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

OPENING VOID

We are in an era of Test cricket, or a mini-era at least, in which opening partnerships are struggling almost as much as they ever have. In only two half-decades since the Second World War have opening partnerships averaged fewer than they have since 2011.

Since January 1st 2011 opening partnerships in Test cricket have averaged 35.07, which is 2.52 runs fewer than the historical average for the first wicket and more notably 6.05 runs fewer than the half decade between January 1st 2006 and December 31st 2010. An even sharper decline can be traced back to the first half decade of this millennium in which opening partnerships averaged 41.60, 6.53 more than they have in the most recent half a decade. The fall of 6.05 runs from the last half decade is considerably greater than the overall fall in average for all wickets of 2.09, suggesting that the decline in the average for opening partnerships is not only the product of an overall decline in averages.

PeriodOpening Partnership AverageOverall Average
All Time37.5932.17
2011-Present35.0733.51
2006-201141.1235.60
2001-200641.6034.24
1996-200133.2330.81
1991-199637.8432.04
1986-199136.9232.84
1981-198635.5532.98
1976-198136.5431.08
1971-197640.3434.24
1966-197138.9330.83
1961-196641.1133.70
1956-196135.6928.02
1951-195633.5929.68
1946-195145.2734.37

The last half decade of opening batting in Test cricket has been defined by the relative lack of consistently successful players. Since January 1st 2011 only Alastair Cook (4839) and David Warner (4277) have scored more than 3000 Test runs as openers while in the half decade before that Cook (4363), Virender Sehwag (4305), Andrew Strauss (3990) and Graeme Smith (3855) all scored well over 3000 runs, and in the decade before that Matthew Hayden (6366), Marcus Trescothick (5162), Justin Langer (4631), Herschelle Gibbs (3955), Chris Gayle (3476), Smith (3332) and Marvan Atapattu (3136) did so too. This abundance of successful openers established a relative golden age for opening partnerships between 2001 and 2011.

PairInningsRunsAverage100s50s
Sehwag & Vijay1079879.8031
Hayden & Jacques1178471.2726
McKenzie & Smith27166466.5658
Gambhir & Sehwag61350560.431019
Hughes & Katich1160460.4024
Jaffer & Karthik1474457.2332
Gibbs & Smith56298356.28710
de Villiers & Smith30164654.8656
Katich & Watson28152354.39310
Petersen & Smith1475954.2125
Strauss & Trescothick52267052.35812
Hayden & Langer113565551.881424
Farhat & Umar1575450.2631

Therefore, principal among the reasons for the sudden and dramatic decline in the returns of opening partnerships since 2011 has been the retirements of many of these hugely successful opening batsmen. Namely, Smith (last Test 2014), Sehwag (2013), Strauss (2012), Hayden (2009), Gibbs (2008), Langer (2007), Atappattu (2007) and Sanath Jayasuriya (2007) as well as the inconsistent selection of Chris Gayle for the West Indies who has only played 27% of West Indies’ 43 Tests since 2011.

reu_273408

Replacing such prolific batsmen was of course never going to easy; but every team—perhaps with the exception of Australia—have failed to do so. Since 2011 nine of the ten Test match teams have averaged less than 36.66 for their opening partnership and only Australia, with an average of 48.66, have managed more.

TeamPartnersInningsRunsHighAverage10050
Australia11104501323748.661721
South Africa767234613836.65510
Bangladesh848166331235.5825
England10105360423134.65812
India1388288928933.20413
Sri Lanka1491287820732.70315
New Zealand1081263215832.49414
Pakistan1380249517832.40711
West Indies1483245725430.7159
Zimbabwe82864310222.9612

The struggles of opening partnerships since 2011 is reflected in the relative instability of them. Since 2011 the average number of innings per opening pair is 7.17 which is the shortest life-span of an opening partnership since the half decade between 1996 and 2001.

PeriodInningsNumber Of Opening PairsAverage Innings Per Opening Pair
2011-Present7751087.17
2006-20117651067.21
2001-20069221227.55

Of course, replacing players of the quality that retired was never going to be easy, but teams have almost universally struggled to do so. Since the turn of the decade only Warner has emerged to join Cook as a consistently successful Test match opener.

Perennial strugglers Zimbabwe have predictably fared the worst, averaging just 22.96 since 2011.

Sri Lanka and West Indies have tried fourteen different opening combinations, more than any other team, [Sri Lanka, West Indies] but have only given more than ten innings to two and one of those combinations respectively.

Dimunth Karunaratne appears to be a promising prospect for Sri Lanka, with a Test average of 35.97, including a healthy average of 49.66 in bowler-friendly New Zealand, but they are yet to find a partner for him, with Kithuruwan Vithanage the latest to occupy the spot.

West Indies meanwhile are desperately missing Gayle who is 461 runs shy of becoming his country’s most prolific opening batsman ever but is nowhere near the team currently. Kraigg Brathwaite is, and has now played 25 Test matches. With three ducks in his last six innings and five single figure scores in his last ten, he is far from consistent but 94 in his most recent innings against Australia and an average of 33.76 suggests he is worth persisting with. Rajendra Chandrika is Brathwaite’s latest partner.

Similarly to Sri Lanka and West Indies, Pakistan have tried a lot of opening combinations: 13 to be precise, and have had a few relatively successful pairings. After Cook and Warner, Mohammad Hafeez is the next most prolific opening batsman in this half decade and he takes up one spot at the top of the order, leaving Azhar Ali, Shan Masood and Ahmed Shehzad to fight over the second spot.

