The courts have done their bit, now cricket’s authorities must too

Butt received a 2½-year sentence

Former Pakistan cricket captain Salman Butt and bowlers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir were all handed prison sentences in a British court today, ranging from six months to 2½ years. Many observers have expressed shock and dismay that the trio are to be jailed at all for their role in the apparently minor offence of deliberately bowling three no-balls at pre-arranged times in a Test match against England at Lord’s last summer.

For many, though – myself included – it was a necessarily strong stance against the growing spectre of corruption in sport which threatens to undermine not just Pakistani cricket or indeed cricket as a whole, but the most fundamental principles of honest competition on which all sport is supposedly based. But what is even more important now is what the sport’s authorities do going forward in order to combat a problem to which they have turned a blind eye for several years.

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England vs India in numbers

No matter what the sport, England teams seem to specialise in being good but not quite good enough. In my lifeftime, I can count the number of times that England can justifiably claim to be top dogs rather than underdogs on the fingers of one hand. Having been born four years after England’s football World Cup triumph, there is the 2003 rugby union World Cup and the 2010 cricket World Twenty20. And that, as far as the major team sports are concerned, is that. Britain has had – and continues to boast – its fair share of world/Olympic champions and world-class practitioners in individual events: Sebastian Coe, Daley Thompson, Jessica Ennis, Ben Ainslie, Lennox Lewis, Nigel Mansell, Chris Hoy and Mark Cavendish to name but a few. But when it comes to putting eleven (or six, or 15, or whatever other number) athletes together against the league of nations, the cupboard has remained steadfastly bare.

However, England’s remarkable 12-month rise from fifth to first in the Test rankings was confirmed with victory at Edgbaston two weeks ago and underlined emphatically with a second successive innings victory at The Oval yesterday, completing a 4-0 whitewash over the former world leaders India. Defending that top ranking will be difficult – indeed South Africa have the opportunity to jump into top spot before England before play again in Sri Lanka next March – but that does not diminish the cause for celebration or the pride I feel in a team which for so many years has wallowed in mediocrity (and sometimes worse).

Here is the story of how England displaced India as the number one Test side in the world – in numbers. (For a more comprehensive view on what this series win means to England cricket fans, read Chris’s post here.)

The series in numbers

First Test, Lord’s (July 21st-25th): England 474/8 dec (Pietersen 202*, Kumar 5/106) & 269/6 dec (Prior 103*, Sharma 4/59) beat India 286 (Dravid 103, Broad 4/37) & 261 (Raina 78, Anderson 5/65) by 196 runs.

Second Test, Trent Bridge (July 29th-August 1st): England 221 (Broad 64, Kumar 3/45) and 544 (Bell 159, Kumar 4/124) beat India 288 (Dravid 117, Broad 6/46) & 158 (Tendulkar 56, Bresnan 5/48) by 319 runs.

Third Test, Edgbaston (August 10th-13th): England 710/7 dec (Cook 294, Morgan 104) beat India 224 (Dhoni 74, Broad 4/53, Bresnan 4/62) & 244 (Dhoni 74*, Anderson 4/85) by an innings and 242 runs.

Fourth Test, The Oval (August 18th-22nd): England 591/6 dec (Bell 235, Pietersen 175) beat India 300 (Dravid 146) & 283 (Tendulkar 91, Swann 6/106) by an innings and 8 runs.

The teams in numbers

4 – England posted the four highest innings totals in the series, passing 450 on each occasion.

1 – Conversely, India scored 300 only once in their eight innings – recording exactly 300 in the opening innings of the final Test, after which they were still forced to follow on.

710 – Highest innings score (for 7 declared), by England in the 3rd Test at Edgbaston. It was their third-highest Test total ever, and their highest against India.

158 – Lowest innings total, by India in the 2nd Test at Trent Bridge.

80 – England claimed all 80 Indian wickets during the series, versus just 47 for India.

2 – Number of times which India bowled England out (in both innings at Trent Bridge). England declared four times and only needed their second innings twice.

3 – India‘s margin of defeat in the third Test (an innings and 242 runs) was their third-worst ever.

