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CricViz Analysis: Kuldeep and Chahal

Ben Jones analyses India’s spin twins.

Wrist-spinners are en vogue. Everybody knows it. Any team who’s anyone is sporting one, the distractingly aggressive accessory to every ODI side on the block. They add flair, danger, a touch of unpredictability to a format which, whilst superb, can drift into the formulaic if left without intervention.

India don’t wear one. They wear two – and damn, it looks good.

Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav both play for India, both in the same XI, both in the same attack. They’re both wrist-spinners, one left-handed -and one right-handed, turning the ball opposite ways yet offering the same cocktail of potential runs and potential wickets, the same aggressive option. They are the aces up both sleeves.

It’s not hyperbole to talk in these terms, as much as the thrill of watching them does invite it, because these two take wickets like almost nobody else. The only spinner (min 100 overs) to have a better strike rate than Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal is Rashid Khan, who whilst an undoubtedly elite bowler, has benefited in a statistical sense from playing associate nations in that time. Both Kuldeep and Chahal have an economy of less than a-run-a-ball in that time, incision and control in a single stroke.

Essentially, these two form the most potent ODI spin partnership in the world. They are brutally effective in the middle overs, taking wickets at an average of just 25.49, spinning webs across the second Powerplay, snaring victims with ease. When the ball softens, the threaten intensifies; these are two young men utterly suited to the particular challenge of ODI bowling in 2019.

They have slightly different methods, as you’d hope. It makes them a more compelling pair. Kuldeep turns the ball slightly less than Chahal, not a lot less, but less.

Kuldeep compensates for the lessened raw threat by increasing his variation, bowling a googly every four deliveries. As a left-arm wrist-spinner, he already benefits from being an unknown entity, but he multiplies the confusion in the batsman’s mind by cycling through his various deliveries. A pattern is never established. Kuldeep’s main threat is his range.

Chahal is more of a traditional legspinner. He challenges the outside edge of the right-hander with significant spin, the threat magnified by the amount of drift he puts on the ball. Chahal’s deliveries move 1.6° laterally through the air, 25% more than Kuldeep. He’s a flight and guile, do ’em in the air then off the pitch sort of bowler.

It’s not only the mechanics that differ, but also the strategies. Chahal targets the stumps more than Kuldeep; his more dependable line and length allows him to go at the stumps more, bringing LBW and bowled more into play. Kuleep is wilder, looser, a little more unpredictable and a little less reliable.

That’s not a criticism of Kuldeep, of course. His slightly less regimented feel is not a downside. Like the other great under-appreciated attacking bowler of the last few years, Mitchell Starc, Kuldeep is far too often seen as a burden as a result of his flaws, rather than an asset as a result of his strengths. In the last ten years, only Starc has a better Expected Strike Rate than Kuldeep, a measure built on historical ball-tracking data which assess the chances that any given delivery will take a wicket. Kuldeep’s deliveries are almost comically attacking, and no other spinner in the world can claim to be more so. He is phenomenal.

The Indian selectors, and Virat Kohli, deserve a bit of credit for the way these two young men have flourished. They haven’t been treated like mavericks who can float in and out of the side when spark is required; they are fundamental cogs in the machinery of this team. No bowler has played more often for India since the Champions Trophy Final than Kuldeep Yadav, who has played 46 matches. No other frontline spinner in the world has played as often. Kohli’s India have, in this aspect of the game at least, embraced risk.

Yet despite all this, they might not both play tomorrow. India might look at the way Pakistan dealt with the short ball in Nottingham a few matches ago, and bombard them with pace. Shami could come into the side, most likely for Kuldeep given his slightly poorer form. But that would be a mistake.

It doesn’t really matter what the match is, really. Kuldeep and Chahal are the best spin pairing in the world, and not playing them as an appeasement to match-ups is a misunderstanding of how that strategy works. You tweak your secondary players, adapting to the strengths of the opposition’s best players. Kuldeep and Chahal are not secondary; they’re crucial. The fear of them in the middle takes wickets for Bumrah at the top and bottom of the innings. And yet, there’s a better reason for picking them.

India’s dominance, both on and off the field, makes them unlikeable. It’s a tough truth, but it’s one that is also true of England, and to a lesser extent Australia. Kohli’s brilliance is alluring, but in a terrifying sort of way. Bumrah is a freak, a genius, but for great swathes of the innings he’s not bowling. Within that context, it’s important to throw a bone to the general cricketing public, sell them an entertainer to get them through the door. Kuldeep and Chahal are the heart of this side, the beat that keeps on ticking from either end, but they are also the hook that pulls the neutral in. You can’t watch these two young men – neither of whom look like what you imagine an elite athlete to look like – bowling their incessantly aggressive lines and lengths, and not feel warmly towards them. They’re the obviously likeable core to this India side. Tomorrow, a billion people will be watching this match. More than half will be cheering on Kuldeep and Chahal – and not only those in Indian colours.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

Tracking Trends: Analysing the first Powerplay

Freddie Wilde analyses the battle for the first Powerplay in the first innings in this World Cup. 

One major trend already emerging from this 2019 World Cup is a clear and obvious preference among toss winners to choose to field first. In 14 of the 17 matches that have had a toss the toss winner has chosen to field – this proportion of 82% is the highest ever in a World Cup. 

Since the 2015 World Cup 48% of toss winners have chosen to field first meaning this significant preference is unique to the tournament, rather than being part of a cyclical trend.

The bar chart above shows how the 18% of toss winners choosing to bat first is the second lowest ever in a World Cup behind the 1979 tournament when only 14% of toss winners chose to bat. 

The clear preference for fielding first has not translated into results. So far chasing teams have won 53% of matches.

The driving force for teams choosing to field first in this tournament appears to be the combination of a fresh pitch and an early 10.30 am start – and perhaps buying into the idea of ‘classical’ English conditions – which has persuaded captains to bowl first. Indeed in 12 of the 17 matches when the toss winners have chosen to field first the winning captain has justified his decision by making reference to one of these factors. 

