Travball, indomitable Lyon and all out attack – key stats ahead of Ashes

By Sports Desk June 15, 2023

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.

Indomitable Lyon

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.

Absent friend

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.

Related items

  • Danny Care: Cookies and saunas the secret behind England longevity Danny Care: Cookies and saunas the secret behind England longevity

    Danny Care has revealed the unconventional secret behind his career longevity as he closes in on becoming England’s sixth Test centurion – cookies and saunas.

    Care will make his 99th international appearance in Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations clash with Scotland and even at 37-years-old the high-tempo Harlequins scrum-half is in the form of his life.

    On top of showing the persistence needed to emerge from a three-and-a-half-year spell in England exile, he has taken his own approach to making sure he can perform at the highest level.


    View this post on Instagram

    A post shared by Danny Care (@dannycare9)

    And unlike former Red Rose team-mate Jonny May, who is famed for his dedication to training and preparation, Care takes a more unorthodox route.


    “I’m definitely not like Jonny May! I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum to Jonny May. More cookies. Cookies and saunas. And why not if it works? Everyone is so different,” Care said.

    “I’ve always been quite lucky in that I’ve not been massively into nutrition or believe fully in it, which the nutritionists hate me for!

    “I don’t think I’ve cracked it, but I’m 37 and I like to think I’ve shown an alternative way of doing it. Rather than all the protein and the supplements every day…

    “I’ve definitely put a bigger emphasis on my recovery in the last few years but I feel better now than I did four or five years ago.

    “The team hotel is also an amazing five-star spa, which helps. The sauna and the ice bath are our best friends.

    “It’s amazing when you’ve got that on your doorstep and have the time to do it. When I’m at home I can’t just nip out for a couple of hours to ‘recover’, my wife would… well, she wouldn’t be my wife any more!

    “But when you’re here and you’ve got the best S&C guys, nutritionists, everyone and it’s all for you. You can be selfish in that way and that helps me a lot.”

    Care refuses to put a timeframe on his retirement but knows this will almost certainly be his final visit to Murrayfield and is hoping to have clarity on his club future after the Six Nations.

    He was among those dropped by Eddie Jones after the ‘black hole game’ against Japan in 2018, so called because the dismal performance spelt the end of several Test careers.

    But having compelled Jones to reconsider on the basis of his swashbuckling form for Harlequins, he continues to be an important part of the England set-up under Steve Borthwick.

    “I feel more liberated, I feel more free, I feel like I can just enjoy it. You never know which one is going to be the last one so in a way that gives me freedom to just be myself and really enjoy it,” Care said.

    “That’s something that is hard to do when you play for England because you’re constantly on the edge of being judged and want to do well and stay in.

    “There are also so many other lads who people think should be playing instead of you, but I don’t care about any of that any more, which is nice.”

  • Ben Stokes could bowl in fourth Test as England look to level series Ben Stokes could bowl in fourth Test as England look to level series

    Ben Stokes is poised to resume his status as an all-rounder and boost England’s bowling options on a pitch expected to be the most spin-friendly on the tour of India.

    Stokes will wait to see how his body reacts to a demanding 35-minute spell of fast bowling in training on Wednesday before deciding if he will send down any overs in the fourth Test, starting on Friday in Ranchi.

    He has not bowled competitively since early July and initially had no plans to do so in this series after surgery in November to have stitches in his meniscus and a bone spur removed from his left knee.

    Indeed, Stokes had made a “pinky promise” with England’s physiotherapist Ben Davies not to bowl in India but that looks increasingly likely to change with his side 2-1 down in the five-match series.

    “Whatever way we decide to go, (if) I feel I am capable of bowling, I will bowl,” said the England captain, who added he would buy Davies a beer if he broke his vow.

    “I think there is a possible chance but I will just have to wait and see how everything is.

    “I wanted to get a long spell in to see how everything coped whilst doing it then see how I pull up. It is all good at the moment. That is the longest I have bowled in six months.

    “Before I went and had the surgery I was told 12-13 weeks before I could start bowling. I am two weeks ahead of that and I am quite far ahead, but there are things I have to think about other than my knee.”

