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Opinion

Calendar Ashes: September-born at The Oval

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This 12th (and therefore last) Calendar Test will take place between September-born Australian and English teams.

The September-born home team is a reasonably strong one with good batting depth and a bowling attack that in what is undoubtedly a first for an English side, contains three leg-spinners. The visitors have a brittle middle-order as a result of their 11 best players including only five recognised batsmen, but a strong and well-balanced five-man bowling attack capable of exploiting any conditions and defending any reasonable target.

If Australia’s top-order can deliver, then the match’s result may well be decided by the battle between England’s Golden Age batting legend, and Australia’s greatest-ever wicket-taker.

Australia has already retained the Calendar Ashes, but England can still level the series three-all with a consolation victory at its traditional stronghold. The Oval has hosted 102 actual Tests to date, including 38 for the urn.

The current scoreline is 17 wins to the home team and only seven to Australia, with each of the remaining 14 matches drawn. England also has an overall 62-run batting average advantage over those 38 matches, of 31.87 to 28.72.

As an aside, some readers may recall that this series was prompted in part by the question of whether there was any merit to the Relative Age Effect (RAE) theory that being born at a particular time of year, gave an athlete a natural advantage. Various studies have proposed that a birth-date late in the year would advantage an Australian child commencing age-based cricket.

For example, an Under-11 player born on 1 October would be almost 12 months (or ten per cent) older than their teammate born the following September, and with increased maturity and size they might receive additional attention, opportunities and coaching during those formative early seasons.

Well, it turns out that a significantly above-average number of Australian Test cricketers have in fact been born late in the calendar year, and that the number is clearly on the rise:

132 of all 458 players since 1877 (or 29per cent) were born in the last quarter (25 per cent) of the year.

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But for only the 300 most-recent players (debuts since 1936), that figure rises to 32 per cent (97 players).

Then for the 200 most recent (since 1972), that figure rises further to 34 per cent (68 players).

And for the 100 most recent (since 1994), the figure is even higher at 39 per cent (39 players).

In other words, approximately twice as many debutants since 1994 have been born during October, November and December than during any other three-month period in the year. And assisted by larger player pools from which to select, the three teams for those months have been among the strongest of the 12.

Perhaps a cricket-loving actuary or statistician can investigate this phenomenon more deeply?

Finally, a sincere thank you to everyone that has read and commented on this series. It’s been a fun way to whittle away the lockdown and indulge a love of this great sport’s fascinating history.

England September-born
Chris Broad
25 Tests, 1984-1989, 1661 runs at 39.54, six centuries
Broad was a tall left-handed opening batsman with a reputation for occasional petulance and gracelessness. He reserved his best performances for his eight matches against Australia, in which he scored 708 runs at 59.00 with four centuries. He is the father of English fast bowler Stuart, and a current ICC match referee in a classic case of poacher-turned-gamekeeper.

Bob Barber
28 Tests, 1960-1968, 1495 runs at 35.59, one century, 42 wickets at 43.00
Barber was an attacking left-handed opening batsman, and a very useful leg-spin bowler and close-in fieldsman. His Ashes highlight was a rapid-fire 185 at the SCG in 1965-66. His only two home matches against Australia were unsuccessful. He retired from first-class cricket aged 33 to pursue business interests.

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Prince Kumar Shri ‘Ranji’ Ranjitsinhji
15 Tests, 1896-1902, 989 runs at 44.95, two centuries
His Highness Jam Sahib of Nawanagar was arguably England’s finest batsman of the Golden Age. He formed a famous combination with CB Fry for Sussex and England, and is credited with perfecting the late-cut, leg-glance and back-foot defence.

On his Test debut at Old Trafford, he scored 62 and 154 not out. In Australia in 1897-98 he scored 457 runs at 50.77 including 175 at the SCG in only his third Test match. He later served with Fry on the League of Nations. His nephew KS Duleepsinhji also played for England, and India’s two first-class competitions are named in their honour.

Robin Smith
62 Tests, 1988-1996, 4236 runs at 43.67, nine centuries
Smith was a South African-born middle-order batsman with a liking for fast bowling, but considerable weaknesses against spin. He scored three of his centuries in 19 matches against strong West Indian pace attacks, and 1074 runs at 39.77 including two centuries against Australia.

He had a strong home record of 2716 runs at 49.38 against all opponents, including seven of his nine centuries.

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Allan Steel
13 Tests, 1880-1888, 600 runs at 35.29, two centuries, 29 wickets at 20.86
Steel was an outstanding all-rounder rated by his peers as second only to WG Grace. Apart from his fine batting of which driving was a strength, he was a successful Test captain and accurate leg-spin bowler.

In 1882-83, he scored 135 not out at the SCG. In 1884, he scored the first Test century at Lord’s. In 1886, he led England to a 3-0 series victory.

