CricViz analyst Ben Jones profiles Alastair Cook.
Among active Test players no one has played more Tests or scored more runs than Alastair Cook who has 147 caps and 11,629 runs. Since making his Test debut at the age of 21 Cook has never been dropped and only missed one Test through illness. A heavy-scoring accumulator, Cook is the archetypal English opener whose method is built on playing late, a tight defence and patience. A barren spell in 2013-2014, where he averaged just 33.49 over a two year period, has been the only sustained dip in his long career. Since then although his average has risen back to 47.14 in the following three years he has only scored a century every 6.33 matches compared to every 3.78 before 2013.
Since Cook made his debut, only two England batsman (Michael Vaughan and James Anderson) have made 1,000 Test runs at a lower run rate than Cook’s 2.81 runs per over. This is only in-part due to his defensive game which sees him play a defensive shot to 27% of deliveries – fractionally above the global average of 26%. Cook’s low run rate is more a product of his impeccable judgement outside off stump which allows him to play no shot to 27% of deliveries from pace (global average 24%). Playing 82 of his 147 Tests in England, this approach is key, allowing him to get through difficult periods against the swinging Duke ball.
Sitting deep in the crease, Cook aims to play the ball late, and is strong off the back foot where he averages 55.67 against pace compared to 42.81 on the front foot. These traits are evident in shot-type analysis which show Cook to average 101.55 when cutting and 72.25 when pulling. Cook is also proficient at working the ball – a useful rotating shot with which he averages 226.83. Cook’s average of 51.83 when playing the drive against pace is healthy and is indicative of the strength of his shot-selection, particularly in England where driving the new ball can be dangerous.
Cook’s Dismissal Heatmap shows him to be most vulnerable to balls on and just outside off stump and his Boundary Heatmap shows him to punish bowlers who give him width – particularly on the back foot.
Unusually for an opening batsman, Cook averages more against spin: 54.56, than pace: 43.35. While this is partly a product of facing the new ball in England for the majority of his career it also demonstrates the strength of his method and technique against spin.
Cook has an excellent defensive game, averaging 106 defensive shots per dismissal (global average 85.53) which allows him to keep out the good balls. He only comes down the pitch 1% of the time against spin (global average 5%) but disrupts spinners by sweeping effectively at an average of 59.37. Cook pounces on fractional errors with great efficiency averaging 88.44 when attacking and 77.06 when rotating. He is a superb driver of spin, averaging 121.80 but also very strong off the back foot, averaging 70.60.
Cook has a good record against balls turning into him, averaging 69.70 against leg spin and left arm finger spin compared to 42.85 against off spin. A key reason for this is his ability to work the ball with the spin when it is turning into him, rather than simply defending it which allows him to manipulate the field and rotate the strike. Against balls turning into him Cook has played more work shots than forward defensives.
KEEP IT FULL
For pace bowlers to Cook, the key is length. More than any other variable, bowling a “good” length sees the most considerable drop in Cook’s record. Against pace he averages 50.62 when they are full, and 70.00 when they are short, but only 30.49 when they hit that good length. As such, Josh Hazlewood is likely to be the key man, given that he has the highest proportion of deliveries on a good length of any in the likely Australian squad – 50% to all batsman and 52% to left-handers. In recent times, the angle of attack is an important point to get right. Since the start of 2015, against right-arm fast bowlers angling it across his body from over the wicket, Cook averages 63.78; in the same period, with the bowler coming round the wicket, he averages 37.86.
Australia are fortunate that their frontline spinner is an off spinner – the bowling-type that Cook struggles with most – averaging 42.85. Furthermore, Nathan Lyon has a good record against Cook, dismissing him five times at an average of 25.60 and in Australia that average drops to 16.50. Lyon’s success against Cook has come from bowling a line in the channel outside off stump – a line that has caught Cook in two minds between attack and defence and on three occasions he has been dismissed when playing the cut shot, unsettled by Lyon’s varying pace and extra bounce from his high-arm action.
Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz. @benjones_13