Here you will find detailed analysis highlighted from the CricViz app.

T20 Legends: Sunil Narine

In Part One of CricViz’s T20 Legends series we examine why and how Sunil Narine is one of T20’s greatest players. 

RUN-PREVENTION KING

At the very core of Sunil Narine’s greatness is his run-prevention ability. Put simply he is the greatest defensive bowler in T20 history. Narine’s economy rate of 6.02 runs per over is the equal best in the world, exactly level with his mentor and countryman Samuel Badree. 

However, economy rate can be a misleading measure. Different periods of the innings produce fluctuating run environments with the middle overs typically being the slowest scoring phase of the innings. As a result spinners often dominate lists of best economy rates because overall they operate far more regularly through that middle phase. 

Narine, however, is different. Among the format’s major spin bowlers he is one of only three who have bowled the majority of their overs outside the middle overs, operating instead in the tougher periods: the Powerplay and the death.

Not only does Narine not operate through the middle but he is the only spinner in the world to bowl more than a quarter of his overs in the Powerplay and more than a quarter of his overs at the death. It is not uncommon for spinners to bowl a fair chunk of their overs in one of these two phases but Narine does both. 

Contextualising a spinner’s overs often makes their raw economy look slightly less impressive because the large majority of them bowl in the middle overs. However, in Narine’s case the fact that he operates as much as he does outside the middle overs makes his economy rate more impressive. 

True Economy Rate is a measure that contextualises economy rate and allows cross-phase analysis of bowlers by comparing a bowler’s performance in a given over to the aggregate scoring rate for that over in that year. 

By this measure Narine moves well clear as the best defensive bowler in T20 returning a True Economy Rate of -1.75 runs per over which means he concedes 1.75 runs fewer per over than we would expect based on the overs he has bowled in. 

FLATTER, FASTER & SHORTER 

Narine’s astonishing run-saving ability comes from a very specific method. Traditionally, in longer formats of cricket spinners have looked to beat batsmen in the air by bowling a loopy trajectory, at slow speeds and on full lengths. T20, and the greater emphasis on the defensive role of bowlers, has given rise to a new breed of spinner who have bowled flatter, faster and shorter. This combination of traits cramps batsmen for room and time, making it difficult for them to attack. Badree was the pioneer of this method but Narine has since popularised it. 

Among T20’s major spin bowlers only six have bowled faster than Narine, who has delivered 78% of his balls in T20 faster than 88 kph. 

Among that same group of bowlers none have bowled a shorter length than Narine, whose deliveries have, on average, pitched 5.67 metres from the batsman’s stumps. 

The difference in average length between Narine and another great off spinner, Muttiah Muralitharan, is enormous – more than 1.50 metres.

The key to Narine’s length wasn’t so much that he bowled short but rather he very rarely bowled full – allowing batsmen to prop onto the front foot and swing through the line of the ball – a so-called ‘step and hit’. No major bowler in T20 history has bowled a lower proportion of full balls than Narine.

It was this simple method and Narine’s relentless accuracy with it that was fundamental to his success as a run-preventer.  

MYSTERY SPINNER

Narine used to be more than just phenomenally accurate though. Up until October 2014 Narine combined his exceptional run-saving abilities with elite wicket-taking as well. 

The simple reason for this was that in the first three years of his career Narine was a mystery spinner who could bowl carrom balls regularly and very effectively. Although Narine became arguably the delivery’s most successful exponent he learnt it from the Sri Lankan Ajantha Mendis. 

Until October 2014 more than half of Narine’s wickets in T20 came from carrom balls, returning an exceptional average of just 12.20 runs per wicket – no delivery in the history of T20 cricket until that point had been more effective. The combination of Narine’s relentless accuracy and mystery spin proved to be an overwhelming combination. 

Bowling carrom balls with a legal bowling action—within the permitted 15 degrees of flex—is difficult. In October 2014 everything changed for Narine when he was suspended for a suspect bowling action by the ICC. After an attempted return in 2015 was ended by second suspension Narine remodelled his bowling action and returned a very different bowler, focussing less on spin and more on accuracy. 

The change in Narine’s bowling is clear to see: after being suspended for the first time he radically reduced the percentage of his deliveries that were carrom balls from around half to around one in four. 

This was likely to have been in-part a response to the fact that the carrom ball pushed the limit of the laws but it was also a consequence of those deliveries now proving far less effective with his remodelled action. 

The primary difference after his remodelling was the average speed of his carrom ball: falling from 96 kph before October 2014 to 93 kph after that point. As a result they had slightly less bite and fizz and spun around 20% less. 

Before his suspension Narine’s carrom ball was the most effective ball in T20 cricket; but after his return it was not even the most effective delivery in his own armoury. 

A CAREER OF TWO HALVES 

Narine’s suspension and remodelling of his bowling action was a pivot-point for his career. After his initial suspension his bowling changed and his returns changed accordingly: having previously combined a low economy rate with a low strike rate Narine had to settle for being less of a wicket-taking bowler with his strike rate rising significantly higher from 2015 onwards. 

Although his economy rate also rose it did so less dramatically and remained elite: since 2015 only Rashid Khan has a better True Economy Rate than Narine. 

Narine has managed to remain exceptionally effective at run-saving by maintaining the foundation of his method: high speeds and short lengths. 

Since remodelling his action his speed has been slightly down on before (due in part to an outlier 2016 when legality, at the cost of speed, was the focus of Narine’s bowling) but the core tenets of his approach, namely speed and length, remained unchanged.  

LONGEVITY

Just as run-saving is at the heart of Narine’s greatness, so too is longevity. Before Narine remodelled his action in 2015 he was, without a doubt, the world’s leading spin bowler. Since 2015 he has been usurped by Rashid but Narine’s career has lasted twice as long. 

All sportsmen face setbacks and challenges through their careers but few can have been as fundamental or as serious as Narine’s: forced, mid-career, to alter the way he bowled. Yet Narine has not only emerged, but endured. 

Admittedly, he is not the force he once was but even then he remains one of the very best bowlers in the world. 

True legendary status is cemented by sustained excellence. Just as Sachin Tendulkar was forced to reinvent his game across an epic career so too has Narine, evolving from wizard to scrooge. After nearly a decade, 8000 balls and more than 350 wickets he is the most prolific spin bowler in the format’s history. 

PINCH-HITTER 

Narine’s greatness does not only lie in his bowling. Not long after he had to remodel his action and settle for being a lesser bowler his career was given a huge fillip by a dramatic and seismic boost to his batting. 

