Dave Wilson | 4:18am gmt 19 Aug 2009
Earlier in the series we looked at the question of momentum - does it exist? Going into the deciding Test this weekend it would appear that, if it does indeed exist, then Australia undoubtedly have it, following their convincing victory over England in the fourth Test. I thought I'd take a look at previous Test series which were all-square going into the last, to see historically what has happened. Restricting our investigation to five-Test (or more) series so as to allow a more direct comparison, that gives us 18 series to look at.
I first took a look at how much home advantage plays into it. Here are the results of the deciding Tests:-
HOME TEAM WON: 8
AWAY TEAM WON: 6
So not really that much of a home advantage. How about the favourite - surely they win most of the time in these situations? I used the historical ICC team ratings to determine the favourite for each series, with the following results:-
FAVOURITE WON: 9
UNDERDOG WON: 5
As we would expect, the favourite is more likely to win, but there have been sufficient underdogs who have won to make it less than a foregone conclusion. So is it more of a combination of the two - have more home underdogs won? Of the five underdogs who won, three were at home, two were away, so not really much to conclude from that.
So could it be, as we alluded to earlier in the series, that momentum plays a part - how many of the teams who won the penultimate Test to square the series went on to win? There were twelve series which produced a result in the penultimate Test; here are the results of the final Test in each case (two Tests were drawn):-
WON 4TH TEST: WON - 3
LOST 4TH TEST: WON - 7
This is somewhat surprising - history seems to favour the loser of the penultimate Test, and hence the team you would think had lost the momentum, going on to win a tied series. Why should this be? One explanation could be that, in the majority of cases, the better team had been more successful in the earlier Tests, lost a little focus, then re-grouped to win. This has proven largely to be the case - in fact, in five of those seven cases the team winning the fifth Test and thus the series had won both the first two Tests, only to lose the next two. In this case, however, it's fair to say that England has not been dominant to that extent.
Considering the above and looking closely at the particular case of England and Australia going into this weekend's decider, the situation we have is a home underdog facing an away favourite which has the momentum - in those cases, the home underdog is successul only 20% of the time.
So it seems England has a one in five chance of sending Freddie out on a high note - if England is to wrest the momentum away from the Aussies, it most likely will require a performance of "Flintoff-like" proportions.