Analysis: Australia's Batting Options for the 2017 Ashes

30th October, 2017.

Recently, I took a statistical look at England's batting options across several articles, with my piece 'England's Batting Options for the Ashes' running the rule over the expected Test average of the best English qualified batsmen.  

Arguably the main point to take from this article was that England have a dearth of batting talent in the longer format currently, with our algorithm giving just seven English batsmen a Test expected average in excess of 35 (wicket-keeper Jonny Bairstow was not graded, due to being a wicket-keeper, but he also had an expected average over 35).

Further adding to this problem was that one of these players - Ben Stokes - is currently suspended, while three others - Sam Northeast, Liam Livingstone and Rory Burns - were not picked in the squad.  Of the current squad, only captain Joe Root, ex-captain Alastair Cook, the aforementioned Bairstow plus opener Mark Stoneman managed an expected Test average over 35 prior to the start of the Ashes.  

My summary of this poor state of affairs at the time, was the following: 

"The problem with England currently is this - they have two batsmen with expected Test batting averages above 40, and seven above 35 (three of whom are not even rumoured to be considered).  Given variance is a huge part of any sport, players with expected Test averages below 35 are always going to be likely to have a bad run, which creates inconsistency in team selection - leading to under performance.  

The England selectors need to acknowledge that most of the current batsmen available are not of elite level and adjust their expectations accordingly.  Until this is done, there will be much chopping and changing of the England batting line-up, to little positive effect.  I'll save my criticism of the selector set-up (how can three men cover 18 counties efficiently is beyond me) for another day."

I added to this several days ago with another article, 'Why England's Batting will fail in the Ashes 2017', which included further analysis of historical data which demonstrated that it is very rare for English batsmen to improve in the Test environment, casting extreme doubt on the faith that the selectors have shown in James Vince, in particular.

Evidently, England have considerable batting issues in advance of the Ashes, so I thought it would be interesting to analyse Australia's options to see if they have similar problems.  

Firstly, during analysis, it became obvious that Australian players clearly have a different dynamic to England's, in that it is relatively common for an Australian batsman to have a better Test average than in the Sheffield Shield.   Since January 2015, Adam Voges, Joe Burns, Mitchell Marsh, Peter Handscomb and Steve Smith all managed this feat, while David Warner and Glenn Maxwell were also very close to doing so.  

The reasoning for this probably comes down to a number of factors.  No doubt, there will be plenty of Australians keen to claim that it shows how much more mental strength they have, compared to the English, while given some of the bowler-friendly pitches that this week's Sheffield Shield matches exhibited, perhaps the Australian Test pitches are prepared to be more batsman-friendly than they are domestically.

However, what cannot be disputed is that in 13 home Tests since the start of 2015, Australia have batted extremely well.  In fact, they boast the highest home Test average runs per wicket by some distance, with each Australian wicket costing 50.17 runs, at an excellent Test batting strike rate of 64.27.  In this time period in home Tests, David Warner, Steve Smith, Usman Khawaja, Adam Voges, Peter Handscomb, Matt Renshaw and Chris Rogers all average over 60, while Shaun Marsh fell just short of this landmark, averaging 55.00 from seven completed innings.

This historical data certainly indicates that it is 'advantage Australia' with the bat, prior to the start of the first Test, and further backing this up is the array of batting options at their disposal.

As I mentioned earlier, England have just three front-line batsman with a pre-Ashes Test expected average over 35 (plus wicket-keeper Bairstow) but our algorithm indicated that Australia have an incredible 19 batsmen to choose from.  It's worth mentioning that the Australian domestic season contains far fewer red-ball matches than the English season, so sample sizes are a little smaller than I'd like - however all of the players listed below have managed at least 20 completed red-ball innings since the start of 2015.

Player

Expected Test Average

Expected Test Strike Rate







SPD Smith

62.52

58.78

EJM Cowan

61.84

57.01

UT Khawaja

57.25

60.19

HWR Cartwright

54.70

61.59

GJ Bailey

53.93

55.32

PSP Handscomb

51.89

56.89

AJ Turner

47.66

61.26

DA Warner

46.53

79.08

KR Patterson

45.28

48.52

SE Marsh

42.46

47.61

JS Lehmann

40.50

70.91

MT Renshaw

39.50

44.65

DP Hughes

39.27

51.95

TM Head

38.62

72.66

TJ Dean

38.24

45.70

M Labuschagne

36.61

45.66

GJ Maxwell

35.85

65.37

PM Nevill

35.84

46.58

J Weatherald

35.19

58.14


Captain Steve Smith leads the way, with a superb expected Test average in excess of 60, while the 35 year old Ed Cowan - jettisoned by the Australian squad after 18 Tests in 2013 - has recorded some magnificent domestic numbers over the last couple of seasons, and was extremely justified in having issues with being dropped this week from his Sheffield Shield side.  

Given the volume of players with high expected Test averages, it is without doubt that Australian batting is in much better health than their English rivals, and given that Smith, Warner, Handscomb and Renshaw have played all seven Tests this year, it would appear that their place in the team is extremely likely for the first Test.

The number six spot in the Australian team has been under debate, with Hilton Cartwright and Glenn Maxwell - both listed above - mentioned as contenders, while our algorithms gave other players rumoured to be rivals for this position, Marcus Stoinis, Mitchell Marsh and Nic Maddinson, expected Test averages below 30, and our data indicated that this latter trio should not be considered for the role at present.

Looking at the data, medium pace all-rounder Cartwright looks to be a better red-ball batsman than off-spinner Maxwell, but Maxwell is the better bowler by some distance.  Pitch conditions and whether Australia prefer a stronger batsman or stronger bowler as their all-rounder will surely drive this decision.

The Australian wicket-keeper position also is under debate, despite Matthew Wade playing all seven Tests this year.  While Wade has been a consistent part of the Australian line-up, his expected Test average, quite frankly, isn't good enough.  Our algorithm assessed his figure to be 21.56, with a strike rate of 46.09.  

Fellow wicket-keeper Peter Nevill (expected Test average 35.84) has much better batting data, while occasional wicket-keepers Cameron Bancroft (33.57) and Peter Handscomb (listed above, 51.89) all offer much better batting options than Wade currently.  

Certainly, if Wade lines up for Australia at number seven, as he has been doing, their tail looks quite long, although Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and even Nathan Lyon are certainly not pushovers with the bat and have the potential to help the tail wag lower down the order.

Summarising, it is clear that Australia have much better batting options than England, and with recent home Test matches further indicating that Australian batsmen thrive in home conditions, it highlights how difficult a task England face to fly home with the Ashes Urn following the fifth Test in Sydney at the start of January.






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