On New Years Day in 2017 Narine was promoted to the top of the order by the Melbourne Renegades who wanted a player to counter Micheal Beer’s left-arm spin bowling in the Powerplay and had been impressed with Narine’s hitting in the nets. The tactic worked: Narine scored 21 off 13 balls and got the Renegades’ innings off to a flying start. 

Narine’s brief foray as an opener for the Renegades was enough to persuade Kolkata Knight Riders to deploy him there in the 2017 IPL where he eventually formed an iconic partnership with Chris Lynn. Teams around the world quickly followed suit: Dhaka Dynamites, Lahore Qalandars and Trinbago Knight Riders have since adopted the tactic. Having never opened the batting in a T20 before 2017 and having played 81% of his innings at number eight or lower, Narine has opened the batting in 71% of his 122 innings matches since then.

Pinch-hitting, the tactic of promoting a lower order batsman up the order to bat aggressively, has been in the game for a number of years now. However, Narine is comfortably the most successful exponent of the tactic in cricket history. 

The Renegades’ hunch that Narine would be well-suited to opening the batting has proved to be a masterstroke. Narine has emerged as one of the most powerful and aggressive batsmen ever to play T20. His positive intent is of course largely a consequence of his status as a pinch-hitter: bowling is his primary skill so he is liberated to bat with more freedom than a frontline batsman. However to disregard his wicket to such a degree requires a clear understanding and acceptance of the role and a psychological freedom that few players exhibit. 

CricViz’s Power and Attack Ratings illustrate the extent to which Narine is an extreme outlier: the players closest to him on the scatter are Andre Russell, Thisara Perera and Shahid Afridi. 

These raw materials make Narine perfectly suited to the role of pinch-hitter: he is exceptionally aggressive so doesn’t waste balls, and his power enables him to clear the in-field and find the boundary. Narine’s scoring zones – unusually straight – also make him particularly difficult to set fields to in the Powerplay with captains typically placing their two boundary-riders square of the wicket. 

Among T20 players to have scored more than 1000 runs in the Powerplay only Luke Ronchi has scored faster than Narine in the phase and no one has been dismissed at a faster rate. Narine is here for a good time, not a long time.   

Narine is more than just a regulation Powerplay hitter though. More specifically he is particularly adept at scoring rapidly against spin which has elevated his value in the Powerplay even further. As T20 has matured the percentage of overs bowled by spinners in the first six overs has steadily increased because the batsmen who typically bat there are often far stronger against pace. Narine’s aptitude against spin and his deployment as a pinch-hitter has made him a fielding captain’s nightmare, particularly when he’s paired with a reliable destroyer of pace bowling such as Lynn at KKR. 

As teams have become more accustomed to Narine the pinch-hitter they have become better at exploiting him, most obviously with high pace and short lengths. However, the beauty of Narine in the role is that his worst innings very rarely consume many balls. 

The rise of Narine the pinch-hitter, coinciding with the slight dip in his bowling when he remodelled his action has been central to Narine maintaining his status as one of T20’s most valuable players.  

PROFOUND LEGACY 

Ultimately, when Narine’s T20 career does come to an end, whenever that may be – his legacy, although etched in what will certainly be remarkable records – will be greater than numbers and more profound. Off the pitch his prioritisation of T20, alongside Chris Gayle, Kieron Pollard and Dwayne Bravo, has blazed a trail for a generation of freelance players. Narine and Pollard, unlike Gayle and Bravo, made their names entirely on the T20 circuit. 

On the pitch, both with ball and bat, Narine’s method as much as his output will endure. Narine inherited his style of bowling from Badree but it was the younger prodigy who popularised it: flatter, faster and shorter was the name of the game. Spin bowling will never look the same again. 

With the bat Narine’s successful promotion as a pinch-hitter and particularly his success with Lynn at KKR demonstrated an understanding of the reduced value of wickets in T20 and the importance of match-ups that makes it one of the great tactical moves in the format’s history. More will surely follow.

Narine’s astonishing T20 career is not yet done but his status as a pioneer and a legend is beyond doubt. 

Freddie Wilde is a CricViz analyst. @fwildecricket

CricViz Analysis: Babar and Virat – One and The Other

Ben Jones looks at the similarities and differences between two T20 stars.

Babar Azam and Virat Kohli are the same.

They stand together as two of the best batsmen in the world. They are two men brought together by their utter brilliance with a bat in hand. They define their sides, one with a captains’ armband, the other through weight of runs and expectation. They attract idolatry and eyeballs from all over the world. They are unavoidably tied together, inescapably kept apart.

The extent of the similarities between Kohli and Babar’s T20 records is borderline absurd. Given the numerous non-sporting reasons for these two men to be compared, it is staggering that on purely cricketing grounds they are so closely aligned, so tightly in each other’s shadow.

The basic record of these two in T20 cricket is above anyone else – they are alone in a league of their own at the top of the table. In T20 internationals, one averages 50.80, the other averages 50.72. Nobody else averages more than either of them, these two the only men to average over 50 in this form of the game with anything like a substantial career behind them.

They made progress at a similar rate in the early stages of their career. Only one man (Ahmed Shahzad) has scored more T20 runs before their 26th birthday than one of them, the other coming in a close fourth. They both stand as remarkable examples of what a talented young batsman can achieve if they are given a platform, and trusted to make the most of that opportunity. They are both prodigies.

The sum of this prodigious skill is that, when they are on, they are on; the peaks they have are huge, because players of this talent leave an imprint. Last year, one made three T20 centuries. Only two men ever have made more in a calendar year – Chris Gayle in 2011, and the other in 2016.

However, these are in essence just statistical quirks; Billie Eilish and Mark Nicholas have made exactly the same number of Test runs, but you imagine they’d look rather different at the crease. No, the similarities between Babar and Virat go deeper than simply their run returns.

The sense of class and control in the air when these two are batting is measurable. In the last two years, they have both faced more than 1,000 deliveries in all T20 cricket. Yet they have edged or missed an identical percentage of the deliveries they have faced; whether you are one or the other, 13% of the balls you have faced have been met with a false shot. It’s all the more extraordinary that such a high level of control makes them the joint best in the world in this regard.

Both generally play as an anchor in the top three, so it’s not a surprise that they seem to work at a similar tempo. Their levels of intent, the ratio between looking for boundaries and rotating the strike, are identical. Since the start of 2018, they both attack exactly 55% of the balls they face. In that time, they both play a rotating stroke exactly 39% of the time.

The areas of the pitch where they score their runs are exactly the same. They split the field with exactly the same weighting, both scoring exactly 44.6% of their runs through the offside, 55.4% through the legside.

