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CricViz Analysis: Gabriel & Wood crank it up

It was a thrilling day of flimsy batting in the face of some hostile bowling. Patrick Noone analyses the performances of the pacemen from either side on Day 2 in St Lucia.

Batting collapses and hostile fast bowling; two of the most compelling spectacles to watch in cricket. Both keep you transfixed to every ball, expectantly waiting for the next wicket; the former in morbid fascination, the latter in awed admiration.

On Day 2 in St Lucia, the fans inside the Daren Sammy Stadium were spoilt; treated to both a batting collapse and a hostile spell of fast bowling from both sides. First it was a Shannon Gabriel-inspired West Indies who skittled England for 277, the visitors losing 6-46 having been 231-4 overnight, before Mark Wood announced his return to the Test arena with a fearsome spell of quick bowling that helped to reduce West Indies to 79-6 from the relative serenity of 57-0.

It was Kemar Roach who will likely grab most of the headlines after picking up another four wickets, but it was Gabriel who got the early breakthrough, bowling Jos Buttler with his seventh ball of the day for 67 to end England’s highest partnership of the series.

Buttler is not often beaten for pace. It was only the second time in his Test career that he’d been bowled by a fast bowler. The first, by Mitchell Starc back in 2015 was from a ball that clocked 141kph; today, his defences were breached by a delivery that was a fraction below 144kph.

Gabriel’s average speed across his five-over spell was 142kph, as quick as he’s bowled all series and, though Buttler was his only victim, the hostility with which he bowled to England’s other batsmen made for essential viewing. His ongoing feud with Ben Stokes continued from Antigua and bubbled along with neither competitor giving the other an inch.

Stokes faced ten balls from Gabriel during that spell on Sunday morning and only two of them were fuller than a good length. He was only able to score three runs and was repeatedly peppered by West Indies’ fired up quick.

In all, Gabriel conceded just five runs from his five overs, drawing a false shot with 23% of the balls he bowled. Put simply, he probably deserved more than one wicket, but his contribution cannot be overstated and Roach was able to benefit from the other end as he cleaned up the innings.

West Indies’ openers made a steady start with the bat, reaching 57-0 before Moeen Ali struck twice in two balls. Two overs later, Joe Root threw the ball to Mark Wood for the first time.

Before this match, Wood had not played a Test for nine months. He hadn’t bowled in a First Class match since turning out for England Lions in November, yet the pace, rhythm and aggression he showed from the very first ball he bowled belied his lack of match practice.

Wood’s career has been a curious one. It’s nearly four years since he made his Test debut, yet injuries and lack of form have meant that this is just his 13th match in the longest form. Too often he has been talked about in terms what England aren’t rather than what he is. Last winter’s Ashes defeat was punctuated with laments over England’s inability to produce bowlers of express pace. Come the ODI series that followed those Tests, Wood bounced out David Warner and it only added to the narrative that he should have played a part in the ill-fated tour Down Under.

For England’s first Test back home against Pakistan, Wood was straight into the XI but took just two wickets in the match and was not seen in England whites again until now. The first thing to notice about Wood’s spell was that his short, slightly jarring run up had been lengthened by a few paces and appeared smoother. The second thing that was evident, perhaps as a result of the first, was that Wood was bowling fast, seriously fast – the third fastest that any England bowler has bowled in a Test innings since such data started being recorded in 2005.

Renowned as a bowler who can consistently maintain a speed above 140kph, the reality has in fact been that Wood has generally hovered around the 135kph mark. Until today.

Wood took two wickets in his first over, did not concede a run until his 13th ball and didn’t drop below 140kph until his 34th. This was the Mark Wood that people were calling for when they talked of England’s lack of pace during the Ashes; quick, hostile and taking wickets.

For the second time in the day, wickets were tumbling and a fast bowler was cranking it up. It was a captivating spell on a thrilling day of Test cricket; one where every ball felt unmissable. The pure theatre of a fast bowler steaming in, causing batsmen to hop around or nick it to a hungry slip cordon is, particularly in the Caribbean, a spectacle that is as alluring in the modern era as any other.

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.  

@PatrickNoone08

CricViz Analysis: Buttler & Stokes cash in after Jennings struggles again

Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes batted through the evening session as England had the better of Day 1 of the third Test. Patrick Noone picks out the key moments in St Lucia.

After below-par batting performances in both Barbados and Antigua, there were calls for changes to be made to the playing XI. But the truth was that England’s decision not to pick an extra batsman in the touring squad limited their options severely. As such, the only change to the batting personnel saw Keaton Jennings return with Ben Foakes the unlucky fall-guy.

Jennings probably wasn’t expecting to get another opportunity and he batted as though he wouldn’t get another any time soon. His torturous 43-ball stay at the crease could and should have ended on two occasions, once when he was struck on the pad by Kemar Roach, given not out and West Indies chose not to review, and again two balls later when he was dropped at third slip by Roston Chase.

When he finally departed for 8, it was another loose drive outside his off-stump, the third time he’s been dismissed in such a fashion in this series. In total, Jennings has played 12 drives against seam – with only four of those has he made a clean connection.

A familiar story in every sense, for both Jennings and England, except for the identity of the bowler on this occasion. In Barbados, it was Jason Holder and Alzarri Joseph who dismissed the opener; this time around it was Holder’s replacement, Keemo Paul. It was the very first ball that Paul delivered that Jennings succumbed to; a full ball outside his off-stump that he threw his hands at with minimal footwork.

There is a peculiarity about the fact that in each of his three innings this series, Jennings has seen off the threat of Kemar Roach and Shannon Gabriel, the opening bowlers, only to be dismissed by the first or second change option.

Nearly every Test innings of his – outside Asia at least – looks like a battle; against the bowlers, against his own technique, even against the threat of losing his place. Perhaps, after battling through the opening bowlers’ spells, his concentration drops a fraction against bowlers who should, in theory, present more run-scoring opportunities. For all of Jennings’ technical issues, the suggestion that there is a mental problem as well is far from ideal for a batsman who looks to have a scrambled mind for a multitude of reasons.