Batting in numbers

Pietersen was the leading batsman in the series

6– Despite batting two times fewer (six innings versus eight), England had seven of the top ten run-scorers in the series.

5 – England batsmen posted the five highest individual scores of the series – one by Alastair Cook, and two each by Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell. All three recorded double centuries.

533 – Pietersen was the leading run-scorer in the series, with 533 runs at an average of 106.60.

294Cook had the highest individual score of the series, 294 at Edgbaston. As a team, India exceeded this total just once.

461 – Rahul Dravid was India’s top batsman with 461 runs, at an average of 76.83.

Dravid was India's only centurion, scoring a series-leading three

3Dravid was India’s only century-maker, registering tons in the first, third and fourth Tests.

3 – Dravid also became only the third Indian batsman to carry his bat in a Test innings (after Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar), scoring an unbeaten 146 in India’s first innings at The Oval. He had to come straight back out again as England enforced the follow-on.

7 – England batsmen recorded seven centuries to India’s three.

3 – Number of England batsmen who scored at least 300 runs in the series (Pietersen, Bell, Cook) versus just one for India (Dravid).

8 – Number of batsmen who averaged 40 or more in the series. With the exception of Dravid, all were English.

350 – The third wicket stand of 350 between Bell and Pietersen at The Oval was the highest partnership of the series.

12 – There were 12 century partnerships during the series, 10 of them by English batsmen.

34.12 – Batting average of Sachin Tendulkar, well below his career average of 56.25. He fell nine runs short of what would have been his 100th international century at The Oval.

59.76 – England’s average runs per wicket during the series, more than double India’s average of 25.55.

70 Pietersen scored more boundaries than any other batsman in the series (68 fours, two sixes).

3 – Eoin Morgan was dismissed for a third-ball duck in England’s first innings of both the first and second Tests. He made up for it by scoring a century in the first innings of the third Test, however.

2 – Virender Sehwag recorded a king pair at Edgbaston – out first ball in both innings.

Bowling in numbers

Broad was the top wicket-taker and also claimed a hat-trick

25 – Number of wickets taken by Stuart Broad, the most on either side, and ten more than the leading Indian Praveen Kumar. (Broad also added 182 runs with the bat.)

6 – Number of bowlers who took 10 or more wickets in the series. Four were English, including the top two wicket-takers, Broad and Tim Bresnan (16).

5 – Number of times a bowler took at least five wickets in an innings. Four of these were by an English bowler (Broad, Bresnan, Jimmy Anderson, Graeme Swann).

2 – Bowlers captured six wickets in a single innings on two occasions, both Englishmen: Broad and Swann.

Kumar averaged better than a wicket every five overs

1 – Hat-tricks in the series, by Broad at Trent Bridge. It was the first time a bowler has ever taken a hat-trick in a Test against India.

29.5Kumar took a wicket every 29.5 balls, the best strike rate among regular bowlers in the series. Bresnan and Broad were not far behind, with impressive strike rates of a wicket every 34.3 and 36.3 balls respectively.

3 – Three of England’s bowlers (Bresnan, Broad, Anderson) averaged fewer than 30 runs per wicket. Only one Indian (Kumar) did.

58.18 – Other than Kumar, among India’s specialist bowlers Ishant Sharma had the second-best bowling average – his 11 wickets cost a whopping 58.18 runs apiece.

143.5Harbhajan Singh, for so long India’s primary spin threat, took just two wickets in his two matches at an average of 143.5.

And finally, a few other numbers

Prior took 16 catches and added a hundred with the bat

1 – England are now the number one country in Test cricket.

5 – England’s ranking 12 months ago.

17 – England wicketkeeper Matt Prior claimed 17 dismissals in the series (16 catches, one stumping). His counterpart M S Dhoni took 13 catches.

5Cook and Andrew Strauss led among other fielders with five catches each.

11 – India have now lost 11 out of 16 Tests at Lord’s.

7 – England’s 4-0 victory marks only the seventh time in their history they have won a series by four matches or more.

6 – This was India’s sixth series defeat by four or more matches, and their first since their tour of Australia in 1991/92.