Their attributes, their specific batting traits beyond runs and rates, are as in-sync as everything else. At CricViz, we use all the data from a player’s career – the shots they play, when they play them, the contact they make with the ball – to give them a rating for different aspects of batsmanship. The two most fundamental are ‘Attack’ and ‘Timing’, essentially calculating the relative attacking intent for a batsman, and the quality of the contact they make with the stroke they play.

Given the similarity in their roles, it is no real surprise that the Attack Ratings for these two are very, very similar, but the uncanny similarities come when we look at their timing. From 132 players ranked by their ability to make clean contacts, these two men are separated by two places, one the sixth best in the world at timing the ball in T20, the other the eighth best.

All these technical similarities and similar approaches mean that just as they succeed in the same way, they fail in the same way. Bowl at their stumps as a seamer, and you’ll get one of them out every 17.7 deliveries – and you’ll get the other one out every 17.8 deliveries. For both, 13% of their dismissals come nicking to the wicket-keeper. Again, we are in the realm of statistical quirks, but knowing what we do about how closely these two stand together, it’s hard to ignore.

This entire conceit is unfair, of course. One is not the other, the other not the one. Both of these players are wonderful, transcendent batsmen in all formats, so complete that they can dominate both the oldest and newest forms of the game. They reflect 2020, and T20, in every way. They are individuals with unique back stories and unique histories, but they are distinct. They are two actors playing the same role, on different stages.

The PSL opens on Friday. The first time the tournament will take place entirely in Pakistan, it represents a unique occasion for a country deprived of the game for too long. Babar will be turning out for Karachi Kings, looking to dominate this homecoming season and stamp down a marker – World Cup, here I come.

In a month or so, Virat will do the same, in rather less unique circumstances, but with no less expectations. Royal Challengers Bangalore may have changed their badge, but Kohli will be all too aware that cosmetic changes are the least of their worries. His own form as captain and player will be under more scrutiny than ever before. India expects victory in Australia, and whilst this isn’t an audition, it’s a litmus test.

Two men alike in dominance, who have never faced off in this form of the game – neither has played the other in a T20. Two young men with so much shared, so much between them, have never shared a pitch in this form of the game. And so the next few months will see these two players moving ever closer, circling towards the World Cup itself; they may not meet, India and Pakistan for once kept apart in the group stages, but there’s the familiar scent of destiny about this one. They’ll find each other, at some point in that tournament, you feel.

In the meantime, Babar and Virat stand together. The same player in different sides. Separate, and equal. One, and the other.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: Where Should Buttler Bat?

Ben Jones analyses where the Rajasthan Royals opener should bat in England’s order.

How do you stop Jos?

Well, here’s a scenario for you. You’re a bowling captain in a T20 match. It’s the final over, and the batting side need 12 to win. You have your pick of whichever seam bowler in the world you would like, barring Jofra Archer or Jasprit Bumrah – let’s not be greedy.

The man they are bowling to is Jos Buttler. He’s set, having faced 20 odd balls, and is ready to launch. Where are you telling your man to bowl?

A straight yorker? Don’t get your line wrong. A wide yorker – your funeral. Back of a length in the channel? Don’t telegraph it by dropping third man back. You can’t get predictable.

The point is, there isn’t a solid option here. A normal bowler, one who will make mistakes, is going to find it all but impossible to consistently limit Buttler’s scoring. There is no easy place to bowl to him, he has no real weakness, and he is as close to perfect as any T20 batsman England have. There are very few better in the world.

So how do you get the best out of your best batsman?

In the last two years or so, a consensus has formed with regard to Buttler. His promotion to the top of the order for Rajasthan Royals in 2018 was a masterstroke; converting him into an opener allowed him to make the most of the Powerplay, and ensured he was well set when the field went back, and spin came to the fore. He dominated. Plenty in the England camp wished they had tried it themselves, but once again the IPL had shown England the way – in every T20I since that tournament, Buttler has opened the batting.

There’s no question that the promotion got the best out of Buttler as a batsman, and on the face of it, there should be no debate over his position in the England order for the series against South Africa, and the World Cup later this year. And yet.

The most obvious point about England’s player pool is that they have an abundance of top order options, but lack similar depth for middle/lower order batsmen (as detailed here). Eoin Morgan is likely to bat at No.5/6 regardless, but the broader argument concerns whether Buttler should drop down to join him. Would the team as a whole benefit more from Buttler batting at No.5/6, with one of the numerous reserve openers (Alex Hales, Jason Roy, Phil Salt, Jonny Bairstow, Tom Banton, Dawid Malan, James Vince, Liam Livingstone) stepping in at the top?

First, let’s confirm that top order depth. Whilst standard of opposition varies for these players, it is clear that England’s Powerplay options are similarly skilled; Buttler is the best, but he’s in good company. As we can see below, whilst nobody scores quickly and retains their wicket as well as Buttler, both Banton, Hales and Bairstow can claim to be better than him in one of the two categories. Roy’s security is much less, but his scoring rate is comparable. Only Malan lags significantly behind in both areas.

With that established – why would moving Buttler down the order be of any broader importance? Why wouldn’t the best opener open?

It’s broadly accepted that opening in T20 cricket is easier than batting in the middle order. At No.4/5/6, you are more likely to have to start against spin, you are unlikely to be given the luxury of time to bed in at the crease, and you don’t get the luxury of hitting the Powerplay-induced gaps and seeing the ball go for four. You have to preserve your wicket in the pre-launch overs so you are well-set before the death , but you can’t slip too far behind the rate. It’s a balancing act. The argument is that Buttler is better equipped for these challenges than any of England’s other openers, while those other openers are capable of offering similar Powerplay returns.

The argument against it – and in favour of him opening – is that Buttler is England’s best player, and batting him down the order could leave him under-utilised, facing only 10-15 balls in an innings. Essentially – do England want Buttler to face as many ball as possible, or bat during the toughest period?

This isn’t a question unique to this England team. Rather, it’s a question fundamental to understanding T20 cricket. It is such a fundamental question, that it could be said to define the playing philosophy of a T20 side.

The ‘Facing Most Deliveries’ approach by its very nature puts the opposition and situation to one side, and asserts itself onto the game. It aims to take control of the innings from the outset, seceding no ground in terms of tactics, holding nothing back. It doesn’t consider the particular strengths of the opposition, because this method is not designed purely with this game in mind. It’s bigger than the individual match itself, it’s reflective of a fundamental approach – this is our plan, we’re better than you, you adapt to us. Not the other way around.

