Q: Is it true that, between the Wisden Trophy series in West Indies in 1986 and the Ashes series of 1989, England did not once pick an unchanged team?
A :Not quite - but it isn't far off. In 40 Tests between those series', only once did England go into consecutive matches with the same team. These games were the First and Second Tests in Australia in 1986/87 - which, not altogether surprisingly, was the only series in which they won a Test in the half-decade (they also won a one-off Test against Sri Lanka in 1988).
Q: And since 1990, how many times have they picked an unchanged team?
A: The on-going (as of this column) Test, the Third Test against Sri Lanka, is the 244th against serious opposition since the dawn of the 1990s (against Zimbabwe, in 2003, and Bangladesh, in 2003/04, 2005, 2009/10 and 2010, England rested selected personnel): these Tests have featured 46 XIs which were unchanged from the previous game. The first of these was the side which played the Fourth and Fifth Tests in West Indies in 1990; the most recent was the one which played the Fourth and Fifth in Australia last winter. Between the unchanged teams of the Fourth and Fifth Tests in West Indies in 1994 and the unchanged ones in the Second and Third in New Zealand in 1996/97, England went 32 Tests without once naming unchanged XIs.
How many additional occasions in that time have they made only changes which have come about due to changes in availability (i.e., a first-choice player either becoming unavailable or available again)?
Funnily enough, there have also been 46 such occasions where the only changes made to the team resulted from either injury, a return from injury or retirement. That is not to say, however, that but for these Test-to-Test differences in availability each of these 46 occasions would have featured unchanged sides had the injury not occurred or healed or had the player not chosen to retire. Two occasions are sufficient to demonstrate thus: in 1994/95, Devon Malcolm missed the First Test
of the winter's Ashes with chicken-pox and Martin McCague replaced him (together with two other unenforced changes from the last Test of the 1994 summer
). McCague had a rank shocker, and Malcolm was well again to take the place back in the Second Test
, which was England's only change - but the idea that McCague would have played that Second Test had Malcolm still been unwell is almost laughable. Equally, in the first Test of the winter of 2000/01
, the only changes from the final Test of the 2000 summer
was that two of those who had played it missed-out because they were unfit (Michael Vaughan and Dominic Cork), but at least one, maybe both, of those who replaced them (Ashley Giles and Ian Salisbury) would have come in anyway, if not necessarily in the place of those who they eventually ended-up taking over from.
Q: How many of these unchanged XIs have come after victories, draws and defeats?
A: Of the 46, the result of the Test from which the XI was unchanged was thus:
Of the 6 losses, a couple could be described as close-run; of the 12 draws, 9 could have been said to have seen England look much the better team. Only 7 times in over two decades have England's selectors seen their side come out of a Test decidedly second-best and, in the next match, been both able and willing to trust the same eleven men again.
Q: How many occasions in the aforementioned timespan have England lost a Test and either picked the same team for the next game or made only enforced changes?
A: In addition to the 6 mentioned above, there are 11 further occasions where the only changes England made following a defeat were made due to either injury or return from injury. Once more, this is not to say that, if availability for the Test that followed defeat was the same as the Test in which it was inflicted, unchanged XIs would have been selected.
On the occasions in the aforementioned timespan where England won a Test then picked an unchanged side, what was the result of the game into which they went with an unchanged team?
Of the 28, the result of the next Test was thus:
It should be noted that 3 of these draws featured what could accurately be described as rather fortunate escapes for England. One of these victories is that which they "won" when Pakistan forfeited the Oval Test of 2006
- a game they may have lost had it run its course. The only defeat was that which Pakistan inflicted on them in the Oval Test of 2010
(the one now infinitely better known for the spot-fixing allegations which sprung from it). It is not altogether surprising to note that successful runs of results come from teams featuring players with secure places (secure places being earned by virtue of good performances) and little disruption from injury.
In Tests in the aforementioned timespan, after England have won Tests, what is the breakdown in terms of unchanged team, team featuring enforced changes only, and team featuring unenforced changes?
Since 1990, excluding the aforementioned series' which were essentially formalities, England have, nominally, so far won 82 Tests (it currently looks like being 83 by the end of the on-going Third Test against Sri Lanka) - two of these were the rather dubious ones at Centurion in 1999/2000
and The Oval in 2006 which cannot be counted as proper Test victories. As mentioned, 28 times the team has been unchanged for the next game. On 18 occasions, the only changes to the side for the next Test involved either an injury or a return from injury; on 34 other occasions, unenforced changes were made (regardless of whether or not enforced ones also were).
Q: In Tests in the aforementioned timespan, what is the most number of changes a team has featured? Both total and unenforced.
A: Since 1990, there has not yet been a team featuring more than six changes, though this has happened as many as 11 times - mostly, unsurprisingly, between two seasons (the most recent being 2001-2001/02). Only twice were all six completely unenforced - famously, supremo of the day Raymond Illingworth elected for a dramatic overhaul at the end of the 1995/96 tour of South Africa, not restricted solely to the XI which had played the disastrous Fifth Test. Of the sixteen players in the Test touring party that winter, only five (captain Michael Atherton, middle-order batsmen Graham Thorpe and Graeme Hick, wicketkeeper Jack Russell and bowler Dominic Cork) appeared to still be in favour at the start of the 1996 summer, though some returned before all that long. More infamously, England's selection for their subcontinental tour of 1992/93 was shockingly bad, and the only five to survive from the final Test of the summer's less-than-totally-disastrous series against Pakistan were captain Graham Gooch, vice-captain, wicketkeeper and opener Alec Stewart, middle-order batsman Robin Smith, all-rounder Chris Lewis and bowler Malcolm.
In Tests in the aforementioned timespan, what is the most number of Tests which has elapsed without the England selectors being forced to make changes? (Regardless of any unenforced ones in that time)
It encompasses the sequence which currently stands as the longest with which England went in with the same eleven players. After Matthew Hoggard missed the Second Test in Sri Lanka in 2007/08
with injury then returned for the Third
, England's selectors saw the next seven matches go by without being forced into any changes. In the first of these, in New Zealand later the same winter, they brought back Andrew Strauss for Ravinder Bopara and replaced Matt Prior with Tim Ambrose, then in the next they dropped Matthew Hoggard and Stephen Harmison and called in James Anderson and Stuart Broad. For the next five games, the personnel were unchanged, then in the Second Test against South Africa
Ryan Sidebottom's injury saw the somewhat extraordinary call-up of Darren Pattinson, and Andrew Flintoff's long-awaited return from injury meant the axe for the unfortunate Paul Collingwood.
Q: And, finally, I remember England picking the same team in the opening Test of the 2008 summer to that which had played the last game of the 2007/08 winter (against the same opposition, what is more). Has there been any other occasion where they have done the same (whether this is the last and first Test of an away-to-home season transition or the other way around)?
A: Since 1990, no (to find-out whether this has ever happened at any time would take extensive, painstaking research). There have been a couple of occasions where they came close, however. The only changes in the opening Test of the 2004 summer from the final match in the Caribbean less than a couple of months earlier were Strauss making his debut in place of the injured Vaughan, and Giles returning in place of the man who had stood-in (and taken severe punishment) for him in that famous Test at the Antigua Recreation Ground, Gareth Batty. The only change for the opening Test in Australia last winter from the one which played the final Test of the 2010 summer was Ian Bell returning from injury in place of his stand-in, Eoin Morgan. Incidentally, it should be noted that the 2007/08-2008 Test team was not, quite, unchanged; the personnel were the same, but Strauss moved back to the top of the order where he had been in the summer of 2007, and Vaughan moved back to the number-three slot, where he too had been the previous summer.