After a week when Broad and Anderson have been under pressure, Ben Jones examines how England’s veterans flourished by pitching it up.
It’s the way the story always goes. A batting collapse is inevitably followed by the dropping of a bowler, and in this instance it was Mark Wood who made way, after disappointing returns of 2-81 at Lord’s.
Yet despite the fact that Chris Woakes was on return to the side, and Sam Curran was making his debut, they were seemingly not really the men under pressure. The general takeaway point from the first Test seemed to be that England had wasted the new ball by bowling too short, and that the experienced pair of James Anderson and Stuart Broad were unwilling to adapt their tried and trusted methods in order to exploit the conditions.
In truth, this has been a long-standing pattern for England’s celebrated opening bowlers. In English Tests over the last eight years, as the graphic below shows, only Bangladesh have targeted that full length less frequently than England. It’s very difficult to argue with Broad and Anderson’s record, but they certainly haven’t built that record up by bowling full.
And so somehow, remarkably, after 256 Tests and 952 wickets, they entered this Test needing to prove some people wrong. Following a series of bullish interviews this week, where Anderson asserted the value that their experience held, resisting the rather simplistic calls for them to “just pitch it up”, off the back of such confidence, they needed to deliver.
Whatever they needed to prove, they did it today. Broad in particular was superb, bowling an aggressive opening spell which put Pakistan into a corner which swiftly became their home for the day. And yet, despite the insistence to the opposite, it was the fuller length which caused Pakistan so many problems.
The length which Broad averaged in the first ten overs of the Test (5.678m from the stumps) was the fullest he’s ever bowled with the new ball in England. 67% of his deliveries were in the “full” zone, and not one of them pitched shorter than 8m away. He was bowling with venom, with no sign of that oft-feared “floatiness” which comes with pitching the ball up.
This fuller length brought great reward. A haul of three wickets barely scratches the surface in terms of how tough he was to play; 23.3% of Broad’s deliveries drew play-and-misses, which is the most he’s ever recorded in a Test innings, though at times it felt closer to 100%. Broad’s stubborn streak can certainly cause issues, but in many ways it is his greatest asset. As rumours of his removal from the side began to circle and gain weight, he pulled out a spell which paralleled if not surpassed his very best form in England colours.
However, at the other end things weren’t quite so rosey. While Broad was causing mayhem, Anderson was quietly dotting up and keeping things tight, a commendable support service to his long-time bowling partner but nevertheless, quite the contrast to the wickets tumbling.
As well as Anderson’s renowned and deserved reputation for accuracy, this was a result of England’s attacking leader pulling his length further back. He bowled about 70cm shorter than Broad with the new ball, and in that sparkling ten over opening spell when Broad bowled 67% full, Anderson pushed just 27% into that zone.
Of course, this more defensive length played a role in England’s success on day one. Anderson’s approach kept the run-rate (which escalated later in the innings) under control while the top-order were still around. It meant that Pakistan were forced to attack Woakes, who backed up the opening pair and claimed three wickets of his own. However, Anderson isn’t a man to miss out on wickets when he feels they’re on offer, and seeing the potential rewards being hoovered up by his colleagues hitting that fuller length on a Headingley track which invited it, Anderson adapted. Before lunch, Anderson bowled 29% full balls. After lunch, he bowled 40%.
It certainly had the effect of making him less defensive. Before lunch, 93% of Anderson’s deliveries were dot-balls. This dropped to 71% after the break, but as you can see in the graphic above, the fuller bowling brought wickets, and made him a more distinct threat. He drew 40% false shots in the afternoon, compared to 26% in the morning, as Pakistan’s middle order played across and round and under him. From the frustrated figure of the first session, he’d transformed into a buoyant, flair-focused strike bowler. A remarkable turnaround.
Pakistan showed that it is not simply a case of hitting that length and the wickets appearing in front of your very eyes. In the first 10 overs, they bowled just 4% fewer full deliveries than England had managed at the same stage, yet had no wickets to show for their endeavours. They found it tough to match the swing England had, the hosts finding 46% more swing than their guests. Without lateral movement, Alastair Cook and Keaton Jennings found things easy going, and accelerated to 39-0 after 10 overs.
A comparison of the two bowling performances show that success is not simply about bowling a full length, it’s about exploiting that length to get the maximum movement in the air, which requires a good degree of fortune and high skill. England, after losing the toss, were lucky to have the best of the bowling conditions on a cloudy morning. In Anderson and Broad they have two elite new ball bowlers. So pitch it up, boys.
Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.@benjonescricket