Analysis of ball-tracking data shows that this justification does not live up to scrutiny. The average swing and seam in the first ten overs of either innings is almost identical. Bowling first has not produced any more lateral movement, either in the air or off the pitch. 

Of course this might partly be explained by the bowlers who have been bowling those overs. However, using CricViz’s unique PitchViz models which evaluate conditions by adjusting for the bowler, we can show that PitchViz Swing and Deviation figures are also almost identical in both innings. 

Swing and seam in cricket remain mysterious areas of the game. It is a common assumption that fresh pitches, cloudy skies and early starts encourage lateral movement, but in this World Cup at least, that has not been the case. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly given the relative similarity in conditions batting teams have fared very similarly in the first Powerplay in both innings – in fact teams batting first have been marginally more successful, averaging 44.25 runs per wicket compared to 42.63 batting second. 

Admittedly finding early lateral movement is not the only justification for fielding first, even if it is the one most regularly referenced by captains. Most notably choosing to chase avoids the difficult conundrum of working out what represents a par score on a certain pitch and at a certain venue. Just because the ball is not moving as much as expected in the first ten overs does not mean teams should necessarily not field first – although it is something that they should bear in mind. 

However, perhaps the most valuable lesson to be learnt from this is not for the bowling team but for the batting team. 

What is particularly interesting is that despite conditions not being notably more difficult in P1 in the first innings batting teams are playing with significantly more caution in that first period. Shot-type analysis shows that in the first innings teams are only attacking 30% of deliveries compared to the second innings where they attack 37%. Generally in ODI cricket teams that bat second are fractionally more aggressive than teams batting first – most likely because they are more aware of conditions – but typically that gap is smaller than we have seen in this tournament. 

The large gulf in this World Cup can most likely be explained by the same factor that is driving teams to bowl first to such an unusual degree: that is the assumption that conditions will assist seam bowlers in the first ten overs.

However, ball-tracking analysis shows this is not the case though and raises the possibility of batting first teams batting with more positivity in the first ten overs to better maximise the fielding restrictions in that phase. 

As the World Cup wears on it will be interesting to see if teams that bat first dare to bat with more aggression at the start of the innings as they begin to understand that the earlier start does not appear to be providing the bowling team with any discernible advantage. 

Freddie Wilde is an analyst at CricViz. @fwildecricket

CricViz Classics: Glenn Maxwell v Sri Lanka

Patrick Noone delves into the analytical archives to reflect on one of the most thrilling World Cup innings in recent memory.

When we look back at previous editions of the Cricket World Cup, it is often tempting to pick out features that have come to define each tournament. Whether it’s the start of India’s love affair with ODI cricket in 1983, the switch to coloured clothing in 1992 or the birth of the pinch-hitter in 1996, every tournament has something which sets it apart from the others.

In 2015, one of the enduring features was an unprecedented level of run scoring, particularly late in the innings. The regulations that allowed just four men outside the 30-yard circle in the last ten overs, in addition to a five-over batting Powerplay that permitted just three men outside and had to be taken before the 36th over, meant that teams had more licence than ever to tee off and turn the last 15 overs into a run-drenched slog-fest.

The run rate in the last 15 overs of the 2015 tournament was 7.45, the only time in the last five editions that that figure has been above six runs-per-over, let alone seven.

Australia’s Glenn Maxwell was the perfect player to take advantage of the 2015 regulations. The all-rounder had already lit up the tournament with 66 and 88 against England and Afghanistan, respectively and went into his side’s match against Sri Lanka at the Sydney Cricket Ground with a tournament strike rate of 189.02 from three innings.

Australia built a solid platform against Sri Lanka as fifties from Steve Smith and Michael Clarke guided them to 175-3, when the latter was dismissed for 68 in the 32nd over. That brought Maxwell to the crease and, after Smith got out four balls later, paired him with Shane Watson. It was the perfect storm for a player of Maxwell’s skillset: a platform had been laid, he was at the crease just before the batting Powerplay and had a batsman at the other end that didn’t require him to farm the strike.

What followed was one of the most destructive innings ever seen in a World Cup match. It wasn’t the fastest hundred in the tournament’s history – at 51 balls, it was one ball slower than Kevin O’Brien’s knock against England in 2011 – but there can be few centuries as eye-catching as this one.

Maxwell’s first show of aggression was off the seventh ball he faced when he charged Sachithra Senanayake, lofting a drive over mid-off for four. It was the first of six fours he struck off Sri Lanka’s spinners, with Seekkuge Prasanna coming in for the roughest of treatments.

The leg-spinner bowled 12 balls to Maxwell and conceded 34 runs. Five of those deliveries came in the 37th over and yielded 16 runs. From the first ball he faced, Maxwell disdainfully got down on one knee and carted Prasanna high into the stands over deep backward square leg. Two balls later, he cleared short third man with an impetuous reverse sweep that bounced once before reaching the rope.

Maxwell used the various kinds of sweep – conventional, slog and reverse – as his boundary options throughout his innings. Of the seven sweeps he played, four went for four and one for six. This meant that the majority of Maxwell’s boundaries came square of the wicket while, curiously, none occurred through mid-on.

Maxwell was never one for orthodoxy though, and the sheer audacity of some of his shot selection had already garnered him a cult following among cricket fans around the world. The phrase ‘Maxwellball’, a term invented to imply that Maxwell was playing a game different to everyone else, had been coined as early as November the previous year, but this was the innings he became mainstream. This was when he announced himself as a cricketer who belonged at the highest level and all talk of ‘potential’ was momentarily put to bed.  

