Travball, indomitable Lyon and all out attack – key stats ahead of Ashes
The 2023 Ashes is set to be one of the most exciting in history, with a resurgent England taking on Test champions Australia.
Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum have led England to 11 victories in 13 matches since their appointments as captain and coach last summer, while Australia cemented their status as the best five-day team in the world by thrashing India by 209 runs in the World Test Championship final.
Here, the PA news agency picks out five key stats ahead of the five-match series.
Freed up by Stokes’ and McCullum’s ultra-positive mindset, England’s batters account for seven of the eight fastest strike rates among players with more than 500 runs to their name since the New Zealander was installed as coach on May 12, 2022.
Australia batter Travis Head is the only non-Englishman in the list, with his strike rate of 83.75 runs per 100 balls ranking fourth behind Harry Brook, Ben Duckett and Jonny Bairstow.
Stokes described Head as “so hard to bowl to” in the previous Ashes in Australia, in which he scored 357 runs – the most by anyone on either side – from just 415 balls faced.
He has maintained that form ever since, most recently in a trademark counter-attacking innings of 163 from 174 deliveries against India.
Head’s performances have seen him climb to third spot in the Test batting rankings, behind countrymen Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith.
Joe Root is the highest-ranked England batter in sixth.
The last time three batters from the same team were first, second and third in the Test rankings was in December 1984, when Gordon Greenidge, Clive Lloyd, and Larry Gomes from West Indies were at the top.
All out attack
While England’s cavalier batting under Stokes and McCullum has attracted lots of attention, their bowlers have been equally destructive by dismissing the opposition in 25 consecutive innings.
This is their longest run since 1978 and 1979, when England bowled out 26 successive opponents in a sequence that brought series wins against Pakistan and New Zealand, plus a 5-1 Ashes success in Australia.
The wickets have been shared among 14 players during the current run, with veteran seamers James Anderson and Stuart Broad – as well as the injured Jack Leach – leading the way on 45 apiece.
Anderson has the best overall figures having claimed his scalps at an average of 17.62, ahead of Ollie Robinson who has 27 wickets at 21.25.
Matthew Potts has chipped in with 23 victims, ahead of captain and Durham team-mate Stokes on 20.
Then comes a bit of a gap to Root on nine wickets and Mark Wood – who has only played two Tests under Stokes and McCullum – on eight.
The overlooked Rehan Ahmed and Will Jacks took seven and six wickets in Pakistan respectively, while Josh Tongue claimed a five-for on debut against Ireland at Lord’s.
Jamie Overton (two), Brook (one) and Matt Parkinson (one) have also contributed, while there have been five run-outs and one retirement through injury.
Stokes fitness worries
Stokes’ bowling capability remains somewhat shrouded in mystery ahead of the first Test.
England’s captain has been recovering from a troublesome left knee and – despite insisting he is ready to bowl – has sent down only nine overs in six Test innings so far in 2023.
He also bowled only one over for Chennai Super Kings in this year’s Indian Premier League and was described by coach Stephen Fleming as “batting cover” during the second half of the tournament.
Stokes’ all-round abilities are key to the balance of England’s side, particularly given his preference for fast, flat pitches which could result in bowlers having to get through lots of overs.
Meanwhile, Australia all-rounder Cameron Green – who is playing in an Ashes in England for the first time – has enjoyed a promising start to his Test career.
He has lost only three of the 21 matches he has played in.
Nathan Lyon has played a remarkable 98 consecutive Tests for Australia, the joint-sixth longest run in history.
The 35-year-old off-spinner – who took four for 41 to help dismiss India in their second innings and clinch the World Test Championship – has not missed a single game since sitting out the opening two Tests of the 2013 Ashes in England.
While Lyon is unlikely to break the record held by former England captain Sir Alastair Cook (159), he is already out on his own among bowlers.
All-rounders Garry Sobers (85), Kapil Dev (66) and Ian Botham (65) have been surpassed, although India’s Dev can consider himself unlucky not to hold the bowlers’ record having missed only one Test in his 131-match career.
Lyon’s omnipresence is in stark contrast with his opposite number Moeen Ali, who is returning to red-ball cricket after nearly two years away as an emergency replacement for the injured Leach.
Moeen admitted this week that he has “never been able to hold an end up” and the stats back this up – his economy rate of 3.61 runs per over is far worse than Lyon’s 2.92.
However, he has a better strike rate than his Australian counterpart, taking a wicket every 60.7 deliveries compared with Lyon’s 63.7.
This will be the first Ashes series since Shane Warne’s sudden death in March 2022.
Warne will be forever synonymous with the urn, having taken more wickets against England than any other player in Test history (195).
The Australian introduced himself to Ashes cricket in 1993 by dismissing Mike Gatting with his very first ball. The delivery – which pitched outside leg and clipped the top of off – was subsequently dubbed the “ball of the century”.
Warne went on to claim 129 Ashes wickets in England at an average of 21.94, compared with 66 scalps at 25.81 in his native Australia.
He won 24 of the 36 Ashes Tests he played in, losing seven and drawing five.
Two of those defeats came in 2005, which was arguably Warne’s greatest Ashes performance despite him finishing on the losing side.
The leg-spinner claimed 40 wickets at an average of 19.92, including six in both innings in the fifth Test at the Oval as Australia tried unsuccessfully to prevent an England series victory.