Of course, Jennings is not the only batsman in this England side struggling for form. Much has been made about their approach throughout this series; that the ultra-aggressive tactics that brought success in Sri Lanka were ill-suited to Caribbean pitches.

Whether or not England consciously took that criticism on board is obviously unclear, but what was evident is that the visitors reigned in their attacking instincts to a greater extent than in any other innings in this series.

It was ugly at times and none of Jennings, Rory Burns nor Joe Denly looked fluent during their time at the crease – it took until the 41st over before a boundary was scored off the middle of the bat – but England survived. When Burns and Denly departed in successive overs, England fans would have been forgiven for thinking ‘here we go again’, fearing another collapse.

But Joe Root, who never looked anything close to his best, did just enough to keep his side in the game and allow Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes at numbers five and six to come in and build England’s biggest partnership of the series on the way to their longest innings of the tour.

Buttler and Stokes were assured against a tiring West Indies bowling attack and, barring a reprieve for the latter when he was caught and bowled off a no ball from Alzarri Joseph, played the kind of innings that England have been desperate for throughout the series.

Buttler judged the West Indies bowlers’ lengths exceptionally, opting to not attack a single ball pitching between 6.7, and 8.5m – the in-between length that has caused England batsmen so many problems in the series up to now.

Stokes had an even bigger zone of reticence, not attacking anything between 5.7m and 8.8m.

Neither batsman’s innings was chanceless – Buttler was dropped on 0 and Stokes made it all the way to the dressing room before being recalled after Joseph was seen to have overstepped – but it was evident that they had a clear plan and executed it to build on a platform laid by a top order that finally offered some level of resistance.

With this England team, it is unwise to make any kind of predictions. It would still be no surprise to see them bowled out in a hurry tomorrow morning but, until then, they can enjoy the position they find themselves in after a rare good day on this tour.

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.

@PatrickNoone08

CricViz Analysis: Alzarri Joseph

West Indies completed a series win over England as they took an unassailable 2-0 lead in Antigua. Patrick Noone looks at how Alzarri Joseph played a pivotal role in the home side’s win.

Alzarri Joseph cannot have had many more difficult days as a cricketer than today. Before play started this morning, it was announced that his mother had died after battling a long illness. At that point, no-one could have blamed Joseph if he had chosen to take no further part in the game. To his eternal credit, and in an act that demonstrated supreme mental strength and courage, Joseph not only took part but played a key role in West Indies’ ten-wicket win.

His first involvement in the day’s proceedings was to hang around with the bat to frustrate England, facing 20 balls and adding seven runs. That might not sound like a lot, but it was an early indication that Joseph was as focused as ever and was not going to let the most personal of tragedies affect his team’s chances of winning the match.

It was not until the 16th over of England’s response that Joseph was thrown the ball by his captain, Jason Holder. It began a thrilling, relentless 7-over spell before tea that accounted for both Joe Denly and Joe Root and helped to swing the game even further towards West Indies. He did not even concede a run until his fourth over.

England were simply unable to get Joseph away; he bowled shorter than a good length 81% of the time during his spell and England did not score a single run off those shorter deliveries. Joseph’s peppered the visitors with that consistent length, pinning them back and limiting their scoring options.

Tellingly, England were unable to score a run off the back foot against him during. That speaks not just to a persistent length but to an unerring accuracy that tied England’s batsmen down.

When bowling to England’s right-handers, Joseph bowled 45% of his deliveries in the channel outside off-stump. A further 21% were wide outside the off-stump and only eight balls were in line with the stumps at the point they reached the batsman.

Two of those eight balls were the wickets of Denly and Root though. The former was undone by a subtle change of pace and length from Joseph that served to illustrate the fine margins between success and failure in this game.

The delivery before his dismissal, Denly correctly ascertained that the ball would harmlessly pass the stumps and confidently let it go through to Shane Dowrich behind the stumps. The next ball, he attempted to do the same, but Joseph had bowled 2kph quicker and 78cm fuller. Denly could only hold the pose as he heard the death rattle of the ball clipping his off-stump.

In recent years, it has become commonplace to criticise bowlers, particularly opening quicks, for not hitting the stumps enough. Fans and pundits are frequently frustrated by bowlers continually bowling outside batsmen’s off-stump rather than attacking the front pad or firing it in at the base of middle stump. It’s sometimes seen as a case of the bowler wasting deliveries when we intuitively think that attacking the stumps would naturally bring more reward.

But Joseph showed that it is not how often you hit the stumps that counts, rather when you do attack them, make it count. That’s exactly what he did with the wicket of Denly, luring him to leave the one delivery he couldn’t afford to. It looked ugly from the batsman’s point of view, but it was the only ball of Joseph’s spell that would have hit the stumps; as poor a dismissal as it might have been, Denly deserves at least some leeway for that fact alone.

Joseph flew somewhat under the radar in Barbados, not because he bowled poorly, just that it was the other members of the West Indies bowling attack who took centre stage. Shannon Gabriel with his raw pace, Kemar Roach and Jason Holder for the way they skittled England for 77 in the first innings, Roston Chase for his remarkable 8-60 in the second innings.

Even in Antigua, Joseph will perhaps not attract the same headlines as some of his team-mates; Roach picked up another eight wickets, Darren Bravo faced more than 200 balls on an up and down pitch, Holder took key scalps in the second innings on his way to match figures of 5-86.

However, it was Joseph’s spell in the hour before tea that embodied how West Indies have played in these two Tests – spirited, skilful and ruthless. The 22-year-old showed maturity beyond his years just to take part today. To then make the unimaginably difficult appear so easy and so natural speaks volumes about the temperament of the young quick.

Today’s victory completed a famous series win for West Indies; it will be talked about, cherished and lauded for many a year. For Alzarri Joseph, the Antiguan fast bowler who took to the field on his home ground to win a match for his country, it will mean more than any of us can ever know.

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.

@PatrickNoone08

CricViz Analysis: The Antigua Pitch

It was another excellent day for West Indies as England were bowled out for 187 in Antigua. Patrick Noone looks at how the North Sound pitch contributed to a compelling day of Test cricket.

Cricket pitches are something on which almost everyone has an opinion but almost no-one is an expert. No Test match passes by without lengthy discussions around the surface before, during and after the match.

