There has been a lot of talk over the past two days about the gap between England and Australia. Was a 3-0 margin a fair reflection of England’s supremacy? Dear me, it was almost 4-0. Would that have been fair? There have been some stats discussed that showed very little difference between the teams, with Australia ahead in some areas. Some pundits have gone as far as to question Clarke’s leadership, suggesting that if Australia was better lead, that they could have won some matches. They are kidding, right?
The sort of stats I am talking about (and I only glanced casually at these some time during day three) were things like Australia had more batsmen averaging over 40 for the series. Australia had a better average runs per wicket for the series. Australia had topped 500 once and almost twice. England’s best innings total was only 375. It’s all hollow and meaningless when you look at it like that. This was a series of cricket matches, not a mathematics exam. The scoreboard never lies.
I see it a bit like a tennis match. Sometimes you will see a scoreline like 6-2, 6-4, 6-3 and that seems a comfortable win. And it probably was. A look at the stats might suggest that the match was very close. Perhaps the loser might have even won more points. But it is guaranteed that the winner won the important points. There are obvious differences between tennis and cricket. In tennis, you can loose a few games to love and it does not matter (there is no concept of total points) but in cricket, all runs count, no matter when in the match they are scored (just have a look at the 1st Ashes Test in 2013). But the theory holds. Cook himself said that England scored runs at the right time and took wickets when it mattered.
That’s what good teams do. They do enough to win. If the opposition lifts, then good teams do just a little more. Whatever it takes.
I would suggest that ignoring use of DRS, that Michael Clarke is tactically better then Cook. Much better. Chappelli agrees so that is the end of that. However, Australia does seem to have lost the ability to win. Is that only because their skills are inferior, or is there an element of leadership lacking? I don’t know the answer.
Aside from the one Test that Australia was thumped in (Lord’s), they had much the better of two draws (sporting declarations aside), and were competitive in the other two matches that they lost. In both of those games, they lead on the first innings, conceded too many runs in England’s second innings but with a bit of luck and/or skill, still could have managed those chases. So, you could mount an argument that with a bit of luck, some justice from the weather Gods and an even break from the umpires, that Australia could have won three Test matches. If, if, if. But the scoreboard never lies.
Australia does seem to have trouble bowling teams out in their second innings. In Australia’s home summer, they had South Africa on the rack in the first two Tests. They didn’t lose but they could not close out the match. They could not bowl South Africa out a second time. This is partly due to not having a class spinner.
In the 1st and 4th Tests of this series, England made the highest score of the match in their second innings. Australia had a lead on the first innings but ended up having too many runs to chase. You could argue that if some umpiring decisions had gone their way (Broad at Trent Bridge and Bresnan at Chester-le-Street) that they would have been chasing less runs and could have won. But I come back England taking wickets at the right time. It is just as likely that Australia would have caved in, the same distance from the finishing line.
I think Australia should take positives from what might seem a desolate result. Some players emerged and consolidated. Harris was magnificent, as he usually is but he went the distance. Haddin improved as the series went. Rogers offered some hope at the top of the order. The bowling overall was good and Bell was the only English batsman who truly prospered. And the fact is that Australia were competitive. The gap is not so big. With some improvement and home ground advantage, they might just have a chance in a few months time.