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CricViz Analysis: Luck

Ben Jones analyses a day of mixed fortunes.

“You make your own luck”.

“I feel that luck is preparation meeting opportunity.”

“The more I practice, the luckier I get”.

There are lots of quotes about luck. They’re mostly nonsense.

***

Today was a strange day in Leeds. The opening two sessions of this third Test match – the morning and afternoon, effectively rolled into one rain interrupted block – were brief affairs, conducted with umbrellas at half-mast and the atmosphere similarly confused.

Having opted to bowl first, under grey clouds that could have kept Turner busy for a summer or two, England did everything they are constantly being told to. Stuart Broad and Jofra Archer, English seamers at opposing ends of their careers, ensured that they weren’t going to suffer from not pitching it up.

In those two initial curtailed sessions, they pitched up 55% of their deliveries; never in the entire CricViz database have England ever bowled fuller in the first two sessions of a Test match. “Bowl fuller, and the ball takes the edge and doesn’t pass the bat” – the battle cry of the ex-professional, but tell that to England’s opening duo. They won’t react kindly, you’d think. In those two sessions, 26% of England’s deliveries missed the bat; 9% caught the edge.

Edges from Marcus Harris and Usman Khawaja brought a wicket in each of those shortened passages, but otherwise, nothing was doing. England’s luck was out.

David Warner played a false shot to 53% of the deliveries he faced in his first 30 balls – never before has he been less in control at the start of an innings. This is a man who darts, who dashes, wants to take on the opposition and put them under pressure. He’s never looked riskier, never closer to dismissal.

It was a fever which spread to the team as a whole. In the first 25 overs of play today, Australia played 34% false shots; more often than twice an over, Tim Paine’s batsmen weren’t in control of their shots. Since records began in 2006, Australia have batted in 259 Test innings; only three times have they played more false shots at this stage. In those innings Australia were bowled out for 60, 47, and 88, in performances which to varying degrees precipitated fundamental change in Australian cricket.

According to our Expected Wickets model, the deliveries England bowled in those opening two “sessions” would normally have taken 2.67 wickets, but only two came. All those misses, all those edges, were failing to translate themselves to actual ink in the scorebook.

Essentially, we were all witness to the sort of performances which sees Aussie captains placed on notice, Dukes balls introduced to Shield cricket, values questioned. Except, well, Australia weren’t losing wickets.

Yet.

There’s a reason that Fortuna has always been linked with the wheel. Sometimes you’re on top, and sometimes you’re at the bottom, but you always come round to the other side. The point is, luck swirls. It’s a mischievous, disloyal companion that arrives, dictates your life and carries you along on a wave then deserts you. If you build your success on its presence, your success won’t last long.

There were no wickets from the first 46 plays and misses today. Then, all of a sudden, there were two from the next three.

According to our model, Stuart Broad’s dismissal of Travis Head was almost unavoidable. It had a 12.3% chance of taking a wicket, making it the most threatening ball of the day; 137kph, seaming a remarkable 2.1° off the pitch, clipping the top of off, an absolute jaffa and just the sixth ball Head faced.

And yet even in this moment of clear, obvious bowling quality, there’s luck lurking in the background. Had David Warner, or any well-set batsman faced that same delivery, it may have been met with a straight bat, led to nothing, and we all decry the misfortune of another English bowler.

Matthew Wade didn’t deserve to get out, really. He defended adequately, only for the ball to bounce around, searching for the stumps until it eventually found it’s target. He was unlucky, the victim of a turning tide.

In the morning/afternoon session, we saw a wicket every 19 false shots. England were floundering, cursing their luck as the edges didn’t carry, the misses not even getting that far. That was their bad luck in its rawest terms, and then, as it always does, it turned. In the evening session, we saw one every six false shots. England were on top.

Ben Stokes’ junk full toss to Labuschagne had a 1.3% chance of taking a wicket. That’s nothing, and yet it dismissed the best batsman of the day, an undeserving dismissal in fading light.

Yet Stokes’ Expected Wickets figure today was 1.06. He has, cumulatively across his day, done enough to have a tally in that wickets column. His work, across a period of time, deserved reward. Such is luck.

According to our model, England should have taken about four wickets in the extended evening session. They took eight. By stumps, England were outperforming Expected Wickets. The pendulum had swung, and Australia had been hard done by.

Since the data has been recorded, there have been 531 Tests and in only eight of them has Day One seen a higher percentage of false shots. It’s a reasonable reflection of the day that Australia were bowled out. In this sense, justice was done, but only as part of a larger chunk of time; for England, the passage where Australia fell apart was in large part the result of good fortune.

Whether luck evens out is more a philosophical question than a purely mathematical one. Statisticians have put forward very convincing arguments that it doesn’t, that luck flows the way of the rich and the powerful just as it does in “real” life. It feels cold, and hard, and true. But there’s a romantic alternative, an alternative philosophical path, which we can take together.

We aren’t in control of our lives, you know. Everything that happens, each of our actions, is in constant conversation with a thousand other things, simultaneously, impacting silently on every single other thing. Some of those things we can see, but most of them we can’t. Some people explain it with religion, some with politics, but in sport we tend to call it luck.

The only quote about luck worth listening to is one from the English author EM Forster. He said, “There is much good luck in the world, but it is luck. We are none of us safe. We are children, playing or quarrelling on the line.” We stand, take our portion of fortune when we reach the front of the queue then go about our lives. Today Australia feasted, then succumbed to famine; England, the inverse. It’s the ebb and flow of Test cricket; the ebb and flow of sport; the ebb and flow of life.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: What If They Hadn’t Been Dropped?

Ben Jones analyses the effect of drops on player’s averages.

