CricViz Analysis: Why fielding did not lose England the match against Pakistan

Freddie Wilde uses CricViz’s fielding data to illustrate why fielding was not the reason England lost against Pakistan in Nottingham. 

In the post-match press conference following England’s defeat against Pakistan in Nottingham on Monday, Eoin Morgan attributed the loss to England’s fielding. 

“We have gone from one of our best fielding performances at The Oval to – not extremely bad – but it has cost us about 15 or 20 runs in the field which is a lot in a one-day game,” he explained. 

The margin of England’s defeat was 14 runs and in the post-match presentation Morgan said the fielding was decisive. “We were out-fielded today and that was probably the difference between the two teams.” 

Blaming England’s fielding was an easy conclusion to arrive at and one also chosen by much of the media.  

On a flat Trent Bridge pitch, with tiny boundaries and a rapid outfield, 348 was a huge score to concede. The size of England’s task to track that total down was illustrated by the fact that it would have been a record World Cup chase had they pulled it off.

England’s bowling innings was marked by sloppy fielding: throughout the innings England made 13 fielding errors which cost them runs – only once since May 2016 have they made more run-costing errors in the field. 

The most significant error was a very straightforward dropped catch of Mohammad Hafeez on 12 by Jason Roy; he went on to score 84 off 62 balls in a match-defining innings. 

The combination of Roy’s dropped catch, Hafeez’s subsequent innings and the high number of errors – some of which were particularly memorable: Morgan let four through his legs and Joe Root conceded four overthrows – contributed to a perception that England’s fielding had been very costly.  

However, using CricViz’s Fielding Impact measure – which is designed to evaluate the overall impact of fielding on the match score* – we can illustrate that England’s fielding in fact saved runs rather than cost them runs. In contrast, Pakistan’s fielding cost 22 runs in their defence. 

The first thing to clear up is the cost of Roy’s dropped catch. One way of measuring it would be to say that the error cost England the 70 runs that Hafeez added after the drop. However, this is an extreme method by which to evaluate fielding. The problem with this approach is that it assumes the fielder and fielding is entirely responsible for all the runs scored after the dropped catch, which is not fair: the bowlers should also carry responsibility for failing to dismiss him or slow him down. Additionally if Hafeez was to have been bowled the very next ball then under this basic system the dropped catch would have cost nothing, which would exonerate Roy and England’s fielding of any negative impact. 

A fairer and more accurate way to prescribe a run value to the drop is to evaluate the runs we would expect Hafeez to add based on the time in the innings that the drop occurred. This figure is calculated by our forecasting model and in this instance we expected Hafeez to add a further 18 runs. 

However, it would also be unfair to simply extrapolate this run value (-18) as the whole impact of fielding because some chances are more difficult than others and should be judged accordingly. 

The CricViz fielding collection team prescribe a probability of success to every event that impacts the scoreboard on a scale of 5% – the hardest chance, to 95% – the easiest. The Hafeez catch was given a 90% chance of success. 

To calculate the true impact of Roy’s dropped catch we multiply the run value of the event (-18) by the estimated success probability of 90%. This produces a fielding impact of -16.20 runs. If this was a more difficult chance, let’s say with an estimated success of 10%, the fielding impact would only be -1.80 runs. Naturally a more difficult chance should be penalised less heavily than an easier chance because the chance of it being executed successfully is smaller.

Roy’s drop was one of 13 other negative impact events across the innings. Ten of those events were stops or throws which cost less than one run by our Impact measure. One of the other two was Morgan’s missed stop in the first over and the other was Root’s overthrows in the 46th over – both of which cost -3.60 runs.

England’s fielding display was not only marked by errors, they also took a number of excellent catches, made one sharp stumping and a handful of very good stops. Across the innings they made more positive impact contributions than negative impact contributions. 

The standout positive impact was Chris Woakes’ superb diving catch to dismiss Imam-ul-Haq, which – with a run value of 19 and a probability of success of 30% – contributed a positive impact of +13.3 (for successfully executed events we multiply the run value by the probability of it not being a success), while Jos Buttler’s stumping of Fakhar Zaman also contributed +5.4. In addition to these major positive impacts England had six fielding events which contributed between one and four runs – two stops and four catches; they only had two such negative events. 

