Lies, damned lies and…
Here’s a question. Who had the better series for England: Joe Root, Alastair Cook, or Dawid Malan?
There’s no right or wrong answer here, but our guess is that most people will say Malan. Now there are multiple reasons for this. For one, there’s an issue of expectations. Malan’s efforts across the series have exceeded expectations, while Root and Cook have perhaps come up a fraction short of what they and others would have hoped for.
But on numbers there’s really nothing in it.
Malan scored 383 runs at an average of 42.55
Root scored 378 runs at an average of 47.25
Cook scored 376 runs at an average of 47.00
So Malan’s a few runs ahead, but without the single not out achieved by batting for two days in Melbourne or illness in Sydney that give Root and Cook the edge on the averages.
So why, beyond having lower expectations, is Malan perceived to have had a “better” series?
We’ve got a theory. Malan has had a better series because he’s scored his runs in the right way. Not in style, but in the way he’s accumulated them across. He’s made a mid-sized century, and three good 50s to go with some low scores to end with his solid series numbers. He also made the century at just the right time, in Perth: not too early so as to represent a false dawn when he didn’t replicate it, not too late to become vulnerable to “dead rubber” recalculations.
Cook did it with one huge (and late) unbeaten score and eight low ones.
Root did it with five half-centuries but no century.
Cook is criticised for not scoring his runs consistently. Root is criticised for scoring his runs too consistently. But Malan’s scoring porridge is just right.
Rating the ratings
Player ratings out of 10 are always good fun. They are ridiculously subjective, too often the result of the compiler’s in-built prejudice and even more often a throwaway task given little real thought by someone with more important things to do.
But we love how ridiculous they are.
The Press Association, for instance, have given Alastair Cook – who made the highest ever Test score by a visiting batsman at the MCG – four out of 10. Mason Crane – who scored four and two and took 1-193 – gets five out of 10.
In the Sydney Morning Herald, meanwhile, Nathan Lyon’s 21 wickets at 29 get him a nine. Josh Hazlewood’s 21 wickets at 25 get him an eight.
Jake Ball gets a big fat zero for his 1-115 at Brisbane. Fair enough. But Jackson Bird gets 2/10 for his 0-108 in Melbourne.
And the less said about the absolute dangers who feel the need to give half-marks the better. Player ratings? We give them 0/10.
When England won the 2010/11 Ashes, Cricket Australia just about managed to put a small stage on the SCG outfield on which Michael Vaughan hurriedly presented Andrew Strauss with the urn before running off. There were no winners’ medals presented and very little fanfare.
Today, Cricket Australia had prepared a hilarious village fete carnival float complete with huge cardboard hands. One, painted in the Australian flag, had four fingers raised. The other, painted in the English flag, a forlorn fist.
It was cheap and tacky and to be honest perfectly summed up the tone of Australia’s hugely successful yet often nauseatingly self-satisfied summer. And that was before the rubbish fireworks started coming out of the fingers.
All a bit ridiculous, and there is absolutely no chance they would have prepared a similar stage for an English series win. And not only because there was absolutely no chance of an English series win.
But by far the best bit of this was the fact our intrepid old friend Charlie Sale successfully tracked down the hand with only three fingers raised, deep in the bowels of the Sydney Cricket Ground.
It pains me to say so, but sadly this awful stage means all future Ashes series have had to be cancelled https://t.co/Arq0b8LOVT
— Will Macpherson (@willis_macp) January 8, 2018
It’s a bit like finding the losing team’s ribbons after the FA Cup final, if the FA Cup was held in a country whose collective consciousness appears to be that of a 13-year-old boy.