Ben Jones looks at what England and Australia can expect tomorrow.
‘The Home of Cricket’ isn’t the best name for Lord’s. A home should be somewhere where you feel comfortable, where you feel able to relax – for good or for bad, Lord’s is not relaxing. It’s a place as awash with tradition and ceremony as any venue in the world, blessed and cursed by pomp and circumstance. Everything being done there has been done hundreds times before, by thousands of hands.
It’s appropriate then that Lord’s, this most traditional and historic venue, has been the most resistant to Eoin Morgan’s thoroughly modern white ball revolution. England have risen to No.1 in the world with their ultra-aggressive batting, and haven’t lost any of their last 12 bilateral series. Of every venue in England and Wales, there’s nowhere England have lost more regularly than Lord’s since the last World Cup.
There are probably a few reasons for that, reasons that go beyond the vagaries of stuffy corridors and starched collars. The old idea of touring teams raising their game at one of cricket’s most famous venues probably holds water, as does the equally well trodden idea of a less than boisterous home crowd offering less support than other grounds around the country. Lord’s isn’t a library, but it’s not Edgbaston on a Saturday.
Yet the most straightforward reason for England’s tough time is the 22 yards of grass in the middle of the field, rather than the people packed in the stands at the edge of it. Since Morgan took genuine control of this side, after the 2015 debacle, the Lord’s pitch has not been a great one for crash-bang attacking cricket. It has been the third slowest scoring venue in the country; this England side, in case you hadn’t noticed, quite enjoy high-scoring matches, the sort of match which Lord’s doesn’t tend to provide.
It goes beyond that simple 5.62rpo though. That could be influenced by all sorts of things, from the quality of the players in any given match, to the status of the match within any given series. There are more objective ways of showing that Lord’s has been one of the most difficult pitches in the country for white ball batting for a while now.
PitchViz uses ball-tracking data to calculate a range of qualities held by any pitch – pace, turn, bounce, and several others, are all considered. This is then used to give each surface a rating out of 10, where 10/10 is the toughest to bat on, and 0/10 is the easiest. Since the last World Cup, Lord’s has a PitchViz Rating of 5.7 – only three grounds in the country are considered more difficult for batting.
Thus, Lord’s being an unhappy hunting ground for England fits into a broader trend. England don’t like playing on difficult surfaces; you can read more about that here, but the jist is that when the pitches are slower and harder to bat on, England are less likely to win.
And so it’s less than ideal for England that the most important match they’ve played since the 2017 Champions Trophy semi-final will likely be played on a pitch exactly like that. The early photographs of the surface, which always do the rounds the day before matches, suggest that the Lord’s surface is a green one. What that translates to in the way of bounce/seam movement is less exact than many would have you believe, but on a superficial level, it doesn’t look like a road.
Whilst this will make English eyes nervous, it will excite Australian ones. Aaron Finch’s side feel rather differently about this sort of surface. Since the Champions Trophy, Australia have completed 37 ODIs. On the nine toughest pitches in that time according to their PitchViz rating, they have won six matches; on the nine easiest pitches, they have won three.
Australia’s conservative game-plan suits the sort of wicket we’re likely to see in St Johns Wood on Tuesday. They look to get through that first 10 overs without losing a wicket, something they have done in five of their six World Cup matches so far. They then ask a lot of Glenn Maxwell and Marcus Stoinis’ hitting strength, but the former being in such outstanding nick is allowing them to make commanding totals on tricky pitches. At their best – which is what we’ve seen so far in this tournament – they can make very competitive totals while minimising risk. They should enjoy this surface. As was always the way in all those Ashes Tests before 2009, Australia are much more at home at Lord’s than England are.
England need to be aware of their failings in order to overcome them, and they’re under no illusions in that dressing room – they know they need to improve in difficult conditions. However they also need to remember that bilateral series aren’t meaningless. The fact that they’ve gone unbeaten in 12 series is a sign that they can win in a variety of conditions, against a variety of teams, in a variety of contexts. The narrative that has started to take hold, that England have somehow cheated their way to being the best in the world by preparing flat pitches, is just wrong. England need to prove that tomorrow – or their reputation, their semi-final spot, and their status as the best team in the world, will all be up for grabs.
Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.