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Cricket is not often accused of being short of statistics, but there is one that we hardly ever see. It measures what may be the most sought-after quality in sport: the ability to win. And the least sought-after – the tendency to lose. Welcome to the win/loss ratio, an off-putting name for a crucial metric.
For this year’s Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack, which is published on Thursday, I’ve had a look at international captains through this lens. While doing the research, I also worked out the win/loss scores for England’s current (male) Test players. As they all play for the same team, you might expect them to be much of a muchness. Far from it: some players have a habit of being on the winning side, others don’t, and most of the time we have no idea which is which.
Before doing the digging, you have to decide how far back to go. Four years seemed about right, because (a) it’s the traditional cycle of international cricket, (b) it covers the Covid bubble era but also plenty of normal sporting life, and (c) it means you don’t have to include more than one of the horror movies known as Ashes tours.
So the starting point is spring 2018. England’s men have played 51 Tests since then, winning 22 and losing 20. The good news is that they are one of only four nations with more wins than losses. The bad news is that they’re a distant fourth behind Australia (won 16, lost 7), New Zealand (17:8) and India (24:13). Test cricket, like English football, has a big three.
In those 51 games England have used 35 players, of whom 29 have tasted victory and 34 have tasted defeat. Not everyone’s a winner – that’s no lie. (Not everyone’s a loser either: Matthew Fisher, with his single cap, has only a draw.) If you work out the win/loss ratio for them all, you end up with a surprising top five.
All hail Keaton Jennings! His record with the bat may be as middling as most other recent England openers, but when it comes to winning he’s second to none. He heads a motley quintet here, joined by two spinners, one swing-bowling all-rounder and one knight of the realm. All five are currently out of the fray – Adil Rashid concentrating on white-ball cricket, Sam Curran recovering from a back injury, Dom Bess recovering from the yips, Alastair Cook long since retired, Jennings in the wilderness since 2019. The only one to feature lately is Curran, who played two Tests against India last summer. Typically, he was there for England’s only win.
Here’s the rest of the top 10:
There’s yet another spinner, in Moeen Ali, making three in the top eight – but still no sign of the incumbent, Jack Leach. And there are two regulars in Jos Buttler and Stuart Broad, each outshining someone he trails in the pecking order. Jonny Bairstow has witnessed as many defeats as Buttler (13), but far fewer wins (also 13). And Jimmy Anderson, although he has outbowled his old mate Broad over the past four years, is less likely to end up on the winning side (won 14, lost 14).
With some of these names, it’s not hard to see why they have flourished. Chris Woakes is picked more often at home, where England usually do better. All the spinners have been to Sri Lanka, a happy hunting ground for England since Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara retired. Seven of the top 10 have just missed an away Ashes, which does wonders for your win-loss ratio.
But geography doesn’t account for everything. Some players really are serial winners. Buttler, although he had a dismal Ashes, brings the winning habit from white-ball cricket (as of Monday morning, he was the runaway leading scorer in this year’s IPL). Broad knows how to seize a game by the scruff of the neck. Anderson is more consistent, but Broad has more of the hot spells that win matches.
Notice any other big names missing from the top 10? Joe Root is 11th, with 1.16 – 22 Tests won, 19 lost. All those hundreds haven’t made him a winner, though he ranks higher than Anderson (14th, equal with Bairstow, Jofra Archer and Jason Roy on 1.00) or Ben Stokes (18th on 0.94), who has 16 wins and 17 defeats. This doesn’t make Stokes a bad player: he’s still the hero of Headingley 2019. But it does show that he hasn’t often done it since.
One broader point emerges from the figures. Several of England’s winners are bowlers who bat – Curran, Bess, Moeen and Woakes. (Moeen sees himself as a batter who bowls, but his recent stats beg to differ.) They are sometimes dismissed as bits-and-pieces players, but selecting them works, for a simple reason: it gives you greater numbers. It means there are five or six bowlers, so the workload is spread, the attack more varied. And there are decent batters down the order to cash in when opposing bowlers are tired.
England now find themselves desperately needing victories. The win/loss ratio has some clear messages for whoever ends up selecting the team. Bring back Curran when he’s fit. Pick Broad over Anderson, unless you’re expecting a swing-fest. See whether Moeen can be lured out of Test retirement; if not, line up Matt Parkinson or Matt Critchley as the next Rashid.
Bring back Buttler in place of Ben Foakes (and hand the gloves to Bairstow, who bats even better when keeping wicket). Rather than making Stokes a shoo-in for the captaincy, have a proper shortlist that includes Buttler and Broad. In general, when in doubt, pick a bits-and-pieces player. They’ll get as many runs as most of the specialist batters, and more wickets.