Percy Chapman (captain)
26 Tests, 1924-1931, 925 runs at 28.90, one century
Chapman was an aggressive left-handed batsman, outstanding close-in fieldsman and inspirational captain. In 16 matches against Australia he scored 784 runs at 35.63, including 434 runs at 48.22 at home. At Lord’s in 1930, one of the most famous Ashes matches ever played, he scored a superb 121 and also brilliantly caught Don Bradman out in each innings.

He also captained England to regain the Ashes in 1926, and then retain them in 1928-29. England lost only two of the 17 matches in which he led the team.

Jonny Bairstow (wicketkeeper)
70 Tests, 2012-present, 4030 runs at 34.74, six centuries, 184 catches, 13 stumpings
Bairstow is the son of former wicketkeeper David, who played four Tests for England but sadly took his own life when Jonny was only eight years of age. Since Matt Prior’s retirement, his role has alternated between that of a specialist batsman and wicketkeeper-batsman.

His record to-date includes 2278 runs at 35.59 at home, 890 runs at 26.96 against Australia including a century at the WACA and 535 runs at 26.75 in home Ashes matches with a highest score of 74.

Jonny Bairstow

(Photo by MB Media/Getty Images)

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George Hirst
24 Tests, 1897-1909, 790 runs at 22.57, 59 wickets at 30.00
Hirst was a right-handed batsman and left-handed medium-fast in-swing bowler who formed a famous partnership with Wilfred Rhodes for both Yorkshire and England. While his Test figures do not do him justice, he was considered one of the Golden Age’s greatest all-rounders.

In first-class cricket between 1891 and 1929 he scored 36,536 runs at 34.13 with 60 centuries and took 2742 wickets at 18.73. In 1906 alone, he scored 2385 runs and took 208 wickets.

His Ashes highlight was “Jessop’s Match” at The Oval in 1902 when he took 5-77 and 1-7 and scored 43 and 58 not out to secure a one-wicket victory, reportedly welcoming last man Rhodes to the crease with “We’ll get ‘em in singles, Wilfred.”

Darren Gough
58 Tests, 1994-2003, 229 wickets at 28.39
Gough was an extroverted fast bowler whose changes of pace and use of reverse-swing helped to make him a genuine strike-bowler. In 17 Ashes matches he took 74 wickets at 30.81, including 33 wickets at 35.39 in nine home Tests.

During a period when English teams struggled against Australia, he played a crucial role with the ball. His Test career ended at 32 years of age due to chronic injuries.

Geoff ‘Horse’ Arnold
34 Tests, 1967-1975, 115 wickets at 28.29
Arnold was a seam and outswing bowler who was especially effective in England, where in 18 matches he took 75 wickets at 23.89 including 16 wickets in four matches against Australia in 1972 and 1975. At Old Trafford in 1972, Keith Stackpole (twice) and Bruce Francis were dropped in slips from three consecutive deliveries by him.

He gains selection for this match partly because The Oval was his home ground for Surrey.

Charles ‘Father’ Marriott
One Test, 1933, 11 wickets at 8.72
Marriott was a leg-spinner whose opportunities were generally limited by his employment as a schoolmaster to matches during August. In his only Test match, he took 5-37 and 6-59 against the West Indies at The Oval. He was a member of England’s 1933-34 tour to India, but Hedley Verity was the team’s preferred spin bowler for each Test of the series.

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In all first-class cricket, he took 724 wickets at 20.04. He was a genuine number-11 batsman, with a career batting average of 4.41 and a highest score of 21.

Honourable mentions
Mark Ramprakash, David Steele, Johnny Douglas, Derek Pringle, Chris Tremlett and Geoff Miller.

Australia September-born

Kepler Wessels
40 Tests, 1982-1994, 2788 runs at 41.00, six centuries
Wessels was a determined but ungainly left-handed opening batsman. His career took him from his native South Africa to English county club Sussex then World Series Cricket, the Australian team, a rebel tour to South Africa and ultimately the captaincy of South Africa on its international return.

His Test highlights for Australia included 162 on debut against England at The Gabba and 505 runs at 56.11 against the West Indies in 1984-85.

Archie Jackson
Eight Tests, 1929-1931, 474 runs at 47.40, one century
Jackson was a graceful top-order batsman considered potentially the equal of Don Bradman and superb outfielder. His batting was known for its timing, placement and footwork. On his Test debut at 19 years of age, he scored 164 and 36 against England at the Adelaide Oval.

He was born in Scotland and tragically died of tuberculosis aged only 23.

Ian Chappell (captain)
75 Tests, 1964-1980, 5345 runs at 42.42, 14 centuries
Chappell was one of Australia’s greatest captains who never lost a series, a fine top-order batsman and outstanding slip fieldsman. He both batted and led teams aggressively.

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In 30 matches against England he scored 2138 runs at 41.11 with four centuries, including 1111 runs at 46.29 away from home. His career was interrupted for two years by World Series Cricket, in which he continued his strong advocacy for players’ rights. His grandfather and two brothers also represented Australia.