4700601

New Zealand, who possess the third worst average (30.48) for opening partnerships after Bangladesh (28.55) and Zimbabwe (21.72) since the turn of the millennium, have the makings of a successful pairing in Martin Guptill and Tom Latham. Guptill’s Test record is uninspiring but the Kiwis will hope a century last week against Sri Lanka in Dunedin can be the beginning of him translating the quality he has displayed in limited-overs cricket into the Test arena. Latham meanwhile is arguably the most promising Test opener in the world. In Dunedin Guptill and Latham recorded 50 partnerships in both innings of the Test—the first time a New Zealand opening partnership has done so for six years. Admittedly, the Sri Lankan bowling attack is not the most threatening, but perhaps a corner has been turned.

Ostensibly India appear to have finally solved their opening partnership conundrum which has seen them attempt thirteen different combinations since January 2011. Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan have now opened together on 33 occasions and average 46.20. However, that average is inflated by huge partnerships of 289 against an Australian team that would go onto be whitewashed by India and 283 against Bangladesh. Excluding those two partnerships Vijay and Dhawan average just 23 together.  With a Test average of 41.09 overall, 47.75 this year and and 45.93 since 2013, Vijay looks to be a solid option for India. It is Dhawan, who has an average of 29 outside of Asia who remains something of a concern. Admittedly, India’s problems are not as serious as those facing other teams, but it would be wrong to assume the Vijay-Dhawan axis is a stable one.

England’s opening problems have attracted a lot of attention, possibly because they have attempted seven combinations (excluding Moeen Ali & Jos Buttler’s cameo in Abu Dhabi) in just 19 Tests since Andrew Strauss’ retirement, but in fact their first wicket average of 35.41 since Strauss’ retirement is merely in line with the global average of 35.07 since January 2011. Indeed, the downward global trend makes England’s decision to axe Nick Compton, who averaged 57.93 with Cook, all the more surprising. None of the other opening partnerships attempted by England since 2011 have averaged more than 36.60. Alex Hales is expected to be the next to be given an opportunity.

Bangladesh have only played 25 Tests since January 2011only Zimbabwe have played fewer—but their first wicket average of 35.58, is only bettered by South Africa and Australia. In that timeframe, Tamim Iqbal and Imrul Kayes have the best average of opening pairs who have played more than ten innings together. However, the only time they batted together outside of Asia was against Zimbabwe.

Despite never appearing to be totally secure Alviro Petersen managed to form a fairly strong partnership with Graeme Smith for South Africa, and at least gave the top order some consistency. However, with Smith and Petersen now retired, neither opening position is safe. It is expected that Stiaan Van Zyl will partner Dean Elgar against England next week with Temba Bavuma, who opened in the final Test against India, lurking down the order. It is apposite of the age that the weakest link of the world’s number one ranked Test nation is their opening batting.

With Chris Rogers and Warner, Australia were the only team in the world with a stable and consistently successful opening partnership. Now Rogers is gone not one team can claim to have two openers who are assured of selection. Joe Burns has made a promising start to his career, but it is far too early to pass judgement on his new axis with Warner.

4637178

Without diminishing what Warner and Rogers achieved it is revealing that they are the most prolific opening partnership of this half-decade with just 2053 runs. In the half-decade before that Cook and Strauss scored 3678 runs together, and in the half-decade before that Hayden and Langer scored 5122 runs together.

Rarely in the history of Test cricket have opening batsmen struggled as much as they are now. The extent to which that is self-inflicted is uncertain but what is certain is that as selectors and coaches itch to make changes to their struggling partnerships they should bear in mind that statistically at least, opening the batting has rarely been harder.

The seeds of success at the top of the order are there for most teams; but they will need patience and care in this harsh age.

With inputs from Patrick Baatz.

WEST INDIES: THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL

Are things getting gradually better or gradually worse for West Indies cricket? In terms of the fortunes of the Test team, the answer, regrettably, must be the latter.

In the year 1988, West Indies followed up four wins in England with three in Australia: seven successes in a calendar year in two of the toughest places to tour (and in those days tours were tough, long assignments with many additional fixtures). Greenidge, Haynes and Richards were still on the scene, and they together with a young Ambrose and a battle-hardened Marshall formed the nucleus of such a formidable side.

The decline was just around the corner, however. There were 25 overseas Test wins in all for the Windies in their golden era of the 1980s, but just 11 in the 1990s. And since then it’s been even worse. In the 16 years that are almost complete of this millennium there have been just nine overseas Test wins achieved by West Indies. Shockingly, only two have been against teams other than Zimbabwe or Bangladesh.

Given this background, it is hardly surprising that even after reducing Australia to an almost precarious 121-3 at lunch on day one of the Hobart Test, our WinViz barometer almost scoffed at the suggestion of anything other than an Australia victory. It gave the hosts an 81.4% win chance, with “gun” batsmen David Warner and Steven Smith back in the changing rooms.

Let’s be clear: this was the one point in the match when we appeared to be witnessing a genuine contest between two proud cricketing nations, but Australia were in fact unusually robust favourites considering the score, and their position became ever rosier from that point.

Indeed, what happened after lunch only served to back up all negative preconceptions of the state of West Indies cricket. Despite being fresh, having bowled a short, single opening spell each, the new-ball bowlers Kemar Roach and Jerome Taylor were not called upon at all until deep into the middle session.

Adam Voges and Shaun Marsh, the latter in particular under pressure to keep his place in the side with Usman Khawaja due to re-enter the fray at some point, were allowed to play themselves in against two far more inviting bowlers. They were Jomel Warrican, the 23-year-old left-arm spinner who had bowled one ripper to send back Smith but otherwise lacked either consistency or menace, and the skipper Jason Holder, an honest seam-up medium-fast man who has not exactly blown away middle orders in his Test career to date.