Dhoni’s sporting gesture shows letter of the law just isn’t cricket

Dhoni's gracious reversal will have won him many friends

The simple facts from yesterday are these: England batsman Ian Bell was given run out to the last ball before tea in controversial circumstances, only to be reinstated upon the resumption of play courtesy of a grand sporting gesture by Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his team. It was one of the strangest incidents ever seen at a Test match, underlining the fact that the rule-makers in any sport cannot hope to cover every eventuality and that there remains scope for sportsmanship and ‘doing the right thing’ in modern sport.

The third day of an absorbing second Test began with England still trailing by 43 runs with nine second innings wickets remaining. However, by the end of the afternoon session Bell had crafted a classy 137 on a pitch which had lost some of its initial bite but was nonetheless far from easy. With the tea break looming, Eoin Morgan tucked the final ball of the session off his legs and the batsmen ran three as Praveen Kumar made an ungainly attempt to stop the ball on the boundary edge. The fielder rolled over the rope, recovered the ball and casually tossed it back to the wicket, unsure whether he had successfully prevented a four. Bell, believing play to have been called dead, strolled off towards the dressing room in anticipation of a nice crustless sandwich and a revitalising cup of Earl Grey (or whatever it is that modern cricketers do during the tea break). Meanwhile India whipped off the bails and, after a brief discussion between on-field umpires Marais Erasmus and Asad Rauf and third umpire Billy Bowden, Bell was given run out.

Bell's small error ignited a huge debate

A bemused Bell was already at the boundary edge before he realised what had happened, protesting that he thought the umpire had called “over”. India left the field to a chorus of boos from large sections of the partisan Trent Bridge crowd.

During the break England captain Andrew Strauss and coach Andy Flower visited the Indian dressing room to ask them to reconsider. Dhoni, after asking for a few minutes to consult with his team, quickly agreed to withdraw their appeal and Bell was reinstated. Given what was at stake, it was a grand gesture of sportsmanship and not one which Dhoni in any way needed to make.

England’s record in similar circumstances is hardly unblemished. In 2008, New Zealand’s Grant Elliott was run out after colliding with Ryan Sidebottom, who had stepped into his path. Paul Collingwood refused to withdraw his appeal to reprieve the bastman in a display of a win-at-all-costs mentality over the spirit of the game which diminished both him and his team.

More than just another wicket

Had the decision stood – and India were fully entitled by the letter of cricket’s laws to stand by their appeal – it could have been a pivotal moment with far-reaching implications.

In the context of this match, despite starting the day on top India had been on the back foot throughout as England’s batsmen gained the upper hand. By tea, they were in desperate need of wickets and short of ideas as to how to take them, with Bell in imperious form as England threatened to build a potentially match-winning lead. The ‘dismissal’ came at a pivotal point in the game. Had it stood England would have been 254/4, a lead of just 187 and effectively five wickets down with the injured Jonathan Trott barely able to hold a bat. With their tails up, India could have been looking at a fourth innings target of under 250 to square the series. Instead, Bell and Eoin Morgan put on a further 69 runs after tea before Bell was finally dismissed for 159, by which time England were firmly in command. They resume this morning on 441/6, a lead of 374, with every chance of taking a 2-0 lead in the four-match series.

Looking at the bigger picture, there is also more at stake here than a morale-boosting series win over the world’s top-ranked team. Victory by two clear games would propel England into the number one position – a prospect which would have become a distinct improbability if they were to lose this Test. Momentum is everything in a Test series, and Bell’s reprieve has allowed England to continue building theirs.

A victory for sportsmanship?

Debate raged around the world both during the tea interval and afterwards – you will find acres of coverage elsewhere online – but to my eye everyone involved did exactly the right thing.

Bell himself admitted that he had been silly in not waiting for confirmation of the end of the over:

I take some of the blame. To walk off was very naive, a bit stupid.

Looking back, it was probably a bit naive on my part to automatically walk off but the right decision has been made for the good of the game. I put my bat down after the third run and it looked like we were just meandering off for tea.

I’ve learned a lot of lessons. I won’t ever do that again.