Former Australian cricket captain Ian Chappell

(AAP Image/ Nine Network)

Matthew Elliott
21 Tests, 1996-2004, 1172 runs at 33.48, three centuries
Elliott was a left-handed opening batsman who enjoyed early comparisons with Bill Lawry, but struggled to gain selection ahead of Mark Taylor, Michael Slater, Greg Blewett and Justin Langer.

In England in 1997 he scored 556 runs at 55.60 with two centuries including an innings of 199. However, he failed to perform to his potential in any of his other six series.

Paul Sheahan
31 Tests, 1967-1974, 1594 runs at 33.91, two centuries
Sheahan was a stylish middle-order batsman and outstanding cover-point fieldsman. He played seven matches on the 1968 and 1972 tours to England, scoring 303 runs at 30.30 with a highest innings of 88. He retired from first-class cricket at the age of 27, to pursue a career in teaching.

Bert Oldfield (wicketkeeper)
54 Tests, 1920-1937, 1427 runs at 22.65, 78 catches, 52 stumpings
Oldfield was one of Australia’s finest wicketkeepers and its first-choice selection for 18 years. He still holds the record for the total number of stumpings made at Test level, rarely conceded a bye, and was instrumental in the success of Arthur Mailey, Clarrie Grimmett and Bill O’Reilly.

He was also a useful lower-order batsman who scored four Test half-centuries, and 6135 first-class runs at 23.77 with six centuries. When Harold Larwood rendered him unconscious with a blow to the skull at Adelaide Oval in 1932-33, a crowd riot nearly followed.

His career was delayed by World War I in which he served on the front-line near Ypres, and which only ended when he was aged 24.

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Bruce ‘Roo’ Yardley
33 Tests, 1978-1983, 978 runs at 19.56, 126 wickets at 31.63
Yardley was a tall off-spin bowler, attacking lower-order batsman and athletic close-in fieldsman. He was a late developer after commencing his first-class career in 1966-67 bowling medium-pace.

After debuting aged 30 during the World Series Cricket era he played regularly during the next five seasons, although he did not gain selection for the Ashes tour of 1981. In the 1981-82 summer he took 38 wickets at 22.24 including 3-87 and 7-98 against the West Indies at the SCG, and was named Australia’s International Cricketer of the Year.

Against England in 1982-83 he took 22 wickets at 36.04 including 5-107 and 3-101 at the WACA. His innings of 74 in Bridgetown in 1977-78 included a half-century from 29 balls.

Shane Warne
145 Tests, 1992-2007, 3154 runs at 17.32, 708 wickets at 25.41
Warne is one of the greatest bowlers of all time, and in 2009 Wisden named the leg-spinner as one of its ‘Five Cricketers of the Twentieth Century.’ In 36 matches against England, he took 195 wickets at 23.25 including five wickets in an innings 11 times and ten wickets in a match four times.

His Ashes highlights included the dismissal of Mike Gatting at Old Trafford in 1993, a hat-trick at the MCG in 1994-95, and 40 wickets at 19.92 in the 2005 series.

Shane Warne bowls

(Hamish Blair/Getty Images)

Max ‘Tangles’ Walker
34 Tests, 1973-1977, 586 runs at 19.53, 138 wickets at 27.47
Walker was a tireless medium-pace inswing bowler who delivered the ball off the wrong foot and complemented Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson at first-change during the 1970s. Against Pakistan at the SCG in 1972-73 he took 6-15 to bowl Australia to victory.

In the West Indies in 1972-73 he took 26 wickets at 20.73. His Ashes career comprised 16 matches for 56 wickets at 33.17, with best innings figures of 8-143 at the MCG in 1974-75. On the 1975 and 1977 tours to England he played nine matches and took 28 wickets at 37.03.

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After signing for World Series Cricket he played no further Test matches. He had previously played VFL football for Melbourne.

Fred ‘The Demon’ Spofforth
18 Tests, 1877-1887, 94 wickets at 18.41
Spofforth was Australia’s first great cricketer. He was fast-medium in pace, an exponent of cut and swerve, accurate and extremely fit. He took Test cricket’s first hat-trick and ten wickets in a match four times.

His greatest performance was 7-46 and 7-44 at The Oval in 1882, when Australia dismissed England for 77 to win by just seven runs and inspire the creation of the Ashes. He had previously taken 6-4 and 5-16 against the MCC at Lord’s in one day on the 1878 tour in which no Test matches were played.

When Cricket Australia established its Australian Cricket Hall of Fame in 1996, he was one of its inaugural ten inductees.

Ernie Jones
19 Tests, 1894-1902, 64 wickets at 29.01
Jones was Australia’s first genuinely fast bowler, at a time when pitches first favoured batsmen except after rain. He toured England three times, taking 35 wickets in ten matches at 27.77. On the 1899 tour he took 26 wickets at 25.26 including 7-88 and 3-76 at Lord’s.

Possible tour party members
Joe Burns, Nip Pellew, Vic Richardson, Gil Langley, Stuart Clark, Lindsay Kline and Terry Jenner.