Freddie Wilde analyses a bizarre Test match at Lord’s.
Well, that was a bit crazy. After a hiatus of more than four months Test cricket returned this week and it returned with a bang. For much of the first two days it seemed as if this Test might be remembered for a historic Irish victory but a manic morning session on day three – in which Ireland were bowled out for 38 – ensured England somehow emerged as 143 run winners, despite having been bowled out for 85 before lunch on day one.
Whichever way you cut it this was a downright bonkers Test. Tim Murtagh took 5 for 13, Chris Woakes took 6 for 17 and Stuart Broad took 4 for 19. Jack Leach, England’s number 11 in the first innings, then outscored his entire team in the second innings and made the highest score of the match – something which won him Man of the Match. For the first time in Test history both wicket-keepers made pairs. But perhaps the craziest thing of all was that both teams were bowled out in a single session; England in the first session of the match and Ireland in the last. This was only the third time ever, and the first time since 1877, that that has happened.
It is likely that this match will ultimately be remembered as one where Ireland threw away a position of great strength – leading England by 41 runs with eight wickets in hand they had a golden opportunity to win their first ever Test but two batting collapses meant they went on to lose by 143 runs. However, this Test will also be remembered for the extraordinary dominance of bat over ball.
There have been 2,352 Test matches but only 42 of them have had a lower batting average than the 15.82 runs per wicket witnessed here at Lord’s – that is the lowest match batting average since December 2002. Even more strikingly only eight Tests in history have seen wickets fall at a faster rate than the 26.3 balls per wicket in this match. So why exactly did the bowlers dominate to such a huge degree?
Were conditions exceptionally difficult? Not really. PitchViz is a unique model which assesses the difficultly of conditions by adjusting ball-tracking data for the bowler and comparing these figures to the norm in Test cricket. This model shows that this Test saw higher than normal swing and seam figures, which contributed to an overall difficulty rating of 7 out of 10. That is on the high side but it is not massively so: 31 Tests in England since 2006 have had a higher rating.
So if conditions were tricky but not fiendish then what about the bowling? Using ball tracking data we can look at how accurate the bowlers were by assessing what proportion of deliveries they pitched on a good line (on and around the channel outside off stump) and a good length (around 6 to 8 metres from the batsman’s stumps). This shows that the pace bowling in this Test was very accurate – Murtagh and Broad in particular – were superb.
CricViz’s Expected Runs and Wickets model combines these two factors – conditions and what the bowler is doing – to produce an Expected Score, which forecasts what we would expect an average team to score based on the balls they face. This shows that the combination of slightly more difficult conditions and good, albeit not outstanding bowling, accuracy meant this Test had an Expected Average of 28.70 runs per wicket, this is below the global Expected Average of 32.60 – suggesting therefore that this Test was indeed difficult for batting.
However, the batsmen in this Test didn’t average 28.70 – they averaged 15.82. So while this was a difficult Test for batting it was nowhere near as difficult as the eventual scores suggested. This in turn suggests that while the bowling was good and conditions were difficult, the batting was poor. Indeed only 11 Tests in the CricViz database have seen the batsmen underperform to a greater degree than they did in this Test where they averaged a huge 13.63 runs below expectation based on the balls they faced.
Ultimately, no bowler ever really bowls well enough to take 5 for 13 or 6 for 17 and no team ever bowls well enough to dismiss the opposition for 85 and certainly not for 38. Matches like these are often founded on excellent bowling but luck also plays a role and so does sheer bad batting.
In this Lord’s Test these three things combined emphatically to produce a remarkable result.