What should they do at the toss? Will it suit spinners or seamers? Is it likely to break up?

These are all questions asked by fans and pundits alike yet, as England proved in the first Test of this series, it’s possible to be a team full of experienced professional cricketers from past and present and still read the pitch incorrectly.

Every so often though, a pitch comes along that everyone agrees on. In Antigua, England abandoned the two spinner policy from Bridgetown and brought back Stuart Broad, West Indies captain Jason Holder had no hesitation in choosing to bowl first and Joe Root said he would have done the same.

There appeared to be a thick layer of green grass on the strip at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium and the consensus was that this would be a seamer’s paradise. For the first session at least, it did not disappoint.

West Indies’ seamers found an average of 0.78° of seam movement, the second highest figure they’ve ever extracted from the surface at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, behind the 0.92° they found against Bangladesh last year. England made a somewhat bigger score than the 43 that Shakib Al-Hasan’s side put on in July, but it was a measure of how tricky conditions can be at this venue.

Rory Burns was the first England batsman to depart as Kemar Roach, the tormentor-in-chief from the first innings in Barbados, found just enough movement to find the outside edge of the left-hander’s bat. The previous ball, Burns was able to line up and defend with little discomfort; when Roach was a fraction shorter and found just 0.6° more deviation off the pitch, the England opener felt he had to play and was caught in the slips.

Lateral movement was one thing, variable bounce was quite another and it was balls rising off a length that England found most perilous to play. None more so than Joe Root, who fell to arguably the ball of the day from Alzarri Joseph.

A ball pitching 6.2m from the batsman’s stumps is comfortably in the ‘good length’ region, in fact it’s getting towards being a full delivery. Root went to play it in kind only for it to rear up sharply, deflect off the glove of the England captain and be caught by Shai Hope in the slips after John Campbell had fumbled.

There was not a long wrong with how Root played the delivery – the previous one he’d faced from Joseph had been 18cm fuller but had bounced just 0.7m, compared to the fearsome 1.6m that the wicket-ball reached.

Root’s dismissal, as well as other balls that behaved similarly, prompted the occasional comment on social media that the unpredictability of the pitch made it unfit for Test cricket. But it is that unpredictability that can make cricket such a thrilling spectacle in conditions such as those in Antigua. The feeling that anything can happen with each delivery draws the spectator in; it keeps you glued to proceedings when the behaviour of each ball is a mystery to batsman and viewer alike.

Jonny Bairstow’s approach to counter the demons in the pitch was to play his shots and attempt to force the issue. England’s number three played with the attitude of ‘if there’s a ball with my name on it, I might as well make as many runs as possible before it comes’, and it worked as he raced to a 59-ball half century.

On a pitch as difficult as this, Bairstow’s was a quite remarkable innings. It was not just a case of taking the necessary risk to counter-attack but to have the ability to execute those shots as well. To put into context how effective Bairstow’s strategy was, his 20 attacking shots yielded 41 runs; that’s a run rate of 12.30 runs per over. Bairstow has never recorded a higher attacking shot run rate in an innings where he’s played 15 or more attacking shots.

Despite the obvious aggression from Bairstow, he was far from reckless and played each ball on its merits. He wisely chose to not attack balls that pitched on a good length, and instead waited for the balls that were either too short or too full.

Additionally, Bairstow was careful to keep out the deliveries that were in the danger area around the top of his off-stump.

Without his enterprising knock, backed up by Moeen Ali’s first half century in ten Test innings, England could have been staring down the barrel of another sub-100 innings. As it was, they made 187 which could yet turn out to be a competitive score if conditions continue to be difficult for batting.

The pitch was still showing signs of life at the end of the day, despite West Indies’ openers making it through 21 overs unscathed. It has already provided plenty of talking points on a thrilling opening day in Antigua; you sense that plenty more will be said about this surface as the match progresses.

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.

@PatrickNoone08

CricViz Analysis: Chase leaves England in a spin

Roston Chase picked up 8-60 as England were thrashed by 381 runs. Patrick Noone looks at how West Indies’ off-spinner delivered an historic performance in Bridgetown.

The run chase? That was always going to be impossible. Facing Roston Chase? Well, that turned out to be similarly beyond England.

In a way, this defeat was inevitable. This England team have shown themselves capable of remarkable things over the last 18 months, both good and bad. No achievement is too high and no ignominy too low for this eccentric collection of all-rounders, wicket-keepers and batsmen battling to keep their place in the side.

It should therefore be no surprise that, after succumbing to West Indies’ pace attack on their way to getting bowled out for 77 in the first innings, they should then be rolled over by the part-time spin of Roston Chase in the second innings. Think of it as a kind of bingo card of Ways to Get Beaten in Test Cricket; England must be close to a full house.

There is of course an irony that, in a match that England wrongly picked two spinners in their playing XI, it would be a spinner – and not even a frontline one, at that –  who would take career-best figures of 8-60 to give West Indies a 1-0 lead in the three-match series.

Chase comes across as one of the more unassuming cricketers. He is a world away from the flamboyance and the swagger that is so often associated with players from the Caribbean. With the bat, he doesn’t play outrageous shots; with the ball, there is little mystery to his off-spin; he’s only played five T20 matches in his entire career.

But what Chase has become is a reliable, consistent performer who has been an increasingly safe pair of hands for Jason Holder to turn to. Holder has predominantly used Chase as a fifth or sixth bowling option and, since Chase’s debut, only five bowlers used in that role have taken more wickets than him.

Today though, Chase was given a more senior role, and how he relished it. An injury to Shannon Gabriel possibly increased his workload, but he was nonetheless thrown the ball before Alzarri Joseph on a pitch that was still showing little sign of deterioration.

Indeed, Chase did not require a crumbling pitch to aid his gentle off-spinners. Only ten balls he bowled turned a ‘large’ amount (more than 4.5°) and three of his eight wickets came from balls that turned less than 2.5°.