The ‘Toughest Period’ approach is the inverse. It is inherently pragmatic, given that it’s working from the premise that periods of the game will be too hard for certain players in your XI to cope with, or at least that they are not well-suited to the challenge. It’s reactive, because whilst ‘the toughest period’ remains relatively stable from match-to-match, the particular strengths and weaknesses of the opposition are considered. Against India or the Mumbai Indians, batting at the death and facing Jasprit Bumrah is the toughest period; against Adelaide Strikers, Sunrisers Hyderabad or Afghanistan, batting in the middle overs is the toughest period because you are facing Rashid Khan. You are responding to the other team, dodging the heaviest punches, making sacrifices to protect your most valuable asset.

What’s more, the choice of where to play Buttler is closely related to another key indicator of a T20 team’s identity and playing style – the identity of the No.7 batsman. If Silverwood and his staff are content to use Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali as a combined fifth bowler (i.e. deliver a guaranteed four overs), then England have a free spot. Both Moeen and Stokes are going to play in the top seven regardless, and so with four gun bowlers from No.8-11, England have a spot for an extra batsman. In that scenario, the relative value of Buttler’s death over hitting is less, with batting depth reducing the need for a specialist ‘finisher’.

However, if England don’t want to use Moeen/Stokes as a combined fifth bowler, then they need to select another bowling option in the top seven, most likely an all-rounder at No.7. In that scenario, with batting depth reduced, the value of Buttler batting at No.5/6 is increased, because the need for quality batsmen is increased.

Ultimately, what England do with Buttler will give the side its identity. If they take a pragmatic approach and bat him down the order, then England will be able to strengthen their bowling. It’ll allow them to be cannier with when they bowl their spinners, focusing on match-ups, and will make them a more flexible, reactive team. Yet if they take the ‘assertive’ option and open with Buttler, then they would be best-advised to pick another genuine batsman in the top seven, giving them the depth and power that typified their run to the final in 2016.

There are benefits to both options, but given that England’s bowling is their weaker suit, a more pragmatic approach would probably suit. Seven bowling options may seem a bit excessive at first glance, but take another look. Plenty of those options are either slightly one dimensional (Willey, Sam Curran) or unproven at top level T20 (Wood, Parkinson) – the flexibility of being able to only use them at the best moment is huge.

Having Buttler floating, able to manage the death overs is a luxury, but one England can afford because of their top order riches. If England can nail that role, and have him arriving at the crease between the 7th and 10th over – be that at No.3, No.4, or No.5 – then they will get the benefit of his ability against spin in the middle, his pre-launch management, and his pure finishing. All while allowing a less complete batsman the boost of working within the fielding restrictions at the top.

What’s more, Buttler is mature enough for that sort of responsibility now. He has been playing international cricket for a decade, and has been a white ball phenomenon for a fair chunk of that time. He could take the easier gig at the top of the order, tasked with taking the innings from green flag to chequered flag, but he’s better than that. If the 2019 World Cup was the moment Ben Stokes fulfilled his potential, then the 2020 World Cup is Buttler’s.

Because, ultimately – how do you stop Jos?

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: Mark Wood’s Speed

Ben Jones analyses the work of England’s tearaway.

There’s no point messing around here. This is a piece about speed, and in keeping with the subject matter, let’s cut to the quick.

Mark Wood is fast. Seriously fast. Historically fast.

His average speed on England’s 2019/20 tour of South Africa was 140.88kph. That is the fastest average speed by an English seamer for any series in our database, dating back to 2006.

There are some fast bowling greats in there, to compete with. Steve Harmison hit the heights of the world’s number one ranked bowler, Simon Jones charmed a nation at 90mph for one glorious summer, Andrew Flintoff was speed-of-light quick for half a decade; in recent times, Steven Finn and Jofra Archer have set up camp at the top end of the speed gun, albeit affected by injuries in ongoing careers of varying length. Certainly not as often as other countries, but English cricket has had some impressive pace merchants in the last 15 years.

And yet, at times in the last week, Wood has been able to crank it up to a level almost unheard of from English bowlers. In particular, he bowled a very short spell in Johannesburg that caught the eye; at the end of Day 2, Wood sent down a three-over burst at an average of 146kph. Only two spells of that many overs or more by an English seamer in our entire database have been quicker.

Only Harmison in the 06/07 Ashes, and Flintoff in the 2009 edition, have bowled quicker spells than Wood managed.

Of course, that particular fact is more trivia than anything substantial. Being able to turn up the heat for short periods of time is flashy and fun, but sustaining it over longer periods – that’s where real success lies. It’s also where, in the first part of his Test career, Wood struggled. While plenty around county cricket knew he had potential to bowl quick deliveries and even spells, there remained the question of whether he could come back and be threatening time after time, late in the day with an old ball. The idea of him doing it in back-to-back matches felt alien.

The most telling point on the chart below is at the top. Wood’s first Test, the barnstormer at Lord’s where Stokes made that astonishing century and England bowled New Zealand out in the final session, was a fantastic arrival to international cricket. Averaging nearly 140kph, Wood looked prepared to take on the world. A week later at Headingley, he’d dropped by almost 4kph, and looked far from the same bowler without that speed.

Which is why the bottom of that graphic is so encouraging. The best part of five years later, we have seen him actually get quicker in the second of two back-to-back Tests, his average speed at Johannesburg faster than at Port Elizabeth. That’s a very, very good sign — and a huge win for the technical expertise behind lengthening his run-up.

Of course, speed isn’t everything. Wood doesn’t do a huge amount with the ball through the air, with only four of the quicks in this series finding less swing than the 0.6° Wood has found this winter. He is not a fix-all for England’s Kookaburra conundrum. But he’s a big part of the solution.

Part of the reason that conundrum exists in the first place is that English cricket has an odd relationship with pace. The county system produces lots of a slower, more accurate seamers, but very few of the brutal, white-light quicks seen elsewhere around the world. Genuine fast bowlers are then treated with, if not suspicion, then a kind of nervous intrigue. The ECB and the county structure have grown used to a sort of compromise, where it accepts that anyone bowling at this pace can’t be the complete package. They’re either injured all the time (Simon Jones), too expensive (Steve Finn), or end up specialising in white ball cricket (Liam Plunkett).

