Phil Oliver and Freddie Wilde analyse day four at the SCG.
ENGLAND’S EPIC TOIL
Before this Ashes series Shaun and Mitchell Marsh averaged 36.00 and 21.74 respectively in Test cricket and 12.00 and 1.00 against England in Test cricket. It was indicative of the scale of England’s defeat in this series that they spent the morning session on day four toiling in 40° heat as both brothers registered their second century of the series. The Sydney pitch offered England’s pace men no assistance – with just 0.46° of seam movement, while the third new ball only swung 0.43° – well below the already low new ball average in Australia of 0.62°. Aside from a sparky new ball spell by James Anderson, England’s leg spinning debutant Mason Crane posed the most threat, drawing 9.5% false shots – a higher proportion than any other bowler. These conditions and the state of the match – with the pressure off and Australia well ahead – suited the Marsh brothers. Both Shaun and Mitchell Marsh have higher Test averages against spin than pace and in their respective centuries both of them scored more than half their runs against spin at a rate of more than one run per over faster than against pace.
STONEMAN STUCK ON THE CREASE
Since Mark Stoneman was hit by a vicious bouncer in the first innings at the WACA – where he made a battling 56 – he has scored 15, 24 and 0 and has looked notably less assured at the crease playing 19% false shots to Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins compared to 15% before then. It seems that as a consequence of the blow to the helmet in Perth Stoneman has been less willing to get forward onto the front foot. From the second innings in Perth onwards Stoneman’s average contact point against the pace trio has been 1.57m from the stumps, 36cm later than in his first five innings of the series. On day four in Sydney Stoneman’s hesitancy cost him dearly as chose not to play off the front foot to a ball pitching 5.77m from him. A hint of movement was enough to beat Stoneman’s bat and trap him in front. It was the fullest ball that he has got out to from a fast bowler in the series. The beehive below illustrates how a recurring theme of Stoneman’s dismissals v pace in this series has been him not getting far enough forward as compared to his career contact points v pace.
For the ninth and final time in the series James Vince got in, looked as good as ever, before getting out. Of players to have played at least five innings in this series only Tim Paine (8.72%) has middled a higher proportion of his shots than Vince (8.38%). Yet despite timing the ball beautifully he ends the series with only 242 runs at an average of 26.88. To compound frustrations Vince’s dismissals have been very repetitive with six of his eight pace dismissals caught by the wicket-keeper or in the slips off his outside edge. Vince clearly has a rare talent of natural balance at the crease and remarkable hand-eye coordination but time is running out for him to translate his promise into a meaningful Test career.
The difference in Nathan Lyon’s record bowling to right-handers and left-handers this series is remarkable. He has struck once every 49.7 balls in taking 17 left-handed scalps, with a strike rate of 206.3 for his other three right-handed wickets.
Lyon combines accuracy, subtle differences in release points and pitch variations to threaten both edges of the left-hander’s bat. That combination is not as perilous for right-handers facing an over the wicket angle of attack and the inability of England’s southpaws to deal with Lyon has been a major difference between the teams. This was evident on the fourth evening with the dismissals of Alastair Cook and Dawid Malan.
The former was dismissed in Lyon’s first over, undone by a ball that pitched in a very similar place to the one that preceded it, but with very different characteristics. It was 2.4 kph faster, spun 1.2 degrees more and produced 50% more drift. It was also delivered from wider on the crease – wider in fact than any other ball Lyon delivered to Cook in the match.Cook played forward to preceding delivery but stayed back to the one that spun past his outside edge to clip off stump, with the angle, speed and drift causing an error in judgment understandable after being in the field for 193 overs.
Malan was beaten on the inside edge, also going back. He was understandably playing for turn – every ball up to that point had spun at least three degrees, but this all but went straight on, turning just 0.8 degrees.
England’s left-handers have struggled all series to rotate the strike against Lyon, recording a dot percentage of 77.7% (73.8% for right-handers). Tired and in survival mode on a spinning pitch, it was no surprise that Cook and Malan succumbed to Lyon’s wiles.
Phil Oliver and Freddie Wilde are analysts at CricViz.