It’s one of the most well-thumbed of cricket’s many tales. Brian Lara, 18* for Warwickshire at Edgbaston back in 1994, gave a rare chance, edging behind to the Durham wicketkeeper Chris Scott. The keeper spilled it and, in a moment of necessary gallows humour, said: “I bet he’ll go on and get a hundred now.” Lara subsequently went on to make 501 runs in his innings, the highest first-class score in cricket history.

It’s a story which gets wheeled out for a number of reasons, but primarily because it’s the perfect example of something we have all experienced in some capacity – dropping a catch off a batsman, who then goes on to define the match. How things could have gone differently if only we’d taken that chance, what could have been if The One That Got Away had been pouched.

The revenge of the fielders who make these mistakes? Using it against the batsmen, by questioning their records. “Oh sure, he’s averaged 50+ this season, but for two of his tons he was dropped in the teens, if I remember correctly”. We do it in professional cricket to, when a player we don’t like scores runs after giving an early chance, leaning on it as a snide and simple way of diminishing achievement. It’s not the best side of us.

We’re all lucky then, that we live at a time where this sort of slander needn’t pass without investigated. Cricket is in an era of advanced data collection, records kept more widely than ever before, these finer details are recorded, stored, and ready to spill the beans. We don’t have to guess and infer whether some players have been luckier than others in this regard. We can work it out.

Calculating a “Drop Average” – a player’s average if every chance had been caught, and every stumping completed – allows us to see the effect of missed chances on a batsman’s record. Say a batsman made scores of 20, 60, 120, 20, 0, and 80 in a three Test series, their average would be 50. However, say this player has been dropped on 0 when they made that century, then their Drop Average would be 30.

It’s a rather artificial way of looking at this issue, without question. In Tests, roughly 80% of catches are caught, so there will always be a degree of good fortune floating around, ready for some batsman to pounce on, and punish. Stumpings can range from the routine to the spectacular, and only recently have those differences been recorded. But it’s still interesting.

The first thing to note when we look at the list of highest Drop Averages in Test cricket (since 2006, when the data began to be recorded) is that, well, it’s not that different to the list of highest averages. Obviously everyone’s record has been scooted down by a few runs, but essentially the familiar faces are all there; Smith is still the highest, the greats all present and correct.

However, the interesting point comes when we look more closely at the difference between actual average and drop average. A good example is the Australian batsman Travis Head. His actual Test batting average is a mightily impressive 49.88, a figure which if sustained over a whole career would put him up with the elite of the game. Yet his Drop Average is just 34.00. The difference between the two figures a substantial 15.88, a substantial gap which perhaps explains why nobody is quite as excited about Head as his average would imply.

In fact, it’s is not just a large gap; it’s the biggest difference of any established player in the advanced data era. No other player has seen their average boosted more by the runs they’ve scored after being dropped or after a stumping opportunity was missed.

Head is clearly a good player, albeit a little loose outside off stump – but who isn’t. He has displayed, in a short career, the ability to compete if not dominate against some rather impressive attacks and in rather tricky conditions. To label him “lucky” is not straightforwardly derogatory, but pretty literal.

And that’s kind of the point. Head’s a solid performer, but his current record makes him look like a great. In everyone’s average is this wriggly little unknown quantity, swelling and diminishing records and reputations without people really knowing it’s there, or without properly understanding it. Hopefully, by measuring Drop Average and similar, more nuanced metrics, we can try to remedy that.

Yet fundamentally, this is a broadly whimsical measure, rather than a practical means of improving analysis. It’s a portal into a different world, a window offering a glimpse into an alternative, hypothetical history. Who knows what would have happened had Lara’s nick had been taken on that day in 1994. His career was hardly stalling, an average of 63 from the 16 Tests he’d played hardly suggesting he was on the edge of deselection, but the effect of that innings was profound. A mythology was formed, the belief of opposition bowlers already dimmed before Lara marked his guard, redoubled in the mind of Lara himself. Perhaps his career is good, rather than great, perhaps the 400 becomes 200. The point is that we’ll never know, we can never find out, and that’s sort of the best thing about it.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: Archer’s Debut

Ben Jones analyses one of the more remarkable England debuts.

It is hard to recall the last time an England player debuted in a Test match and had such a profound impact. Not necessarily on the result – England still head into the next Test without a win under their belt in this series – but on the atmosphere surrounding a team, the personality of an XI, the vibe. Jofra Archer has set English cricket alight.

The reason? Speed, pure speed. England are used to facing turbo-charged Australian bowlers, then countering the pace with their own battery of skillful swingers and seamers, grey skies and green pitches the perfect foil to the old enemy’s greatest threat. That’s the natural order of things, in this rivalry.

Yet throughout this Test, and hopefully in many more to come, Archer has offered Joe Root something different to the rest of the bowlers. Archer wasn’t just the quickest bowler in the attack, he was the quickest bowler on show full stop, in either dressing room. For the first time since the opening game of the 2013 Ashes, when Steve Finn’s average pace was 139.95kph, and Englishman was the fastest bowler in an Ashes Test.

The excitement around Archer’s pace has centred on the ball which hit Smith, of course. Deservedly. It was a frightening ball in every sense and it provided a moment of genuine brutality, the kind of which is rare regardless of which teams are involved. Yet whilst the single moment was what drew the focus, what really made English fans start to quiver with excitement and optimism was how Archer came back, time and time again deep into those spells, and was still hitting those top speeds. He didn’t just bowl the fastest ball of the match, the fastest over, or even just the fastest spell, but the five fastest spells in a Test with plenty of other men capable of hitting those incredible heights.

England have a world class bowler arriving into Test cricket as part of the elite, a man who bowls almost as fast as any comparable bowler on the planet; only Mitchell Starc, a player whose action offers vast pace with the significant compromise of reduced accuracy, can claim to be significantly quicker.