That said, Maxwell played just one shot categorised as a ‘slog’ throughout his innings. Often, we hear commentators refer to batsmen playing ‘proper cricket shots’, meaning those which subscribe to a traditional technique, usually low risk, never slogs. Maxwell might not have been slogging, but some of the shots he was playing were decidedly improper, audacious to the point of rudeness. This was a different kind of batting – fearless, innovative and thrilling.

At the time, Maxwell’s innings felt like the start of something special; a player with all the talent in the world realising his potential and defining his role in the most emphatic fashion. As it is, this remains Maxwell’s sole ODI hundred, the apex of a perpetually uncertain 50-over career.

Changes in the fielding regulations following that tournament, allowing five fielders outside the circle in the last ten overs, have not helped him, nor have the peculiarities of the Australian selection process. Maxwell batted as low as seven in the home series against India in early 2019, while at other times he has been left out of squads and teams altogether.

There have been glimpses of Maxwell’s outrageous potential since that run-soaked afternoon in Sydney – a Test hundred in Ranchi, as well as three T20I tons – but none felt as seminal as that maiden international three figure score. On that day, we all got a peek at what a Maxwellball world would look like: bold, daring and above all, extremely fun.

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.

@PatrickNoone08

CricViz Analysis: The Batting Power of England and West Indies

Ben Jones reflects on the strength in these two brutal batting line-ups.

Tomorrow, England and West Indies meet in Southampton, for the fourth match of the campaign for both teams. The game has significant implications for the World Cup standings, with the loser facing a difficult (if not impossible) route to the semi-finals. Purely as a battle between two nations searching for glory, it’s a big occasion.

It won’t have escaped the attention of many that it’s also a game replete with narrative and backstory. The saga of Jofra Archer’s qualification has been discussed in depth for months, and it comes to a head tomorrow as he plays against the nation he ‘snubbed’ for England. What’s more, earlier this year Jason Holder’s side became the first team to avoid series defeat against England for over two years, and have a decent claim on being something of a bogey team. Yet perhaps the most important backdrop to this match is that the last time these two sides met in an ICC event, West Indies walked away with the World T20 title.

Then, back in the heady days of April 2016, England and the West Indies made it to the final playing similarly hard, ultra-attacking cricket. They were strategically similar, but in general discussion were different enough to be seen as representing different things, different worlds, different philosophies. One was an old side, one young; one the neutral’s favourite, one distinctly not; one won, one lost.

You can’t underestimate the impact that the World T20 had on the two squads currently camped out in the Hilton Hotel at the Ageas Bowl. That T20 mentality, that well-honed aggressive technique, has so obviously bled into the ODI sides; as England and West Indies go into Friday’s match, they are the two fastest scoring sides in the world this year.

That’s a fair crown, and one worth reflecting on – but these two batting line-ups have an even greater historical backdrop to their achievements. The England side of 2019, and the West Indies side of 2019, are the two fastest scoring teams, in a calendar year, in the history of ODI cricket.

That sort of performance doesn’t come by accident. It’s a clear result of their approaches; both teams are filled with hitters, aggressive stroke-makers who can clear the rope with impunity. The majority of men on either side have scored at quicker than a run a ball since the last World Cup, and the tactical similarities are clear. Each team only employs one ‘anchor’, who bats at No.3, and that player is extremely effective in their role. Joe Root and Shai Hope know their job, and they execute it expertly, while everyone else just goes hard.

Both have a decent mix of right-handers and left-handers, of players who boss spin and players who boss pace. These are sides built on the principles of T20, of how you construct a team in the shortest format. However, they do diverge slightly in some respects. England have maintained that high run rate through relentless, unerring attack. No squad at this World Cup has a higher attacking shot percentage.

Yet you can see that West Indies attacking shot percentage is relatively low, compared to what we know their run rate to be. Their secret is less the frenetic approach of England, and more in the mould of their talismanic opener. Chris Gayle starts slowly, picks his moments, and makes it count when he does choose to attack. That’s the make-up of the Windies side – their attacking strokes score more quickly than any other side at this World Cup. Both of these sides are achieving remarkable things in terms of scoring, but they are doing it in different ways.

Before we get too carried away, let’s throw in a shot of realism. One of the contradictions at the heart of both these sides is that whilst they can post 350, they often need to in order to win the game. Both England and West Indies have very, very leaky bowling attacks, and their economy rates this year are firmly rooted as among the worst around. Runs when they’re batting, runs when they’re bowling. Easy come, easy go.

That contradiction has made them two of the most entertaining sides in the world, two sides broadly guaranteed to provide wickets and runs at a greater rate than plenty others – sometimes for good reasons, sometimes not. There is plenty that binds these sides together, from that final in 2016, to Jofra Archer’s journey westwards, but their commitment to this style of cricket is the most base, the most structural, the most inescapable.

There are still differences between the two teams, as you’d expect. England’s side is built around a particular kind of fluidity, a surplus of all-rounders that ensures their sixth bowler (either Ben Stokes or Moeen Ali, depending on how you look at it) is a quality, genuine threat. They have two spinners, a wrist-spinner and a finger-spinner, plus four quicks who offer very different skills. Joe Root, their seventh bowler, is arguably better at his particular brand of rolling offies than Aiden Markram, at times used as South Africa’s sixth bowler. England match their batting depth with bowling depth. In the past, it’s been referred to – though more in the Test match arena – as Total Cricket.

By contrast, the West Indies revel in the relative one-dimensional nature of their attack. Ashley Nurse’s status in the side is as a borderline specialist fielder, which for a man not exactly held back by excessive athleticism, is an oddity. Tactically, and emotionally, Holder’s attack is built around pace – and lots of it. The quartet of Sheldon Cottrell, Oshane Thomas, Kemar Roach and Andre Russell have ensured that the Windies attack is plenty fuelled with fire, and they’ve been relentless in their bouncer barrage so far; no team has bowled short more often in this World Cup.

Yet even that classically West Indies pace tactic has began to eke its way into the England dressing room. As Archer has been introduced to the England team, so has some Caribbean thinking; almost half of their deliveries in 2019 have been short, the most of any year since the last World Cup.