The defensive fields in operation were hopelessly naïve too; West Indies were rapidly sleep-walking their way into a losing position. And though Holder may have argued that Roach and Taylor’s opening bursts had not been up to scratch, by holding them back for so long before their second spells on that opening day he was draining the last drops of positivity from their muddled minds.

When Australia subsequently recovered so effectively through Voges and Marsh that they were able to declare at 583-4, they then showed the value of bowling at the right length. This was a good pitch to drive on, and West Indies bowled too many half-volleys. Jerome Taylor, in taking 0-108 in 17 overs, dished out 17 juicy half-volleys which disappeared for 39 runs. Work it out: exactly one freebie an over in the perfect slot to drive and plenty of them being hit for boundaries.

Josh Hazlewood, the best bowler in the match, bowled just eight half-volleys across both West Indies innings, during which time he sent down 28.3 overs. That’s about one every four overs. Discipline is such an important part of Test match bowling and West Indies (Taylor in particular) were lacking.

When trying to pick the pieces out of this innings-and-212-run reversal in Hobart, it’s important to offer some balance and perspective when looking at West Indies cricket. Outside the Test sphere, they have enjoyed a couple of important high points in the last dozen years.

On a bitterly cold late September evening in London in 2004, they lifted the ICC Champions Trophy, unexpectedly beating the hosts in a low-scoring final thanks to a late batting heist by Courtney Browne and Ian Bradshaw. Then, in 2012, they again found a way to poop a home nation’s party, trumping Sri Lanka in Colombo in a remarkable, low-scoring ICC World Twenty final.

Amid all the internal conflicts, the lure of the Twenty20 leagues, the battle for cricket to resonate culturally in the Caribbean in this era, perhaps the most dispiriting aspect of all has been the state of pitches in the West Indies. It’s little wonder that fast bowlers have struggled to prosper given the surfaces simply don’t suit them any more.

In that World Twenty20 final, West Indies only needed two seamers and relied on four spinners, among them the excellent Sunil Narine. With some decent power hitters in the team as well, they had morphed into a perfect side to challenge for honours in this kind of tournament in the sub-continent. It’s a bizarre state of affairs for those who remember the West Indies teams of old.

So while the Test side is in danger of losing eighth place in the official Test rankings to Bangladesh, in the shortest format the West Indies team continues to prosper and will have a shout in next year’s World Twenty20 in India.

Of much more immediate concern is the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne, which they enter with only one batsman (Darren Bravo) boasting a career average in the 40s, an important bowler (Shannon Gabriel) out injured, a captain who looks strategically lost and some motivational issues to sort out. It may not be a pretty sight.

AUSTRALIA V WEST INDIES 1ST TEST PREVIEW

The first two Tests between Australia and New Zealand resulted in a gluttonous feast of run-scoring: 3,104 runs scored in total, including 11 centuries and not including any five-fors. The third Test, played under lights for the first time, bucked this trend in spectacular fashion. Undoubtedly aided by the pink ball, unfamiliar atmospheric conditions and a pitch produced to help ensure the experiment was a success, neither side was able to better Australia’s first innings effort of 224.

Tellingly, no centuries were scored; Peter Nevill’s 66 was the highest score of the match and one of only three half-centuries. A pair of five-wicket hauls came from one of each side’s opening bowlers, Josh Hazlewood and Trent Boult, in what must have been a relief from the toil of the previous two Tests.

Meanwhile, South Africa’s tour to India has unravelled in an equally unpredictable fashion – but there the similarities end. On challenging wickets, South Africa have as yet found no answers to the questions posed by Ravi Ashwin and his fellow spinners. They have so far only managed 200 in a completed innings once – and that was in a match lost to rain after only two days of play.

From the ignominy of being bowled out for 79 in 33.1 overs in Nagpur, they are at the time of writing, in the fascinating position of having batted 72 overs for 72 runs in the hope of a reputation-salvaging draw. Against New Zealand in Brisbane, David Warner and Joe Burns combined to score 245 runs off of 236 balls at a strike rate of 103.81; on the other side of the world, Hashim Amla has faced 207 balls for 23 runs (SR 11.11) on his own, with more to follow on day five.

After two series of quite remarkable extremes, it is perhaps fitting that the world of Test cricket will now turn its collective head to a more sedate part of the world: Blundstone Arena, Australia’s southernmost Test venue and its most temperate. Nestled in Hobart’s peaceful Eastern suburbs, the ground formerly known as Bellerive Oval is one at which Australia will expect to complete a routine victory over the West Indies.

That said, Hobart has hosted only 11 Tests in the 26 years since its first, so it is hard to define patterns or make accurate predictions about the kind of match it will be – except to say that of those 11 matches, Australia have won eight drawn two and lost only one. Interestingly, all three of the results that Australia didn’t win were against New Zealand; visiting Kiwis have likely found local conditions pleasingly akin to their own country. These numbers will not inspire huge levels of confidence in the West Indies camp, especially after their recent warm-up loss to a CA XI containing no fewer than 6 debutants.

The good news for both West Indies and neutral observers alike is that Bellerive has been the site of some encouraging performances by visiting cricketers. Consider the last five Tests there: most recently, in 2012, Tillakaratne Dilshan scored 147 out of his side’s first innings 336. Before that, in 2011, Doug Bracewell bowled New Zealand to victory, taking 6/40 in the final innings. 2010 saw Salman Butt score a defiant century amidst a heavy defeat with 102 out of 301. Butt’s performance that year  curiously mirrored the preceding Test, in 2007, in which Jayawardene scored 104 out of 246, but even he was overshadowed by Sangakkara’s magnificent second innings 197, during which he added 120 runs in partnership with the number 9 and 10 batsmen.

