King Clarke reigns supreme Australia captain Michael Clarke has scored the most Ashes hundreds (seven) among current players. Of his contemporaries, England pair Alastair Cook and Ian Bell are his closest rivals with four apiece. Three of Clarke’s hundreds have come in England – at Lord’s, Edgbaston and Old Trafford.
One century this series will see him join legends Ricky Ponting, Allan Border, Arthur Morris and Herb Sutcliffe with eight, behind only Sir Donald Bradman (19), Sir Jack Hobbs (12), Steve Waugh (10), and Greg Chappell, Wally Hammond and David Gower (nine each).
Triple tons looming
On the recent tour of the Caribbean, Mitchell Johnson equalled his fast-bowling coach Craig McDermott’s mark of 291 Test wickets. If he can push on to 300 during this Ashes series, he’ll become just the fifth Australian (behind Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Dennis Lillee and Brett Lee) to reach the magical milestone. And considering he took 37 in the most recent series, Johnson could well jump Lee (310 wickets) into fourth place in the Aussie pecking order on this tour.
Stuart Broad meanwhile, needs 13 wickets to join an elite group of Englishmen with 300 Test victims – James Anderson (403), Ian Botham (383), Bob Willis (325) and Fred Trueman (307). Johnson has 72 Ashes wickets at 23.91, while Broad has 63 at 29.95.
Well kept If he stays fit, Brad Haddin looks likely to move past a host of gloveman and into the top five of the all-time most prolific Ashes keepers. The 37-year-old currently has 75 dismissals in 19 matches, at roughly four a match. Simply going off that strike-rate, he’ll have passed fifth-placed Bert Oldfield (90 dismissals) by the end of the fourth Test, and be pushing the great Adam Gilchrist (96) by the end of the fifth.
The three above that could be a little out of reach: Rod Marsh (148), Ian Healy (135) and Alan Knott (105). On the 2013 Ashes tour, Haddin claimed 29 dismissals – a record for any Test series.
Incredibly, this Ashes series sees two batsmen with averages in the all-time top 20 (minimum 20 innings) go head-to-head. With an average of 56.23 across his 28 Tests, Australia’s new No.3 Steve Smith slots in between legendary pair Sir Len Hutton and Jacques Kallis on the list, while English wonderboy Joe Root has played one Test fewer and averages 54.11, placing him in 20th position.
In Ashes cricket to date, they both come way back to the pack, with Smith averaging 37.77 in 13 Tests and Root 33.18 in nine.
(Sophia) Gardens of Eden
If history is anything to go by, Cardiff’s Sophia Gardens is a batting paradise for Australians. Only two Test have been played at the venue of this year’s series opener, and one of those was the first Ashes match of 2009.
While it ended in a gut-wrenching draw for the Aussies, their batsmen made hay, piling on 6-674 declared, with three centuries including 121 from current keeper Brad Haddin.
Word is we could see a similar featherbed this time around, though the Sri Lankans might think otherwise; in 2011, they were skittled in their second innings at the ground for just 82.
Australia learned this one the hard way in 2013: James Anderson loves bowling at Trent Bridge. The right-arm swing king has taken 53 wickets there in just eight matches at an average of 19.24, and against Michael Clarke’s side two years ago, he took 10-158 in a man-of-the-match effort – the third-best Ashes figures ever at the venue.
Captains courageous If Michael Clarke can score 211 runs across the five Tests (and let’s be honest, Australia fans will certainly be expecting him to), he’ll become just the 10th man to score 1000 runs as an Ashes captain.
Alastair Cook, on the other hand, needs a huge series to add his name to that particular list; he’s currently scored 523 runs in 10 Tests as skipper, so requires a further 477. It will come as a surprise to no-one that Bradman also tops this list, with 2,432 runs at a handy average of 90.07.
The Bell tolls
There’s been plenty of talk about Joe Root and the rejuvenated Alastair Cook, but in 2013 it was the unassuming Ian Bell who destroyed the Australians.
Bell made three hundreds for the series (including at 2015 venues Lord’s and Trent Bridge) to be named Player of the Series and added his name to a list of just six players to have three centuries in a series in the past 20 years (David Boon, Michael Slater twice, Michael Vaughan, Matthew Hayden and Alastair Cook the others).
Criticised after a brief lean spell against New Zealand and West Indies, he did in fact begin that series in the Caribbean with a century, got some very good deliveries early against the Black Caps, and at 33, knows his game well enough to come out the other side.
Rare Ryno Since the turn of the century, only three bowlers have averaged below 20 in the United Kingdom in Ashes contests. None of them are English, two of them are Glenn McGrath (51 wickets at 19.25) and Shane Warne (71 at 19.38), and the other one just retired.
Yes, Ryan Harris played four Tests in England for a return of 24 wickets at 19.58, numbers that underscore just what Michael Clarke will be missing.
Among the bowlers in this series, Stuart Broad’s average (40 at 28.70) is the relatively unimpressive high watermark, followed by Mitchell Starc (11 wickets at 32.45), Mitchell Johnson (20 at 32.55) and James Anderson (34 at 35.08).
Does experience matter?
In the eight Ashes battles since 2000, both teams have twice entered series with three or more Ashes rookies in their top seven – and with Adam Lyth, Gary Ballance and Jos Buttler all in line for selection, England look set to do it for a third time.
Both sides did it in 2001, though Australia’s trio of Matthew Hayden, Adam Gilchrist and Damien Martyn had the edge over rookie counterparts Marcus Trescothick, Ian Ward and Usman Afzaal.
In the 2005 opener, England had no fewer than five Ashes first-timers in their top seven, while Australia’s class of 2009 included Phillip Hughes, Marcus North and Brad Haddin for the first Test at Cardiff.
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