Ashes starting to add up at last

LEEDS: There are "lies, damned lies and statistics," according to the phrase attributed to Benjamin Disraeli, the 19th Century British Prime Minister.

It was a saying that would have resonated with cricket fans as they examined the details of the first three Ashes Tests before Australia's crushing victory by an innings and 80 runs against England in the fourth match of the series here at Headingley saw them draw level at 1-1 with one to play.

There are few sports that can compare with cricket when it comes to generating facts and figures.

Yet, after the first three Tests, the numbers did not add up.

Australia had scored more runs (1,933) and lost fewer wickets (41) than England (1,799 and 45) while their batsmen had scored six individual hundreds compared to the hosts' one.

Five of the six leading run-scorers in the series at that point were Australian and four of the five leading wicket-takers Australian.

Even so, Australia were at that stage 1-0 down in the series after England clung on for a draw in the first Test at Cardiff, won the second at Lord's by 115 runs and failed to force victory in the drawn third encounter at Edgbaston.

The very length of a Test match, scheduled for five days, means a team can be outplayed, as England were in Cardiff, for the first four yet still hold out for a draw on the last.

For lovers of cricket's longest format this is one of its charms but for those discovering the game for the first time, the reaction is often more in keeping with that of an American sports fan who once told AFP: "You mean they can play for five days and still nobody wins?"

But such was the dominating nature of Australia's victory inside three days at Headingley here on Sunday that the Ashes figures are now starting to tell a worthwhile tale, if far from the full story of the series.

Australia, thanks to Marcus North's 110, have now scored seven hundreds to one from England captain Andrew Strauss.

Meanwhile the runs scored and wickets lost tally is now even more in their favour at 2,378 and 51 as opposed to England's 2,164 and 65.

Five of the six leading run-scorers in the series remain Australian while three of the five most successful bowlers are from the visitors' ranks with Australia off-spinner Nathan Hauritz, who didn't play at Headingley, the next best alongside England's Graham Onions, who did, on 10 wickets apiece.

"Momentum", the indefinable quality which supposedly enables one side to use the outcome of the preceding match as a kind of emotional springboard for the next contest, has been the buzz word of this series.

But, as North - who also made a century at Cardiff - observed, what matters most in Test cricket is not momentum but moments.

"We look at winning the critical moments in each Test," North told reporters at Headingley.

"It was a critical day, the last day of the first Test and we didn't win that and England walked away with a draw.

"Then we saw England win the critical moments (at Lord's) and outplay us completely. It was probably even at Edgbaston but we won the critical moments in this match."

Australia captain Ricky Ponting added: "For me the momentum thing is about what your individual players get out of the game. There's not many of our individuals that have not taken a lot from it (the victory at Headingley)."

And those are sentences that do add up - for the time being at least.