The thing is, that give and take of ideas is visible in the way these sides have interacted over the last few years. Much is made of how Eoin Morgan was taken by the gung-ho approach of Brendon McCullum’s 2015 World Cup side, but not much is made of the fact that it took until after the World T20 for Morgan’s new approach to start consistently winning games. The 2015 tournament showed that you could compete with an ultra-aggressive model, but the 2016 tournament showed you could win with it.

Three years later, as England pulled ahead in the rankings and West Indies were left behind, Holder’s strategic thinking became muddled, a muddle made worse by a reduced pool of talent available to him and the selectors. Their run rate sank. Then at the start of this World Cup year, it began to soar. Perhaps it was the return of some core players from the T20 circuit, but perhaps it was Holder taking his lead from Morgan, just as Morgan had once taken his lead from Darren Sammy. These things do tend to work in cycles.

***

It goes without saying that on Friday, we’re all desperate for a day without rain. It’s an unfortunate consequence of an unusually wet English June, but the tournament has lost a little momentum in the last week, with the multiple washouts. However, if Friday were to be lost to the weather, and the spoils were shared, it would in a way be rather fitting. These two sides have given a lot to each other over the last four years. Offering the other a World Cup point feels like the least they could do.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: David Warner’s Taunton Ton

Ben Jones analyses a curious match-winning contribution from the Australian opener.

Yesterday, David Warner made a century at Taunton, his first since being banned for a year by Cricket Australia following his involvement in the South Africa ball-tampering scandal. His 107 (111) was probably the deciding factor in a game between two evenly matched sides. He batted through the early stages of a 10:30am start, under cloudy skies, on a cold English morning. It was an emphatically effective contribution.

However – the fact that it was Warner’s returning ton has driven the majority of the commentary surrounding the innings, far more so than the actual innings itself. Whilst nobody has gone so far as to claim this was one of Warner’s most masterful tons, the tone of much of the discussion was of talent and ability coming through, proving decisive as it generally does; bans are temporary, class is permanent, and Warner was too good for Pakistan.

Except, of course, he wasn’t. Whilst there were moments of Peak Warner ( a Lara-esque knee-up pull shot here, a bludgeon through the covers there), it is difficult to construct a detailed argument that he played well. He made a mistake – that is to say, played a false stroke – more often than once every four balls. Whether you view playing well as simply the absence of error is irrelevant, because this isn’t how Warner makes his runs. He has never made a century involving so much risk as the one he made yesterday.

To play a false stroke that often and still reach 100 is an outlier, and a significant one. In ODI cricket, roughly 16% of all shots result in a miss or an edge; on average, one in nine false shots brings a wicket. To play so substantially above that base rate of error, and still play the decisive innings of the match, is surprising. Indeed, since the last World Cup there have been 345 individual centuries made in ODI cricket, but only four saw a higher false shot percentage than Warner’s century at Taunton.

Whilst those clouds were ominous, and the setting was so stereo-typically conducive to swing and seam, there wasn’t an inordinate amount of either. Full and good length deliveries swung 0.7 degrees in the first 10 overs yesterday, and seamed 0.5 degrees; the average for all ODIs this year is 0.9 and 0.5 respectively. It may have looked unpleasant, and without question there was something in it for the bowlers, but these were not the conditions of touring batsmen’s nightmares. There is a reason that both sides were able to put on around 300.

This isn’t a criticism of Warner. It takes considerable mental strength to watch the ball fizz off the pitch and past your bat, time and time again, yet still maintain enough focus to put the bad balls away to the boundary. It is a tangible skill, and it is impressive to bring that skill to bear on what could well be a crucial match on the highest stage.

However, it doesn’t suggest that Warner Is Back. It doesn’t suggest that he’s going to charge through this World Cup, gobbling up runs like a bristling Pacman, consuming all before him. What it does suggest, is that Warner has been the benefit of good fortune, and as such it suggests that his level of performance isn’t sustainable. It’s the dullest term in sportswriting, but there will be, to some extent, regression to the mean. That level of risk won’t carry you very far.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: Amir’s Efforts

Love, is a losing game.

Pakistan didn’t win today, in case you didn’t notice. They suffered a narrow defeat, in a tight game where they never really felt on top. They were in it only for brief passages, fleeting moments where they seemed to incite a particular kind of optimism in the Pakistan-dominated crowd and the neutral alike. The death overs with the ball; the Imam-Hafeez partnership. The Wahab-Sarfaraz partnership. Throughout those moments, Pakistan were in the game, fighting, hoping. They gave themselves glimpses of victory, but couldn’t quite get over the line. Australia, flawed but able to win those moments, came through.

One man can take credit for the fact it was this close. Mohammad Amir, in the midst of one of the more frustrating missed opportunities Pakistan cricket has suffered in the modern era, was immaculate.

Experience is often overrated. The fact that someone has already burned Christmas dinner is too often used as evidence to say they won’t burn another one. Yet in this case, you could see Amir’s considerable experience in play, in contrast to the raw efforts of Shaheen Shah Afridi. The latter is a bowler of immense talent, who you would bank on taking a considerable haul of wickets across his career. Today was never likely to contribute to that haul. He bowled too short, on too many occasions letting Warner and Finch avoid the misty nip of the Taunton pitch, the former in particular taking the chance to rock back and whip the whippersnapper through midwicket far too many times.

That opening spell, a colossal effort in the circumstances, could easily be forgotten. A wicketless 10 overs could easily see people ignore the fact that Amir was beating the batsmen one in three deliveries, and the fact that those batsmen were arguably the two best ODI openers in the world only added to the drama.

Taunton is a curious town. Small, slightly run down, but ultimately rather pretty, it’s like much of England. Like many small towns, it gives off the air that any mistake anyone makes will be communicated to every inhabitant within an hour, through a grapevine of gossip. Amir bowled as if he had this in mind. He bowled as if he knew any mistake would be focused on, zoomed in on, blown up.

