Freddie Wilde identifies the main tactical talking points from Match 1 of the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup.
South Africa’s opening surprise
South Africa’s first decision of the World Cup – opting to bowl first at a venue that has heavily favoured chasing and with the 10.30 am start expected to assist the bowler – made total sense. However, they sprung a major surprise with their second decision of the World Cup – opting to open the bowling with Imran Tahir. This was only the third time that Tahir had ever opened the bowling in ODIs and the first time he had ever bowled the first over. The decision was most likely motivated by Jason Roy’s struggles against the ball spinning away from him: in ODIs before today he averaged 32 against balls spinning away from the bat compared to 49 against balls spinning into the bat. However, after Roy managed to get off strike first ball Tahir was bowling to Jonny Bairstow – who averaged 88 against leg spin before today. Despite this excellent record Tahir managed to make a huge early breakthrough, snaring Bairstow with a ball that gripped more than Bairstow appeared to expect from a hard new ball.
Root’s early intent
Despite England losing a wicket to the second ball of the match, despite the 10.30 am start and despite the pressure of the occasion Joe Root was not cowed and rather than go into his shell, Root actually increased his positive intent. In his first 20 balls he only played a single defensive shot and attempted to score off the other 19 deliveries; across his career Root typically defends five of his first 20 deliveries. Root’s early positivity quickly alleviated the nerves of England’s first over and at the end of the first Powerplay England had recovered to 60 for 1.
South Africa remain cautious
After the dream start for South Africa of striking in the first over the following nine overs of the first Powerplay were disappointing. The early start and a green pitch should have encouraged their seam bowlers to pitch the ball up and attack, looking for the early wickets that would be so valuable against England’s powerful batting order. However, ball-tracking analysis shows that South Africa only bowled 12% full balls in the first Powerplay – their second lowest proportion in any match since the last World Cup.
South Africa make regular breakthroughs
Four England players—Roy, Root, Eoin Morgan and Ben Stokes—scored fifties but none went on to score a century. Since the last World Cup England convert an average of one in four fifties to a hundred. Their inability to do so in this match was partly the product of South Africa’s wicket-taking prowess: since the last World Cup only Afghanistan has taken wickets as often as South Africa and that strike rate was the difference between England posting a score nearer 350 and their eventual score of 311.
Pace off chokes England
England only hit seven boundaries in the last 13 overs; a period of the game marked by South Africa’s increased use of slower balls with Lungi Ngidi leading the way with his off cutters, and soon followed by the rest of South Africa’s attack. England found the pace-off deliveries notably more difficult to get away. South Africa’s slower ball percentage increased from 5% in Powerplay 1 to 11% in Powerplay 2 and 57% in the last Powerplay. Across the 50 overs slower balls took four wickets at an average 12.50 runs per wicket while pace on deliveries took just two at an average of 99.
Stokes’ hard-fought innings
England’s innings may not have kicked on towards 350 but it was held together by Stokes’ battling innings of 89 off 79 balls. With England’s momentum stifled by regular wickets Stokes batted with great responsibility early on in his innings, only attacking 29% of his first 30 balls – shoring things up – before kicking on, attacking 73% of his remaining 49 deliveries.
Pace like fire
Jofra Archer’s five over opening spell took a match that at halftime was fractionally in South Africa’s favour with England’s WinViz at 48% to one that left the home team in a position of strength. Archer bowled with pace and verve, first forcing Hashim Amla to retire hurt when a vicious bouncer struck him on the head before he prized out Aidan Markram with a lifting back of a length ball and Faf du Plessis caught hooking. In Archer’s opening spell he had an average speed of 144.13 kph and 94% of his deliveries were faster than 140 kph. When Archer was taken out of the attack in the tenth over England were considered to be 73% favourites.
England stifle de Kock
Quinton de Kock’s greatest strength is his game square of the wicket – he averages 98 with the cut shot in ODIs. England were understandably keen to bowl a very tight line to him and not give him any width to free his arms. Although he batted well to score 68 off 74 balls but he was unable to cut loose as a result of England’s tight line. The quicks bowled 57% of their deliveries to de Kock down the leg side or in line with the stumps, well above the average to de Kock in ODIs of 34%. De Kock only managed to get one cut shot away in his innings and the control of England’s seamers saw him attempt an audacious shot – taking on deep fine leg – which ultimately led to his downfall. For three balls before de Kock’s wicket WinViz considered South Africa to have edged into favouritism, but the wicket turned the match on its head once more and put England firmly in the ascendency.
Stokes’ all round show
After playing the defining knock of England’s innings earlier in the day, Stokes produced the headline moment of the match (and perhaps the tournament) with his spectacular one-handed diving catch on the boundary to dismiss Phehlukwayo – a wicket that all-but guaranteed England’s victory. According to CricViz’s unique fielding impact metric, which evaluates the impact of fielding based on the difficulty and the run value of the event, Stokes catch was worth +11.40 runs for England. In addition to his runs, a run out and two late wickets, Stokes contributed a total match impact of +79.5 runs; the best ODI performance of his career according to match impact. In fact, not only was Stokes’ +79.5 run impact the best of his career but it was also the best in the CricViz database for a player to contribute impact with bat, ball and in the field – therefore dating back to May 2016 and the start of the CricViz fielding database. After 18 months of relatively quiet performances in ODIs, trust Stokes – the man for the big occasion – to put in such a defining performance in the first match of a home World Cup.
Stokes’ superb catch was not the only moment of fielding brilliance in a match littered with them. du Plessis and Markram also plucked superb catches in the outfield, in addition to a number of brilliant stops in the ring from Roy. According to fielding impact a total of 69 runs were saved in the field across the match – the most ever in an ODI in the CricViz fielding database, which starts in May 2016.
Freddie Wilde is a CricViz analyst. @fwildecricket