Analysing Australia ahead of the 2017-18 Ashes

Australia pulled off an impressive victory within three days against India in Pune, their first win in India since 2004.  This comes off the back of a middling home season where they lost 2-1 to South Africa but recovered to beat Pakistan 3-0. CricViz looks ahead to what England might expect later this year in the 2017-18 Ashes

General overview

Australia lost the first two Tests of the season to South Africa with their worst performance occurring in Hobart, losing by an innings-and-80 runs.  They then won the day-night contest in Adelaide before sweeping aside Pakistan.  The chart below shows the scores and the number of wickets they lost in each of their 11 innings.

The blue bars (indicating victories) show that they generally racked up big scores in the first innings and either scored quick runs before declaring or chased down small targets in the second innings.

Driving these performances were Australia’s top order, three of whom scored at least 500 runs over the six matches.  The table below shows their top ten run-scorers.

Newcomers Peter Handscomb and Matt Renshaw have adapted to Test cricket quickly, scoring three hundreds and three fifties between them. This includes a Renshaw 184 against Pakistan in Sydney.

Australia’s attack was spearheaded by their opening bowling duo of Hazelwood and Starc, picking up 60 wickets between them, and adequately supported by Nathan Lyon’s offspin (17 wickets).  We will take a closer look at what made them so successful later in the piece.

The dependable Steve Smith

Firstly, let’s take a look at Australia’s captain and top run-scorer this season, Steve Smith, who scored two hundreds and three fifties from 11 innings.  The beehive plot below shows where he scored his 653 runs.

From first glance there isn’t much we can say.  Perhaps he puts away a lot of full or wide balls to the boundary and picks up singles from balls closer to the stumps.  We can filter this further to see how he performed against particular bowlers and types of bowlers.

Smith faced a lot of Yasir Shah so it’s not surprising that he scored the most runs and was dismissed by him most often.

The heat map above shows the distribution of deliveries faced by Smith from Yasir with his dismissals in red.  He favoured a good length just outside off-stump, shown by the dark green regions.  Smith pounced on anything marginally short or full.

The blue balls show Smith’s boundaries many of which are just above the dark green areas.  The pitch map below also illustrates how Smith punished Yasir for bowling too short or too full.

David the Destructive

Warner also enjoyed a prolific season scoring nearly 600 runs at a remarkable strike-rate of 93.

Warner targeted the spinners more than the seamers, scoring at a strike rate of 113.  The heat map below shows how he scored his boundaries against spinners.  Deliveries wide of off-stump and fractionally short were, more often than not, cut to the boundary.   

In contrast, the heat map below shows the distribution of dot balls for Warner.  Spinners who bowled closer to middle and leg stump with a more consistent length generally kept Warner quiet.

Against seamers it’s a similar story with Warner dispatching deliveries wide of off stump of any length, shown in the heat map below.

A seam bowler’s best bet to restricting Warner to dot balls is to bowl back of a length on off-stump as the heat map below shows.  There isn’t really an obvious pattern in his wickets (shown in red) which suggests his dismissals come about from a lack of concentration or simply one hit too many.

Starc and Hazlewood

Australia’s opening pair put in a big shift for their side, between them bowling more than half the total overs in their six home Tests.  The heat maps below show how they bowled to both right and left-handers with their wickets in red.

They both bowled quite consistently slightly back-of-a-length just outside off-stump.  They did however get many of their wickets from fuller and straighter deliveries indicating that they used movement in the air and off the pitch pretty effectively.

The histogram below illustrates how much Starc and Hazlewood swung the ball.  Negative values of swing, measured in degrees, indicate that the ball swung away from the right-hander and swung in to the left-hander and vice versa.  Starc mostly favoured outswing (to right-hand batsman), while Hazlewood employed inswing the majority of the time.  However, the distributions overlapped suggesting both bowlers had a number of deliveries that swung in both directions.  It’s notable how similar the distributions are in terms of height and width – both bowlers had similar plans in terms of how often they bowl their stock delivery compared to their variations.

We can take a look at how much Starc and Hazlewood swung the new ball and when it got older.

The graph above shows the absolute value of the swing (how much it swung regardless of direction) during a particular over.  A moving average of six overs is taken to dampen out the fluctuations.  Both bowlers swung the new ball, the magnitude of which steadily declined until the 10th over.  Hazelwood is generally a bigger swinger of the ball up until the 30th over, when Starc starts to visibly make use of reverse-swing between the 30th and 50th over.  Hazlewood swings the ball most prodigiously with a 70 to 80 overs old ball, although it should be noted that he only bowled two overs in this period.  When the second new ball is taken after 80 overs, a similar trend is seen as with the first new ball.

Additionally, Starc and Hazlewood extract pretty much the same assistance from movement off the pitch.  The histogram below illustrates this where, as before, negative values indicate movement away from the right-hander etc.  The opening pair marginally favour seam movement away from the right-hander but are more than capable of bringing it back in or away from left-handed batsmen.

Nathan Lyon

We can take a quick look at a similar plot that shows how much spin Nathan Lyon gets.

Lyon has quite a broad distribution indicating that he varies the amount of revolutions he imparts on the ball, as well as being a consequence of the different pitches he bowled on.  There is a slight bump at 0 degrees – his quicker and flatter delivery which he bowls about 5% of the time.

The beehive plot below shows Lyon’s release points when bowling.  Over the wicket, he is fairly consistent bowling quite wide of the crease.  When going around the wicket, he varies his release point a bit more, bowling from quite close to the wicket to very wide of the crease.

Ground analysis

Finally, we can also take a look at which grounds are most conducive to swing and spin bowling.

The table above shows the average swing, seam and spin in degrees at each of the grounds that hosted a Test this season.  England will be playing in all these grounds apart from Hobart.  The most swing-friendly ground was Perth although it was also the least seam-friendly and spin-friendly ground.  Brisbane offered the most spin of all the grounds.

The graph above shows distributions for Perth and Adelaide, the grounds with the highest and lowest average swing.  It is evident the Perth has a shorter and wider distribution indicating a large range of inswingers and outswingers.  Adelaide has a narrow range centred around 0 degrees, although there is a slight bump towards fairly big outswingers.  This data coupled with knowledge about how much a ball swings when it is a certain number of overs old can be exploited by England when choosing how many seamers to play and when to bowl them.

Imran Khan is a contributor to CricViz and the @cricketsavant

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