It was unfamilar territory for the crowd at Lord’s. This wasn’t what they were used to, not in the slightest. An England bowler in home conditions, yet Archer didn’t really swing the ball at all. He can swing it, when the conditions are right – anyone who’s seen the viral clips of batsmen being bowled after leaving Archer’s hooping inswingers will be aware – but in the Second Test, it was the seam movement which was his primary weapon. He found more deviation off the pitch than anyone in the game, comfortably more in fact. There’s an irony that the man swinging it more than any other travels on an Australian passport.

Perhaps this aids Archer in terms of his control. He’s not pushing the ball particularly full looking for lateral movement through the air, but rather hitting the channels just back of a length, over and over as we’ve seen him do in white ball cricket. It means that Archer’s control at Lord’s stood out almost as much as his speed.

His economy was just 2.06rpo – the last time an England seamer bowled as many deliveries as Archer did a single match, and recorded a lower economy rate, was Stuart Broad during the last Ashes tour. The last time an England seamer not called Broad or Anderson managed to do so was Ryan Sidebottom, in 2008. Those are all bowlers who operate in the mid 80mph range at best, generally, so for Archer to be matching their economy and control at the speed he works at, is quite the achievement.

The underlying point here is that Archer’s unusual route into international cricket, means that more than most, he is already the complete bowler. The need for him to remain in England for residency reasons has limited his exposure to T20 tournaments around the world, and has meant that he’s played more FC cricket than you might expect for such a talented white ball bowler.

Steven Finn had 94 FC wickets when he made his Test debut; Archer had 131. Finn had bowled 4858 deliveries; Archer 5953. Finn felt generational when he came through, and was just as quick as Archer, but was significantly more raw, less complete; Archer has more miles in the legs, and seems to know his game better. It’s not an exact comparison, for several important reasons but for two England quicks debuting near enough a decade apart, the differences are stark.

Archer’s debut match will live long in the collective memory, perhaps only clouded by his own future achievements and exploits. There is, already, a sense of “where were you” circling around the Smith delivery, a ball bowled in the fifth spell of his Test match career. All being well, there’s so much to come in this young man’s career – for England, his arrival is the most important since Kevin Pietersen. It feels, in earnest, like the beginning of a new era of English cricket.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: Archer v Smith

Ben Jones analyses an astonishing passage of play.

Today was about two men.

Jofra Archer, a shyly ambling young man who, it seems, is yet to understand the full extent of his powers. Steve Smith, the greatest since the greatest, on a mission to return the urn to Australia for the first time since he was 12 years old, a childhood dream fulfilled. The classically perfect bowler, the unorthodox world-beating batsman; the racehorse, the shire horse; the genius, the genius.

The stage was set, the other players merely extras. This, this right here, was what we came to see.

***

Australia come out after lunch, 155-5, and Archer started his spell. Nobody knew what was coming up. Nobody was braced for what is about to happen. Cricket gives few clues.

At first, it was subtle. Archer had Smith jumping a bit – that’s notable, in itself, for the rarity of it if nothing else. Balls were missing the middle of a bat that can often seem a metre wide, sometimes missing the bat altogether. There was a rising sense of anticipation. Something was happening, something was in the air.

Eyes started to turn to the speed gun. 90mph. 92mph. 95mph. The numbers that the television graphics were throwing out, the figures being shown on the scoreboard in the ground, are the sort English fans are used to seeing when their side are batting, not bowling. Once a generation, they get a bowler capable of hitting those speeds – a Flintoff, a Harmison, a Finn, a Wood – but never with the certainty and swagger of Archer, never with the confidence that what was happening was not a flash in the pan. Never has England been so sure that this guy, this guy, he’s for real.

And, faced with that, Smith was hooking. He does do that, against such bowling; 45% of his shots to balls pitching 10m or shorter, are either hooks or pulls. But to do it to a man visibly so pumped, so obviously harnessing the swirling excitement of a crowd, to keep taking him on knowing that your wicket is the key to the game, to gamble the game with every horizontal stroke, with every high handed swoop across the line? At times, it feels as if Steve Smith is a different creature to the rest of us. Outside of Australia, Smith has almost never faced a quicker spell. Morne Morkel averaged 147kph against Smith in February 2014 – but that’s it. This was the greatest Test batsman of the modern era facing one of the toughest tests he’s ever faced. And he was going after it.

The 71st over was the first in which the drama crystallised into a single, discernible moment of clarity, as Archer struck Smith on the arm with a vicious, lifting delivery. When he’s set, that doesn’t happen to Smith. It was just the ninth time in his Test career that he’s been hit having faced more than 100 balls. In seconds it had swollen up almost to the size of the ball that caused it. A warning.

Then in the next over, Archer stamped his youthful authority onto English cricket’s history, and demanded that all the talk of white ball specialists and stamina was put to bed as he hit his peak in terms of raw speed. The average speed – 92.79mph – made it the fastest over by an Englishman in Tests, where data is available. Nobody has stood at the top of their mark, the three lions on their chest, and sent down a faster over with a red ball.

It was remarkable. This was a man on Test debut, a child in international terms, charging in like a seasoned veteran, like an experienced member of the elite. It was the third fastest spell by an England bowler (excluding slower balls), for when that information is available.

It’s a minuscule sample size, of course, but Archer has rattled the best. He has forced him into a false shot with 29% of his deliveries; nobody to bowl more than 10 balls at Smith can say they have done better. This is a man who averaged over 90 against the short ball in the last three years, a man more than capable of dealing with the best. It’s a record which will fall away, undoubtedly, but against a man of Smith’s genius, even brief dominance is remarkable.

At one point, Archer bowled 16 deliveries in a row that were all over 90mph, the momentum gathering, the temperature rising. You could feel the ink being stroked into the history books, the words being written onto the page, It was a firework flying higher, higher into the sky.