Amir got it. He understood what was needed, given the situation, given the men at the crease: two hulking ball-strikers who want to get things moving now, not later. His control of length, throughout the match, was magnificent, and he played a tune on the Australians’ patience. No other seamer in the match found a good length – between six metres and eight metres from the batsman’s stumps – more often. It was a day to throw things over to the batsman and ask them to make the mistake.

Of course, that opening spell brought no wickets, and Australia were completely in gear when Amir collected his cap and went to graze in the outfield. He had bowled brilliantly, but had left no imprint on the scorecard.

The second spell was different. That brought the wicket of Finch, deserved after all those plays-and-misses. The third spell was even better, bringing two wickets this time. The ball that dismissed Usman Khawaja was a slower ball, 11kph slower than the previous ball Amir had bowled; the ball that dismissed Shaun Marsh was a quicker ball. What we saw today was Amir clicking, able to deploy his variations with maximum effectiveness. It was a man, defined by a mistake he made at 18, coming of age.

Amir’s delivery to dismiss Alex Carey was a disgracefully joyful burst of skill. CricViz’s Wicket Probability Model uses historical ball-tracking data, along with plenty of other metrics, to assess the likelihood that any delivery will take a wicket. The base rate is surprisingly low, compared to what you’d imagine; the average delivery has just an 1.6% chance of taking a wicket. Amir’s ball to Carey had a 13.5% chance. It was a delivery dipped in venom, sent down with calm assurance that yeah, this will do it.

The 10 overs that Amir bowled today, for just 30 runs, is the most economical ten-over spell by a Pakistan pacer in four years. Only one boundary came from the deliveries he sent down. It shouldn’t be surprising; the one thing that Amir has been consistently good at since the Champions Trophy miracle has been keeping the runs down. It’s perverse for a man so associated with attacking spells of incisive bowling, but Amir has been extremely good at keeping his economy rate low. Since that fateful day in South London, 40 seamers have bowled as many balls as Amir in ODI cricket; while he has the second worst strike rate, only four have a better economy than Amir. He has struggled to remove batsmen, but he has built pressure. He has been dormant, not inert. He has been waiting for the right day to explode.

It was a remarkable performance, all told. Bowling Impact is a white ball performance metric used to show how many runs any given player has contributed or cost above or below what we’d expect from the average player. Despite inconsistent form, Amir has recorded three of the top ten bowling Impact scores in a match for Pakistan since the last World Cup. He is a man who doesn’t necessarily contribute every game, but when he does, it’s match-defining. Today, it should have been.

But of course, it wasn’t. An ill-judged pull shot from Imam-ul-Haq, a misjudgement from Mohammad Hafeez, an end to good fortune for Wahab Riaz; each cost Sarfaraz’s men the competitive edge they needed in the end. Pakistan lost.

They are now in a battle to qualify that, in all likelihood, they will lose. Divorced from the situation, devoid of the engagement that being a fan brings, it was easy to enjoy Amir’s spell. It didn’t matter, a beautiful aesthetic spectacle which delighted in its own restraint.

The idea of cricket as an “individual sport, played in a team” is often brought up in the context of a player on a different wavelength to the other 10 around him. It’s often used negatively. Today, we were reminded that the opposite can be true, that a man can be so at odds with the form and performances of those around him, and still stand tall, and draw the eye.

We’re never going to escape Amir’s past. It is what it is, and it will always be. It’s the unspoken phrase between every line, the words under your breath as you exclaim at another spell. The only thing he can do is offer these sorts of performances, and the only thing we can do is love them.

Love is a losing game, and it’s one we should be glad Amir’s still playing.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: Australia’s Mavericks

Ben Jones reflects on Australia’s mavericks.

Mitchell Starc is special.

Most people know that, just from watching him fire it down at 150kph. It’s clear from his statistical record, from the frightening rate at which he’s accrued 150 ODI wickets. Nobody in history has done so with a better strike rate.

Starc is an outlier not just in the effectiveness of his bowling, but in the way he bowls. Most seamers build from a base of good length deliveries; Starc doesn’t. Starc bowls full. In the last decade, no established bowler has bowled a full length more often than him; only two men have hit a good length more rarely.

If we go deeper, it’s even clearer how attacking Starc is. CricViz’s Wicket Probability Model uses ball-tracking data to calculate the likelihood that any delivery – and thus over, spell, bowler – has of taking a wicket. Over the last ten years, no established ODI bowler has a better Expected Strike Rate than Mitchell Starc. The deliveries he bowls are incredibly dangerous, and incredibly attacking.

Australia have the most attacking bowler in the world. And today, he didn’t attack.

***

Glenn Maxwell is special.

He is the fastest scoring current Australian batsman, by a distance. Since the last major ICC tournament, Maxwell scores more than one run-per-over quicker than anyone else to appear frequently in the green and gold. He has a range of strokes that beggar belief, embellished by a crowd-pleasing streak that makes him one of the most loved batsmen in the world.

Only one man who has batted as often as Maxwell in the last two years can say they score quicker than him. That man is Jos Buttler, who has a claim on being one of the best ODI batsmen of all time. Maxwell is elite.

Australia have the second fastest scoring batsman in the world. Today, they hid him.

***

India are the most structured ODI side going around. They are a grooved, well-oiled machine, a set of players who know exactly what they want to do at every stage. This is a strength, and a weakness.

They build their entire batting strategy on preserving early wickets. Rohit and Shikhar set out to be roughly 50-0 in every single Powerplay 1, to set up a base knowing that such is their quality, one of them is likely to make a match-defining contribution – the lad in next isn’t bad either.