Up until now, Wood has slotted into the tradition of the Injury Prone Quick very easily, and — without undermining the tenacity and drive it takes to keeping coming back from injury setbacks — at times it has played in his favour. As the old adage goes, you’re never a better player than when you’re out of the side. Wood has built up huge support by being so likeable and charismatic, and appears to have a relationship with the crowd that many players with more Tests to their name would envy. That goodwill has built over time, over Tests missed, over grimaces and hamstrings pulled in training, over near misses and against-the-odds returns.

The real challenge starts now. In playing and backing up performances like this with more highlights, and undoubtedly some lows. Wood has been incredibly unfortunate in many physical ways, but he has enjoyed plenty of goodwill and sympathy, much of which you imagine he’s trade for Test wickets in a heartbeat. Moving from loved outsider to hardened insider isn’t easy, but it’s what he needs to do. His challenge is to dodge the trajectory of Simon Jones, Harold Larwood, and the other names with less myth and legend surrounding them. Wood’s task is to put together a career, not just a highlights reel.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: Jos Buttler v Ben Foakes

Ben Jones analyses a classic keeping debate, with a twist.

It is always easy to make sporting events about stories. It’s a kind crutch to see everything that happens as part of a larger image, as a piece in a bigger puzzle, as something grander than it is. In the mind of the writer, of the analyst, of the commentator, everything a player does forms part of the narrative of their life. Every frame a painting, every day a page.

At times it’s a grating affectation – and at times it’s entirely fitting. Today in Johannesburg, the latter was the case. Today, things felt like they were ending, like an era was tying itself up in a neat knot. Today, it felt like the last moments of Jos Buttler as a Test player.

Another innings without the solidity of a Test batsman, without the destructive abandon of an ODI batsman, has seemingly been enough to tip the collective scales against the England keeper. People have had enough, and have felt the lack of controversy elsewhere as the appropriate opportunity to draw a line under his stint as the gloveman in the England side.

The issue with the debate around Buttler, as it often is around keepers, is less about the people involved, than around ideology. Do you like keepers or do you not? Do you want to push their case as the fulcrum of the attack, the man through which everything flows, or do you see the fetishisation of their role as a hangover from an era long gone?

Proponents of Ben Foakes will, quite rightly, push his ability as a pure gloveman as evidence for his inclusion. Few will question his ability in this regard, and rightly so. According to our analysis of fielding ability, only one Test wicketkeeper has saved more runs-per-match in the last three years. It is without question that Foakes is an extremely talented keeper, who should not see his talents go unappreciated.

And so, let’s take this globally significant talent, and compare it to England’s current options. According to our fielding analysis, the sum ability of Foakes’ keeping superiority is an average of five runs a match, or 2.5 runs an innings, to keep the parlance of batting averages.

This isn’t a fair sample of course. Foakes’ having only kept in four innings may significantly increase or decrease the impact he offers, statistically, and we would avoid that if there were more detailed records kept in domestic cricket. Unfortunately, there aren’t for keeping – but there are for batting. If we combine the FC batting records of Foakes and Buttler then we can begin to see things a little more clearly.

Foakes is, on most obviously measurable levels, a better option. Yet the main difference comes not with the keeping gloves, but with the batting gloves.

People like to talk about keeping being an important aspect of the game. This could be for a few reasons. On one level it is clearly an influential aspect of the contest, as influential as any other perhaps, and it is given less attention than others because of a faint whiff of otherness, of a skill acquired away from the main huddle. It’s not like anything else in the game, and so many are nervous of holding forth on it.

However, in the opinion of this writer, a not inconsiderable element is the way that talking about it in detailed terms allows you to look like a connoisseur, a viewer who spots the subtleties and nuances that the casual viewer may not. Plenty of people speak about the importance of confidence that good keepers place in the bowlers, whilst in the same breath talking about the value of runs on the board. The benefits of keeping are, as is measurable, minimal.

Our measures may not be correct. They are not objective, and there could be plenty else which suggests greater influence. But for now, we go with this, we accept its assessment and judge things accordingly.

Foakes’ batting quality is tough to nail down. A Test century to his name, in alien conditions, but against an attack of lower quality than normal; a FC average of 40+ is impressive, but an average of 31 in the last two Championship seasons is not testament to a proven Test batsman. A brief purple patch in Test cricket should not mask the fact that whilst Foakes is competent with bat in hand, his work is not without issues, and is without the dominance in other formats to suggest he has a base level talent to back it all up.

And it’s hard, because Buttler is a genius. He is a better white ball batsman than any Englishman in history. He’s arguably a better white ball batsman than any Englishman has been a red ball batsman.

And yet, that ties into this story better than you may think. English cricket has been in a five year long attempt to bring a particular brand of beautiful cricket to the Test arena. It has done all it can to embrace its white ball stars, from Jos to Jason to Alex to Adil. In ODI cricket England had a dream, and they realised it more perfectly than anyone could have imagined. In the wake of that, in the midst of it, they tried to bring the raw joy of the 50 over team into the five day side, to carry the particular perfection of Bayliss’ white ball team into red ball cricket.

As is so often the case, utopia fought back, and didn’t want to be as amenable; San Junipero is a party town, and the party is ending.

England might be on the brink of a better Test side, of a more solid team with more measurable impact, more consistent performance. That is to be celebrated, as are the young men who will create it. But in that growth, there is a loss, the loss of a team that could have been, of a team that threatened to tear things up. That team may have been nothing but an illusion that we all bought into, the possibility of a team so entertaining that they could save Test cricket from the drudgery of four day finishes and 500+ chases.

That dream died today, and with it, English cricket’s dominance may well have been reborn. Whether that is for better or for worse – we’ll have to see.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: How Excited Can England Get?

Boom, we’re back.

In the wake of a second consecutive Test victory that leaves them on the brink of an improbable series win, English optimism is on the rise. Away wins for Joe Root’s team have been a rare thing in the last few years, and two victories in the space of a fortnight has caused more than a few flutters of optimism in the minds of the players and the fans alike.

Joe Root commented that the Number One Test ranking was “back in our sights”, and whilst he had a glint in his eye it would have been hard to imagine him saying such a thing after Centurion. By the barest of margins, England have just about managed to keep a lid on things – but there’s a clear sense of a team confident they’re moving in the right direction.

While there have only been two Test wins in the Chris Silverwood era, there has been a reassuring level of logic to proceedings, to the way they want to win their Test matches. Silverwood’s England have shown considerably more control with the bat than their previous incarnation; in the two Test series they have played under the former Essex coach, their false shot percentage has been 11.8% and 13.9%, both of which are lower than any series in the entirety of Trevor Bayliss’ tenure. Partly that is comes from the pitches in New Zealand and Port Elizabeth, but even taking that into consideration there has undoubtedly been a change in approach. There has been a conscious effort to defend more, to attack less, to remain in control of their strokes. That much is clear.