The fifth most recent Test at Bellerive was against the West Indies, although the only members to remain from that 2005 visit are veterans Denesh Ramdin and Marlon Samuels. That team otherwise featured big names such as Lara, Gayle, Sarwan and Chanderpaul, but the only batsman to experience much joy in the match was Dwayne Bravo, who scored his maiden Test century, 113 out of 334.

The West Indies, then, can be sure in the knowledge that conditions are not so foreign or inhospitable as to feel they cannot succeed; at Blundstone Arena, visiting centurions have become as customary as inconvenient seasonal rain delays. The weather in the lead up to Thursday has been good, meaning a repeat of the 2011 green top on which Warner scored his maiden century is unlikely – the pitch has otherwise been good for batting, historically speaking, as 28 centuries in 11 Tests suggests.

Just as Kane Williamson’s defiant hundred in Brisbane kicked off New Zealand’s tour, the Caribbean tourists will look to their senior players to build partnerships and make good decisions as early as possible to set a precedent and a platform for success. It is safe to say these partnerships are most likely to be centered around captain Jason Holder and Darren Bravo, who will hope to follow in his half-brother’s footsteps at the ground a decade later. Their half centuries against the CA XI were the only two positive signs to come out of that embarrassing defeat.

Steven Smith, meanwhile, will be pleased at his side’s top order dominance over the Kiwi bowlers for most of the previous series – as well as the lower order resilience and ballast provided by Peter Nevill, whose technique and temperament belie his relative lack of international experience. He will thus be confident regardless of conditions or toss. Of the likely XI he will lead, only David Warner, Peter Siddle, Nathan Lyon and James Pattinson have played a Test here. With the exception of Lyon, all have enjoyed considerable success at the ground: Warner’s maiden century came in defeat against the Kiwis and may still be the most difficult circumstances in which he has cracked triple figures – enough to have earned the Man of the Match award despite losing. Pattinson, who should come into the side for Mitchell Starc, played in the same game and took eight wickets for the match including a first-innings 5-for. Siddle enjoyed his best ever Test bowling figures at the ground, too: a match haul of 9/104 in 2012.

So, while it is hard to look past Australia given the recent form of both sides, it’s clear that spectators can look forward to a wicket that rewards good skills in all disciplines. This means that if the West Indies have the character and belief to produce those skills, they may well catch an Australian side who will rightly expect to win unprepared. Whether they can dig that deep, however, remains to be seen.

HAZLEWOOD’S LEARNING CURVE

Josh Hazlewood is suddenly the key man in Australia’s Test bowling attack. Mitchell Johnson’s retirement and Mitchell Starc’s latest injury have put more pressure on the 24-year-old, but his performance at Adelaide has also been instrumental in his promotion.

There was talk of resting Hazlewood for the Adelaide Test, a move which would not necessarily have reflected his prominence in the fast bowling pecking order.

With James Pattinson and others desperate for a chance to impress, being out of the side is not a good place to be for a bowler who had taken four wickets in the first two Tests of the series. A rest can easily become a longer spell on the sidelines.

However, a nine-wicket haul in the maiden Day/Night Test has assured Hazlewood’s status as Australia’s leading seamer and key bowler for the forthcoming West Indies series. His Test best second innings figures of 6/70 showed just how much the New South Welshman has developed since the Ashes and throughout this series.

He hit an excellent length at Adelaide, something he had not done as consistently in the first and second Tests. His good length percentages at Brisbane and Perth were 61.7% and 57.9% respectively. It was 69.2% in the third Test.

Overall seam bowling improvement was a feature of the Day/Night Test. A grassier wicket, a swinging pink ball and the lure of floodlight assistance encouraged better performances from all the pacemen. Real or imagined, the bowler-friendly Day/Night conditions saw all seamers raise their game.

BowlerGood length % - Adelaide 1st inns
Hazlewood59.6
Starc61.1
Boult70.6
Southee73.5
BowlerGood length % - Adelaide 2nd inns
Hazlewood75.8
Starc-
Boult81.4
Southee70.8

An analysis of the three other regular opening bowlers shows they all recorded their highest good length percentages of the series at Adelaide, with Trent Boult (75.9%) leading the way. Tim Southee’s was 72.2% and Mitchell Starc’s 61.1%.

This left Hazlewood, Boult and Southee with similar overall good length percentages across the series, with the Australian producing a consistent pattern: his good length percentage was higher in the second innings than the first in all three Tests.

BowlerGood length % - series
Hazlewood63.1
Starc43.5
Boult64.4
Southee63.5

Some might say Hazlewood should learn faster than taking an innings in each match to find the appropriate length, although different conditions do call for varying approaches. Nonetheless, he has made great strides since the Ashes, when he mixed occasional unplayable deliveries with too many half volleys, seemingly striving too much for the perfect delivery with the Dukes ball.

As the occupier of the perhaps over-rated role of leader of the attack, Hazlewood justified his captain’s faith in him. Steven Smith pressed for his state colleague’s inclusion at Adelaide, knowing Hazlewood is now capable of attacking and containing as is required. A useful combination, and one which makes him the bowler to watch in the West Indies series.

CAN AUSTRALIA RECAPTURE THEIR AURA?