It was indeed naive, but in many ways an understandable lapse of concentration from a batsman who had already spent four hours at the crease on a hot summer’s day. Watching the replay, Praveen’s body language on the boundary suggested he considered the ball to be dead, as did that of most of the Indian fielders. Only a handful of players appeared to be live to the danger including Morgan, who took care to ground his bat at the non-striker’s end and waved a warning to Bell to stay at his end which his partner ignored.

India were correct to complete the run out first and debate the moral issues later. It was the cricketing equivalent of playing to the whistle. Rahul Dravid later explained what had happened in the Indian dressing room:

We didn’t feel right after coming back at tea.

It was lucky we had tea at that stage. Everyone was discussing the events and once we looked at it on television, we knew it didn’t feel right and we wanted to try and correct that. There was unanimity over our decision.

And the umpires were also right to apply the letter of the law to the incident. That is their job, as opposed to sitting in moral judgement over grey areas.

Former Indian great Sunil Gavaskar summed up the general consensus on BBC 5Live when he said:

I have to congratulate Dhoni for what he did. Dhoni kept to the spirit of the game, and I think it’s so important in this day and age to keep the right spirit.

I think if there were more captains like Dhoni you could get back to the days of the phrase, “It’s just not cricket.” He’s set an example for the other captains.

If only …

Dhoni was indeed fortunate that he had the tea interval in which to repair a sporting ‘wrong’ – although, of course, the incident only occurred because Bell had mistakenly thought the umpires had called for tea. And I’m not saying that this series has been played throughout in a spirit of back-slapping camaraderie. It hasn’t, as we have seen the usual acts of gamesmanship – batsmen refusing to walk until given out, fielders making spurious appeals – just as we do in any other modern Test series. But when it really mattered and the spirit of the game was called into question, Dhoni and his team made a wonderful gesture regardless of the ultimate stakes which should be thoroughly applauded.

It is something we regularly see in other sports such as golf and snooker, where players regularly point out their own inadvertent errors to match officials. Sadly, in many others, that is categorically not the case, particularly when the stakes are high.

Compare what happened yesterday with the World Cup qualifying play-off between France and the Republic of Ireland in November 2009. Thierry Henry, widely regarded as one of the game’s more gentlemanly figures, clearly and deliberately used his hand to control the ball in setting up the goal which put the French into the 2010 World Cup finals. The officials did not spot the infringement, Henry did not see fit to point out his offence, and a great opportunity to prove that sportsmanship still exists in football went begging. Okay, the situation was different insofar that Henry had only a matter of seconds to consider his actions before play resumed. And, in fairness, there are some examples of great sporting acts in football (Paolo di Canio catching the ball when poised to score past Everton’s injured Paul Gerrard, Arsenal agreeing to replay an FA Cup game against Sheffield United, teams allowing their opponents to score unobstructed to nullify an injustice, say).

Nonetheless other sports and sportsmen could take a leaf out of M S Dhoni’s book, rather than point to the laws of the game or say that it is up to officials to make the right decisions on their behalf. No matter what the sport or the circumstances, hiding behind the letter of the law just isn’t cricket.

Self-interest overrides global development as ICC confirms ten-team World Cup

With the World Cup final still fresh in the memory, the ICC Executive Board met on Monday and confirmed that the next tournament, to be held in Australia and New Zealand, will be contested only by the ten Test-playing full members. That means there will be no place in 2015 for associate members such as Ireland and the Netherlands.

It is a decision which says much about the ICC’s determination to maximise commercial revenues and protect its elite club of full members at the expense of the game’s global development. It will also try the patience of both fans and casual viewers, many of whom consider the current format too long and drawn-out.

In its press release following the Executive Board meeting, the ICC said:

The Executive Board confirmed their decision made in October 2010 that the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 in Australia and New Zealand and the ICC Cricket World Cup in England in 2019 will be a 10-team event. The Board agreed that the 2015 World Cup will comprise the existing 10 Full Members, however, they gave notice to all Full Members that participation in the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup will be determined on the basis of qualification. It was also agreed that post the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 there will be promotion and relegation introduced in the ODI League.

The Board had also decided in October 2010 that the ICC World Twenty20 will comprise 16 teams. This would allow six Associates or Affiliates the opportunity to participate in an ICC Global event every two years.

