Ashes HQ ASHES HQ 2009

Momentum vs Statistics

I took a look at first Tests going back to 1980 which had been drawn but in which one side dominated, to see how the rest of the series went – do the teams who were let off gain strength and resolve from narrowly avoiding a humiliating defeat and go on to great things, or is it a case of superiority will out?

But how to assess dominance objectively? In Cardiff, Australia scored 674 for six, and in reply England were 686 for 19 wickets lost. Australia’s runs per wicket (RPW) was 112.33 as against England’s 36.11, a ratio of 3.11; historically this is quite high, so this can be used as a good indicator of dominance on both sides of the ball.

Looking at other series since 1980 where the first Test was drawn with an RPW ratio of at least 2.0, the list is pared down to the following six series:-

1985-86 Pakistan (555-3) vs Sri Lanka (479-10), RPW ratio of 3.86 – Pakistan went on to comprehensive victories by eight wickets then by an innings (ICC ratings 102 and 75 respectively). Chalk one up to class-will-tell.

1986-87 India (676-7) vs Sri Lanka (420-10), RPW ratio of 2.30 – India won both the two remaining Tests by an innings (ICC ratings 91 and 75). 2-0 for the Sharks over the Minnows.

1991-92 Pakistan (423-5) vs Sri Lanka (407-15), RPW ratio of 3.12 – second Test drawn, Pakistan won the third by three wickets (ICC ratings 101 and 72). Although Sri Lanka were again the lucky let-offs, at least this series defeat was not so one-sided – we’ll call this a “moral” victory. 2-1 Sharks.

1998-99 South Africa (621-5) vs New Zealand (596-13), RPW ratio of 2.71 – the second Test was an even more one-sided draw (the RPW ratio was an incredible 16.48, the highest ever!), and in the third Test South Africa won by an innings (ICC ratings 112 and 82). Sharks 3 Minnows 1.

2004-05 West Indies (543-5) vs South Africa (457-14), RPW ratio of 3.33 – South Africa won the next two Tests easily, by eight wickets and an innings (ICC ratings 73 and 99), followed by a fairly even draw. Slight anomaly here – the Minnows dominated the Sharks in the opening Test, but the Sharks class told in the end.

2006 England (551-6) vs Sri Lanka (727-19), RPW ratio of 2.93 – England won the second test by six wickets, but Sri Lanka squared the series with a 134-run victory (ICC ratings of 113 and 95).

In only one case, West Indies vs South Africa, the team which was dominated in the opener went on to win the series, although South Africa’s superiority was clear in the following Tests. Sri Lanka in 2006 staged great recoveries against an England side admittedly on the decline after their great deeds in the 2005 Ashes series.

In the main, though, the dominating team has gone on to win (four out of the six series) and, in most cases, confirm their dominance – four of the five series wins were clearly dominant. Finally, in all cases, the series winner had a significantly higher ICC rating.

So, momentum or not, it seems that England’s saving of the first Test will do little to stem the green tide.

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