Then it exploded.

Steve Smith doesn’t get hit. Trent Boult, in 2015; Neil Wagner, in 2016; Ben Stokes, last week. He has faced 11758 balls in Test cricket, and those are the three times that a bowler has hit him on the head/neck. The three times before today, that is.

Archer’s delivery didn’t do that much that you wouldn’t expect. It was 147kph, but we knew that Archer bowled quick; he’s bowled quicker deliveries in the Test. What it did do was really, really get up on Smith. Similar deliveries, pitching on that length, bounced about 20cm less. That’s the difference between wearing one on the arm, and wearing one on the helmet. It took the intervention of the earth, a clump of grass or dried mud where it shouldn’t be, to get through him.

It’s important to not gloss over the sensation in the ground in the moments after. When he fell to the floor, on his front, it was as if Lord’s had been plunged into deep, cold water, a grim silence enveloping all around. The ground felt sick, submerged in a thick blanket of dread and fearful anticipation.

Archer stood apart from the rush of medics and concern, nervously laughing as Jos Buttler tried to calm his colleague, a 24 year old man who feared that perhaps he’s just been responsible for the worst thing that could happen on a sports field, that could happen anywhere. A 24 year old man doing his job, doing it well, doing nothing wrong.

This is the trade off, isn’t it. This is the fire we’re playing with, the flames we dance around in those heightened moments. The thrill of cricket played at that high pace is that, implicitly, just below the surface is a layer of danger we try not to acknowledge. How could you? How could you genuinely enjoy the spectacle of furious risk and reward that is fast bowling, with that at the forefront of your mind?

The Australian dressing room say that Smith was cleared to bat, and sat waiting for 10 minutes before finally walking out. We can only wonder what on earth can have been going through his mind in those moments. Perhaps he was thinking of himself, of what could have happened, of what could have been. Perhaps he was thinking of similar situations, of absent friends, alone with us all in newly stinging recollection.

Seemingly, and unsurprisingly given it was Steve Smith, he was thinking about batting – for his sake, you hope he was. Justin Langer says that Smith said “I can’t get on the honours board unless I get out there”. Smith is a remarkable man, but in truth, Smith’s return to the field felt like an unwanted, uncomfortable sequel to the perfection that preceded it. We didn’t need it, and we needn’t linger on it.

What we should linger on, for as long as we can, is the pure joy of watching the best against the best, the fastest a nation can offer against another nation’s most capable. Lord’s has seen some sights – plenty this summer alone – but it’s rarely seen a day like today. Jofra Archer, against Steven Smith, was one of the great contests.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: Cameron Bancroft

Ben Jones analyses the Australian opener.

Cameron Bancroft doesn’t look great. That’s generally the case, and it’s been true this summer, but it was particularly true today. Under cloudy skies and floodlights on a grisly morning at Lord’s, batting was never going to be easy. At times, Bancroft made it look impossible.

30.3% of his shots brought an edge or a miss – almost twice every six balls. The last time an Australian batted for as long with that little control was November 2016. Part of his charm as a player is that Bancroft’s technique dictates that when he misses the ball, he often gets hit, preferring to wear some deliveries than risk nicking off. Bravery shouldn’t mask the fact that ideally you don’t miss the ball in the first place.

It was hard to watch that period and think, sincerely, that this was an opener of genuine Test quality. The Test openers that Australia could have picked alongside David Warner were Marcus Harris, Joe Burns, or Bancroft himself. Could the other two candidates have done better?

Harris’ case is made on the weight of runs he’s made in Shield cricket. In the last decade, only five players have passed the 1,000 run mark in a season, Harris and Wade both doing so this season just gone. Off the back of that form, Harris was blooded in the home series against India, the world No.1s, and a side who smelt blood, knowing that history was there for the making.

Spending a summer getting peppered by Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami is a tough introduction to Test cricket, but Harris passed the test. No Australian averaged more in that series, no Australian scored more runs. Yet two middling Tests against Sri Lanka later, and he was dropped.

Burns has made runs in domestic cricket, runs aplenty, but the bulk of his worth has been proved in Test cricket. Four centuries in 28 innings (one every seven knocks, the same as Ricky Ponting and better than Michael Clarke and Michael Hussey) is testament to his quality at this level. He arrived in England this summer, made a century at Arundel in the warm-up match then was not-out in the second innings, and was then sent home, unselected.

Using that most blunt of analytical tools, the batting average, we can see that Burns has offered substantially more than Harris, who has offered substantially more than Bancroft. In raw returns, Bancroft’s performance is alarmingly poor.

It’s relevant how those runs are made, of course – but in terms of risk and control, Burns is again far and away the outstanding candidate. Just 11% of the deliveries bowled to him have brought an edge or a miss, well below the Test average of 14%, and comfortably below either Harris or Bancroft. You would imagine that this has a predictive quality for how a player will go in the long run.

The accusation often thrown at Burns is that he’s made easy runs – we can interrogate this. Our Expected Wickets model uses historical ball-tracking data to calculate what we’d expect the average batsman to score against any given set of deliveries. As you can see, the bowling Burns has faced has an Expected Average of 33.3, the “easiest” of the three opening candidates, whilst Bancroft has faced the “toughest” deliveries.

However, Burns still outperformed what we’d expect. Burns’ average is almost seven runs-per-dismissal higher than we’d expect given the quality of the bowling he’s faced. Harris, even amidst that Bumrah bombardment, is not much further behind. Bancroft on the other hand actually averages less than you’d expect the average batsman to do against the balls he’s faced. He is under-performing.

Of course, Bancroft’s defining contribution in this Test has not been with the bat, but in the field. His catch to dismiss Rory Burns on Day 2 was an outstanding piece of work, and is indicative of his general quality as a fielder. Since the start of 2018, his fielding has saved Australia 20 runs a match, illustrating that his value to the team does extend beyond his contribution with the bat. By contrast, Harris’ fielding saves nine runs-per-match, and Burns just five. This deserves to be taken into consideration.