The one thing they don’t want you to do, is attack them early on. They really don’t mind you bowling defensively, dotting up in the first 10 overs. Pat Cummins went at 3rpo in his opening spell today, but India won’t have been bothered one bit. He didn’t take a wicket.

In tandem with Cummins, Starc’s role should have been to back up Cummins’s solidity with penetration, but it that wasn’t how it played out. Both of the Indian openers are vulnerable to very full bowling early on in the innings, and as we know, Starc bowls more full deliveries than anyone else in the world.

Not today. Today, when Australia needed him to attack, he didn’t. In the first 10 overs this morning, Starc pitched it up with just 6% of his deliveries. That’s the lowest figure he’s ever recorded in an ODI – by a long, long way. India got through the first 22 overs without losing a wicket, a platform they were never going to waste.

Starc is controlled enough and skillful enough that this was a tactical choice, a decision to be more defensive in the opening period. Across the game, it didn’t work; today, Starc conceded 74 runs in his 10 overs, the most he has in his last 34 ODIs. It was among his worst performances with the ball that we’ve seen in the last four years, his lowest Expected Strike Rate since the tail end of 2016.

As is always the way with Starc, it was a lurch from the previous match against the Windies, when he took the most wickets he’s taken in any ODI since the last World Cup. He won Australia the game, to all intents and purposes. It was among his best performances with the ball we’ve seen in the last four years. Those performances happened three days apart.

Off-form and lacking in rhythm, he can look ungainly and uncomfortable on the approach to the crease, but on-form, he’s a gazelle. Everything moving in the right direction, everything building towards the launch of this missile. At his best, Starc is the perfect fast bowler.

The same dichotomy is true of Maxwell. When he struggles, as he did against the West Indies while Starc flourished, it looks messy.

But today he clicked. He went at India, with the asking rate starting to soar, and he briefly threatened to make a game of it. His ceiling, in terms of what he could possibly achieve for Australia, was up with the stars.

Yet Australia had placed their own ceiling on what he could do, by bringing him in at five, and more importantly, in the 37th over. From there, it was either Maxwell playing one of the greatest ODI innings of all time, or defeat for Australia. To steal a line the journalist George Dobell would often use when Peter Moores’ England would bring Jos Buttler in with the required rate up around 10rpo, Australia were asking Maxwell to turn water into wine.

You wouldn’t have garnered much support mentioning Maxwell’s pros last week, of course. Against West Indies, when his ill-advised second ball hook saw him depart for nothing, we saw the other side of a player capable of producing the best and the worst of batting. With all the goodwill that the cricketing community has invested in him, the joy that he’s imparted, it is hard to see him fail – but fail he does. It’s fair and reasonable to do so; when you’re trying to do what Maxwell is generally trying to do, failure is an acceptable bi-product. But he sure does produce a lot of it.

Former England coach Duncan Fletcher used to speak about ensuring there was a “critical mass” of solid characters in the dressing room. As detailed by Steve James in The Plan, “he wanted eight good characters who could drag the weaker ones through, one who might be a quieter lad, and two who were tougher to handle”. When the balance was wrong, the team didn’t work.

There is a similar principle in play when constructing a side, with regard to maverick players and dependable performers. You need a critical mass of reliable players, with bat and with ball. Guys who will make solid, consistent contributions. If you don’t have enough of those, then your team is going to struggle; but you do need the other type of player as well. You need the maverick who can go the distance, and then win you a game.

Australia probably have that balance about right, in terms of personnel. You can quibble over the particular selections, but it’s essentially a reasonable team. But they need to make the most of their mavericks, in a way that – perhaps – they haven’t been of late.

That’s why you have to accept Starc’s performance today; it’s why you have to accept Maxwell’s performance on Thursday. If you don’t put up with them at their worst, then you don’t deserve them at their best. Starc has to bowl that attacking length, otherwise he’s not the same bowler; Maxwell has to play those audacious shots, otherwise he’s not the same batsman. They’ve got to be free to do what they want to – they’ve got to be free to have a good time, to have a party.

The genius of this India side is straightforward. They are masters – tactically, technically, consistently – at making their opposition do what they least want to do. To negate their batting order you need to attack early when it feels like you have most to lose; to take down their bowling, you have to attack early, because their spinners are superb and their death bowling is, well, Jasprit Bumrah. Your window to try and gain an advantage is at the top, and Australia defended throughout it. The time to have Glenn Maxwell at the crease, your best attacker, was in the first 20 overs, and they waited until the 37th over. He should have batted at No.3. The time to have Mitchell Starc push his length full, and try to get the ball swinging, was in the first 10 overs. Australia did neither; that’s where they lost the game today.

The format of this World Cup dictates that it wasn’t a fatal error. It won’t in isolation see Australia knocked out, and it didn’t see them humiliated on the day. They fought back and avoided a significant NRR penalty. However, unless they embrace the mavericks in their side, and give them the opportunity to find the outer reaches of their talents, then Australia can’t win this World Cup.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

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.

CricViz Analysis: South Africa v India

Patrick Noone looks at two compelling battles between opening batsman and opening bowler as India leave South Africa on the brink.

There is something particularly evocative about a great spell of fast bowling. It’s the passage of play that gets the crowd ooh-ing and aah-ing as batsmen poke and prod, hop around the crease and play and miss at the ball as it whistles through to the wicket-keeper. They are the periods of play that stick in the mind and are talked about for years to come – Donald to Atherton, Wahab to Watson, Anderson to Kohli – the duels that provoke those who witnessed them to speak of them in hushed, reverential tones as though discussing something wholly other-worldly.

At The Hampshire Bowl on Day Seven of the 2019 World Cup, just under 15,000 spectators witnessed not just one, but two such spells of heated, high quality, hostile fast bowling. First, it was Jasprit Bumrah, arguably the best all-format bowler in world cricket, with the new ball from the Hotel End. Quinton de Kock was on strike, the premier batsman for South Africa.

