The Ashes Series: The Importance Of An Opening Century At The Sydney Cricket Ground

There was some disquiet among England fans when they fell to 95-3 on the opening day of the Fifth Ashes Test. A recent study of first innings at the Sydney Cricket Ground not only tells us that getting out after making a start at the crease follows the established trend, but that one batsman getting to three figures first up can make all the difference. No pressure then, Dawid Malan and co! The Stats Zone delivers the data.

When you get in, make it count!

For all the talk about the ‘dominance’ of spin bowling in the media before the match, it’s fair to say that becomes more prevalent as Tests progress. More pertinent at the home of New South Wales cricket, is the number of batsmen who have struggled to establish themselves at the crease during the first innings of Tests on the ground in the past five seasons.

As the table shows, there have been 98 completed innings in the combined first innings of those matches, played by Australia against Sri Lanka, England, India, West Indies and Pakistan. Of those, 53 have ended with scores of 20 or under (54.08%) but of the remaining 45, almost a quarter (11) have gone on to match-defining three-figure scores.

Only 18 times (18.37%) from that number have innings concluded between 41 and 100, making Joe Root’s dismissal for 83 late in the day a significant body blow for the reasons we’ll go on to outline.

Centurions seize the Sydney initiative

There is no main trend in what to score batting first in the SCG Test Match over the past decade or so but having at least one batsman going on to three figures accentuates significantly the chances of success. Only once in the last 13 Tests on the ground has a team won a Test Match there having not saluted a player with a ton to his name in the first innings of the match, when Australia recovered from 129 all out against Pakistan.

Conversely, only once in those thirteen matches has a team lost with tons posted in the first innings. That came in 2006 when South Africa piled on 451/9 thanks to twin hundreds from Jacques Kallis (111) and Ashwell Prince (119) but, one-nil down in the last of a three-match series, skipper Graeme Smith opted to declare a second time and suffered only the second defeat in history for a team calling their batsmen in twice.

It all shows the value of application at the highest level. Get in and score big at the SCG and you can dominate from that point onwards with runs on the board. In 2013, Lahiru Thirimanne chipped in with 91 but it didn’t carve out a big enough opening for Sri Lanka batting first, just as Andrew Flintoff was close but with no cigar after his 89 as captain in 2007.

So, the stats tell us, it may be with Joe Root. Unless Dawid Malan can convert his overnight 55 into three figures or Moeen Ali can come good with the tail, England will have to defeat recent history, as well as the Australians, to go home with a Test victory as consolation from a long series.