Ashes Opta XI: Only two Englishmen underlines Australia's dominance
As the dust settles on the 2017-18 Ashes we pick a combined XI, with the help of Opta data, which is unsurprisingly dominated by Australia.
Australia's resounding defeat of England in the final Ashes Test in Sydney wrapped up a thumping 4-0 series victory for the hosts.
Both sides came into November's opening Test in Brisbane with question marks over several of their selections, but as the five matches unfolded it became abundantly clear that worries over the home team's top and middle order were largely without merit, while the tourists' frailties with both bat and ball were ruthlessly exposed.
Numbers often tell the story – the top three run-scorers were all Australian, as were the four leading wicket-takers and the five men with the highest average.
With the help of Opta data, Omnisport's Harry West chooses a combined XI. Unsurprisingly, those bearing the three lions on their chest are few and far between...
Selected partly for his masterful 244 not out in Melbourne, and partly because opposite number Cameron Bancroft struggled badly in his debut Test series. Cook's mammoth effort at the MCG – becoming the first man to carry his bat in the Ashes since Bill Lawry in 1971 – was his only score beyond fifty in a boom-or-bust series which, unfortunately for England, saw a great deal more of the latter.
The third highest run-scorer with 441 at an average of 63, including a century and three fifties. Not quite at his belligerent best, but still produced on a far more consistent basis then either Cook or Mark Stoneman. Warner played an attacking shot at 26.96 per cent of his deliveries, the third most of any man to face at least 100 balls.
A mixed bag of a series ended on a high for Khawaja, who produced a high-class 171 to underline his talent. Fears he could struggle against the spin of Moeen Ali were soon quashed as the left-hander made 333 at 47.57 with two fifties before that majestic Sydney century, which made his choice here a certainty, especially given the struggles of opposite number James Vince.
The easiest choice in this XI. Where to start with the Australia captain? Far and away the top run-scorer – a double century, two hundreds and two fifties adding up to 687 runs at a whopping 137, representing the highest ever in an Ashes series in Australia. Smith faced the most balls (1,416), played the lowest percentage of false shots (8.33), while 230 of his runs came on the drive – 78 more than any other man. Pre-series comparisons between he and Joe Root were perhaps made to look a little foolish.
After several drops and as many recalls, the elder Marsh brother enjoyed a sparkling series, finishing as the second-highest run-scorer with 445 at 74.16. The only man above him in that list is, of course, his captain, while Marsh's 968 balls faced was also the second-most. The left-hander played to his strengths, 54 of his runs coming from the cut shot, only two behind the top-ranked Cook.
A late-comer to the fray, the junior Marsh sibling made up for lost time in some style. A debut Test century at the WACA was followed up by another in Sydney, where his celebration alongside his brother in the middle stood as one of the enduring images of the series. Marsh was the only man other than Smith to average in excess of 100, while his reputation as an attacking stroke-maker is belied by the fact he played a false shot at just 12.72 per cent of deliveries, third only behind his captain and Root.
Just, just edges out counterpart Tim Paine for the wicketkeeping and number seven slot. Paine averaged more with the bat – 192 runs at 48 to Bairstow's 306 at 34 – and the Australian took 25 catches to just 10 from his opposite number. But Bairstow just makes the cut due to weight of runs, helped of course by his excellent 119 in Perth, when he came in at 131-4 and alongside Dawid Malan put on 237.
Although England's James Anderson enjoyed a commendable series without much support, Australia's four-man bowling attack completes our line-up. The quartet all finished with at least 20 wickets, Cummins leading the way with 23. Consistently Australia's finest performer among the quicks, his strike rate of 51.43 puts him second on that list, while he also finished runner-up in terms of prompting a false shot (24.19 per cent) and inducing a play and miss (10.1 per cent).
Missed the fourth Test due to a heel injury and still finished as the second-highest wicket-taker with 22. His average of 23.55 was the best among bowlers from both sides, while he also finished with the lowest strike rate (44.32) and induced a false shot from the batsman with 24.61 per cent of his deliveries – more than any other man.
After Smith, probably the most straightforward choice in this XI. His 1,561 balls were more than any other bowler as he proved his class in claiming 21 wickets at 29.24, compared to Moeen's five at an eye-watering 115. To underline his dominance in the off-spin battle, Lyon removed Moeen on seven occasions in the series, three more times than any other bowler managed to dismiss any other batsman.
Completes an all-Aussie bowling attack with 21 wickets at 25.9, his control complementing the extra pace on offer from Starc and Cummins. Hazlewood developed a particular liking for bowling at the beleaguered Vince, dismissing England's number three four times in nine innings, three of which were caught behind the wicket.