Bumrah’s first ball took the inside edge of de Kock’s bat and dropped harmlessly onto his body. The second was too wide to trouble de Kock and was let go outside the left-hander’s off-stump. Bumrah reset the radar for the third ball, found the line, found the length; de Kock prodded forward and the ball flew past the outside the edge. Cue the oohs and aahs from the crowd, as though witnessing a strangely intense fireworks display.

Twice more in the over Bumrah would beat the bat of de Kock – it’s what he does. No seamer since the 2015 World Cup has induced a higher percentage of plays and misses than him. More oohs. More aahs.

Bumrah only bowled one ball to de Kock in his next over, beating the bat yet again. The opener was surviving but doing little more than that. Bumrah’s third over would prove decisive – three balls tight to de Kock’s off-stump cramped him for room, allowing him only a single, before the fifth ball delivered the killer blow. Wide enough to go after, full enough to drive, de Kock’s eyes lit up and he threw everything at it, only this time Bumrah didn’t beat the bat. The inside edge flew to Kohli at third (yes, third) slip and the oohs and aahs turned to a single roar. It was a second wicket for Bumrah having seen off the out of sorts Hashim Amla in his previous over – three overs bowled, two wickets, not a single clean connection from either batsman off his bowling.

Bumrah’s opening burst was thrilling and set the tone for what would follow. Yuzvendra Chahal bowled beautifully and deservedly finished with the best World Cup figures for an Indian leg-spinner for 16 years, but it was Bumrah who gave nothing away, forcing the South African batsmen to take risks against Chahal that they wouldn’t have otherwise had to do.

But Bumrah was not the only fast bowler to make a telling contribution with the new ball. Kagiso Rabada, another contender to the ‘best all-format bowler’ crown came out in the second innings with a modest total of 227 to defend and bowled with an intensity and an aggression that caused arguably the finest opening partnership in ODI cricket all manner of problems.

If the previous duel was Bumrah v de Kock, this was Rabada v all of India. When the crowd is as partisan as the one in Hampshire today, you can feel every shift in momentum, every subtle swing of the pendulum. There was a hush around the ground as Rabada steamed in and beat the outside edge of Shikhar Dhawan’s bat. Oohs and aahs again, but this time the expectation was replaced with trepidation. Rabada’s second ball was a snorter that rose up at Dhawan, the batsman only able to fend it to point for a single. This was serious pace, serious bounce, serious cricket.  

Rohit Sharma then faced nine successive balls from Rabada and failed to score off the first eight. One of the dots was a genuine bouncer, the other seven in a tight cluster outside the right-hander’s off-stump. Only when Rabada went fractionally shorter did Rohit have the opportunity to score.

And so, with that single, Rabada’s battle with Dhawan resumed. The fifth ball of his third over was the first bad ball he bowled – a full toss that Dhawan failed to make the most of. Rabada had now bowled three balls to Dhawan – one too wide, one too short and one too full. As though using those balls to calibrate his line, his fourth delivery struck the killer blow, tempting Dhawan to push at one and feather it through to de Kock.

If you happened to be looking away at the moment the wicket fell, you would have been forgiven for not knowing it had fallen. The only reaction the crowd gave was one of a restless anxiety, little more than a murmur. Rabada had planted seeds of doubt in the Indian faithful’s mind. Maybe this wasn’t going to be the formality we all expected.

He would finish his first spell with figures of 5-0-21-1, numbers that hardly did justice to the quality of fast bowling he was showcasing. Rohit would survive the opening exchanges and go on to make the defining innings of the match with an unbeaten 122, while Rabada was not even afforded the consolation of picking up his wicket late in the piece, thanks to an inexplicably awful drop from David Miller. It summed up South Africa’s day – their tournament even – but Rabada is one of the few Proteas who will emerge from this campaign with credit, however it ends.

It is a quirk of the nature of cricket in 2019 that the two key battles in this contest should be between players who were team-mates in the IPL a mere three weeks ago. Bumrah was able to dismiss de Kock his fellow Mumbai Indian, before Rabada perhaps called on his memory of net sessions with Delhi Capitals to get rid of Dhawan. He would ultimately fall short of winning the match for his side but for a moment, he had a whole nation holding its breath.

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.

@PatrickNoone08

CricViz Analysis: Stopping Virat Kohli

Ben Jones analyses how teams can approach the challenge of bowling to Kohli.

Virat Kohli is the best ODI batsman in the world. You know that, already. You know it from every shot he plays, from every authoritative drive, every whip off his hip. You know it from the way he walks out to bat. You know it from every time he opens his mouth in a press conference. For some, it’s a cause of celebration, and for some it’s a frustration. Many question whether he wears the crown with enough dignity to be truly admired beyond his batting, but nobody disputes that he wears it. In ODIs, Kohli is king.

This isn’t meant to be a hagiography for the sainted Virat. The reason for re-affirming Kohli’s greatness is to re-affirm that he is different, and should thus be treated differently. Not afforded more respect, or given more leeway – quite the opposite. More attention, effort and care should be spent trying to bring him down. Hours and hours should, and will, be spent trying to find a silver bullet solution, one Big Answer to the Big Question.

That answer doesn’t exist. There is nothing simple and straightforward that can be done to stop Kohli. In order to stop him, you have to acknowledge that he does not have a straightforward weakness as a batsman. Some players struggle against pace, some players struggle against spin; some against swing, some against a particular player. This version of Kohli does not have a weakness, in the conventional sense of the word.

There is no bowling type or bowler that he struggles against. An average of above 100 against spin, and a scoring rate of 5.96rpo, is astonishing for a man who plays as much cricket as Kohli. At some point, you’d expect him to regress to something like the average. Turns out, there’s nothing average about Kohli. Who’d have thought it.

Even when we look closer at the breakdown of bowling types, it scarcely gives you more hope. Off-spinners are fodder, left-arm spinners little more. Everyone goes at an average of more than 65. Kohli is king.