It was the day before the 2009 Ashes Test at Edgbaston that Andrew Strauss, in his then role was asked this question: “Has the Australian aura we’re used to disappeared?”

Strauss was in no mood to be all coy and diplomatic. “I don’t think this Australian side has got an aura about it, to be honest with you,” he replied as though half-expecting the question. “You’ve got players at the start of their Test careers and by very definition they don’t have an aura about them. That’s encouraging.”

How quickly things had changed. Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath, perhaps the two best bowlers Australia have ever possessed, had retired simultaneously at the end of the 2006-07 whitewash over England. Come 2009, Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist, two of the most awe-inspiring batsmen, had departed the scene too.

Little wonder that English journalists, as well as the team captain, felt confident enough to goad Australia about this lost “aura”. But that was then and this is now. And while players of the calibre of McGrath, Warne, Hayden and Gilchrist don’t grow on trees, Australia are pretty close to winning back universal respect as a very strong cricket side. They have regained the World Cup, are joint second in the Twenty20 rankings (if anyone follows such things), and are second to South Africa in the Test rankings ahead of the home series against West Indies starting 10 December. And frankly, that should be a bit of a penalty kick.

There has been quite a dramatic turnaround since the dark days of 2013. Between February and August of that year, under the captaincy of Michael Clarke, Australia lost seven Tests in nine, and could only draw the other two. But they refused to panic unduly with team selection and promptly banged out seven wins in eight after that, with series wins at home to England and away to South Africa bringing about a most impressive renaissance.

It’s been more up and down since then, and the recent 2-0 home series win over New Zealand sounds better than it was. They batted poorly in the recent Adelaide Test, and if New Zealand had themselves taken a little bit more care with their batting Steven Smith’s men might easily have come away with a defeat and a 1-1 draw.

Batting will clearly be the issue with Australia going forward, because bowling stocks look good at the moment with a clutch of generally fast youngsters, the experienced Peter Siddle and the hugely improved spinner Nathan Lyon all contributing to a pretty powerful unit in that department.

But the batting hangs firmly on the shoulders of two men, Smith and David Warner, and that needs to change. In the calendar year 2014, Smith struck 1,146 runs at 81.85 while Warner contributed 1,136 at 63.11. The next best Australian contributor was the now retired Chris Rogers, a fairly modest 665 at 36.94 from him.

Little has changed in 2015: Smith again infuriating bowling attacks worldwide with 1,260 runs at 66.31, Warner following suit with 1,213 at 57.76. This year, the third-placed man has not been quite so far adrift (Adam Voges hitting 653 at 54.41) but – and partly because the batting unit changed a fair bit during and after the Ashes – nobody else has reached even 400.

Thus the most important thing for Australia’s forward progression in Test matches is for batsmen like Voges, Joe Burns, and (once he returns to fitness) Usman Khawaja to kick on against West Indies and beyond. Mitchell Marsh, the most obvious successor to the all-rounder role filled with a fair amount of success by Shane Watson previously, is not scoring nearly enough runs for a number six at present. Peter Nevill’s 66 at Adelaide could prove a vitally important confidence-booster as he looks to secure the wicketkeeping role, as this will have to include more than just the occasional momentum-seizing innings.

What Smith and Warner have shown is that effective Test match batting is not about style. It’s about having an effective game plan that forces bowlers to abandon orthodox plans, especially when there is no overdue assistance from the surface.

CricViz data tells us that Warner, in his 224-ball 163 in the Brisbane Test against New Zealand, was able to score rapidly without being unduly aggressive. He either defended or left a total of 98 balls. In the second innings, he played to the situation with Australia looking for a declaration. His 116 from 113 balls featured just 21 deliveries that he chose not to attack.

In both innings, Warner’s driving proved particularly profitable, contributing 48 runs in the first innings and 33 in the second. This was partly because New Zealand gave him far more good-length deliveries than short ones – they know that like the best Australian batsmen Warner is a particularly good puller and hooker.

Smith’s 114-ball 53 in the first innings at Adelaide (the next best score by anyone in Australia’s top six was 14) was a very important innings in the context of the series. Acutely conscious that runs were at a premium compared to the luxuries of Brisbane and Perth, Smith’s strike rate was significantly below his average in Tests. He left or defended more than half the balls he received and scored twice as many runs working the ball into gaps or flicking behind square on the leg side (18) as he did through cuts, hooks and pulls combined (nine).

Warner and Smith are very difficult batsmen to bowl too. Warner, with his tree-trunk lump of willow, gets maximum value from his shots and is every bit as intimidating an opponent as Hayden was in his pomp. Smith’s unique selling point is his ability to regularly hit balls in the channel well outside off stump into gaps on the on-side. Both these men are highly unorthodox but supremely good at doing their job. What the team needs is more batsmen as effective as those two – and they don’t necessarily need to be unconventional players – and then they might recover the “aura” that underlined an earlier generation of exceptional Australian cricketers.

BINARY BELL’S UNTIMELY SLUMP

When Ian Bell struck 143 in his first Test innings of 2015 his exclusion from England’s touring party for South Africa seemed unlikely. But seven months is a long time in cricket, especially for England players, the busiest in the Test arena.

Four half-centuries in 23 innings since – top score 65 not out – has resulted in the removal of a senior player that is difficult to argue against. Bell battled hard with little reward against the turning ball in the UAE, but it was his run of low scores against the high class pace bowling of New Zealand and Australia that was perhaps a bigger factor in his axing.

Dale Steyn and co. were presumably considered too big a challenge for a player who failed to record more than a solitary run in nine of those knocks since his century in the Caribbean. Bell’s age counted against him in the choice between the Warwickshire man and Gary Ballance, when the former’s 33 years – or vast Test experience at least – was a crucial factor in his retention earlier in the year.