Yet it’s not easy to see, from a pure batting-focused perspective, why Bancroft is in this team. Perhaps it’s a selection based on character, Bancroft embodying a certain kind of Western Australian grit that Langer wants to thread throughout this XI. By all accounts, Burns does not necessarily have those qualities, and neither does Harris. Those qualities can have value, without a doubt, but the cost is a cricketing one.

Australia will probably draw this match as a result of the rain, but they have a strong chance of taking this series; that may see Bancroft’s place unthreatened, carried along on a wave of success like George Bailey in 2013/14. Should Australia start to struggle in this series, if Smith’s form drops off and others are unable to fill the space behind him, then Bancroft’s character will suddenly start to seem rather less valuable; runs will become currency, and all signs point to the idea that Burns, or to a lesser degree Harris, would score more runs than the incumbent opener.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: New Ball Comparison

Ben Jones analyses how the two sides used the new ball on Day 2 of the Lord’s Test.

It’s not a very Australian thing to do, inserting the opposition. The last time they did so, back in February 2016, was the last Test James Pattinson played before his injury woes returned and kept him away from this level for three years. Plenty has happened in Australian cricket since that day.

Typically, such a move is seen as the aggressive one. Get on the front foot, slice through the top order, bundle them out. Yet today it didn’t feel like that – this was rather different . The pitch at Lord’s was never going to be the sort of surface where the ball darted around and bowlers ran in expecting wickets every ball; according to PitchViz calculations, this is the slowest Lord’s surface on record.

Yet Australia had a plan. They were going to lay a tightrope, and force England to walk across.

Before Josh Hazlewood last came to England, he was hyped beyond belief. Here was an Australian quick not in the Mitchell Johnson mould, or even the Brett Lee mould – this was a man cut from the same cloth as Glenn McGrath. He was going to come to England and rip the poms apart on green seamers, finding that nagging length with which McGrath had taunted England for over a decade. 

In practice, Hazlewood struggled slightly, because he couldn’t find the right length. Perhaps enticed by promise of nip and swing, perhaps emboldened by his rising reputation, but he tried a bit too hard and pushed the ball that bit too full to be consistently effective. 43% of his deliveries were full, too many not on that 6m-8m length, in-between front foot and back foot, getting the batsman hopping. He has never bowled that full in any other Test series.

Today, he showed that he understood what his issue was, and that he’d learned his lesson. He wasn’t going to be caught out again, because his opening spell was extraordinary for how often he found that good zone. 72% of his deliveries were on a good line and length,  the most he’s ever recorded in an opening spell, the most almost anyone has recorded ever. It’s the fifth highest figure for an opening spell (minimum 36 deliveries) in the entire CricViz database, going back to 2006. Any Test, anywhere. McGrath, on this ground in 2005, managed 53%. Hazlewood smashed that.

In support, Cummins was playing the same tune. If anything, he’s a man who tends to err on the short side, slamming the ball into the pitch just back of a length. 63% of his deliveries in that opening spell were on a good length, the highest figure he’s ever recorded in an opening spell. Hazlewood’s good work was not going to be undone at the other end.

England – your move. With that degree of pressure put on them, England’s batsmen weren’t able to cope. Jason Roy didn’t need that much persuading to leave the crease, but Australia weren’t giving the others much option either.

Dismissed for 258, England’s bowlers were forced to strap on their boots and get to work for an hour this evening. Yet the contrast to Australia’s opening spells was stark. The calm sense of There’s a kind of manic fury to being given an hour with the new ball. The mini-session is a discrete thing, bowling spells unlikely to impact too much on tiredness later in the innings, getting in of little value. It seems to produce different cricket.

Stuart Broad pitched 37% of his deliveries full, more than any other bowler in the Test; whilst his line was loose, he was determined to give the ball every chance to swing, despite fears that this batch are not quite as amenable to doing so as the 2018 variety. Removing Warner was his reward. At the other end, Jofra Archer was steaming in and finding considerable seam movement, 0.9° comfortably more than anyone else – but with only 39% of his deliveries in the channel outside off (the lowest percentage of any seamer today) it’s effectiveness was limited. 

Australia’s seamers hit a good length 61% of the time in the first 15 overs. England managed 45%. Jofra Archer and Stuart Broad were bowling more full balls than Australia had, more short balls too, trying to make something happen because their window to perform was so much smaller. They were bowling like they were trying to make up for five hours of bad, with one hour of good.

Of course, Australia’s approach this morning is a consequence of the series situation. They are 1-0 up, after all. They have the England batting line up worrying, pushing people up and down the order looking for the right combination, everyone questioning their place in the team. Sitting back, allowing the opposition to make their own mistakes, and just keep enough pressure on to ensure those mistakes are punished, makes sense. England, backed into a corner in both the series and the match, did not have the luxury of potentially being too passive. However, it may have cost them. That opening session only brought two wickets, but it set the tempo for the play, and showed Australia that as long as they did the basics right, England would subside. Hazlewood’s brilliance is hard to match, but England weren’t even close to it.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: How do you get Steve Smith out?

Ben Jones analyses how to dismiss the Australian legend.

It’s the question on the lips of a nation. How on earth do England get Steve Smith out?

This is a man who averages more than any batsman in history barring the undisputed greatest, and frustratingly for English bowlers, they can’t stop running into him. They’ve been dominated by him in 2017, 2018, and 2019, his 12 month ban falling rather nicely in terms of allowing his Ashes brutality to continue, uninterrupted. He averages 92.56 in his last 11 Ashes matches, and he shows no sign of stopping.

