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Ask the Spider: Ask The Spider #132
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Q: How many England captains have led in more than one full Ashes series?

A :Presuming one counts a series where the captain missed a minor portion of the series through injury and only discounts series' where there was a specific change of captain midway through, the following have done so:
Andrew Strauss (2009 & 2010/11)
Nasser Hussain (2001 [3 out of 5] & 2002/03)
Michael Atherton (1994/95 & 1997)
David Gower (1985 & 1989 - these maybe being the two of most markedly different fortunes!)
Mike Brearley (1977 & 1978/79)
Raymond Illingworth (1970/71 & 1972)
Edward Dexter (1962/63 & 1964)
Peter May (1956 & 1958/59)
Leonard Hutton (1953 & 1954/55)
Walter Hammond (1938 & 1946/47)
Percy Chapman (1928/29 & 1930)
Johnny Douglas (1909 & 1920/21)
Archie MacLaren (1901/02, 1902 & 1909)
WG Grace (1890, 1891/92, 1893 & 1896)
Strauss has a conceivable chance of being around, and still captain, come 2013, and thus to become the first captain since MacLaren in the 1900s to lead England in three Ashes'. MacLaren lost all three of his; Strauss could also still directly reverse this by winning all three.
Q: Which Test captain has taken the most catches with the armband?

A: Stephen Fleming heads this list and is likely to do so for quite a while yet. His tally of 132 catches as Test captain is some way in front of the only two who have any hope of catching him - Graeme Smith, now approaching his 30th birthday and who has already hinted that he may not captain South Africa for all that much longer, currently has 105; Mahendra Dhoni is perhaps the more likely, being a wicketkeeper - he currently has 79 from just 24 Tests as captain. The only other men to compartmentalise wicketkeeping and captaincy at Test level well enough to take even 50 catches with the armband and gauntlets on are "Gerry" Alexander (who took 65) and Andy Flower (who had a couple of stints as Zimbabwe's captain which ended with him tallying 56; he also took 5 as a captain in the field). Dhoni's apparent ability to do so to a degree never seen before may see him take-out the catches-as-captain record and set a mark which no-one may ever beat.
Q: Who has the best average as captain in Ashes cricket?

A: Batting average? Could only be one man. Don Bradman averaged 90.07 as captain in Ashes Tests; Bobby Simpson is next best of those who captained as first-choices, averaging 81.30. England's best is Stanley Jackson, with 70.28.

Bowling average? Of those who were actually bowlers of note rather than part-timers picked as batsmen who fluked the odd wicket in a handful of overs, Jackson again comes-out on top with an average of 15.46.
Q: When was the last winter in which England did not play an away Test series?

A: The last was 1988/89, when the scheduled tour to India was cancelled on political grounds - the Indian government refused to accept several of the selected England players (including the captain, Graham Gooch) due to their having been involved in the Rebel tour of South Africa in 1982/83; to the Indian government, the three-year ban imposed on such players was not sufficient punishment. The last time a winter off was genuinely scheduled was 1975/76, and from there back it becomes relatively common - until the mid-1970s it was not all that unusual for England to have a winter off.
Q: And when was the last time a home summer took place without any Test cricket?

A: That is much further back - presuming, of course, that one discounts 1970, when South Africa were scheduled to visit and were eventually debarred (a Rest Of The World XI took their place, playing five matches which were at the time thought to be Tests before the ludicrousness of a Test side including "Rest Of" in the title became apparent and the status was retrospectively revoked). Bearing in mind that very much cricket at all, never mind Tests, during the War years (1940, 1941, 1942, 1943 and 1944) was utterly implausible, and even in the first post-War summer (1945) still not really likely (though there there was a "Victory Test" tour from the Australian Services), these too can be excluded. Thus, the last was 1927 - a summer when the only Test-playing visitors could be Australia and South Africa. From the 1928 visit of West Indies onwards, new sides begun to be added and Test cricket could be played every home season.
Q: Which team has used the fewest players in ODIs since the end of the 2007 World Cup? Counting only the top eight teams in matches against fellow top-eight teams.

A: The figures to date (the most recent ODI being the 16th of January's Australia vs. England First ODI) read thus:
Australia: 42 players
England: 35 players
India: 46 players
New Zealand: 39 players
Pakistan: 40 players
South Africa: 33 players
Sri Lanka: 38 players
West Indies: 41 players (this includes reserve players picked during the contract dispute of 2009)
Perhaps it will be interesting to re-visit this list come the end of the 2010/11 Cup, and compare it to the ones from 1999-2002/03 and 2002/03-2007.
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