Ashes: Can England still win the series?

England are facing Australia for the second of their five Ashes test matches, and will no doubt be hoping to fare better than in the last, in which they suffered a frankly embarrassing loss.

The English cricket team has had a predominantly miserable history playing in Australia. In the last 20 years, they have won only one series there. This year, the team only put up 147 runs in their first innings, their worst performance since Australia’s 5-0 victory in the 2013-14 series, which was also played down under.

When playing in Australia, England batting a low number of runs in the first innings of matches and then going on to lose the five-match series tend to go hand in hand.

According to Steve Morgan, who was formerly the English Cricket Board’s (ECB’s) programme features editor, the fact England batted first should have been an advantage.

“Batting first in the match and batting long when the ball carries through at a good height and there are fewer cracks in the surface, will generally win you the game,” he said. “England, as we saw, made a pig’s ear of this after choosing to bat at Brisbane (where Australia’s record is exceptional).”

Home advantage is important in the Ashes, and the Gabba in Brisbane is a particularly difficult venue. Australia has only lost one test there in the last 35 years, which was against India in January. England’s best recent result was a draw in the 2010-11 series.

History shows the first test does matter, with the winner of the first test going on to win the whole series in every Ashes except for 2005, where the Aussies won at Lords Cricket Ground but lost the series overall.

England have also tended to win when the first test was a draw.

However losing the first test away from home usually means England loses the series. This was the case in 2002-03, 2006-07, and 2013-14.

England’s terrible record away extends to all other Australian Ashes venues as well. The last time they won at more than one of them was in 2010-11, which was also the last time they won the Ashes in Australia.

At the time of writing, the second day of the second test has ended with England scoring 17/2 and chasing a 456-run lead. As such, there doesn’t seem to be much hope of a comeback, but Morgan is trying to stay optimistic.

“Miracles do happen,” he said. “In the winter of 1986/87 England went to Australia with a side that, it was famously said beforehand, ‘can’t bat, can’t bowl and can’t field’. They won 2-1 under Mike Gatting’s captaincy. If you don’t believe, you’ve got no chance.”

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