On the eve of England’s Second Test against Pakistan, Ben Jones looks at how the hosts can recover their form with the bat.
There has been much hand-wringing after England’s sub-par performance with the bat at Lord’s.
With that in mind, we’ve looked at the data to try and find the areas England can immediately improve on, and get themselves back on track ahead of their much-hyped series against India this summer. The result? Our Three-Point Plan to get England’s batting firing once more.
IMPROVE THE BASICS
Since Trevor Bayliss took the reigns of this England side, they’ve played some thrillingly expansive cricket, often in coloured clothing but also in their whites. At times this has been effective in winning Tests, as well as winning the hearts and minds of fans. However, as focus has perhaps shifted this more eye-catching side of the game, England’s hold on the basics has slipped.
To be clear; this is not an assertion that England are playing too loosely, or that the issue is in their mindsets. There is no suggestion that they lack “determination”. However, the fact of the matter is that under Bayliss, England have played fewer defensive shots against pace than any other team.
It’s not just the frequency of their defence which leaves fans concerned, but the effectiveness of it. In particular, cracks have begun to show in their defence against pace bowling. Under Bayliss, England’s defence against pace is breached every 53 balls – only Windies, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe have a lower dismissal rate when defending against pace.
Their is a peculiar logic to this alongside the previous point. If England are poor at defending, then defending less is one option. Realistically, it’s actually just one example of how England need to return to the fundamentals of the game; solid defence, keep out the good balls, then attack with the relish they’ve consistently shown.
ADAPT TO THE CONDITIONS
It’s unusual for this England team to struggle on home soil, their lapses generally confined to overseas tours, gratefully hidden from all who don’t work night shifts. This largely explains the intensity of the backlash against this most recent substandard performance; it happened in plain sight, and the general consensus among the public is that things simply have to improve, and quickly. England have suffered several batting woes in recent years, but they’ve generally come in away Tests. England have scored more runs than their opponents in each of their last four home series, and have done so in nine of their last 11 home series. The Lord’s defeat was a relative aberration, an outlier. Even so, key players need to acknowledge that their techniques may need to be tweaked if they are to succeed in England.
For example; Dawid Malan was one of the undoubted success stories of the disappointing Ashes tour. Yet so far in Malan’s short career, the Australia has been countered by struggles in England and New Zealand. The key difference in Australia was that the bouncier pitches and shorter lengths allowed him to play more off his favoured back foot, rather than the front foot.
That’s all very well, and it may be that Malan will find himself equally well suited to conditions in South Africa, and perhaps once again in Australia in 2021. Yet in the short term he needs to find a method which works for him in English conditions.
|Dawid Malan v Pace by Host Country|
|Host Country||Test Batting Average||Front Foot Shots|
Equally, it may be tough to convince players of the importance of this when players are in the form of their life. For much of Jonny Bairstow’s Test career, he’s had issues against the straight ball, but in recent times this had fallen away. In his banner year of 2016, he’d seemingly cracked it, given that the average that year for all batsmen against such balls was 13.53, yet the Yorkshireman averaged 48.0.
However, as shown above, this improvement has fallen away. Without the incredible form Bairstow showed in that purple patch of 2016, an underlying weakness has returned.
This isn’t a huge issue for Bairstow, who is a top-class batsmen with very few other weaknesses, but it may be indicative of a technique constantly adapting with England’s globetrotting existence. A return to what works on the green pitches of home might be in order.
With eight wickets in the match at Lord’s, Mohammad Abbas was England’s chief tormentor, narrowly missing out on making the honours board in both the first and second innings. If Root’s men are to turn their fortunes around in time to take this series, then they need to negate Abbas.
In his short Test career to date, Abbas has depended on bringing batsmen forward in order to dismiss them. Playing Abbas off the front foot averages 14.66; playing him off the back foot averages 33.14. It’s easier said than done, but hanging back (getting right up on their toes, in the style of their captain) would negate a lot of Abbas’ threat, and may also have the added effect of disrupting the Pakistan man’s impeccable control of length.
They also need to see through the hype around Shadab Khan. The excitement around a teenage leg-spinner is always going to be feverish, and Shadab is a player of significant potential, but right now he’s learning his game at the top level. Attacking him, and not allowing this learning to take place in a chilled environment, is key. Defensive shots against Shadab bring a dismissal every 108 balls, whilst attacking ones bring a dismissal every 104 balls. Equally, in a manner unexpected for a leg-spinner, right-handers are dominating Shadab, compared to LHB?
If England can limit the number of overs which Abbas and Shadab are able to bowl, then the burden of stock bowling will shift to Hasan Ali and Mohammad Amir, who whilst both talented attacking bowlers are generally more likely to give chances to score. It is not a foolproof plan – England averaged just 20.22 attacking those two in the First Test – but at the very least it’s a strategy, which they seemed to be lacking at Lord’s.
Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz. @benjonescricket