Rather than finding prodigious turn, Chase relied upon his ability to land the ball repeatedly on an in-between length that England’s batsmen had no answer to. To the right-handers, Chase landed 21 balls in between 4m and 4.8m from the batsman’s stumps. From those deliveries, England didn’t score a single run while Joe Root, Jos Buttler and Adil Rashid each lost their wickets to balls in that region.

Against England’s left-handers, it was a similar story, except that Chase’s zone of confusion was even larger. The 38 balls he bowled between 2.7m and 5m that pitched on middle stump or wider – illustrated by the green box in the below graphic – cost him just twelve runs and he picked up the wickets of Rory Burns and Ben Stokes.

Chase bowled twelve overs on the trot once Holder threw him the ball on day four. He was then only brought off to change ends and he bowled a further seven overs in succession. For a part-timer to be able to hold up an end to that extent is a damning indictment on the way England performed against the off-spinner.

Only when Stokes struck him for a six and a four in the 62nd over were England successful in putting pressure on Chase. That is not to say they didn’t try; the visitors attacked 29% of the balls he bowled, a higher percentage than any other bowler in the innings. The problem lay with when England tried to manoeuvre the ball into the field – four of Chase’s eight wickets came from rotating shots and England were only able to score 11 runs from the 36 balls they tried to work the ball around.

To further condemn the way England played Chase, using CricViz’s Wicket Probability Model, Chase’s Expected Wicket tally in the fourth innings was just 1.38. That means that on average, based on the quality of the deliveries he was bowling, he would be expected to pick up 1.38 wickets. The difference between the expected value and the actual number of wickets he took (6.62) is the second largest in the CricViz database.

England have been no stranger to chastening defeats in recent years, particularly away from home. Where this one ranks in terms of its effect on this side that seems to be in perpetual transition remains to be seen, but there cannot have been many matches where so many mis-steps have been taken. From the poor team selection to the first innings batting, followed by a wicketless third day, Chase’s exploits were the icing on a particularly shambolically-crafted cake.

Chase himself will care little for any of that though. Kensington Oval, his home ground, has seen plenty of fine bowling performances down the years – the ends are named after the greats of Joel Garner and Malcolm Marshall. Chase is unlikely to be ranked anywhere near that calibre of bowler by the time his career is done, but he has nonetheless carved out a little slice of history of his own on this famous ground.

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.

@PatrickNoone08

CricViz Analysis: Roach & Holder blow England away

18 wickets fell on Day 2 in Bridgetown as West Indies took giant strides towards going 1-0 up in the series. Patrick Noone looks at how the bowling of two local talents propelled the hosts into pole position.

In 1994 it was Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose, in 2009 it was Jerome Taylor and Sulieman Benn, today it was Kemar Roach and Jason Holder. England have been no strangers to Caribbean collapses down the years; the venues have been different, the tormentors-in-chief have been varied in terms of their methods of attack, but the underlying story has been a similar one of ignominy and missed opportunity on all three occasions.

46 all out in Trinidad, 51 all out in Jamaica and now 77 all out in Barbados after England were humbled by a breathtaking spell of bowling from West Indies’ quicks. In the first hour after lunch, the tourists lost 6-19 in 10.1 overs, having reached 30-1 at the break, with little to hint at the carnage there was to come.

Kemar Roach bowled three overs before lunch. Two of them were maidens, 50% of his deliveries were on a good length and it was a solid, if unspectacular start with the new ball. A criticism of Roach during that first spell would be that he did not make the batsman play enough; Rory Burns and Keaton Jennings were able to leave exactly half of the balls Roach bowled, the two left-handers able to watch the ball go past their off-stump without danger.

After the lunch interval, Roach switched ends and began an eight-over onslaught that left England on their knees. His length was shorter than in his first spell – 7.9m on average, compared to 6.1m before lunch, and 39.5% of the balls he bowled were shorter than 8m from the stumps, compared to 0% in his first spell.

Only two balls he bowled in the entire innings would have gone on to hit the stumps. A fact such as that is one that is often used as a stick to beat an opening bowler with; that they should be attacking the stumps more, pitching it up, making the batsman play. Roach’s second spell was testament to the fact that hitting the stumps is not necessary if you can bowl with the accuracy, hostility and penetration that the 30-year-old showed today.

It was, in fact, when Roach pulled his length back that he was at his most effective. He pitched 20 balls on a good length (6m-8m) during his second spell and picked up three wickets for six runs. When he dragged his length back further, as he did on 19 occasions, England were unable to score a single run and both Moeen Ali and Jos Buttler were dismissed.

At the other end, Jason Holder was causing havoc of his own. The West Indies captain bowled himself for an eight over spell either side of lunch, during which he conceded just 15 runs and picked up the wickets of Jennings and Joe Root.

At 6ft7in, Holder is often mistaken for a ‘hit the deck’ bowler who should be banging away short of a length. However, he has shown himself to be skilful enough to bowl traditionally good lengths and cause batsmen problems with his accuracy and lateral movement both through the air and off the pitch. His height can still be an attribute, such as today when he found more bounce than any other seamer from balls pitching on a good length.

But Holder also found 1.9° of swing on average and bowled 73% of his deliveries on a good length, so far he’s outperformed all other seamers in the match on both metrics. It was those good length deliveries that caused England the most problems; they were only able to score off two of them and the extra bounce he found meant that none of those deliveries were going on to hit the stumps.

That has the effect of hurrying the batsman as the ball repeatedly hits the splice and for each of Holder’s two wickets, it was a case of the batsman being pinned down by the good length deliveries before ultimately being dismissed by the fuller ball. As though both Jennings and Root were waiting for the opportunity to score having seen their scoring options dried up by Holder’s accuracy.

Before the Test began, much was made of the conditions and which team had read them correctly. At the midway point of the match, England’s decision to pick two spinners looked ill-advised, West Indies appeared to have read the pitch perfectly and the home side’s seamers had exploited the pitch expertly to put them in control.

Both Holder and Roach are Barbados natives. In the playing XI, senior players such as Shai Hope, Roston Chase and Kraigg Brathwaite also hail from the island that plays host to the current match. That’s a substantial pool of local knowledge to make a judgment from and it’s unlikely to be a coincidence that the hosts look to have got their selection spot on.