With a template in place, again, it’s easy to get swept up in things. Suddenly, England seem to have a solid top three, a free-wheeling middle order, and a seam attack that can bowl quickly and get results with the Kookaburra ball. They now seem to be led by a captain who feels confident and is buoyed on by the swaying choruses of ‘Jerusalem’ that swallow up the air around England’s overseas tours, rather than cowed by the expectations they imply. Suddenly, England look like a Test side to be reckoned with.

Except, of course, there’s a fair bit more going on than that.

This is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a vintage South African side. They have been ravaged by a huge range of socio-economic issues that have been discussed widely elsewhere. They are a not a strong cricket team right now, they are not a strong cricketing culture, and they are working from a flimsy base with conversations around race, representation and wealth marring any significant progress on the field.

The cricketing consequence of all this is that South Africa’s batting is very, very bad. At CricViz, we have a Wicket Probability model, which uses ball-tracking data to calculate the likelihood that any ball should lead to a wicket, a run, or any other scenario. It allows us to look at the deliveries a batsman or batting team have faced, and compare their returns to what we would ‘expect’ a typical player to average. According to this model, the deliveries that England have bowled in this series would, typically, have averaged 28.9. That’s very good, particularly good for an England attack who have struggled without the Dukes ball in hand, and they should not go without credit. Yet South Africa have actually averaged 23.4 with the bat, well below what we’d expect.

Across an innings, South Africa have been leaving more than 50 runs on the park, averaging 5.49 runs-per-dismissal less than the average Test batsman would. Under performing to that degree is not something to ignore, because it isn’t normal.

In the last decade, England have played 28 series of at least three Test matches, against a range of opponents in a range of conditions. In that time, only twice has the opposition fallen so far below what was expected. In 2010, when Pakistan toured England, they averaged just 16.09 with the bat, a vast 12.2 runs-per-dismissal less than our model suggests that they should have given the balls they faced. That was a tour marred by all sorts of controversy and drama, which to some extent explains the calamitous results. The other occasion was an altogether more low-key affair, when Sri Lanka toured England in 2016. They averaged 21.31 with the bat, 8.9 runs-per-dismissal below what our model suggests they should have averaged. English conditions in early summer – a particularly damp and grisly one – were conducive to collapses.

Those are the only two occasions in the last decade when a side has faced England and fallen further below what they should be hitting with the bat than South Africa in this series.

There are cricketing caveats as well as socio-economic ones. Aiden Markam, a frustrating talent in many ways but a talent without doubt, has been sidelined. The potentially terminal poor form of Faf du Plessis is not the result of administration, but the passage of time and the process of age. Men like Rassie van der Dussen and Pieter Malan may be older, but they have played little to no Test cricket. They are learning, and the coaches are learning about them. It is understandable.

This is not intended as a slam dunk on South African woes, far from it. Rather, England need to quell any sense of optimism that may come from another win in Johannesburg this week, and could easily gather in momentum with an equally hospitable Sri Lanka tour coming up very soon They need to remember that, whilst this obviously isn’t the end of a journey, it isn’t necessarily the start of one.

For now, see this series for what it is. The bludgeoning of an old enemy, an enemy that has inflicted plenty of pain on English cricket over the years. Relish it, at a level. But don’t move too far from the fact that South Africa have never been lower in the modern era, and that the economic pull of England is in part responsible for that.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: Keshav Maharaj

Ben Jones analyses the work of the South African spinner.

They call Port Elizabeth ‘The Friendly City’. Well, Keshav Maharaj does.

Ahead of play in PE, many noted the abrasive nature of the surface, and anticipated reverse swing playing a factor. It’s a tough gig reading pitches before a ball has been bowled, and given what was in front of the assorted ex-skippers and educated onlookers, that was a fair assessment. Swing looked as if it was going to be the threat.

However, it wasn’t. The seamers found 0.5° of swing, on average, the second lowest ever recorded on Day 1 of a South African Test. Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley saw off the new ball and, after England’s longest opening partnership on Day 1 in around a decade, the time arrived for reverse. Except it didn’t arrive. A few signs of tail, a bit of shape here and there, but nothing substantial. The main threat was going to have to come from elsewhere. It needed to.

For Faf’s sake, it did. The flipside of the dry, abrasive surface is that whilst it negates the stand-the-seam-up quicks, it brings spinners into the game earlier, and that’s exactly what we saw.

Maharaj found an average of 5.6° spin today in Port Elizabeth. That’s a serious amount given that in South Africa Tests Maharaj typically averages 1.5° of turn. Today was a treat. He’s more than used to operating in such conditions, and has found a way to succeed without enormous movement off the pitch but, today at least, Maharaj was met with unprecedented help from the surface.

In fact, it was an historic amount of assistance. Not since ball tracking data has been recorded (2006) has a pitch in South Africa spun as much on Day 1 of a Test. Typically, with these sorts of stats, the man responsible is a ripping leg-spinner, some round arm hard-spinning wristy sacrificing accuracy for revs. Yet here was a finger-spinner bowling around 84kph getting big, consistent spin off the pitch, on Day 1. This was never going to be a straightforward day for the batsmen, though as it turned out, not for the reasons we expected at the start of play.

To his credit, du Plessis recognised this, and went with it. Philander was thrown into the outfield for all of the day barring a few short and not-so-sharp spells, with Maharaj bowling unchanged for a remarkable chunk of the day. 35% of the balls bowled by South Africa were from spinners – that’s the highest percentage in the first innings of a home Test this century.

It’s not been an easy life as a finger spinner plying your trade largely in South African conditions. Wickets are more expensive there than almost anywhere else in the world. Maharaj had earned this, and he was making the most of it.

He had Joe Denly cornered. The English No.3 faced 62 balls from Maharaj, scoring just three runs before being dismissed – an attractive and crowd-pleasing run rate of 0.3rpo. Denly may have only played three false shots – one bringing the dismissal – but he was straining to remain secure. A stalemate between spinner and batsman on the first day of a Test match feels like a win for the bowler.

And yet, that wicket of Denly was the only tally in the wicket column for Maharaj at the end of the day. For all that turn, and admirable control, he hadn’t exactly ran through the tourists’ line-up.

Of course, that doesn’t tell the full story. According to our Expected Wickets model, the deliveries that Maharaj bowled would – on average – have taken 3.2 wickets. In part, the England’s solid defence is responsible for that difference. Root’s men clearly went out with determination to bat time and a willingness, where necessary, to resist any urge to accelerate the scoring. They were content to soak up pressure, and to leave runs out there – our model suggests that Maharaj’s deliveries would normally have gone for 86 runs, whereas England only took them for 55.