What’s the impact?

First of all, don’t be distracted by the expansion of the World Twenty20 tournament from 12 to 16 teams. The net effect remains that the associate member nations have been relegated from the sport’s showpiece tournament. Yes, associate members can play in an ICC tournament every two years, but it is like being told you are no longer eligible for the Champions League but can participate twice a year in the Europa League instead. It is scant consolation.

Ireland's Kevin O'Brien will not have the opportunity to repeat his World Cup heroics in 2015

Secondly, why restrict the tournament to only the full members? The ICC one-day international rankings shows that Ireland are currently tenth, one place ahead of full member Zimbabwe. The Irish more than held their own at this World Cup, winning two matches including a thrilling triumph over England, and in the 2007 tournament even qualified for the quarter-finals ahead of Pakistan. Zimbabwe beat only lowly Canada and Kenya and have progressed beyond the initial group stage just twice in their history (1999 and 2003). Indeed, the majority of their previous participations have resulted in a bottom-place finish.

Can you imagine FIFA deciding to scrap the qualifying competition for the 2014 World Cup and instead declaring that it will only be open to the nations represented by the 24 members of its Executive Committee? I think not.

The ICC’s decision now means that an Ireland side who are more than capable of holding their own with the Test-playing nations will be unable to participate until at least 2019. And even then, that is uncertain, with the ICC cagey as to the exact qualification format. It is hard to avoid the feeling of the governing body protecting its nearest and dearest at the expense of other ‘lesser’ countries whose continued development can hardly be helped by exclusion from the top table.

Unsurprisingly, Cricket Ireland chief Warren Deutrom reacted to the news by pointing the finger directly at the ICC:

We’re outraged by this decision. It’s a betrayal of sporting principles and it flies in the face of all the evidence we saw at the World Cup, which was that an associate nation could compete with the best teams in the world.

It’s baffling but am I surprised? Not really, because clearly there are instances where protection of existing privileges is considered more important than any other principle – including those of sport, fairness and equality.

In the last four years we have been ranked above one of the teams that now has automatic qualification for the World Cup, Zimbabwe, and there isn’t a single point you can take from that that is remotely justifiable.

When questioned about the possibility of legal action, which could include an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, Deutrom added:

Nothing is being ruled out at this stage. Legal action could be a relatively slippery slope but we will examine every possible option.

I have worked in the ICC for the best part of eight or nine years, and I can say that today I am ashamed to be part of that apparatus.

With entry to the World Cup now apparently barred for at least eight years, there is a danger that talented Irish players will not consider a place in the World Twenty20 tournament to be sufficient incentive and will declare themselves eligible for England or abandon cricket altogether. This would set back development of the sport in the country – it is certainly not going to encourage it. How can this be a good thing?

A mixed reaction in Australia

It has been interesting to note the divergence of reaction to this news from different stakeholders in Australia, co-hosts of the next tournament.

Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland was supportive, believing that a tighter format might reinvigorate the tournament:

Fourteen [competing nations] was unwieldy and sub-optional with a lot of mis-matches and long breaks. Though there was an element of uncertainty about the David-Goliath games, it was hard to generate public interest in them.

However, the Australian media has been more critical, with the Daily Telegraph in particular pulling no punches:

Australia has just become host of cricket’s Shame Games. The showpiece 2015 World Cup, to be held in Australia and New Zealand, now carries the unmistakable stench of rampant cronyism. By banishing Ireland in favour of the game’s most corrupt country, Zimbabwe, the Afro-Asia dominated ICC has once again driven a stake through the heart of the game’s credibility.

Will a smaller World Cup be a shorter World Cup?

One of the few key arguments in support of a smaller World Cup would be the shortening of a tournament which ran to an unwieldy 43 days this time around (and 47 in 2007).

Should any global tournament take this long in an already hectic calendar? Players are away from their families for extended periods and with little opportunity to recharge their batteries between domestic seasons and international tours. This takes its toll physically but also places a heavy mental burden on players, as we saw in this tournament with Michael Yardy‘s withdrawal due to depression.

