Ashes 2021-22 Preview

Welcome. On average I think Australia are 79 runs per innings better than England, so a result like 3-0 is on the cards. Here I’ll rank the players and draw out some of the themes to expect.

Expected averages for each batsman this series. Starting lineups are estimated, though plausible changes don’t materially impact the analysis. Home advantage, bowling strength, matchups and hunches incorporated into the ratings.

It’s too easy to overanalyse. Let’s start simply. Two very good bowling attacks. Lots of OK batting. So without weather, expect results. In terms of the stronger batting, Warner/Smith/Labuschagne for Australia all average >70 at home in the last four years. As good as Root/Stokes are, England are outgunned. Australia are the better team, they are at home, and so they are favourites.

Probabilities My model says the odds should be 64% Aus, 22% Eng, 14% Draw (at Brisbane, excluding weather). If anything, I think that’s a bit generous to England. Oddly the bookmakers give England a 19% chance in Brisbane, when that game is likely to be rain affected. I wouldn’t be backing England…

Home Advantage Australia have a great home record. If you’re thinking 5-0, that’s not outrageous. They’ve whitewashed their opponents in five of the last thirteen series of three or more Tests. And Australia have won all eight day/night Tests they’ve hosted, so even the possibility of two D/N matches might not help England (who have lost three of their four pink ball games).

Spin is generally ineffective in Australia. Lyon is freakishly good there though: (avg Lyon 32, others 60). Another edge to the hosts. Note Lyon averages 40 vs RHB, 24 vs LHB in the last four years. England are heavy on RHB, which makes sense. If I were picking the squad, I’d focus on picking RHB that are best against pace, and rely on their right-handedness to blunt Lyon a bit. Look for Lyon to be into the attack early if Burns (LHB, avg 27 vs OS) is still there after 20 overs.

PS. Good to see England went for Pope over Bairstow. Bairstow averages 29 vs pace, 43 vs spin (Pope 36 / 25). I’d want the better batting against pace. A spin specialist won’t help you after you’re bowled out for 210 on the first day.

Ground characteristics. Gabba / Adelaide are Australia’s best recent grounds, with 80% home wins. Others are more like 60% home win. Might be something to do with spinners struggling:

Conditions are favourable to pace bowling in Australia. There’s more variety for spinners: Perth and Melbourne relatively helpful, while runs flow at the Gabba

England’s attack vs LHB – might be overrated on the strength of Broad’s reputation. Anderson averages 10 more against LHB recently, Leach averages 56 against LHB. Lots of pressure on Broad as the specialist LHB muncher. With Warner, Head, Harris and Carey batting backwards, it will be interesting to see England’s plans.

Rotation – 25 days’ play out of 42. Rule of thumb: add 7% to a pace bowler’s average in back-to-back Tests. There are two ways rotation can impact a team through a series: bringing in weaker bowlers, and failing to rest tired ones. I think the latter is the bigger risk in this series.

Adelaide is the obvious game for a rest (there are reasonable gaps between the other Tests, so a pacer could play four out of five). Australia have four excellent pace bowlers for three slots, so can merrily rotate (though Cummins being favourite for leading wicket taker indicates that he’s expected to play himself into the ground). Would England dare rest Broad or Anderson while the series is alive? Maybe. Wood and Woakes are adequate replacements.

If Stokes looks peaky, England may have to play Bess ahead of Leach to rebalance the side. Then they’ll really be in trouble.

The Toss. Teams tend to bat. Note the increased chance of draw if Aus bat first. Just as Leamon/Jones suggested in Hitting Against the Spin – it’s harder to force a win batting first.

Last ten years, Tests in Australia

PS. Hope the above wasn’t too disjointed – the series starts a day earlier than I’d thought. As a reward for making it to the end, here’s the details on some bets I’ve made:

  • Australia to win 3-0 (decimal odds 14.0)
  • England not to win the first Test (lay 4.6)
  • Starc Australia leading Series wicket taker (5.5)
  • Pope England leading Series run scorer (13)


Australia 2-0 up after two?
Averages vs Lyon, Hazlewood, Starc & Cummins. Buttler & Bairstow are a cause for concern: five out all out?
Bowler stats, last 4 years. Note how good Cummins is vs RHB. 99 wickets at 18 over the last four years is remarkable.

The Ashes: A tale of two spinners

I wrote an Ashes preview. It was boring. You won’t be subjected to it. Fortunately, when researching that I noticed a strange feature of Nathan Lyon’s bowling: he is great in the first innings of a Test.

At the time of writing it’s unclear whether we’ll see Moeen Ali vs Nathan Lyon as the opposing spinners in the 2019 Ashes – Ali’s batting has been poor of late, so it’s hard to justify his selection. Easier to make seam-friendly wickets and neutralise Lyon. Career averages show why that’s tempting:

Fig 1 – Nathan Lyon and Moeen Ali’s Test bowling records (as at 30/7/19)

That data masks two things – firstly, since 2017 both bowlers average 29. Secondly, and interestingly, how they perform through a match.

Fig 2 – Lyon (Yellow Triangle) and Ali (Green Square) by Innings of the match. Axes are the same in all four charts.

Let’s walk through that quartet of charts. In the first Innings, Nathan Lyon is about as good as it gets. An average of 32 is 11 runs per wicket better than the average for all spinners. He’s right up there with Ashwin & Jadeja. Moeen Ali is, frankly, awful. Averaging 16 more runs per wicket than Shane Shillingford. That Green Square is poles apart from Lyon’s Yellow Triangle.

Through the second and third innings, Nathan Lyon stubbornly refuses to improve. The chasing pack catches him, then outshines him by the third innings. Ali is comparable with him at that point (and within touching distance of the rest).

Now it gets weird. If anything, Lyon is worse in the fourth innings. A bowling average of 34 is now ten runs worse than that for all spinners since 2010. The control is still there, as his economy rate is unaffected. The sample size is fine (58 wickets in the fourth innings). Odd.

Meanwhile, the fourth innings is Ali’s playground. 59 wickets at 22, he’s right up there with the big boys. Go Green Square, go!

Let’s end with some practical uses for this, before it becomes pub trivia.

  • Nathan Lyon can be part of a four man attack for Australia – he can bowl effectively in the first innings, so Australia don’t need to play four quicks to have sufficient firepower early in the match.
  • Moeen Ali shouldn’t bowl in the first innings for England. Stokes can play the role of fourth bowler, and Ali should bowl no more than ten overs per day. Save him for later in the game.

Further Reading

Cricinfo independently noticed this back in 2017 (ie. I haven’t copied them, honest!) Unfortunately for them, they attributed the difference to the Asian continent. That quirk has now been ironed out.