That was the trade-off England were willing to make. It defined the day.

Because that pattern was extrapolated across the whole action. The deliveries South Africa bowled today should, on merit, have taken 9.4 wickets, at the cost of 262 runs. England should have been in deep in it, but with a few on the board. That would fit the pattern of recent times, for this England side. It would have been an outcome South Africa settled for in an instant, when Joe Root called correctly at the toss. Yet England resisted. 41% of the strokes they played today were defensive strokes – the last time they played more on Day 1 of a Test was on the India tour in 2016. There was a concerted effort, throughout the side, to defend. The merits of that decision are up for debate, but it is clear that England took a clear choice. They were going to leave runs in the middle, and take wickets to bed.

Such is a bowlers lot, tomorrow Maharaj will have to come back and do it all again, lay down that bet for England, invite them to twist when they really should stick. This England side don’t really make big scores batting first, but will be eager to change that habit – another session of grinding away could very quickly turn into some Stokes/Buttler fireworks if South Africa aren’t careful.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: Ben Stokes’ Spell

Rufus Bullough analyses the decisive spell of the day.

England’s man of the match, week, month and year has done it again. He has once again been the spearhead that has led England to their first Test match victory of the Silverwood era. Throughout this contest Stokes shone in all three disciplines, which considering his current form and pedigree, can hardly be a surprise to anyone who knows anything about the current state of English Cricket.

A blistering third innings knock of 74 from 47 took control of the game away from South Africa and helped to amass an unlikely fourth innings target of 438. Stokes then equalled a world record in the fourth innings, by taking 5 outfield catches including an excellent effort in the slips, diving low to his right, to remove set debutant batsman Pieter Malan for 84, who’s stubborn resistance had been a source of much frustration for captain Joe Root.

But the period of play that will live long in the memory of England fans was his final spell of bowling, deep in the heart of the final session of the match. It ignited a Test match that was meandering towards an anticlimactic five-day draw. In his fourth spell of the day Stokes charged in like a man possessed and bowled 28 balls at searing pace which turned the game on its head with spell figures of 4.4-3-1-3.

During this spell, Stokes bowled at an average speed of 85.57mph, which is the 11th fastest average speed in a Day 5, 3rd session spell by any England bowler. He induced 28.5% false shots from the batsman, which was the highest percentage of any spell (of two overs or more) by a seam bowler in the entirety of the test match. Stokes was also managing to successfully make the ball reverse swing during this passage, a goal which has dominated news headlines at Newlands in recent years. He recorded an average swing value of 0.897°, which was the highest of any spell bowled by Stokes in the match.  

As this table shows, the Stokes spell drew a false shot more regularly than any other in the match.

Stokes’ method of slightly leaning away as he delivers gave him the widest release point of any seam bowler in this match. This creates an angle where right-handed batsman have to play at the majority of balls delivered that pitch outside the off stump. In this game 61.2% of balls delivered to right handers by Stokes were played at, the highest percentage of any of England’s right arm seamers. When coupled with Stokes uncanny ability to then reverse the ball away late, at high pace, he becomes a formidable opponent for Test batsman of any ability. The South African lower order never stood a chance against bowling of such quality.

Rufus Bullough is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: The Final Ball in Cape Town

Ben Jones looks at a remarkable end to the second Test.

This was, from start to finish, a subtle game, with unsubtle reactions.

The fury on the opening day as England collapsed again, in the face of good bowling, was exaggerated. We saw it again, with the excitement as South Africa fell away in reply. The crack on the pitch a distraction which grew as the match went on, but rarely caused havoc.

This was a surface that started out lively, but was not getting much livelier. Our PitchViz model, built using historical ball-tracking data, looks at the data from any given match and assesses how difficult batting must be, how tricky the conditions are. And while we did see the general worsening of conditions that you would anticipate with the longer format, it wasn’t radical. This was a subtle decline in standards – think more Oasis than Stone Roses – that insisted the game develop and progress at a gentler pace.

The collapses in the first innings, more the result of poor batting and good bowling than tough conditions, set the game up nicely. Ollie Pope’s late innings resistance dragged the tourists back into it, Dean Elgar’s 88 shaped to take it firmly in the hosts’ favour. Every time the game feigned one way, it dropped a shoulder and floated back the other.

And so the last day, in its own way, was reflective of the game in its entirety, resisting wholesale collapses or petering out into nothing. Instead it teetered on the brink of each result before falling back, not so much swinging as sidling. This was a Test which played out slowly, but never without purpose. This was a sink slowly emptying, the water cycling around quicker and quicker.

Before, at the very last minute, Ben Stokes popped the plug in. It fits with the theme, with the discussion of the days, that the very best ball of the match was the final one.

Our model suggests that the delivery to Philander, that lifting cracker just outside off stump, would on average have taken a wicket every 7.5 times it was bowled. No other delivery bowled on Day 5 was as dangerous, none in the Test as likely to do the job of prising out one of the eight batsmen England needed to claim victory. The calculation does not look at the context, the situation, the myths and legends that Stokes holds, the ink that has been spilled in his name. It considers the way the ball moves alone; its speed, its swing, its seam movement, its length and line, and any number of other factors.

139.17kph, moving 1.2 degrees away in the air and a further 0.9 degrees away off the pitch, it was a beast – but the real killer was the bounce. The wicket ball bounced 51cm more than the other ball Stokes sent down to Philander on that length. The South African seamer, the master of consistency, had all right to be shocked by the inconsistent spurt from the Newlands pitch. Nobody could have dealt with it, nobody could have coped. It was lethal.

This was a perfect ball for the moment, the perfect ball for the moment. For the umpteenth time in recent memory, Stokes reached deep and pulled out another piece of magic. With the last ball of the Test.

Sometimes, things are worth the wait. Somethings are worth sticking around for.

Time, at times, brings unique reward.

***

And yet, and yet. Plenty will try and skew the work of Sibley on the afternoon of Day 3 as the “boring passages” people talk of as the downside to five day cricket. It was not. That period was tense, purposeful, the absence of activity in terms of runs and wickets an intriguing thing rather than something to ignore.

The periods four-day cricket could well eradicate are seen elsewhere more readily. The days spent lifting 340 run leads into 550s, the deference to personal milestones that become the sole source of interest in drifting weeks of noncompetitive cricket. The boring stuff. Not this, not the slow play that drips from the pitch like treacle.

