England have won 35.7% of all the Test matches they have played away from home against Australia so odds of 9/4 to win the first match in Brisbane in the current series are statistically worth taking. However, England have won the last three Ashes series which suggests backing them at this price looks an even better option. England are 11/10 to win the series which includes matches in the five biggest cities in Australia.
England have not won four Ashes series back-to-back in more than 120 years. The last time they won four in a row was between 1886 and 1890. On world rankings alone England look the right favourites as they are currently third in the standings, two places ahead of Australia. England beat Australia 3-0 last summer but there were a number of pivotal moments that swung the final outcome in their favour.
England were 2/5 favourites to win that series and a final winning margin of three Tests to nil suggested those odds were about right. However, the weather intervened when Australia looked odds on to win one match and another could have gone either way. Given slightly more luck Australia could have got away with a drawn series and with this winter’s reverse fixtures they have home advantage which could be key.
There have been 19 Ashes Tests in Brisbane. Australia have won 10 of those, England just 4 and there have been 5 draws. Only Perth has seen England win fewer matches against Australia. The home side have not lost the opening Test of an Ashes series on home soil since 1986 when Mike Gatting’s side won by seven wickets at the Gabba. England won that series 2-1.
Alastair Cook has the best average of any batsmen to play more than one match at the Gabba. He has scored 356 runs on the ground at an average of 118.66. Cook has also recorded the highest individual score in Brisbane for England while you have to go back to 1936 for the best bowling performance when Bill Voice took six wickets in an innings for England.
Only Kevin Pietersen in the current squad has a better overall batting average for England than Cook. The former has now played in 99 Test matches and his average of 48.38 is testimony to sustained excellence and form for over a decade playing for England. Pietersen is approaching 8000 runs for England and should reach that landmark in this series against Australia.
Cook’s Test match batting average is marginally less than 48 which is still a great return over 97 matches. During his Test match career the England captain has 32 50’s to his name and 25 hundred’s which indicates he scores a century in one out of four Tests. Ian Bell has scored five fewer hundreds and his average is also over 45 in 93 matches.
James Anderson is the key bowler for England and potentially he could become the highest wicket taker in the history of English Test cricket. At 329 wickets he is only behind Ian Botham in the all time list who took 383. Aged 31 and free of injury Anderson can probably play at the highest level for the next four years and possibly 40 Tests which means he needs to average less than two wickets a match in that spell to overtake Botham at the top of the standings.
Brisbane is the traditional venue for the first Test match of a series in Australia. The show then moves on to the Adelaide Oval at the start of December, and then Perth later in the month, followed by the traditional Christmas match in Melbourne, which always starts on Boxing Day. The Sydney Cricket Ground stages the final match at the start of January.
England have recorded the largest winning margin in Adelaide when they beat Australia by an innings and 230 runs in 1892. Chris Tremlett has the second highest number of English wickets in Perth despite playing just one Test at the ground. The first ever Test match between Australia and England took place in Melbourne in 1877. Four of the five lowest scores at the SCG have come from England, but Australia still hold the lowest, just 42 in 1888.
Each Test match venue in Australia has its own unique features. The Gabba in Brisbane can be akin to a bull ring with an edgy atmosphere. This is traditionally a venue where the fast bowlers are encouraged to really give it a go. Australia have a great record in Brisbane but in England’s case that might have something to do with the fact they are not great starters and that gives Australia an edge in the first Test.
In the absence of Tim Bresnan, Tremlett will be given the chance to build on his Ashes-winning performance of the last Tour by playing in Brisbane. Tremlett returns to Test cricket after two years almost by default because the other contenders for the place, Steve Finn and Boyd Rankin, have not impressed in the warm up matches. Anderson and Stuart Broad pick themselves and Tremlett has been given the chance to reach a half century of Test wickets as his current tally is 49.
There were times during the series in England that there was more media attention on the decision review system than batting and bowling on the pitch. Several contentious issues were decided in England’s favour after review, another reason why a 3-0 score line was not an accurate reflection of the relative merits of both sides.
Even in the week of the 1st Test in Brisbane Australia are still undecided about the DRS. The reservations of Australia’s leading players, including captain Michael Clarke, have led to no final decision on whether the Hot Spot and Snicko devices will be used as part of decision making in the matches or just aids for television viewers to enhance the coverage.
England are keen to use Hot Spot and Snicko but Clarke thinks these aids can distort the tactical process. He believes going to the television umpire and the various devices becomes tactical and only tactics should be used to make key decisions on the field in the context of the match situation. Regardless of how this issue pans out England are worthy favourites to enhance their Test winning average in Australia in general and Brisbane in particular where they are usually second best.