The ICC could point to the Rugby Union World Cup – this year’s tournament lasts 45 days – but the physical nature of that sport precludes games being played closer together. Besides, that competition involves 20 teams – some of whom are the equivalent of the ICC’s associate members – as opposed to cricket’s 14. And football manages to invite 32 teams to its World Cup and still have everything wrapped up in 31 days.

I know there were big commercial considerations, but was it really in anyone’s interests to have a group phase which took 30 days and 42 games to whittle 14 entrants down to eight quarter-finalists? Indeed, it was not until day 34 – nearly five weeks in – that it felt as if the tournament had started properly, when India dethroned three-time defending champions Australia. That surely cannot be right.

Thankfully, the two semi-finals and the final were thrilling affairs. But that should not cloud the fact that the excitement had been a long time coming, and we had to endure a long, hard slog to get there.

True, the move to a ten-team tournament could result in a shorter tournament. However, it was worrying to read the following tweet from the BBC’s Jonathan Aggers:

As I understand it the [Australia/New Zealand] World Cup will largely be one match per day because TV deal already done. Fewer teams but same [approximate] length.

It’s easy to see why commercial considerations could lead the ICC down this path. If true, it would certainly echo comments made by ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat, who told BBC 5 Live’s Sportsweek last Sunday that he considered the length of this year’s tournament to be fine, and that most people seemed to agree. Really?

Learning from football

I’m not normally one to praise FIFA, but the way it has expanded its World Cup should be an object lesson to the ICC. Football’s World Cup has gradually increased the number of participants without becoming bloated, in a tournament which takes just one month.

Furthermore, FIFA does not automatically protect its oldest members. The number of places reserved for European teams has gradually eroded – 13 in 2010. If qualification was based solely on historical importance or FIFA ranking Europe would have closer to 20 places, and there would be barely any teams from outside Europe and South America. (There were 14 at the 2010 tournament, six of whom were ranked outside the top 32.) Okay, that means every now and then a ‘major’ power such as England or the Netherlands fails to qualify, but the finals tournament is never any worse for that.

Just imagine what the football World Cup might be like if FIFA behaved as the ICC have just done. The World Cup would probably be reduced to just 16 teams – including Scotland as an automatic qualifier – with Asia, Africa and other smaller confederations left out in the cold. There would be one game a day, and the tournament would probably take closer to two months than one to complete. Ridiculous, no?

I realise I’m being a bit harsh on the ICC here. The differing attitudes between it and FIFA are driven largely by the political power bases in each sport: Africa/Asia in cricket versus the disproportionate power wielded by men such as CONCACAF’s odious Jack Warner in football. But the fact remains that a football World Cup is a celebration of diversity and growth in which England scrape through the group stages only to lose early in the knockout rounds, whereas the cricket World Cup is, for 2015 at least, a closed shop in which England scrape through the group stages only to lose early in the knockout rounds. One is democratic, the other an elitist boys’ club. I know which system I’m happier with.

A potential solution?

To attract casual fans and keep them engaged, the tournament certainly needs to be shorter. So what is the solution?

I would actually advocate increasing the number of teams back to 16 and returning to a format of four groups of four. This would reduce the first phase to 24 matches – this year’s two groups of seven required 42 games – and could be finished in less than two weeks, as it was in 2007. Yes, there would still be some mismatches, but viewers will accept a handful of one-sided games if they are scheduled at a decent pace. And, lest we forget, matches between bigger teams can be equally one-sided, with two of the quarter-finals in this tournament (West Indies versus Pakistan, England versus Sri Lanka) being won by ten wickets.

It would also have the benefit of making the eight qualifiers less predictable. Did we really need to spend 30 days to determine that the eight quarter-finalists would be Australia, India, Pakistan, England, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, South Africa and the West Indies – i.e. the top eight nations?

In 2007, the shorter group format promoted Bangladesh and Ireland into the last eight at the expense of India and Pakistan. The ICC came under fire for allowing two of their biggest markets to exit the tournament so early – which is presumably why we had the turgid groups of seven this time – but that should be the teams’ problem, not the ICC’s. Nobody wants to see too many favourites exiting early, but equally no one wants things to be utterly predictable either. Two qualifiers from groups of four is a system which has worked perfectly well at the football World Cup. Why not cricket?