Roach and Holder knew the conditions, worked out the best way to bowl on this pitch and added their names to an ever-growing list of West Indian bowlers who have blown England away in the Caribbean.

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.

@PatrickNoone08

CricViz Analysis: Battling Brathwaite lays platform

On a day that saw the initiative swing back and forth between the two sides, Patrick Noone looks at how West Indies’ rock shaped the innings for the hosts on Day 1 in Barbados.

Cricket is often guilty of misty-eyed nostalgia, of harking back to bygone eras that may or not have actually existed in reality. No team is subject to such wistful reminiscence more than West Indies. Rarely are the current team able to get through a series without lengthy discussions about former greats and past glories, solemn reflections where we all wonder where it all went wrong.

We are constantly reminded of how far short the modern team are falling in relation to some of the greatest sides ever assembled and, until West Indies hit those heights again, the current side is burdened by their predecessors’ success, haunted by the black and white images of those that have gone before them.

Batting technique is another area that is subject to a similar kind of treatment. It has become fashionable in some quarters to decry the influence of T20 batting and to suggest that batsmen no longer have the defensive technique required to prosper in Test cricket. As though there is a ‘proper’ way to bat and that nobody currently playing the game has the patience or the knowhow to execute a ‘traditional’ Test match innings.

It is therefore ironic that, for all the pearl-clutching about the lack of both talented West Indian players and batsmen capable of slowly accumulating runs in a Test innings, Kraigg Brathwaite has shown himself to be both. The right-handed opener is not one you could ever accuse of flamboyancy; of openers to have batted ten innings or more during 2018, only Murali Vijay and Dean Elgar attacked the ball less frequently than Brathwaite.

Today, Brathwaite took that reticence to attack to new heights. In the first hour, he scored just five runs from the 48 balls he’d faced and had not attacked a single delivery. At the other end, the debutant John Campbell was teeing off, relatively speaking, and had moved to 29 from 42 balls, attacking 19% of the time.

Brathwaite remained resolute though, happy to let Campbell take all the risks, and played his first attacking shot to the first ball he faced from Moeen Ali, the 48th of his innings overall. It was telling that Brathwaite immediately went after England’s spinner; across his career, he attacks the slower bowlers significantly more than the quicks but, perhaps more pertinently, he faces eleven more balls per dismissal when facing seam.

Today, Brathwaite dealt in extremes. By the time he was finally dismissed for 40 from 130 balls, he had still not attacked a single delivery from either of England’s opening bowlers, but had scored 19 runs off the 23 balls he faced from Moeen. When facing 20 balls or more against a spinner, Brathwaite has only twice attacked more than the 43% he did today against the off-spinner.

Everything outside his off-stump from the new ball pair, Brathwaite either defended or let go. Against Moeen, the wider the ball was, the more likely it was to be attacked. Furthermore, Brathwaite was light on feet, stepping out of his crease on three occasions to score two fours and a six as he began to go through the gears.

Brathwaite is not an opener in the mould of someone like David Warner or Virender Sehwag. He will never blast bowling attacks away but he has his method and it largely does the job of seeing off the new ball for the strokemakers down the order. His innings was a throwback to ‘giving the bowlers the first hour’ and laying a platform that allowed Shai Hope, Roston Chase and Shimron Hetmyer to kick on when conditions were more benign and the shine had been taken off the ball.

The half-centuries of Hope and Chase might have been more eye-catching, Hetmyer’s might have been more explosive, but none of those innings would have been possible without Brathwaite’s defiance that went before them. Nevertheless, each of them showed a level of application and skill that suggested that Caribbean cricket is perhaps not as deep in the mire as is often perceived. And, without question, the ability to bat a long period and play out a traditional Test innings is anything but a lost art.

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.

@PatrickNoone08

CricViz Analysis: How Sri Lanka Can Beat Australia

Ben Jones analyses the key areas where the tourists could steal a march on Tim Paine’s side.

Sri Lanka arrive in Australia as afterthoughts.

That is not a slight against their hosts, who have had more than enough to think about in the last nine months. It’s not a slight against the media, who are justified in focusing on this Indian side, the world’s best team achieving something truly historic. And it’s certainly not a slight against Sri Lanka.

Yet Dinesh Chandimal’s side have won all of their last three Tests against Australia. Of course, those matches took place in home conditions – the pitches in Colombo and Galle a far cry from Canberra and the Gabba – but it’s remarkable how quickly this has been forgotten.

Equally, Australian cricket hasn’t been at a lower ebb in the last 30 years. Whilst the bowling line-up still has something of an aura, the gulf in ability between the two batting line-ups is not that great. A combined top seven may include more Sri Lankans than Australians. The tourists may struggle, they may thrive, but right now, if it’s a match involving Aussie cricketers, it’s an unpredictable affair.

So let’s put aside the idea that Sri Lanka are no-hopers. They can win this series, and would be doing themselves a disservice if they didn’t try to eek out every fine margin, to try and sneak a Test victory through the back door. So here are are the five ways – according to CricViz data – that Sri Lanka can compete in these two matches.

BOWLING PLANS

Usman Khawaja is Australia’s best batsman. He’s their most attractive stroke-maker, their most substantial run-scorer, their most likely candidate to step into the void left by his former teammates. Yet asked to step up this summer, he’s not been up to the task, and Sri Lanka will be eager to keep his subdued run going.

For the spinners, it’s tough, because Khawaja is famously strong against slow bowling in Australia. However, there is a chance to get one over on him – but the key is in the detail. If you are going to bowl spin to Khawaja you have to have the ball turning away from him, i.e. an off-spinner or a left-arm wrist spinner.

If you’re going to bowl pace at Khawaja, it’s better to err on the side of being too full rather than too short. He is an extremely competent puller (averaging 161) and cutter (averaging 122), and dropping your length back will be punished. Turn it away from him – and don’t drop short.

In the last decade, the average opener is dismissed every 72 balls against seamers with the new ball in Australia. So far in his career, Marcus Harris has recorded a figure of 93.3, and that was against an extremely good Indian bowling attack. He is a young man of clear talent when it comes to seeing off the first hour. Against seamers, Harris has only been dismissed by balls above 140kph – touching the upper end of the speed gun could be important in removing the Australian openers, Lahiru Kumara the most likely candidate. Raw pace is needed.

