a fifty or more in both innings of a Test match, while Bairstow followed his first innings hundred with a battling 41. But most important was that each of them spent about three hours at the crease.
It’s now been confirmed that Jos Buttler will fly home after suffering a broken finger fielding in the first innings. Despite that, he soldiered on, soaking up another 37 balls, before being rapped on the pads by a beautiful Pat Cummins in-swinger, who two wickets in three balls to rattle England.
Australia looked to be on the brink, with England eight down with 10 overs remaining. But Jack Leach and Broad withstood some short, hostile bowling, before Anderson helped Broad see out the final two overs.
It’s a draw that will feel like a win for England.
January 8, Day Four
Australia 416-8 dec & 265-6 dec / England 294 & 30-0
We wrote earlier that day two of this Test was all about Usman Khawaja. As day four comes to a close, we might as well get our friend Ctrl+C out, as the elegant left-handed followed his 137 in the first innings with an unbeaten 101 from 138 balls, as Australia set England an improbable 388 to win.
It capped a dream return to the Australian side for Khawaja after not featuring in a Test match since 2019. Questions will be asked as to how Australia have allowed that to happen, but for now, they can revel in the fact that their selection decisions have once again paid dividends. Khawaja’s back-to-back centuries here make him just the sixth Australian to score hundreds in both innings of an Ashes Test, while it’s just the third time in history the SCG has seen a player score two in the same match.
In what is just his first game of the series, Khawaja already has more runs in this series than every England batter not named Joe Root.
Khawaja arrived at the crease with Australia at 68-3, before the departure of Steve Smith – bowled by Jack Leach who enjoyed his best bowling performance of the series – saw Cameron Green join him with Australia on 86-4, with the lead 208. There looked to be a small opening for England if they could prize out a few more key wickets.
Khawaja and Green (74) saw to that though, sharing a partnership of 179 for the fifth wicket that took the game completely out of England’s hands.
Earlier in the day, Jonny Bairstow was only able to add 10 more runs to his overnight score, edging a Scott Boland delivery behind. Boland took another four wickets, continuing his incredible start to Test match life. He now has 11 wickets in the series, two more than any other England bowler, at an average of 8.7.
England were bowled out for 294, continuing their streak of sub-par batting. They last crossed 300 in the third Test against India, nine innings ago.
After Australia declared, England openers Zak Crawley and Haseeb Hameed had to again try and survive a tricky spell towards the end of the day. They managed to get through it unscathed, reaching 30-0 at the close. The fact that this is England highest opening stand in the series so far paints a grim image as to how much England’s top order batters have struggled this tour.
The tourists have to bat all day tomorrow to salvage a draw from this Test. It’s a draw that will feel like a win, given the current circumstances.
Our Live Win Probability model gives them a fair shot at that, with a draw sitting at 36%. An Australia win is more likely though at 63%.
England’s last opening partnership of 50+ against Australia came back in 2019 at The Oval with Joe Denly and Rory Burns combining for 54. Crawley and Hameed will be looking to dig in and pass that figure to give England the foundation needed to save something from this game.
January 7, Day Three
Some moments transcend the sport they occur in. This Ashes Test match started on the anniversary of David Bairstow’s death, the father of England player Jonny. So for Bairstow Jr. to score a gutsy century at such a poignant time, well, it clearly meant a lot:
It was Bairstow’s first hundred since November 2018 and he’s struggled since that moment, coming in and out of the side. In between that hundred and this latest one, he averaged just 21.3 with the bat and had high-scored with 57. He’d also been out for a duck four times in Tests since the beginning of 2021, with Rory Burns (6) the only top-order batter to have been dismissed for zero more times in that period.
He arrived with England in dire straights at 36-4, after yet another top-order collapse. Haseeb Hameed, whose place for the fifth Test must surely be under question, had his stumps castled by Mitchell Starc to register his fifth consecutive single-figure score. Hameed’s average for the series stands at 10.1, the lowest ever by an England opener to play seven innings or more in an Ashes series.
Scott Boland then bowled Zak Crawley through the gate, before getting Joe Root caught at second slip, as the England skipper registered his side’s first duck of 2022. Boland has been a revelation for Australia since his debut last Test with a bowling average of 8.8 this series, the fifth-best of any player in an Ashes series (min. 2 innings) and the best of any Australian. Boland’s taken nine wickets so far, which is as many as England’s leading wicket-taker Ollie Robinson, and has bowled just 29 overs to Robinson’s 87.2.
Dawid Malan was then caught tamely at leg slip off the bowling of Cameron Green, during a period of play where England didn’t score a single run for 71 balls.
Bairstow joined Ben Stokes at the crease and together they counter-attacked. Stokes had some luck, dropped by Pat Cummins on nine before a Green delivery clipped the stumps without removing the bails on 16. Yes, somehow he survived this:
Stokes, visibly struggling with his left side strain, battled hard to make 66. It was his eighth score of 50 or more against Australia in Tests, his outright most against any team (7 vs. West Indies, 7 vs. South Africa).
Stokes and Bairstow, who was hit painfully on the thumb by Green, dug in to put on 128 together. Only once previously in the last decade has England’s fifth-wicket partnership stood for 100 runs in a men’s Test. Bairstow was present on that occasion too, in a 237-run stand with Dawid Malan vs. Australia at Perth in December 2017.
The pair showed real intent to take on Nathan Lyon, who finished with figures of 1-71 off 12 overs. His economy rate of 5.9 is the third-most expensive rate he’s gone at across his entire career (min 3+ overs).
Mark Wood clubbed an entertaining 39, hooking Pat Cummins for three sixes, as England closed on 258-7, still trailing by 158.