Both Ballance and Bell were under huge pressure after the second Ashes Test and it was the Yorkshire player who made way for the in-form Jonny Bairstow. The old hand was not only retained, but promoted in the order, batting at three in six Tests since.

So what has changed?  Giving youth a chance and Ballance’s strong start to his career partly explain the switch, but Bell’s twin half-centuries at Edgbaston justified the selectors’ choice – he was thought to be more likely to produce that Ballance in that pivotal Test, and so it proved.

The selectors now think Ballance and Nick Compton are the more likely run-makers, an eye on the future notwithstanding. This might just reflect a personal preference of Trevor Bayliss, but the characteristics of Bell’s slump must have alarmed the selectors.

Nine of Bell’s 22 dismissals since his North Sound ton have been bowled or LBW. Seven of these have been for 0 or 1. A bad habit of binary returns, made worse by the manner of the dismissals.

The balanced tempo that is the hallmark of Bell’s best innings has also deserted him. He was skittish in his crucial knocks at his home ground, seemingly trying to hit his way back into form – a brave approach that made his first innings aberration against Nathan Lyon forgivable.

However, that positive intent has not been maintained. Bell laboured against Pakistan’s spinners, hitting 158 runs in six innings, at a strike rate of 31.6 – the lowest of England’s top order.

A comparison of Bell and Alastair Cook’s innings in the first innings of the third Test at Sharjah shows just how becalmed England’s number three was in his battle to regain form. Being proactive against good spinners on a tricky pitch is not easy, but Bell’s intent was lacking.

He left alone or played defensive shots at 70% of the 158 balls he received in scoring 40. Cook hit 49 from 119 balls, leaving alone or playing defensively to 45% of his deliveries. Bell didn’t just fail to dominate the barrage of spin – 47 of the 51 balls he faced from Wahab Riaz and Rahat Ali were dots.

All this points to a player ill-equipped to cope with a skilled South African pace attack that can be complimented by the leg-spin of Imran Tahir. Whether those who fill Bell’s shoes can do so remains to be seen – there might yet be a way back for the 118-Test veteran.

AUSTRALIA V NEW ZEALAND 1ST TEST ANALYSIS

Australia’s Test record at the Gabba makes it the most well-known fortress in cricket. Only one other home team have gone more than five Tests undefeated at a venue since 1990: India, nine matches without a loss at Delhi. Australia have played 25 Tests at Brisbane in this period.

There are various factors that explain this streak beyond ones specific to the venue. Australia have lost only 18 times in 143 home Tests in this period, with five reverses in 24 Tests at Perth their worst return.

Being the traditional series opener also helps Australia at the Gabba. In the last 10 years the difference between home team win and loss percentages in the first matches of series is 30% (48% won, 18% lost). It reduces to 22% in the second Tests of series and 18% in the third.

In this era of compressed tours and brief warm-up periods away teams often get caught cold in series curtain-raisers, regardless of the conditions.

However, the CricViz model is more concerned with the expected performance of the players involved in the game in question. It evaluates each player in the context of the opposition and the expected conditions.

It was Australia’s suitability to the bounce of the Gabba wicket that contributed to their win probability of 65% after the toss. They had the stronger seam attack and batting unit and the better spinner. New Zealand started at 27%, with 8% for the draw.

This is a seemingly low stalemate probability for a Test match, but a decent weather forecast and high projected scoring rates made this the least likely outcome, despite the good batting conditions.

The match unfolded in a way that was unsurprising to most observers. The Aussie openers survived a brief testing spell before piling up the runs against a toiling seam attack and a spinner who lacked control. The average projected outcome of a 223-run home win in PredictViz at the start of day two was very near the mark.

The suitability of the home seamers to Brisbane became clear when New Zealand batted. In the last 10 years 33.9% of Test wickets have been LBW or bowled. At the bouncier Gabba that figure is 24.1%.

Wicket distributionLBWBowledLBW + Bowled
Gabba - home batsmen7.9%10.5%18.4%
Gabba - away batsmen13.5%14.1%27.6%
All Tests16.9%17.0%33.9%

Australian bowlers are largely responsible for this figure – 27.6% of the hosts’ wickets in this period have been LBW or bowled, compared with just 18.4% of visiting teams’ scalps. The extra pace of the home pacemen, of whom Mitchell Starc in particular likes to attack the stumps, was a major cause of New Zealand’s first innings collapse.

The Black Caps were seemingly cruising on a hot second day, 56 without loss in prime batting conditions. Most expected them to go on to score more than the 353 PredictViz projected, but the underlying expected averages produce a sound prediction when re-simulated 10,000 times.

New Zealand’s problems mounted throughout the Test. They have lost their all-rounder to injury – the performance of the fifth bowler is a key factor in the CricViz model – and have a concern over Tim Southee, a crucial part of their attack. Don’t be surprised to see a high Australia win probability at Perth, a venue that brings the opposition into the game more than most in Australia.

1ST PAKISTAN V ENGLAND TEST ANALYSIS

The first Test of the series was largely a story of batting dominance. 16 wickets in four days and two first innings totals of 500+ suggested the final day would be a procession towards a draw. This proved not to be the case, thanks to a last gasp contribution by a leg spinner that ranked alongside the most dramatic of its kind.

That Adil Rashid’s 5-64 could not quite get England over the line did not prevent his spell from being the major contribution of the match. The Yorkshireman made a statement for the rest of the series, showing why he is so dangerous in the second half of matches.