There’s no avoiding him – so they need to come up with as many ways of getting Smith out as they possible can. Here are a few ideas.

SLOW LEFT ARM

Australian fans have known it for a while, keeping pretty quiet on the matter – but Smith does have a significantly worse record against left-arm finger spin than against other bowlers. Indeed, his average against it is his lowest against any bowling type, scoring just 35 runs per dismissal.

There’s context, of course. Broadly, Smith’s issues have been against top-class left-arm spinners; Rangana Herath, Ravindra Jadeja and Keshav Maharaj have all dismissed him multiple times at very attractive averages. However, there’s enough evidence that he does still struggle against mediocre left-arm spinners; Dean Elgar has dismissed him twice in 41 balls. For whatever technical reason, there is something about the angle which disturbs Smith.

More specifically, he’s disturbed by the direction of spin, because while it’s most notable when facing the left-arm spinners, it’s the fact that the ball is spinning away which causes the real trouble. You would always expect a batsman to prefer playing balls spinning into them, but you wouldn’t expect the difference in average to be so pronounced.

As such, England have a relatively easy decision to make. Moeen Ali has been bullied by Smith over a prolonged period (3 wickets @ 114, and looks bereft of confidence with bat and ball. Selecting the Somerset finger-spinner Jack Leach gives them a clear advantage when building a plan to Smith, and has the added benefit of removing an out of form player.

Recommendation: Pick Jack Leach

HIGH RELEASE

Archer’s return is important for England. Firstly, it will allow them to field the more traditional 11 players in the second Test, rather than the ten they made do with at Edgbaston. Secondly, he’s a brilliant bowler in excellent form off the back of a triumphant World Cup campaign. However, the oft-cited third benefit – that Archer’s pace could unsettle even Steve Smith – is potentially a bit too optimistic. As a raw fact, Smith doesn’t struggle against 90mph+ bowling. He batters it.

However, Archer’s return does have a third benefit – more significant than his pace is the height from which he releases the ball. In the World Cup Jofra Archer’s release point was, on average, 2.15m off the ground. In Test cricket, Smith has shown some vulnerability to bowlers releasing the ball from that height, or higher.

Once the ball is coming from that high release, the most influential factor is the line, rather than length. If you can find the channel outside off stump from that release height, Smith averages just 23.28. Archer’s defining skill as a bowler is his control of line, so he is the perfect blend of ability and physique to execute this strategy.

Recommendation – Select Jofra Archer, target the channel outside off

PATIENCE

In the 2017/18 Ashes, Joe Root has shown an admirable willingness to try lots and lots of different plans to Smith. Leg-slips, close catchers, lopsided fields, men on the fence – he has been keen to keep Smith guessing, to not let him settle against any particular mode of attack.

It’s a good trait to have, that flexible optimism. But trying to match Smith’s quirky technique with a quirky dismissal is flawed thinking. As many batting experts have observed over the years, despite all the idiosyncrasies in Smith’s technique and the odd positions he gets into, when he addresses the ball, his head is normally very still and his bat very straight. He still does the basics as a coaching manual would suggest you should. So bowlers should do the same.

Smith’s weakness against pace is the same as anyone else – on a good length, in the channel outside off stump. The natural pattern with Smith is that bowlers hang it in that zone, then dart it back in to try and pin him LBW. Generally, Smith deals with it rather well, given that he averages 45.37 against balls on his stumps. The key is in not getting drawn in, not losing focus, and not going for the magic ball.

You can mix in those early bouncers, to try and shock him before he gets going, but as a default, there is nothing wrong with just sticking in that channel. It’s boring, but so is watching the star player of your sworn cricketing enemies bat for day upon day. As the graphic below shows, Smith doesn’t get “set” against those deliveries on a good length outside off. They are almost as effective when he’s faced 150 balls as when he’s faced 50. Stick at it, and you’ll be rewarded.

Recommendation – Stay patient with Plan A

***

Overall, it’s hard to maintain any real optimism when bowling to Steve Smith. The only way you can maintain a positive mindset is to come prepared with different strategies, and to acknowledge that his dominance has little to do with your own failings as a bowler. He is better than you, but you only need to be better than him for one ball.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: Nathan Lyon

Patrick Noone looks at how Nathan Lyon spun Australia to victory at Edgbaston.

For a spinner, the fourth innings of a Test match is something of a double-edged sword. Particularly in turning conditions, there is an expectation that the spinner will step up and win the game for the team bowling second, using conditions to their advantage and running through the opposition.

It is something of a unique, lonely pressure within cricket. Yes, all players are constantly required to contribute to their team’s chances, either through weight of runs or wickets, but it’s rare that players who perform other roles find themselves in a scenario in which they’re expected to step up and deliver the telling blow in the same way as a spinner is required to do in the fourth innings.

It’s a pressure that not all spinners are able to deal with. Often there are match situations where we all think ‘the stage is set for so-and-so’ but they’re unable to deliver. Today was not one of those occasions for Nathan Lyon.

Before this Test, Lyon’s record was a peculiar one in that he averaged more with the ball in the fourth innings of matches than any other. Only fractionally, but enough to make Lyon an anomaly among spinners worldwide; overall, spinners average 28.08 in the fourth innings in the last 20 years, compared to 41.80, 36.85 and 31.08 in innings one, two and three, respectively.

In England, Lyon was even more unusual before today. His fourth innings average on these shores was an astronomical 65.50, far higher than the overall spinners’ average of 27.22.

But on an Edgbaston pitch that was offering an average of 5.0° of turn, more than any previous match at this venue since 2006, Lyon was able to deliver the kind of performance his captain needed, taking six wickets to spin Australia to a 1-0 series lead.