Overall it wasn’t that England didn’t make errors in the field – they made plenty – but the fact was aside from the Roy drop none of them were particularly costly, and they also made a number of positive impact events – many of which had a more notable influence on the scorecard. 

Across the innings England’s negative impact contributions amounted to -30.60 runs and their positive impact contributions amounted to +34.90 runs, giving England an overall Fielding Impact of +4.30 runs across the innings.

Only focussing on England’s errors in the field – as much of the media did in the aftermath of the match – is a case of narrative bias with people linking England’s narrow defeat to their memorable fielding mistakes, while conveniently ignoring their good bits of fielding as well. 

Fielding performances such as this one – with a high number of events – is a likely consequence of England’s aggressive approach in the field: diving for catches other teams might leave, attacking balls to stop ones being turned into twos and taking shies at the stumps for run outs. Since the start of 2018 none of the 2019 World Cup teams have attempted a higher proportion of ‘Difficult’ fielding events than England – that is events with a probability of success of less than 33%. 

Much like their aggressive batting approach this intent in the field is going to produce frenetic and action-packed performances such as those seen in Nottingham and it is only fair that our analysis of England’s fielding is adjusted accordingly. Using fielding metrics such as Fielding Impact is a way to cut through the noise surrounding fielding and place a figure on what is a difficult aspect of the game to analyse without utilising data. 

Pakistan made numerous errors in the field – dropping four catches. However, unlike England they did not make up for these errors with successful events. Pakistan’s low fielding score can be explained by general poor standards rather than the aggressive approach that was the reason for a number of England’s errors. 

In a hectic match with a narrow margin of victory compressing the result to a single discipline such as fielding is tempting and a neat way of summarising things but it also distracts from the other areas of the game that also contributed to the result. 

CricViz’s Fielding Impact suggests that fielding had a negligible effect on Pakistan’s final total of 348. In seeking to explain England’s defeat analysis would be better served looking at other areas of the game. For example how Pakistan only allowed Adil Rashid, England’s most important bowler, to deliver five of his ten overs and how England’s top order capitulated against Pakistan’s spinners, leaving Root and Buttler too much to do despite their best efforts.

Fielding remains a mysterious and immensely complex area of the game to analyse and although Fielding Impact is not a perfect measure – it relies heavily on subjectivity – engaging with its outputs should help elevate discussion surrounding fielding from the retrofit analysis currently seen in the media. 

*CricViz also has a Fielding Ability measure which ignores when in the innings events occurred and seeks not to quantify the impact of fielding on the final score in that match but the impact that standard of fielding would have on a typical match. In other words a 10% catch taken in the 11th over or the 50th over would be considered equal, rather than valuing the earlier catch more highly. In this analysis – identifying what contributed to a match result – impact is the more appropriate measure.

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10 replies
  1. Alex
    Alex says:

    Is the point that vs their expected fielding performance this was a lot worse? So if they’d just fielded average for then they would have saved a lot of runs. Eg vs SA they were +50 in fielding

  2. Vibhor Agarwal
    Vibhor Agarwal says:

    Just curious about the 18 runs that Hafeez was expected to score.. Is that the difference in Pakistan’s expected score if Hafeez gets out vs if he doesn’t?

  3. Martin Jones
    Martin Jones says:

    The analysis is flawed. Just because the overall fielding is positive isn’t incompatible with the fact that poor fielding cost them the match. If the average positive fielding for the England team is +30, then an overall +4 is a very poor return and likely to be the reason for the loss. A much better analysis would be to compare England’s last 20 fielding performances and see how the Pakistan match matched up against the mean (with SD)

  4. choose me
    choose me says:

    I find it interesting reading the critics ideas and all about the sports they are into. It makes me knowledgable enough to give my appreciation and comment too.

  5. pikdo
    pikdo says:

    I recently came across your article and have been reading along. I want to express my admiration of your writing skill and ability to make readers read from the beginning to the end. I would like to read newer posts and to share my thoughts with you.


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