Rashid’s final day burst followed the pattern he has set in county cricket in recent years. Like most leg-spinners, he is more dangerous in the second innings and against the tail – in the last three County Championship seasons he has taken more than twice as many tail-end wickets (7th to 10th to fall) than middle order (3rd to 6th).

Adil Rashid - last 3 County Championship seasons
Wicket to fallInns 1Inns 2Inns 3Inns 4Total
1st213
2nd3227
3rd2316
4th46111
5th14128
6th12227
7th17210
8th47415
9th557320
10th885122
3rd - 6th41012632
7th - 10th182714867

Rashid performed his Yorkshire role at Abu Dhabi and England fans should not expect anything else. His job is not to contain well-set batsmen on days one and two – few leg-spinners can – but to becoming an attacking option when tail-enders are at the crease or when the pitch offers more help.

The balance of England’s attack helps in this regard. The presence of Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali in the top six of the batting order means there are plenty of resources for Alastair Cook to juggle. A flat wicket like Abu Dhabi makes it hard for any bowler to contain batsmen in full flow, but the tourists at least have options to take the pressure off Rashid.

Not bowling the legspinner on day one does not necessarily denote a lack of confidence and the below BatViz numbers for spinners – statistics based on the quality of each ball rather than its actual outcome – show that in Moeen Ali England have a decent foil for Rashid.

BatViz Bowling Figures 1st Test - Spin
BowlerBallsWktsRunsAvgEcon
Moeen Ali2204.510924.12.98
Shoaib Malik235411529.12.95
Zulfiqar Babar463722932.72.97
Adil Rashid3164.415234.62.89
Joe Root300.41535.92.98
Asad Shafiq420.42053.12.84

Rashid’s own confidence on day five was evident and the below table shows how much more dangerous he became. He turned 77% of his deliveries on day five more than four degrees; this proportion was 63% in Pakistan’s first innings. His average amount of turn increased from 4.8 degrees to 6.1 degrees.

Adil Rashid in 1st Test
InningsAvg speed - mphAvg turn - degrees% turn > 4 degrees
1st48.94.863
2nd48.96.177

Pace bowlers also performed their expected roles. Mark Wood and Wahab Riaz are the strike bowlers in their respective bowling units and both produced the wicket-taking threat their captains desired.

The pace bowling BatViz numbers reveal that they had the best projected averages, based on the quality of the balls they delivered. BatViz evaluates every ball’s quality by comparing it with a database of similar deliveries and averaging the runs and wickets associated with these 1,000 similar deliveries.

BatViz Bowling Figures 1st Test - Pace
BowlerBallsWktsRunsAvgEcon
Mark Wood1763.69927.13.36
Wahab Riaz2474.5139313.37
James Anderson1912.89534.22.97
Ben Stokes1452.38335.63.43
Imran Khan1622.27935.92.91
Stuart Broad1752.38938.73.04
Rahat Ali1681.99449.93.34

Their BatViz economy rates also hint at their priority of taking wickets and England should be wary that Wahab’s strike bowling threat will probably increase should Yasir Shah return for the second Test. The left-arm paceman can be used in even shorter, pacier bursts with the team’s premier spin bowler operating for large parts of the innings.

WHAT’S WRONG WITH MS DHONI IN T20 CRICKET?

Since the Champions League T20 Final in 2014 Mahendra Singh Dhoni, one of the most successful T20 players of all time, has entered his worst period of form in his ten year career.

In 19 matches in 2015, 17 for Chennai Super Kings in the Indian Premier League and two for India, Dhoni has scored just one fifty, averaging 30.53—the lowest calendar-year average in his career—at a strike rate of 122.15—the second lowest calendar-year strike rate of his career.

PhaseInningsRunsBalls FacedAverageStrike RateFifties
Pre-20151724035295437.71136.5916
20151939732530.53122.151
Career1914432327936.93135.1617

After the second, and what turned out to be the final match of India’s three match T20 series against South Africa earlier this month, Dhoni sought to explain his poor form, by essentially saying that playing according to the situation in T20 cricket was hampering his returns.

“It is a very short format,” Dhoni said. “Personally I feel I use a bit too much of my brain in this format. It is very important that I keep myself a bit free, and go and play my shots.”

“A lot of times when I go in to bat, usually it is in the 16th or 17th over, or fourth or fifth over with four or five wickets down. I have that tendency to use my brain, ‘Okay let’s go to 130, that will be a good score.’ Depending on that I play a bit slow initially, and then look for big shots. It has happened quite a few times in the past, but in this format I believe what I should do is I should go in and play the big shots irrespective of what the scenario is. Because that’s what this format is all about.”

Only 15 players ever have played more T20 matches than Dhoni and few have been as successful as he has – so when he talks about T20 cricket, you should listen, but this explanation, one that chastises the use of thought, seems alarmingly shallow and very simplistic, and is a damning indictment on the T20 format.

Indeed, given the weight of the accusation levelled at T20 cricket, and more specifically, with the World T20 less than six months away, the importance of Dhoni in India’s T20 team and the importance of the role he is supposed to be playing, his explanation and solution is deserving of closer inspection.

What is so interesting about Dhoni’s statement is that he is conspicuously simplifying a game that he originally became excellent at by complicating.

A close look at the numbers show that Dhoni owes an enormous amount of his success in T20 cricket to the fact that he does use his brain, that he does play particularly carefully according to the situation and the opposition and, most notably, that he does not play big shots irrespective of what the scenario is. Dhoni’s approach to batting in T20 has in fact been the polar opposite of what he is suggesting.