Tim Paine is an effective lower-order batsman. Australia’s tail is in no way a weakness, but the ability of Paine to bind together the two halves of his batting line-up is significant – but he struggles against pace. Indeed, he’s dismissed almost twice as often when facing pace rather than spin.

Interestingly, Paine is extremely good against balls on his stumps. He averages 42 against balls from seamers that would have hit – all other top-order players in the Tests Paine has played in average 14.35 against those balls. No, the big difference-maker when bowling to Paine is not line or length, but seam movement. The average seam movement in Australia is around 0.75° – when bowlers exceed this, Paine’s average plummets. Chandimal should turn to whichever bowler he feels is getting the most off the pitch when Paine comes to the crease. Seam is key.

By contrast, Matthew Renshaw is weak against the deliveries Paine dominates. In his first stint in Tests, Renshaw struggled against balls targeting his stumps, averaging just 9.75 against deliveries from seamers that would have gone on to hit. The average for the other openers in the games he’s played is 20.30. Target the stumps.

To Travis Head, a patient approach is advisable. Repeatedly in the India series, Head was dismissed to deliveries outside his off-stump from the seamers. Indeed, to good length balls in the channel, he averaged just 10.50. As such, Sri Lanka should try to keep him away from spin, and continue to punish his weakness outside off. Hang the ball on a wide line, and wait.

To date, Joe Burns holds an even record against both pace and spin, but on closer inspection he’s really struggled with full and good length balls from the seamers. Against short balls he’s averaged 57, but anything fuller and he’s averaged 24.09. It’s an occupational hazard for an opener (five of the seven dismissals were in the first 10 overs), but it’s still an area Sri Lanka may be minded to try and exploit while the ball is still fresh. Pitch it up, and the Sri Lankan seamers may get some success.

FINDING THE RIGHT LENGTH

Anecdotally, when overseas seamers arrive in Australia they can get carried away with the pace and bounce on offer and struggle to find a threatening length. In reality, the story is different depending on the pace you actually bowl at.

In the last year, Suranga Lakmal’s average speed has been 130kph. You can still have success bowling at that speed in Australia – James Anderson and Vernon Philander have shown this recently – but you need to be precise with your length. In last year’s Ashes, Anderson hit a good length with 47% of his deliveries, the highest figure of any seamer on show. Don’t get tricked into thinking you’re fast and nasty because of the carry through to the keeper. Lakmal cannot forget that as a default rule a ‘good’ length – that is, 6-8m from the batsman’s stumps – is a good length. Keep hitting that in-between zone.

For Lahiru Kumara, it’s a different story, because in the last 12 months, Kumara is the sixth fastest bowler in the world.

What’s more, he puts that pace into bowling wicket-taking deliveries; of the six seamers to appear for Sri Lanka in Tests over the last 12 months, Kumara has the lowest Expected Dismissal Rate (according to CricViz’s Wicket Probability Model). Lakmal may be a more rounded bowler, but Kumara has a very high ceiling.

This relates to his bowling length because his extra pace gives him more options. It’s still statistically better to hit a good, in-between length, but the second best option is to bowl shorter, rather than fuller – the opposite of bowlers of Lakmal’s pace. This gives Kumara more tactical variation.

SPINNERS SPEEDS

As an off-spinner visiting Australia, the key is your speed, because you have a tiny margin for error. It’s the Goldilocks conundrum – too hot, or too cold, and you’re in trouble.

Nathan Lyon understands this. For the last five years 58% of his bowling in Australia has been in that middle bracket. He has adapted his bowling to suit the conditions he plays in most – but it’s taken time, and Sri Lanka’s spinners need to go through this process inside a month.

Dilruwan Perera is the most suited to bowling this pace – across his career 45% of his deliveries have fallen into that speed bracket. However, whereas Lyon uses the slower ball as a rare variation (just 11% of his bowling at home is slower than 83kph), Dilruwan drops below 83kph with 48% of his deliveries. Clearly that is a product of his home conditions, but it’s a big mechanical switch to suddenly remove those deliveries from your game. It could be even more of an issue for Dhananjaya de Silva, who has bowled 68% of his career deliveries at that speed.

However, if that speed issue can’t be resolved through coaching, there is a tactical way out. If you’re going to bowl that slowly, then you cannot get drawn into thinking you can toss it right up and beat the batsman above the eyeline. It’s counter-intuitive, but it’s the case. For spinners, it’s not a binary issue of being allowed to pitch it up more the slower you bowl – the slower you are, the more accurate you have to be.

ATTACKING THE NEW BALL

One of the few areas in which Australia were better than India was in their new ball bowling. Despite India’s superior opening batsmen, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood consistently took wickets and outperformed their opposite numbers.

Thus, the absence of Hazlewood for this series is significant. The New South Wales seamer has taken the new ball in 72 of the 82 innings in which he’s bowled for Australia, and he leaves a hole in the attack that needs to be filled. There has been talk this summer that Pat Cummins deserves a shot with the new ball (he’s taken it just nine times in 33 Test innings), but it was largely suggested that he replace Starc, not Hazlewood. You’d imagine that Paine and Justin Langer will be reluctant to open up with the relative inexperience of both Cummins and Jhye Richardson, so it’s likely Starc will retain his spot with the new ball. An out of form bowler and one new to the job will begin proceedings for the hosts.

So, Sri Lanka need to go hard at Starc, because he’s vulnerable. Since the start of 2018, attacking shots against the left-armer’s new ball deliveries have averaged 69.50, leading to a dismissal every 45.5 shots. As shown below, that is a worse record than most established bowlers.

Yet as you can see, Cummins has a great record in this regard – an attacking shot against him is very likely to bring a dismissal. As such, Sri Lanka’s openers need to be willing to go after Starc, given it will make it easier to soak up the pressure from Cummins at the other end. If you lose wickets to Starc early on when trying to punish the bad balls, you shouldn’t worry – it’s the prudent approach.