After the group phase, we would move straight into knockout quarter-finals, and so on. The tournament would be done and dusted in four weeks, and the quality of the group round would undoubtedly improve with the added importance of not slipping up early on.

Of course, it will never happen. It is in the ICC’s interest to squeeze every last drop of revenue out of the tournament, and in the host nations’ interest to wring cash out of sponsors and fans – even if the quality of the product suffers as a result. And it is also important for the top countries to minimise the risk of an embarrassingly early exit. But what is the point if casual fans simply ignore the group stage, and if the smaller countries never really have a shot at progressing? How does that promote the game to a broader global audience?

The ICC’s move may well maximise the revenue-generating potential of the World Cup and keep its more powerful members happy. But if part of its role is the development of the game in terms of both participation and reaching new viewers and fans, I fear this is a sadly misguided – and utterly selfish – step backwards.

The Ashes in numbers

Despite a brief rain delay, England duly completed a dominant win in Sydney in the early hours of this morning – the exclamation point on a 3-1 series victory – having already ensured they would retain the Ashes in Melbourne.

Each of England’s three wins have been by an innings margin, but that only begins to tell the tale of a series which the tourists – despite a major wobble in Perth which allowed Australia to level the scores – have largely dominated ever since recovering from a hesitant start in Brisbane.

All the hand-wringing over the decline of an Australian side which has dominated world cricket for nearly two decades should take nothing away from a talented and resilient England team which is now very much in the ascendancy. Here is the story of how England broke their 24-year wait for a series victory in Australia – in numbers.

The series in numbers

First Test, Brisbane (November 25th-29th): England 260 (Siddle 6/54) & 517/1 dec (Cook 235*, Trott 135*, Strauss 110) drew with Australia 481 (Hussey 195, Haddin 136, Finn 6/125) & 107/1. Series level 0-0.

Second Test, Adelaide (December 3rd-7th): England 620/5 dec (Pietersen 227, Cook 148) beat Australia 245 & 304 (Swann 5/91) by an innings and 71 runs. England lead 1-0.

Third Test, Perth (December 16th-19th): Australia 268 & 309 (Hussey 116, Tremlett 5/87) beat England 187 (Johnson 6/38) & 123 (Harris 6/47) by 267 runs. Series level 1-1.

Fourth Test, Melbourne (December 26-30): England 513 (Trott 168*, Siddle 6/75) beat Australia 98 & 258 by an innings and 157 runs. England lead 2-1 and retain the Ashes.

Fifth Test, Sydney (January 3-7): England 644 (Cook 189, Prior 118, Bell 115) beat Australia 280 & 281 by an innings and 83 runs. England win the series 3-1.

The teams in numbers

4 – England posted the four highest innings totals in the series.

4 – England passed 500 in four of their seven innings.

1 – Conversely, Australia scored over 400 only once – 481 in the opening innings of the first Test – and failed to pass 300 in six of their nine completed innings.

644 – Highest innings total, by England in the 5th Test in Sydney.

98 – Lowest innings total, by Australia in the 4th Test in Melbourne.

90 – England claimed 90 wickets during the series, versus just 56 for Australia.

17 – Number of players used by Australia during the series. England employed just 13.

Data courtesy of Cricinfo

Batting in numbers

6 – Despite batting three times fewer (seven innings versus ten), England had six of the top ten run-scorers in the series.

Alastair Cook was the leading run-scorer in the series (image courtesy of WIkipedia)

766Alastair Cook was the leading run-scorer in the series, with 766 runs at an average of 127.66.

235 – Cook also had the highest individual score of the series, 235 not out in the second innings in Adelaide.

570Michael Hussey was Australia’s top batsman with 570 runs, but his otherwise impressive average of 63.33 was less than half that of Cook.

5 – Number of England batsmen who scored at least 300 runs in the series (Cook, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Andrew Strauss) – versus just three for Australia (Hussey, Shane Watson, Brad Haddin).

