Despite dominating ODI bowlers, England struggle to translate their batting form into the shortest format – Ben Jones looks at the data to find out why.
After an impressive victory against Australia at Edgbaston last week, England’s IT20 side came thundering back down to earth on Tuesday. While the rest of the country was watching the football, England’s cricketers were subjected to a harrowing trial by wrist spin, as India defeated them by 8 wickets, chasing 159 whilst barely breaking a sweat. Virat Kohli’s team looked very well prepared, fit and raring to go – England couldn’t keep pace with the tourists.
Yet this could be brushed off as an aberration, a symptom of a distracted atmosphere and a very dry Old Trafford surface, if it were not part of a worrying trend. England have now won just 40% of their matches since the World T20 in 2016, making them just the tenth most successful side in the world in that period.
Broadly, the reason for this form seems to be issues with the batting. Since that World T20 where England reached the final playing scintillating cricket, before losing to the West Indies, Eoin Morgan’s side is just the fifth fastest scoring side in the world.
Of course, this isn’t necessarily a huge issue, given that they could be more of a bowling side – but they’re not. Their white ball success in ODI cricket has been built off very strong batting, as we can see below. The formats may be different, but the skills in T20 and ODI cricket are broadly the same, and it doesn’t really add up that England can bat so well in one but not in the other.
It’s also clear that the entire process isn’t at fault, and their issues are certainly not the result of false starts. Since that last world tournament, only Australia score more quickly in the first six overs than England do.
However, once the Powerplay elapses, their fortunes decline. England are the fifth fastest in the middle overs, and are, staggeringly, just the 14th fastest at the death.
So why do we see this pattern? Well, England’s side is crammed full of potential openers. Jos Buttler’s promotion is undoubtedly a good idea, and should bring the best out of England’s best player, but it crowds an already busy top order. Each of Buttler, Jason Roy, Alex Hales, Jonny Bairstow, Moeen Ali and David Willey have all opened for their counties and stylistically cry out to open the batting. Logic dictates that Buttler should open – he’s the in-form opener in world cricket, averaging 94.28 in 2018 – alongside Hales. The Nottinghamshire man might not be in the best T20 form of his career, and his slow innings at Old Trafford was tough to watch, but of all England’s batsmen he is the most capable of exploiting the fielding restrictions that the powerplay offers. For regular top order players (those to bat 30 times in the T20 powerplay over the last two years), only Luke Ronchi scores more quickly than Hales.
Conversely, Hales struggles to get going in the middle overs. His CricViz Batting Impact Average (a performance tool for white ball cricket) is a strong +3.6 in the powerplay for IT20s, but it drops to -0.6 and -4.3 for the middle and death overs respectively. The same is true of Jason Roy; his CricViz Batting Impact Average drops from 1.1 in the powerplay to -4.0 in overs 7-15. England need to be bold, and drop their star name openers when they move out of the top two, especially if England are still wedded to picking Joe Root as an anchor in IT20s. They need to bat their Test captain at No.3, with Roy’s place going to a lower order finisher, allowing more natural middle overs players to take their place at the crease during those overs.
However, the identity of that incoming finisher is unclear. England clearly need somebody to accelerate their scoring at the death and lift their totals, but in a line-up as powerful as this one, lower order hitters will rarely get much time to get set; the key requirement should be an ability to score rapidly despite not being in for very long. Paul Farbrace could re-purpose a player already in the squad – long term, some might argue that Ben Stokes should be cajoled into this role – but if they want to pick someone ready made in county cricket, then Ross Whiteley would be the strongest candidate. Across the last three seasons of the T20 Blast, Whiteley is the fastest scorer at the death when not batting in the top four.
The Worcestershire man may not be a huge name, and lacks the star power of Roy or even players like Dawid Malan already in and around the squad, but Whiteley’s inclusion would almost certainly accelerate scoring and hopefully take the pressure of those batting in the middle overs.
These are minor tweaks that England could make in order to maximise the potential of their batting line-up. The rest of this series will make it plain whether these tweaks need to be made, but right now it seems as if the start of the 2018 Blast couldn’t have come at a better time for England’s selectors. A breakthrough season for a late order ball-striker would make the world of difference for Morgan’s team – we’ll be keeping our eyes peeled for the next finisher to emerge from the domestic game.
Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.