How will England fare in the Ashes?

How will England fare in the Ashes?

With the Ashes due to start at midnight, there will be plenty of English cricket fans bracing for some all-nighters. With Joe Root already having to respond to some Aussie jibes and plenty of nervousness about the absence of Ben Stokes, it’s safe to say there is plenty to be anxious about.

We’ve analysed the last 10 Ashes series to work out how England might fare and what they can do to maximise their chances of success.

Joe Root can make the difference

The young captain is, like many of his predecessors, a batsman first and foremost. He’ll therefore be encouraged to learn that England teams tend to take inspiration when their captain leads by example at the crease. In the 26 innings where the captain has registered one of the two best totals, their team has gone on to win 39.1% of Tests (excluding draws), compared to just 33.3% when they rank less impressively. To set a baseline expectation for Root, the average captain takes 34 runs from 70 balls, but the number to aim for is 52. England’s win percentage surges to 61.1% in Tests where their captain scores at least this many runs.

A balance of batsmen works best

Continuing the batting theme, we were interested to see that Root is taking more left-handed batsmen with him than fellow right-handers: nine versus seven. He’d be well advised not to deploy too many left-handers, or rely too much on right-handers for that matter, as too heavy an imbalance at the crease in either direction tends to end badly for England. When we rank the last 50 Ashes Tests by the percentage of left-handers, we find that England’s win percentage halves in both the 10 where the highest share of balls are faced by right-handers and the 10 where left-handers see the most action. The trick recently has been to use more right-handers overall but not to let them dominate.

Stokes’ absence will be keenly felt

It’s not exactly controversial to say that Ben Stokes will be missed, but it’s still helpful to be able to quantify the impact of his absence. We went back through the last 10 Ashes series looking for good all-round performances – ones in which the same player registered at least a half-century of runs in a single innings and also claimed at least one wicket as a bowler – and the effect was larger than we expected. There were 17 Tests in which that feat was achieved and England won almost half of them – a win percentage of 61.5% excluding draws – compared to around a quarter when it wasn’t.

It isn’t all about spin bowling

Root is taking six spin bowlers with him to Australia, but like left-handed batsmen there’s a right way and a wrong way to deploy them. Across the last 10 Ashes series, only around one in five England deliveries has been bowled by a spinner, with the pitch an important factor in their effectiveness. The earlier Tests represent England’s best opportunity of making spin work for them, with the second meeting in Adelaide in particular having seen almost a third of Australian wickets fall to an English spinner.

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