After Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid bowled England to victory at the Oval, Ben Jones examines Australia’s flawed approach when batting against spin.
Nobody expected Australia to come storming out of the blocks at The Oval yesterday. They’ve had two months off, massive disruption to every level of playing and management staff, and the line-up who took to the field in South London was at least five men short of their first-choice side. Yet even with all this in mind, the tourists’ performance was disappointing. Dismissed for just 214, they never truly arrived at the contest, as England walked to victory.
In particular, England’s spinners Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid caused the top-order no end of trouble. A mixture of poor shot selection from some (Tim Paine), poor execution from others (Shaun Marsh) and ill-discipline at a time when patience was needed (Marcus Stoinis) saw four of Australia’s top five fall to slow bowling.
Of course, this isn’t new. Since the last World Cup, Australia average just 35.51 batting against spin, the seventh best in the world, and it’s affecting their results significantly. They’ve lost 4-1 away in India, and 4-1 at home to England, in just the last six months. So what’s gone wrong for the champions?
At the risk of sounding like a wizened old-pro, berating the younger generation, the issue against spin appears to be impatience. Since the last World Cup, no team in the world has played more attacking shots against spin than the Australians, who have attacked 48% of their deliveries against the slower bowlers.
In itself, this is neither good nor bad, just an illustration of their style – they prefer to come at the spinners, rather than sit back and milk the bowling. That’s a viable tactic. However, as this second graphic shows, Australia aren’t particularly good at their chosen strategy. When attacking, they have just the eight best record in the world against spin, which given that they attack spin so much, is worrying for fans of Paine’s side.
In short, this isn’t good enough. For a team who will go into next year’s World Cup as defending champions, and are currently second favourites with the bookies, to have any area of your game as the eighth best in the world is essentially unsustainable. In particular context of this match, it was even more unforgivable. Just days ago, Scotland destroyed Moeen with the sweep, scoring 20 runs from just 10 sweeps against him, battering the all-rounder out of the attack.
Yesterday, Australia played four sweeps, scoring three runs, and losing a wicket. It’s not that they don’t play the shot well – they average 29.07 when sweeping spin since the World Cup, which is a relatively commendable fifth best in the world – yet against a bowler who so recently struggled against batsmen playing that shot, Australia put it away.
Moeen looked calm and controlled, undeterred by his performance in Edinburgh, and claimed the Man of the Match award. Australia’s inability to pressurise him shows not just impatience, as illustrated in their exceptionally attacking approach, but a lack of awareness regarding their opponents, or the match situation.
In some, respects, they’ll be pleased to have given Rashid just the one wicket; since the last World Cup, Australia average just 26.17 against wrist-spin, losing a wicket every 30 balls. That’s just the 10th best in the world. It’s unlikely that this team will escape the series without that weakness being exploited.
What can they do to improve? Well, they could certainly do with a bit more caution, given their ultra-aggressive approach. As well as this, they need to play the ball later; their average contact length against spin is 2.2m away from their stumps, the second furthest down the track in the world. First is New Zealand, who dance down the track to 11% of their spin deliveries, compared to Australia’s 9%. This suggests that Australia are striking the ball far out in front of them, further forward than almost every other side, but that isn’t a result of skipping down, but instead of lunging forward. From the results it’s yielded, that is a flawed technique.
Bizarrely for long-term fans of English one-day cricket, Eoin Morgan’s side have one of the best spin-attacks in the world, and should provide Australia with a stern examination of their skills against the turning ball. If Langer and Paine can use this series effectively, improving this aspect of Australia’s game, then this tour could be a vital point in the World Champions’ recovery. In the short-term however, Rashid and Moeen will be licking their lips.
Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.