Like everything in 2020, the debate around it all has fallen along cultural lines, flung to opposing packs of rabid followers and commenters like a fresh carcass, something new to devour and scrap over and push cricket fans further into their own interest. This isn’t helpful to anyone.

In reality, the proposed changes are a question of lobbing 50-odd overs from the absolute maximum capacity of a red ball cricket match. It will make the game more vulnerable to weather conditions, but it will eradicate many dead days. It will allow for undoubted improvements in scheduling, but will reduce the grandeur of the format. It will bring some good, it will bring some bad.

And putting the language of hyper-real capitalism aside – a thing cannot be “an advert” for itself – there could scarcely have been a more perfect demonstration of why five day Test cricket should always be available, why four-day Tests should not be compulsory. Its almost unique qualities of scope and sprawl are not in doubt, and in Cape Town they were underlined more than ever. Let’s enjoy them.

That’s the best advert for five day Tests.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: Dom Sibley

Ben Jones analyses a day when England’s new opener guided them to a dominant position in Cape Town.

Dom Sibley, 85 (222).

222.

Two two two.

It’s not without significance that, on a day when old-fashioned and classical Test batting was back en vogue, the Englishman at the heart of that revival ended on the most on-the-nose reference to a voice from the past as possible. Try saying that, 222, without lapsing into the most affectionate impression a cricket fan can offer, without hearing Those Words said in That Voice.

A coincidence, of course, and nothing more.

And yet, the key element of Benaud’s commentary, the most quoted phrase from his advice to other commentators, was simple. Don’t speak, unless you’ve got something to say. Don’t add anything to the action, if nothing needs to be added. He may have been in the middle, rather than in the commentary booths of either Supersport or TalkSport Radio, but Dominic Sibley seemed to be heeding that advice.

Perhaps Sibley has aspirations beyond playing, ambitions to end up behind the microphone, or perhaps he understood the broader, more nuanced message behind Benaud’s comments. Assess your ability, look over the general landscape. Look where you can offer something, and interject then, but otherwise be content to sit. To rest. To be quiet, to be peaceful, to let others shine. Either way, he seemed to take it on board.

When England walked out to bat today, off the back of James Anderson’s five-fer and with the tailwind of optimism, WinViz was cautiously joining in. England had a 60% chance of leaving Cape Town with a win, far higher than they may have expected as wickets were tumbling in the latter stages of their first innings. They had a lead, but not a decisive one. It was a strong position, but not a dominant one. They needed someone to convert the former into the latter, and they found one – emphatically.

Sibley, after a few Tests suggesting he was capable of such an approach, offered it. His innings was restrained, a parade of the negative, of leaves, of absence. Just 14.8% of his strokes were attacking. Since 2006 when such data started to be recorded, that is exceptional, in the very literal sense of the word. Only five innings of more than 200 balls by English openers have seen fewer attacking shots. Four have been by Alastair Cook, and one by Nick Compton, a man dismissed by Trevor Bayliss with one sweep of a press conference remark, when he asserted that he wanted two attacking batsmen in the top three. He may well have, and he may well be right. But excluding one sort of player is rarely productive, and rarely for the broader good.

Sibley has attracted an odd kind of attention over the last few years, an ideological sort of discussion forming itself around his batting. Don’t pick these white ball dashers, these World Cup winners. Pick Sibley. Back red ball talent, support the Championship, Buy British.

According to our Wicket Probability model, the average batsman would have scored 108 runs off the deliveries Sibley faced today. He didn’t even get close to that, and that shows the limitations of his scoring and of his ability to assert himself on an attack and bend them to his will. But our model also shows that, on average, a batsman facing the deliveries Sibley faced today would have been dismissed 3.5 times. And he hasn’t been dismissed once.

Such a performance is of huge value. To have the technical and mental skills to resist that sort of onslaught, an attack which would have removed the average batsman thrice over, is impressive. Sibley has carried England from a strong position, into one they would do well to lose from.

Yet of course, all this is double-edged. Blocking, negative cricket, defensive play – it’s very easily co-opted by a certain kind of cricket fan who “follows” the game, who enjoys it as a peak-time-train to the past and nothing more. Slow going is a tactic, and nothing more, not a dinosaur’s approach but not a cheat code to pure success in this format. It is one way of overcoming the obstacles which England are faced with, but it is not the only one.

“That’s what we needed.”

“That’s how it’s supposed to be.”

“Proper cricket.”

“Proper batting.”

“None of this hit and giggle nonsense”

“Reminds me of how it used to be.”

“When men were men.”

You didn’t have to look far for this sort of sentiment today. It’s a peculiar quirk of the English character that, if they are honest, they would rather things were bad so that they could really get their teeth into complaining. One person railing against the present, by showing the Qualities Of The Past, is a dream come true for plenty.

Which is why it’s important that England fans don’t lose themselves in this. Since the start of 2019, England’s Test batsman have averaged 26.48 runs-per-dismissal. According to our Wicket Probability model, the deliveries that England have faced should, on average, have cost 26.9 runs-per-dismissal. They are not the shower-of-snowflakes plenty are trying to paint them as, but rather a group of talented yet flawed players, who have to play their cricket in an era when bowlers don’t smoke, drink on their rest days, and have the benefit of being able to watch every delivery any player has ever faced before even sending down a ball. They haven’t done as well as they perhaps could have done, perhaps as well as the budgets of the ECB suggest they should. But they haven’t done badly.

As simple as it is to lapse into the easy binaries of social media, of thug.gif or clown.gif, it’s wrong to suggest English Test cricket has been some sort of joke for an era. They haven’t lost a main home series since 2012, they haven’t lost a home Ashes since the Democrats were still contesting Al Gore’s right to the Presidency. They are poor away from home, but that is the tune of this era.

And yet, today did feel like a reawakening of a certain value system, a callback to the values of Flower and Strauss which did, however fleetingly, take England to the summit of Test cricket. The challenge for England is that, really, they don’t have many Sibleys. Of all the English batsmen over the last two Championship seasons, only nine (min 20 matches) have recorded a lower attacking shot percentage; two, Haseeb Hameed and Gary Ballance, have played Test cricket, and none of the others have averaged over 36. Cry back to this mould of cricket all you like, these cricketers are few and far between.

Question the means of production, but the product remains the same. England don’t have Sibleys round every corner, at the top of every order across the land. They are, essentially, an item out of fashion, an emblem of a style no longer considered worthy of sitting at the front of the shop. Perhaps for better, perhaps for worse.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.