It struck me last night, watching England Actually Playing Well In A Dead Rubber, what a rare occurrance that was. Several examples sprang to mind of England, having won the series, just not really turning up for the last game (Centurion 2016, The Oval for the Ashes 2015) and, more painfully, England playing abysmally having already lost the series embarrasingly (Chennai 2016, MCG and SCG 2014).
Is this just my negative bias, or do England really play significantly worse in dead rubbers, when the outcome of the series isn’t on the line?
I used Cricinfo’s Statsguru to get the results of all England’s Tests in the last decade (2008 onwards), and in that time there have been 11 dead rubbers. Of these, England won two (18%), drew three (27%) and lost six (55%). This compares to their overall record in that period of 44% wins, 23% draws and 33% losses. This is a small sample, so the difference between the observed and the expected is not significant (Chi-squared=3.2, p=0.20, d.f.=2), but there seems at least to be a trend.
England haven’t won a dead rubber since the game at The Oval against India in 2011, and they haven’t won a dead rubber away from home since the Sydney game in 2003, which is before my sample started.
Did it matter whether the dead rubber was at the end of a series that England had won or lost?
Not really when it came to the likelihood of winning – 17% for series already won, and 20% for series already lost, which is about the same. But England lost all the other games at the end of lost series (80%), whereas at the end of won series they drew 50% and lost just 33%.
How about whether England were at home or away?
This seemed to make a big difference – of the five dead rubbers away from home in the last ten years, England lost all of them. Their wins and draws, and also one of their losses, came at home.
What about over the longer term?
I used Statsguru again to get all of England’s Test matches since the invention of the format. Of the 998 games listed, 104 were dead rubbers, and of these England won 38 (37%), drew 28 (27%) and lost 37 (36%). Once again, this is not significantly different from the results of all games in this period (Chi-squared=3.0, p=0.22, d.f.=2) but since the sample size is so much bigger I am more inclined to believe that, over their history, England have not been significantly worse in dead rubbers than in live games.
There have been some noticeable ups and downs in England’s performance in dead rubbers. They did not lose a single one between February 1959 and January 1975 (11 games), but they didn’t win one between February 1979 and August 1993 (16 games). The current streak of nine losses was preceded by 12 wins out of 18 dead rubbers between August 1993 and August 2011.
So, in conclusion, in the last decade England have tended to do less well in dead rubbers than in live games, but this trend varies over time and over the long term England have been pretty much the same whether the game is live or dead.