4 – Number of batsmen who averaged 60 or more in the series. Three were English (Cook, Trott, Bell).

329 – The unbeaten stand of 329 between Cook and Trott in the first Test was the highest partnership of the series.

15 – There were 15 century partnerships during the series, 11 of them by English batsmen.

Ponting endured a miserable series as both captain and batsman

16.14 – Batting average of Australian captain Ricky Ponting, who scored just 113 runs in four Tests. Bowlers Peter Siddle and Mitchell Johnson both scored more runs and had a higher batting average than Ponting.

51.14 – England’s average runs per wicket during the series, getting on for double Australia’s average of 29.23.

3 – Number of centuries scored by Australian batsmen during the series (two for Hussey, one for Haddin).

3 – Number of centuries scored by Alastair Cook during the series. (As a team, England had nine courtesy of six different batsmen.)

6 – In total, there were six innings of 150 or more, but only one by an Australian (Hussey’s 195 in Brisbane).

21 – Number of sixes in the entire series. Haddin contributed five on his own, Hussey three.

81 – Unsurprisingly, no batsmen hit more fours in the series than Cook’s 81.

3 – Of the 30 men who batted in the series, only three (Stuart Broad, Steven Finn and Michael Beer) failed to score a boundary.

Data courtesy of Cricinfo

Bowling in numbers

Anderson led all bowlers with 24 wickets

24 – Number of wickets taken by Jimmy Anderson, the most on either side, and nine more than the leading Australian Mitchell Johnson.

8 – Number of bowlers who took 10 or more wickets in the series. Five were English, including the top two wicket-takers, Anderson and Chris Tremlett.

7 – Number of times a bowler took at least five wickets in an innings. Only three of these five-fors were by an English bowler (Swann, Tremlett, Finn), indicating a much more even distribution of wickets by the tourists.

5 – Bowlers captured six wickets in a single innings on five occasions, four by Australians: Peter Siddle (twice), Mitchell Johnson and Ryan Harris.

Johnson's destructive bowling in Perth was a rare high spot for the Aussies

9 – Johnson had the best individual match performance, taking 9/82 in Australia’s sole victory in Perth. In the same match, Harris claimed 9/106.

43.2 – Chris Tremlett took a wicket every 43.2 balls, the best strike rate among regular bowlers in the series.

6 – Six regular bowlers had a strike rate of better than a wicket every ten overs (60 balls) over the course of the series. Four were English (Anderson, Tremlett, Finn, Tim Bresnan).

3 – Three of England’s bowlers (Bresnan, Tremlett, Anderson) averaged fewer than 30 runs per wicket. Only one Australian (Harris) did.

Data courtesy of Cricinfo

Fielding in numbers

Prior took 23 catches and added a hundred with the bat

23 – England wicketkeeper Matt Prior claimed 23 dismissals in the series, all catches. Six of these came in Australia’s first innings in Melbourne, the most by any fielder in the series.

10 – All ten Australian first innings wickets in Melbourne fell to catches behind square.

9 – Despite a poor series with the bat, Paul Collingwood had nine catches – one more than Australian wicketkeeper Haddin.

3 – Collingwood (in Perth) and Kevin Pietersen (in Melbourne) were the only non-wicketkeepers to take three catches in a single match.

And finally, a few random numbers

0 – Stuart Broad’s first-ball duck in his only innings in Brisbane meant he was the only player not to score a run in the entire series.

Siddle gave himself his own birthday present with an opening day hat-trick

26 – Peter Siddle celebrated his 26th birthday by recording a hat-trick on the opening day of the first Test. He was the fifth Australian to register a hat-trick against England.

1 – England’s first innings in Sydney was the first time ever in a Test Match innings that the sixth, seventh and eighth wickets all produced century partnerships (154, 107 and 102 runs, respectively).

9 – England batsmen have scored nine centuries in the series, the most ever by any visiting team in Australia. Other than England, no touring side in Australia has ever scored more than six hundreds in a series.

6 – During the third Test, Michael Hussey recorded his sixth straight score of over fifty in Ashes matches, the only man ever to achieve this feat.

3 – Australia lost by an innings three times during the series – the first time they have done so against any opponent.

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