The El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon has been shown to have a significant effect on the results of the Ashes cricket series. When the series is held in Australia, the Australian Cricket team is more likely to succeed after El Nino years, while the England cricket team has a historically better record following La Nina years (the opposite phase), according to a study published today in Weather.
ENSO is the largest mode of interannual climate variability in terms of globally averaged surface temperature and has important consequences for weather around the globe. There are two phases of ENSO; during the positive phase, known as El Nino, the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean (west of the Galapagos Islands) warms by about 1 degree centigrade for a few months. For large areas of Australia this means a period of lower-than-average rainfall and higher-than-usual land-surface temperature. The La Nina phase (known as the negative phase) is a reverse of these conditions, with wetter conditions and a lower land-surface temperature.
The study analysed the results of the Ashes cricket matches held in Australia from 1882-2007 and found a strong correlation between the results and ENSO. During El Nino years, the Australian team won 13 out of 17 series played (76%), but only five out of the 13 played in La Nina years (38%). England has only won one Ashes series in the last 100 years following an El Nino event - the "Bodyline" series in 1932/33.
Cricket pitch conditions can significantly affect the outcome of a match. The drier pitches, common for the duration of the El Nino period, are conducive to the faster style adopted by the Australian bowlers. In comparison, English bowlers tend to bowl with less speed and more swing as the wetter and cooler climate of English summers favours this technique.
"This study shows it may be possible to tell by next winter whether England has a better chance of success in the following Ashes series than previous tours," said study author Manoj Joshi, from the Walker Institute at The University of Reading.
"The study could even influence whether the England touring team should include more fast bowlers or more 'swing' bowlers," Joshi added. "However, it must be emphasised that this climatic effect is small compared to the human element, so whoever loses in 2010/11 can't use El Nino as an excuse."
Vice President of the Royal Meteorological Society, Philip Eden, commented on the research: "It is rare to find a piece of meteorological research directly related to professional sport... there should be more work like this. As a long-standing cricket supporter and England fan I believe that the England management should read this paper carefully and inwardly digest," and, continued Eden, "it could help us win in Australia next time."