CricViz Analysis: England v India, Third Test, Day One

After an even first day at Trent Bridge, Ben Jones reflects on what could have been for Stuart Broad at the start of the day.

After the chaotic spectacle of Lord’s, today was a pleasant return to the traditional rhythms of Test cricket. A day of cagey early stages, flurries of wickets, dug in partnerships – these are the patterns of play we know well.

Yet lurking just beneath the surface was the ghost of chaos. Stuart Broad’s opening spell this morning is unlikely to make the front of the morning papers, as it did three years ago on this ground. That 8-15 spell transcended the sport, a breakthrough moment into the mainstream media. Today he went wicketless, but didn’t bowl particularly differently.

It isn’t hard to construct an argument that Broad bowled better at Nottingham today than he did during that 8-15 spell. As shown below, he was more accurate, and found more lateral movement. The basis, it’s fair to say, of a decent performance.

Yet this profound lateral movement didn’t rip through the Indian batting line-up in quite the same way as it did to Michael Clarke’s men three years ago. Partly this is down to luck. Broad found seven false shots this morning session; five of them were plays and misses. On that fateful day in 2015, he found 18; twelve were edges. Some days you just find the edge of the bat, and some days you don’t.

There was also an element of Broad being almost too disciplined. In 2015, a staggeringly aggressive 35% of his deliveries were full, those deliveries bringing five of his eight wickets. Today, just 14% of his balls were full. England were bowling first, sure, but they didn’t need to gamble right at the outset of the Test – Broad’s approach reflected that.

Equally, India were excellent and judicious in their shot selection. They left 41% of their deliveries in the opening 15 overs, a figure they’ve not exceeded at that stage across the series so far. Shikhar Dhawan, typically a daring dasher, stood strong alongside KL Rahul and saw India through that first hour. It laid the foundations for the rest of the innings, a foundation which depending on how England’s mercurial batting line-up fares could be match-winning. Against movement which crushed Australia, India stood tall.

There is always an element of “what if” in Test cricket. More than any other format of the game, it allows the captain and the bowler complete dominion over their decisions, opening up almost infinite paths of regret and hindsight.

If Broad has pushed his length that bit fuller, would it have made a difference today? Would we have seen another newspaper-fronting passage of play? Would he have pulled another funny face?

The degree of lateral movement he was finding suggests yes, but it is all hypothetical. India battled through the first hour in a way that Australia couldn’t three years ago, and the day will stay firmly out of the history books. If nothing else, today should serve as a reminder that excellence is never far away from elite performers such as Broad, and prompt us not to assess them purely on their material returns.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

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