Despite Bairstow’s efforts, our Live Win Probability remains fairly unmoved. To be fair, that’s what happens when you make a century after arriving at the crease with your side at 36-4.
England have lost only one of their six previous Tests in which Bairstow has scored a century (W2, D3), so while an England win is out of reach (4%), perhaps a battling draw is on the cards.
January 6, Day Two
Australia 416-8 dec // England 13-0
Today was another good day for Australian cricket fans as Usman Khawaja’s comeback century put the home side in total command on day two at the SCG. It was also a good day for fans of an AI-persuasion, as our Score Predictor model puffed its computerised chest, correctly predicting Australia’s total of 416 on the nose. It also projected Steve Smith to score 63, so when Stuart Broad finally broke Smith’s 115-run stand with Khawaja by getting the former caught behind for 67, the Score Predictor model blinked and beeped happily.
Smith’s half-century was his 60th score of 50+ runs for Australia in Tests, and he now goes past Matthew Hayden and Mark Taylor (both 59) for the fifth-most 50+ scores in Test history for Australia.
But today was the Khawaja show, as he scored his ninth Test century in typically classy fashion, scoring all around the ground. It was his first Test hundred in almost three years.
Aside from a minor blip where he was dropped on 28 by Joe Root, the left-hander was in total control, playing-and-missing to just 5.4% deliveries, and playing a false shot to just 12.3%. For Australia in this series so far, those figures are at 10.4% and 21.4% respectively.
Khawaja was only in the side as a replacement for Travis Head, who missed out with COVID. But as has been typical in this series, almost every change Australia have made has worked, and this was no different
Australia’s first innings score might’ve been bigger had it not been for the efforts of Stuart Broad, who picked up 5-101. In the lead up to this Test match, Broad openly spoke about his unhappiness at his lack of playing time in the series so far. And just as he has done in his career in the past, he backed up his words with a fine performance. His was the first five-for of any England bowler in this series and with the wicket of Pat Cummins, he went past Bob Willis for the second-most Ashes wickets for England in history. There’s a good chance he surpasses Ian Botham on this tour.
Australia’s tail wagged once again though, with partnerships of 43, 46 and 67 for the sixth, seventh and eighth wickets. This again laid England’s inability to build partnerships bare: just five of the top 20 partnerships in this series have come from the tourists.
A week after he overtook Ben Stokes in the all-rounder rankings, Mitchell Starc clubbed his way to 34*. It took his batting average for the series to 75.5, while his bowling average is 19.9. Earlier in the day, England’s all-rounder Stokes had pulled up with a side injury midway through an over and did not bowl for the rest of the day. It was another painful contrast between the two sides.
So, what does our cock-a-hoop Score Predictor make of England’s first innings total? For obvious reasons it’s a lot more pessimistic than it was for Australia’s first innings, estimating the tourists to make 287 in response, with Root top scoring with 41. Opener Zak Crawley was caught in the slips off a Starc no-ball in the penultimate over before the close of play. Is that the lifeline England need to bat themselves back into the game?
January 5, Day One
England’s day? How many times this series have we even been able to ask that question, let alone read it and give a tentative nod in response. Once again it was the bowling unit that stood up and battled hard to restrict Australia to 126-3 on a rain-affected first day at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG).
Despite cloudy conditions and a green pitch, Pat Cummins elected to bat after winning the toss, clearly trusting his side’s recent history at this venue. Over the last 10 years, Aussie batters have enjoyed batting at the SCG more than any other ground, averaging 54.5 runs per dismissal and scoring at 3.81 runs per over. Over that time frame, those are the highest two figures of all their home venues (if you exclude the solitary test match played against Sri Lanka at the Manuka Oval in Canberra, 2019).
Furthermore, batting first has proved a fruitful tactic in recent times for the home side. Australia have lost only one of their last 19 men’s Tests at the SCG when electing to bat first (W12, D6).
Stats Perform’s Score Predictor model also confirms this sentiment. One factor that the model applies to each game is a ‘wickets per ball’ rating. Using data from first class cricket at the SCG, the venue has one of the lowest such ratings in the world. That, combined with the history above, is why the Score Predictor expects Australia to kick on and pass 400, despite England’s best efforts with the ball on day one.
Of course, for them to do that, the current not out batters, Steve Smith and Usman Khawaja, will need to contribute heavily.
The pair enjoy batting together. Smith has scored 1,412 runs as a partnership in men’s Tests with Khawaja, his second most with any teammate (1,505 with David Warner). Our model expects both to pass 50 in the first innings, with Smith top scoring for Australia in our simulations with 63, and Khawaja making 50.
Despite the SCG being a historically high scoring ground, England did well to restrict Australia’s run rate to 2.69 per over, well below the average on the ground. In fact, the last time Australia scored slower than this at the SCG was in 2011 in the fifth Ashes Test, a game they lost.
Stuart Broad (who else?) accounted for David Warner, getting him caught at slip for 30. Broad has dismissed Warner 13 times in Test match cricket, more than any other victim, but his wicket of Warner here was his first in Australia since January 2014.
Marcus Harris and Marnus Labuschagne added 60 for the second wicket, only for both to fall for the addition of only six runs as James Anderson removed a scratchy Harris, before Mark Wood had Labuschagne caught behind.
Of course, with Australia’s lofty first innings projection, the model expects them to be in the box seat. Assuming no further play is lost to weather, our Live Win Probability estimates a 69% chance of an Australia win, 22% chance of a draw and a 9% chance of an England win. That sounds harsh on England, given their good work in the field today, but [gestures at every England batting performance on this tour so far].
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