Edgbaston has been a spin-friendly venue this summer. The World Cup match between New Zealand and Pakistan was memorable for the prodigious spin on offer, even for the likes of Mitchell Santner and Kane Williamson. In the County Championship, spinners have averaged 19.42 in Birmingham, the lowest of any venue in the competition.

Simply having conditions in your favour is no guarantee of success though, and Lyon has not always been able fulfil that traditional role of final innings, fifth day destroyer. Today though, Lyon was on the money right from his introduction in the 18th over, up until his double wicket strike that removed Moeen Ali and Stuart Broad, finally killing off any lingering hopes England might have had of saving the game.

Lyon landed 52% of the balls he bowled today on a good line and length, the most accurate he’s ever been on the fifth day of a Test. There was not much that Lyon did that was spectacular, but he did the basics exceptionally well. He is not a bowler with a plethora of variations to experiment with. Rather than doosras and carrom balls, it was simply high quality off-spin bowling; dragging his length back a touch to the right-handers to bring short leg into play if he could find some uneven bounce, pitching it fuller and wider to the left-handers in order to turn it away and draw the outside edge.

Of Lyon’s six victims, only Jason Roy can be said to have got himself out, rather than be got out, when he charged down the pitch and was bowled. Each of the other five fell into the traps Lyon had set – right-handers Joe Root and Joe Denly prodding to short leg, left-handers Ben Stokes, Moeen and Broad edging to slip.

The ups and downs of Lyon’s career have been well-documented, and it has not always been the case that he’s been an automatic selection, remarkable as that seems on the day he took his 350th wicket in Tests. As recently as 2016, his position in the side was under threat, but there are few who can doubt his claim to be the best red ball spinner in world cricket right now.

Confidence, that precious commodity sought by all sportspeople, is something that Lyon has in abundance right now. Confidence to know that he can be trusted to perform the dual role of holding up and end as well as taking wickets. Confidence to know that when he’s thrown the ball in the fourth innings, he can step up and win the game for Australia.

Comparisons will inevitably be made between the performances of Lyon and Moeen, a player for whom confidence is so often the difference between soaring successes and spectacular failures. Those comparisons are somewhat unfair on Moeen in the sense that Lyon is simply a better bowler and mastered his craft as an off-spinner many years prior to his opposite number.

But the gulf can rarely have been wider between the two spinners than it was across days four and five. Moeen, who toiled gamely for little reward until Joe Denly’s part-time leg-spin was preferred to him, was unable to take the wickets England desperately needed to retain the initiative in the match.

Lyon, on the other hand, stepped up and delivered what was required with confidence, skill and wickets. Steve Smith was player of the match, but Lyon was player of the day; he’ll be leading the victory song with a little more gusto than normal.

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.

@patnoonecricket

CricViz Analysis: Matthew Wade’s century

Patrick Noone looks at how Matthew Wade showed England he’s more than just Australia’s mongrel spirit animal.

Matthew Wade’s latest crack at Test cricket has already been more successful than his previous one. Back in 2016, Wade was one of the beneficiaries of the selectorial carnage that followed Australia being bowled out for 85 by South Africa in Hobart. Incumbent wicketkeeper Peter Nevill was dropped, and Wade was given the gloves, with selector Trevor Hohns not ruling out that one of the reasons for Wade’s callup being to add ‘mongrel’ to a team that was perceived as having a soft centre.

Back then, Wade’s inclusion made little sense from a cricketing point of view. He was averaging 28.25 in the Sheffield Shield, the second lowest of all the regular wicketkeepers in the competition. Modest returns for a batsman of his ability, who already had two Test hundreds to his name from his earlier spell in the Test team in 2012 and 2013, but apparently enough to reclaim the gloves at the highest level.

Wade’s return to the fold lasted ten matches, during which he scored 263 runs in 16 innings. A half century on a tricky pitch in a losing cause in Dharamsala was the highlight, but after three successive single figure scores in Bangladesh, Wade was quietly cast aside in favour of Tim Paine for the 2017-18 Ashes.

Since then, Paine’s ascension to the role of Test captain meant that the door appeared closed to Wade regaining his spot as wicketkeeper batsman, at least for the time being. The only route back to the Test side for Wade was to play as a specialist batsman. Mongrel or not, what he needed were runs.

Largely free of the gloves in the 2018-19 Sheffield Shield season – he kept wicket in just three of Tasmania’s ten matches – Wade had by far his most prolific season against the red ball, plundering 1021 runs, surpassing his next highest tally in a domestic First Class season by 344 runs.

Only Marcus Harris made more runs than him last season, and he was already in the Australia team during their home summer. Wade was the next cab off the rank, the one banging the door down and probably a few more clichés besides. From being picked for spurious, non-cricket reasons, Wade is back in the big time after making a case with the bat that simply couldn’t be ignored any longer.

His innings today began in ominous fashion, from an England point of view. An over-pitched delivery from Joe Denly was driven disdainfully to the cover boundary, the first of 41 balls he would play in that region, the first of seven fours he would lace to the fence in that area of the field. It will have helped to settle any nerves that might have been there after he missed out in the first innings, perhaps provided a sense that yes, he did belong on this stage.

It might seem a strange thing to say about an innings that literally started with a boundary, but Wade’s was a measured century in which he moved through the gears, attacking more and more as it progressed until he resorted to all-out attack in the latter third of his knock. His wicket only fell as a result of him looking to kick on some more; an aggressive lofted pull shot that couldn’t quite clear the man at deep backward square leg.

Sure, with Australia 205-4 and already 115 runs ahead, it was a nice time to come to the crease, but Wade’s contribution dealt England an almighty blow. When he came in to bat, England’s WinViz was still 50%; by the time he was dismissed, it was just 2%.

Steve Smith will rightly take most of the headlines for another astonishing century, his second of the match on his return to the side, but Wade proved himself a more than reliable lieutenant to both his former and his current captain. It was across the course of his partnerships of 126 with Smith and 76 with Paine that England’s thoughts turned from thinking it was a game they could still win to a game that had to try and not lose.