This should inform Sri Lanka’s selection because to execute this strategy, Karunaratne needs a strokemaker alongside him. In the practice game against the Cricket Australia XI, the visitors opened with Lahiru Thirimanne, a man who has played 29 Tests and averaged 23.56 – hardly world-beating. What’s more, he’s rarely been fluent at Test level, playing just 18% attacking shots, not exactly a man well-suited to an aggressive strategy.

A far better option would be to promote Dhananjaya de Silva. Despite never opening in Tests, Dhananjaya has opened on 57 occasions in FC cricket, with an average of over 40; more significantly, he is perfectly suited to the role of taking on the new ball. He has has the highest average with attacking strokes of anyone in the Sri Lankan squad, as well as the best dismissal rate. Given that other more traditional opening candidates have clear issues at this stage (Sadeera Samarawickrama averages just 8.62 against pace bowling in Tests), a bold decision is required.

USING YOUR FEET AGAINST LYON

Disrupting Nathan Lyon is hugely important for any side facing Australia. Within Paine’s bowling quartet, Lyon bowling lots of economical overs is fundamental; if Lyon can’t bowl, the knock-on effects are severe, forcing the fragile Starc and Cummins into longer and longer spells.

The key to playing Lyon in Australia is to come down the track. Across his career, batsmen coming down to Lyon average 32.29. His overall average in Australia is 33.31, so it’s not more effective in a purely numerical manner, but the scoring rate for these shots is 7.06rpo. This puts Paine in a difficult situation. With the likely absence of an all-rounder other than Travis Head, Lyon is Paine’s only relief option. He has to make a call – wait for the breakthrough, or take Lyon off.

What’s more, this tactic naturally suits Sri Lanka. Their batsman come down the track more often than most – as shown below. What’s more, the average in Sri Lanka is to come down to 8.5% of deliveries, so this isn’t a measurement informed only by home conditions. This is a group that have the natural inclination to play in this manner.

Conclusion

Sri Lanka have a chance – but that’s all it is. If they have good plans and execute them well, Australia may not be strong enough right now to resist. However, the hosts are still likely to come out on top; the absence of Angelo Mathews may come to be crucial both in terms of batting heft and bowling depth, and Langer’s revamped squad may just be fresh enough to allow them to move on from the India defeat. Regardless, Sri Lanka should go into this series believing that the smash ‘n’ grab is on – because right now, everything in Australia is up for grabs.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: Did MS Dhoni cost India?

On a day when India lost in surprising fashion to Australia, Ben Jones assesses the impact of the Indian keeper’s controversial knock.

Obviously, Rishabh Pant should be in this Indian ODI side.

It confounds onlookers from around the world that a player of such outrageous talent, a player so closely aligned with what a 2019 white-ball batsman is supposed to look like, is not deemed worthy of a spot in a side with a notoriously soft middle order. The broader question of whether MS Dhoni should be in this side ahead of Pant is relatively moot.

There is little cricketing logic behind the reason to retain the veteran over the younger, more explosive wicket-keeper batsman. Dhoni is a more accomplished gloveman, but in the age of 350 chases, a middle order rammed full of players able to clear the rope is far more important. Dhoni hasn’t scored at over 4.2rpo against spin in ODIs for almost four years. Rishabh Pant scores faster than that in Test cricket.

However, the question of today’s innings deserves a bit of focus, away from the fanfare and hyperbole about the decline of an ageing great. Because this was a peculiar day of cricket. Few would have agreed that Australia had enough runs at the end of their innings; few would have anticipated the clatter of wickets that fell at the start of India’s. But for many, the defining question of the day is: did Dhoni cost India the game?

After Ambati Rayudu’s wicket fell, and Dhoni arrived at the crease, WinViz gave his side an 18% chance of victory. India had been left unbalanced as a result of the off-field issues surrounding Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul, and thus were left with an unusually long tail bolted onto their rather too usual weak middle order. It was a passage of play that called for caution, and Dhoni delivered.

When he left, dismissed LBW by debutant left-armer Jason Behrendorff, WinViz fell to 12% for the visitors. Dhoni walked off with his side in a worse position than when he arrived. By this measure, it would be fair to argue he had lost India the game.

Yet the ball before he was dismissed, his partnership with Rohit had lifted WinViz to 24%. Sure, his own role in the partnership had been the significantly more junior, despite his own immense experience, but at that moment, regardless of the pace of his scoring, his contribution (combined with Rohit’s) had increased India’s chance of winning this game. It was a chance that was increasing with every over, slowly creeping up as the sun went down over the SCG’s pavilion.

There’s a lot of talk about gambling in this form of the game. Playing your natural game, backing yourself, it’s all bound up in the language of a carefully calculated wager between yourself and the opposition. You throw everything at the bowler and hope that your eye, and your luck, are in. But in a way, what Dhoni did today is more of a gamble. For one, a long bad innings will attract more criticism than a short bad one, because it has so much more time to gather in intensity, for people to grow ever angrier. In the last decade, only two innings from Indian batsmen of 96 balls or longer have been slower than Dhoni’s today. One was Rayudu against Zimbabwe in 2016 (3.1rpo), and the other was Dhoni himself against the West Indies in 2017. This was, on the surface of it, a long, bad innings.

Equally, it may be a generous interpretation to suggest this was entirely a strategic choice. Outside of the death overs, the average player in this match played 34% attacking strokes, while Dhoni himself played 32%. He wasn’t attacking significantly less than the average; he was trying to up the rate, but was unable to.

And increasingly, that’s been the story for the Indian legend. In 2013, Dhoni’s attacking strokes scored at 11.04rpo in ODI cricket. In 2018, they scored at 7.43rpo. His ability to execute those attacking shots has decreased significantly, however much the intent and drive to play them remains.

Ultimately though – did his innings actually cost his side? Well, at CricViz we use a white-ball performance analysis metric known as Impact, which calculates how many runs any individual player contributed above or below that which the average player would have done in any given match. It is ideal for answering questions exactly like this one.

As you can see, Dhoni’s Batting Impact in this match was 0.7. He neither significantly added anything the average player wouldn’t have, nor cost his team substantially. For all the furore on either side of the debate, for all the heat in the conflicting arguments, Dhoni had a negligible impact on the match today. Without question, other players on both sides had a greater impact – both in a positive and a negative sense.