But if you’re a captain, formulating a plan, then you have to stay optimistic, because you can’t not face him. So, faced with a selection of bad options, look for the least worst option. Try and find the hope; if you’re stuck in the gutter, look for the stars.

Through that lens – Kohli is worse against pace than he is against spin. Even then, he still dominates left-arm pace; he is, again considerably worse against right-arm pace. Quite considerably worse, as well. It is, in the most literal sense, his weakness.

This low average against right-arm seamers also correlates with the bowlers that dismiss Kohli early on in an innings. Since the 2015 World Cup, Kohli’s been dismissed inside his first 20 balls on 15 occasions. On 11 of those occasions, he was dismissed by right-arm pace.

Captains shouldn’t bowl spin to Kohli early. Ever. Since the last World Cup, he has been dismissed by spin in the first 20 balls of an innings on two occasions. If you’re going to try and get Kohli early, you have to go hard, early, with your best seamers.

So how do you that?

BOWLING PACE TO KOHLI

There is a very specific template you have to follow when bowling pace to Kohli. Firstly, however fast and nasty you consider your pace attack, you shouldn’t go short at him early. In the first 20 balls of his innings, since the World Cup, Kohli averages 337 against the short ball.

As you can see, he averages 40.42 against full balls in that early period. At the start, no matter how many times he elegantly leans forward and drives you to the fence, you have to pitch it up early. Because you can’t pitch it up after that.

Once he’s faced 20 balls, Kohli averages 114.40 against full bowling. That door is closed – but the short ball becomes a better option. It goes from being the worst thing you could possibly do, to the best. Weird old world, bowling to Virat.

As the graphic below shows, you have to aim for Kohli’s head. If you’re going to bowl short, bowl aggressively, bowl on a line which encourages him to hook. In the first 20 balls of his innings, Kohli averages 107 when hooking or pulling; after then, he averages 34.

So that’s the broad pattern of play. What about the issue of movement, of the extra level of detail added by bowlers, above and beyond simply line and length?

After James Anderson deconstructed Kohli’s technique and his aura on the 2014 tour of England, some changes were made. In Test cricket, Kohli improved beyond recognition against swing, and it’s fed into is ODI form. He doesn’t struggle against the moving ball, particularly. However, he struggles against away-swing more than he does against in-swing; it’s clear what is the least worst option.

So, ideally, as a right-arm seamer, you want to be taking the ball away from Kohli. Again, it’s not that doing so guarantees you success – an average of 40 is still very good – but it’s better than bringing the ball back in, time and time again, watching him steer the ball away to the mid-wicket boundary. Save yourself the bother.

The pattern we see with swing movement continues if you look at movement off the seam. Kohli averages substantially more against the ball that nips back, than the ball that nips away. His technique is completely set-up to deal with straighter deliveries, to remove the threat of anything coming back into him, regardless of whether that movement is coming through swing or off the pitch.

As a seamer, there is a game-plan you can follow. It may work, it may not, but it is built on logic and at the very least gives a bit of hope. However, as much as skippers may not want to, sometimes you have to bowl spin to Kohli. Situations are chaotic and volatile, and India have a stack of other brilliant batsmen you need to deal with. Sometimes, remarkably, Virat isn’t the focus. So, when the spinners are on, how do you bowl?

BOWLING SPIN TO VIRAT KOHLI

Given the rather daunting figures that are in play here, it’s better to start with the basics. How exactly does Kohli play spin?

The majority of his runs come in front of square on the legside. This suggests, on the face of it, that he sweeps a lot.

Except of course, he doesn’t sweep. Since the 2015 World Cup, Kohli has swept just 28 deliveries from spin; that equates roughly to one sweep shot for around every three matches he’s played. 1.7% of his shots against spin since the World Cup have been sweeps. The average for all players is 6.1%. The sight of Kohli rocking back to the spinner, deep in his crease, and flicking the ball into the legside, has been a familiar one for years now. That’s how he makes all those legside runs – nearly 2,000 across his career, just against spin.

In other words, the way he makes his legside runs is by exploiting mistakes in a bowler’s length (by getting on the back foot), rather than by exploiting mistakes in their line (sweeping when they drift too straight).

Consequently, bowling the right length is the most important thing a spinner can do when faced with Kohli. At the risk of drifting into the territory of “executing your skills”, you need to nail the basics . If you hit a good length, you’re working from a stronger position regardless of the spin or drift you’re imparting on the ball, than you from anywhere else. If a spinner pitches the ball between 4 and 5 metres from his stumps, Kohli’s average plummets.

It feels obvious, but it’s not been the case for some time. Just under a third (31%) of the deliveries Kohli has faced from spin since the World Cup have been on that length. That isn’t unusual. The average for all spinners in that period is 32% deliveries pitching on a good length, illustrating that it clearly isn’t easy – but it’s the best thing you can do.

It’s better than anything more gimmicky. A change of angle isn’t a great option for anyone – no off-spinner or leg-spinner has dismissed Kohli going round the wicket since the last World Cup, and no left-arm orthodox bowler has dismissed him going over the wicket. He averages 80 against leg-spinners’ googlies in that time. There is no silver bullet.

***

All of these plans are put forward with the  firm caveat that they won’t last long. If Kohli has proven anything, throughout his career, it’s that he is more capable of adapting to negate new risks than almost any other batsman in the world. Closing his stance, or opening it; coming at the ball, or playing later; going hard, or leaving everything – he’s shown an ability to do everything when he senses a threat developing.

But, as with everything, there will be a window where you can catch him cold. It could be tomorrow, when India start their campaign against South Africa after a curiously long break. It could be the following game, when he faces the quickest attack in the competition, as Australia rock up at The Oval; it could be the game after against Trent Boult and co. It could come at any moment, that teams click, gamble, and get it right. It’s a tiny window, but one thing stands out. You come for the king, you better not miss.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.