    Stokes returning to bowl allows England to have two seamers in their XI and select three frontline spinners in Tom Hartley, Rehan Ahmed and Shoaib Bashir, as well as the part-time offerings of Joe Root.

    The playing surface in the Jharkhand capital 48 hours out from the first day of the penultimate match has cracks running down one side of the cut strip, which a bemused Stokes admitted he has never encountered before in India.

    The evidence points to a wicket which will offer lavish spin but there may be some variable bounce as well which could aid the quicks as England look to bounce back from a heavy defeat in Rajkot.

    “It just looked interesting,” said Stokes, echoing the observation England vice-captain Ollie Pope made a couple of hours earlier.

    “If you looked down one side of opposite ends it just looked different to what I am used to seeing, especially out in India.

    “It looked green and grassy up in the changing rooms but then you go out there it looked different, very dark and crumbly and quite a few cracks in it.”

    One or both of James Anderson and Mark Wood could make way after their heavy workloads in Rajkot, which might mean a first appearance of the series for Ollie Robinson, who has not played competitively since the third Ashes Test last July.

    Robinson, who averages 22.21 in 19 Tests, can move the new ball both ways, while his use of reverse swing on the predominantly lifeless pitches of Pakistan last winter caught the eye.

    “He’s got unbelievable skills to be a successful bowler anywhere in the world,” Stokes said.

    “He has worked incredibly hard while he has been out here. Not playing the first three Tests can be tough and disappointing but I’ve told him he has been a great example of doing the right things and waiting your turn if it comes.”

    England’s attacking methods came in for some flak after a 434-run loss last time out but Stokes and head coach Brendon McCullum are resisting calls from some ex-players to tinker with their approach.

    “You get plaudits when it goes well and a bit of s*** when it doesn’t,” added Stokes, when asked if he was surprised by some of the criticism. “It’s part of it, I’ve been around long enough to know that but we crack on.”

  • Ben Earl: England equipped to deal with ‘anything that’s thrown at us’ Ben Earl: England equipped to deal with ‘anything that’s thrown at us’

    England are confident they have the composure to cope with any mind games played by Scotland in Saturday’s Calcutta Cup clash.

    The rivals collide in round three of the Guinness Six Nations, with Gregor Townsend’s hosts aiming to continue their recent dominance of the fixture that reads three successive victories.

    Adding to the challenge of facing one of the most talented sides in Scottish history is the hostile atmosphere awaiting England at Murrayfield.

    England fly-half George Ford was targeted in the tunnel by Ryan Wilson in 2018, sparking a brawl when Owen Farrell intervened, and the team bus is customarily held up by bagpipers.

    Other tactics used in the past to unsettle the ‘Auld Enemy’ have been turning off the hot water in the changing room and disruption to their warm-up by entertainers.

    England are on alert for niggle during the build up to the match and on the pitch itself, but number eight Ben Earl is backing his side to take any Scottish machinations in their stride.

    “There’s a resilience in us, for sure,” said Earl, who is set to continue in the back row when Steve Borthwick names his team on Thursday afternoon.

    “There is a good group of experienced players in this team now – Jamie (George), George Ford, Joe Marler, Dan Cole, Ellis Genge. Those guys are all different characters, but they’ve seen all the curve balls in the past.

    “And then you’ve also got a group of lads who might not have played a load of Test rugby but who have played a lot of club rugby in some great games and in some great stadiums.

    “So I’d say the group, in terms of expectation, is probably as prepared as any to deal with anything that’s thrown at us.

    “You have to love it. If you don’t love it, then you’re playing the wrong sport at the wrong level. I absolutely love it.

    “We’ve certainly spoken about the kind of Scotland are, what a good team they are, how good they are at home.

    “It’s a tough place to play and we’ve definitely touched upon the trend of results over the last three or four years.

    “But in terms of motivating factors, that’s one of many that we’ve got. We know the journey that we’re on as a team, in terms of what we’re trying to grow and evolve into. And that’s as much of a motivating factor as playing those guys.”

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.