Another player may have done better, another player may have done worse. It still feels tough to suggest with any conviction that India are better off selecting their veteran keeper over their youthful bolter, but it is equally hard to suggest that today Pant would have certainly made the difference. He is a talent that needs to be incorporated into this side as quickly as possible, but today was an example of why that should come at the expense of Karthik or Rayudu, not Dhoni.

Either way, India will be hugely frustrated to have lost this match, to a side that is by almost all measures significantly worse than them. Even from this position, it would be a huge shock were India not to claim victory in the series. Perhaps Dhoni will play a part in a victory this series, perhaps not. Regardless, today was not the day to finish the former captain’s epitaph.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: Australia’s ODI Decline

As Australia prepare to take on India in the first of three ODIs on Saturday, Patrick Noone looks at how the World Champions have stalled since their 2015 triumph.

When Steve Smith worked a ball off a good length from Matt Henry to the square leg boundary, the MCG erupted and Australia were crowned World Champions for the fifth time in their history. At that moment, the host nation were ahead of the curve in the 50-over format; despite the subsequent retirements of Brad Haddin, Mitchell Johnson and Michael Clarke, it felt as though they were leaving behind a young, vibrant side that had plenty of success ahead of them.

They had the big-hitting batsmen at the top of the order in Aaron Finch and David Warner – only losing finalists New Zealand recorded a faster run rate in the first ten overs in that tournament. The middle order engine room of Smith, Clarke, and Shane Watson kept things ticking over ahead of the mercurial all-round talents of Glenn Maxwell and James Faulkner. In Mitchell Starc, they possessed the best death bowler in the world while the future looked bright with the young talents of Mitchell Marsh and Pat Cummins, fringe players who nonetheless played their part on the way to the final, seemingly ready to step in to replace the outgoing old guard.

On the eve of the ODI series against India, things have not quite worked out the way they should have done. Australia have slipped to sixth in the ICC rankings, their lowest position at the start of a calendar year since 1984. Coincidentally, that was one of only four years since rankings were first recorded in 1981 that India started the year ahead of their opponents in the rankings.

It is a somewhat crude measure, with the ICC rankings far from a perfect indicator of a team’s performance, but it is one that illustrates Australia’s sharp decline in the 50-over format. And while Australia have stagnated since that triumphant night in Melbourne, other teams, including India, have overtaken them. The gap between the two sides in terms of ranking positions has never been more heavily in India’s favour at the start of a year and Virat Kohli’s side will be smelling blood ahead of the upcoming series.

Australia’s fall from grace in ODI cricket has been stark and brutal. In the 18 months up to and including the 2015 World Cup, Australia won 29 matches in the format; in nearly four years since winning the tournament, they’ve won 28. Of course, retirements to some key players did not help, but Australia’s efforts to replace them have too often been misjudged, ill-advised and polluted by a lack of clear thinking as to what the team should look like.

Faulkner, the man of the match in the World Cup final has fallen out of favour and not played an ODI for over a year. Maxwell, the batsman surely most suited to playing ODI cricket in the manner required to succeed in 2019, has been in and out of the side for reasons seldom relating to form and ability. Batsmen who have made their name in the Big Bash League such as D’Arcy Short, Chris Lynn and Travis Head have come into the side with mixed results, none able to truly nail down a spot in the starting XI for one reason or another.

Australia have played 63 matches since the World Cup, using 42 different players in that time. Four teams have fielded more players in that time – West Indies, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka – but all of those teams have played more matches than Australia, besides West Indies. And when you find yourself jostling for position with West Indies in the inconsistency stakes, it’s probably a sign that something isn’t quite right.

Ironically, despite all the changes in personnel, one of the fundamental problems for Australia’s batting has arguably been that they haven’t changed enough in terms of approach. That they have been left behind in the fast-moving world of limited overs cricket, persisting with a ‘brand’ of cricket that delivered positive results in 2015 but is no longer fit for purpose at the elite level in 2019.

Their approach to batting in the first ten overs is one that other teams have simply been able to replicate and carry off with greater success. In the span between the 2011 and 2015 World Cups, Australia attacked 34% of the balls they faced during that phase of the innings, while the average for all other teams was 31%. Since the 2015 World Cup, Australia have upped that figure slightly to 37%, but the difference now is that that matches the global average. The rest of the world has caught up and, as a result, Australia no longer retain the edge they once had.

Intent is one thing, but what has been more of a worry for Australia from a batting perspective is the frequency at which they’ve scored hundreds. While their overall run tallies have been reasonable – the average first innings winning score since the World Cup is 289; Australia have averaged 282 in the first innings in that time – their rate of individual centuries has plateaued while other countries’ has increased dramatically.

While Australia still rank in a healthy position in terms of their century rate since 2015, a feature of their batting that used to set them apart from many is no longer applicable. Between 2011 and 2015, only five sides including themselves could boast a century rate between 10 and 20 innings. Since then, five teams have increased their century rate to a greater degree than Australia and, as a result, they find themselves in a cluster of teams capable of scoring hundreds with similar regularity. It is not that Australia have become a bad team overnight, merely that they have been treading water while the chasing pack are leaving them in their wake.

While Australia rightly go into the India series as rank outsiders, they will welcome back the rested fast-bowling trio of Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins ahead of this year’s World Cup. There is also the small matter of the returns of Steve Smith and David Warner before that tournament. On the face of it, adding those five players will surely improve things but the post-World Cup malaise began while each of them were featuring regularly. It might have got worse in their absence, but the point is that their return does not represent a magic bullet that Australia can rely upon to guarantee success.

How much longer will the peculiar feeling of stasis around the team go on for? How heavily will they have to lose against India before someone recognises that a change of approach is required? It was an issue that England experienced after their miserable 2015 World Cup campaign; an insistence on playing the way they always had, falling behind as other teams blazed a trail past them. They have since reinvented themselves and become the leading lights in ODI cricket while Australia have found themselves sleepwalking towards similar World Cup ignominy. Only time will tell if they are capable of rousing themselves between now and next May.

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.

@PatrickNoone08