It’s unwise to predict how long Wade’s latest stint in the Test team will last. Even with this hundred under his belt, there is no guarantee that he will be in possession of that Baggy Green for a prolonged period – just ask Joe Burns. There have been a few decisions made by the Australian selectors that have raised a few eyebrows recently, but Wade has done all he can to justify a proper run in the side, both back home in domestic cricket and now in his maiden appearance in an Ashes Test.

The irony is that the attitude Wade demonstrated today is far more valuable to Australia than the fighting spirit, to put it kindly, that was required by earlier regimes. Wade has shown he can add more than just ‘mongrel’ to this Australian setup. Today he demonstrated great temperament, a sharp reading of the match situation and no shortage of skill to help propel Australia towards a Test match win, one cover drive at a time.

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.

@patnoonecricket

CricViz Analyis: Moeen Ali

Patrick Noone looks at England’s mercurial all-rounder, whose batting reached a new low at Edgbaston on Day three.

Moeen Ali’s batting is falling off a cliff. If it hasn’t already fallen as far as it possibly can fall, it can’t have much further to go.

Today’s innings was his fourth duck from the eight innings he’s batted in 2019, a wretched run during which he’s also lost his place in the ODI team after going 29 innings without a half century.

Today’s dismissal felt like a nadir had been reached, a depth hitherto not plumbed by even the most languid, mercurial of batsmen. Being bowled while leaving the ball is not that uncommon – there have been 202 such dismissals since 2006, when information of that nature was first recorded. That’s roughly 7% of all the bowled dismissals in that time; a small amount, but not a negligible one.

Moeen isn’t even the first to be memorably bowled without offering a shot in an Ashes Test. Think of Shane Warne to Andrew Strauss at Edgbaston, or of Simon Jones to Michael Clarke at Old Trafford. But on each of those occasions, the batsman was dismissed by a truly exceptional piece of bowling; so much so that the latter example is remembered as much for the delivery itself as Mark Nicholas’ unguarded exclamation of ‘That. Is. Very. Good!’ as Clarke’s off-stump went cart-wheeling off behind him.

But today, Moeen wasn’t dismissed by a ball that was ‘Very. Good.’ It was a regulation ball from Nathan Lyon that pitched in line with off-stump, straightened a fraction, but not enough to not clatter into it as Moeen played for more turn than there was. Having faced the two previous balls from Lyon that were much straighter, pitching on an almost identical spot, Moeen thought the wider delivery would turn away from his stumps and wrongly thought it safe to leave.

According to our Expected Wickets model, the ball from Lyon had a 1.53% chance of taking a wicket, based on historical tracking data that takes into account drift, length and turn to assess the likelihood of any given ball taking a wicket. A ball with an xW figure of 1.53% chance is not a bad ball, but it neither remarkable nor exceptional.

Lyon bowled 264 balls in England’s innings, 110 of them had a higher chance of taking a wicket than the one that Moeen fatefully let go. The wicket ball was in the upper midtable of Lyon’s deliveries; a Leicester City of a ball – solid, competent and capable of causing the odd problem, but not at a level to consistently challenge the very best.

For Moeen to misjudge it so spectacularly was indicative of a batsman in the worst form of his life, of a scrambled mind unable to organise a technique that is so free-flowing and thrilling to watch when all the working parts are in order.

This is a batsman whose first Test hundred was a 281-ball vigil that took England to the brink of saving a Test. This is also a batsman who scored 102 from 57 balls in an ODI less than two years ago. He has shown that he can bat in several different ways and with great success, but there is no doubt now that this is his most prolonged period of poor form with the willow.

Moeen’s career has always been a peculiar tale. Called up in 2014 to replace Graeme Swann as England’s premier spinner, despite resolutely being a batsman who bowled, rather than the other way around. Since then, he has slowly metamorphosised into a bowling all-rounder; a maverick lower order batsman who might ‘come off’ rather than a frontline batsman in the team through weight of runs. While with the ball, he’s proven himself capable of bowling out even the very best players of spin, particularly in home conditions.

The oddity about Moeen’s travails with the bat are that he has rarely been so confident with ball in hand as he is now. You can tell when Moeen is at his best from the energy in his delivery stride. That extra bit of oomph allows him to put more action on the ball and more revs lead to more drift. In 2017, his most successful home summer, Moeen found, on average, 2.5° of drift. It led to him taking 30 wickets in seven matches, including a hat-trick to win the Test against South Africa at The Oval.

In two Tests so far this summer, Moeen has found 2.2° of drift and he looks back to something close to his best after his Antipodean ordeals in 2017-18. Today he was admittedly expensive, but still picked up the wicket of Cameron Bancroft and bowled a reasonable line and length throughout his nine overs; no long hops, no full tosses, just dependable off-spin bowling.

After Jack Leach’s 92 as nightwatchman against Ireland, there were calls in some quarters for Moeen to be left out of the XI for this Test in favour of the Somerset man. Leach is a fine bowler who would not have let England down and, in hindsight, might have been useful in the first innings given Steve Smith’s relatively weak record against left-arm spin (he ‘only’ averages 35).

But to suggest that Moeen is not worth his place in the side on bowling alone would be wrong. He averages 29.76 against left-handers in Tests and Australia have four left-handers in their top six. Leach might be the better option to Smith, but Moeen is the better option to just about everyone else, even Bancroft, the only other right-hander in Australia’s top order.

With the game delicately poised and the tourists on the cusp of batting themselves into a good position on a fourth day pitch, Moeen’s role tomorrow will be a big one. He missed out in eye-catching style with the bat, but you wouldn’t bet against him having the last laugh with the ball.

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.

@patnoonecricket