Dhoni has scored 17 fifties in T20 cricket—all of them in the IPL. For the sake of this investigation those 17 fifties are going to be used as the gold standard against which to compare his more recent struggles.

Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 13.53.58

A close look at the data from those 17 fifties shows that Dhoni takes some time to play himself in, with his average strike rate in those 17 innings not exceeding 100 until the sixth ball he faces and not reaching the average strike rate of 135.24 until the twelfth ball of his innings.

Immediately this data is at odds with his suggestion that he should “go in and play the big shots irrespective of what the scenario is.” For Dhoni it seems, like many players before him, the old adage of “getting your eye in” still applies. Even in the shortest of formats there remains value in taking a few balls to get used to the nature of the pitch, conditions and bowlers.

More interesting however, is the breakdown of Dhoni’s run-scoring in those 17 fifties against each bowler he faced. Dhoni has faced at least four bowlers in each of his 17 T20 fifties and never more than six.

Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 13.54.01

Ordering Dhoni’s strike rate against each bowler in each innings from highest to lowest allows us to calculate the average strike rate against the most expensive bowler through to the least expensive bowler.

The range between the highest average strike rate, 305.55, and the lowest average strike rate, 45.79, of 259.76 is vast and suggests quite explicitly that Dhoni does use his brain when he is batting in T20 cricket – at the very least to decide which bowler to attack and when.

If T20 cricket and success in it is about “playing the big shots irrespective of what the scenario is” then surely the range between Dhoni’s highest and lowest average strike rate per bowler would be far lower. The numbers suggest that Dhoni, as is widely believed, picks a bowler and a moment to attack, rather than indiscriminately doing so, and that T20, like other formats of cricket, remains hugely influenced by shot selection and not purely shot execution.

So what has changed this year? Well, it can’t be the mind. If anything the mind is a tool that becomes sharper with age. Dhoni should in fact be getting better at reading a match situation and at choosing who and when to attack. Indeed, a closer look at all 19 innings played by Dhoni in 2015 reveals that he has been approaching innings in much the same way as he did in his 17 fifties with the two lines almost fitting neatly in to one another.

Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 13.54.04

What has, quite obviously changed, is the strike rate. Although Dhoni still appears to be approaching an innings with the same strategy, he is not executing that strategy as well. His average strike rate in his first 15 balls of his innings in 2015 is just 113.33 and the highest it reaches at any point is 122.83, suggesting that not only is he taking longer to play himself in, but that even then he is struggling to accelerate as he once did. Dhoni in 2015 has been a shadow of his former self.

Of course, Dhoni has been an outstanding performer for almost a decade and it would be wrong to write him off completely after one bad year, but given the extent of this slump and given his age—he is now 34—it is possible that he is in terminal decline. While his mind will not wither the data shows that Dhoni is struggling to score at the pace he was once capable of suggesting that his power, eyes, and hands are beginning to fail him.

Although flashes of power may return Dhoni would be best served by remoulding his game to utilise his enormous experience and using that brain he is so keen to discard. Although the consistent power may have gone Dhoni still possesses one of the finest T20 brains in history, if he can marry that intelligence with an adapted strategy he could continue to succeed at the highest level.

Given that the ratio between Dhoni’s failures and successes is worsening, India, CSK and Dhoni would perhaps be best served by relieving the reliance on his successes by taking him away from the final stages of innings, and rather than giving him a high intensity role in the team’s innings; giving him a more disposable one.

On average the number six batsman faces 12 balls per innings and the number seven faces 6 balls an innings, given his even greater recent proclivity to eat up balls at the beginning of his innings there is no way that Dhoni should be batting as low as six, seven or even five; he would be better placed at number four, or perhaps, depending on the situation, number three, anchoring the innings and marshalling those younger, more powerful players around him.

India have, to an extent been hamstrung in this strategy by the dearth of alternative finishers to Dhoni, but if they aren’t going to drop him (given his experience and captaincy they shouldn’t) they need to utilise him better and try a new, younger alternative at the death, Hardik Panyda, for example.

If Dhoni can maintain his high levels of fitness his innings at number four can come to be defined not by brutal explosions of power, but instead by intelligent cricket, persistent running between the wickets and consistent proactivity.

This approach is a far lower risk strategy than his suggestion of arriving in the middle and hoping he can slog his way back to form when all evidence suggests he will fail. He will of course still have to hit boundaries, and he still can, but rather than relying entirely on doing so, a redefined approach and a new role can ensure there remains enormous value in Dhoni’s continued presence in any side he plays for.

Freddie Wilde is a freelance cricket journalist. 

PAKISTAN V ENGLAND SERIES PREVIEW

Predicting what will happen in England’s Test tour of UAE is a difficult task. Will we see a run feast, or perhaps death by spin? A Joe Root masterclass, or maybe a seamer-inspired show of English bowling strength?

The memories of 2012 are fresh. England arrived as the number one-ranked Test team. Unbeaten in nine series, they had risen from seventh to first in that list in little more than two years. Ashes winners down under and World T20 champions, a win in alien conditions against a talented, if fragile, Pakistan team seemed very much achievable.

However, England were humbled in all three Tests, coming out second best in a series that was defined by the bowlers. The expected attritional slog never materialised – batsmen struggled from the outset, with England’s 58-5 at lunch on day one of the opener setting the tone.

Azhar Ali scored 251 runs in his five innings, but no other batsman from either side averaged more than 40 in the series. On supposedly batsman-friendly wickets, the England batting unit misfired spectacularly.

The tourists’ opening day collapse was followed by a slump to 87-7 in the second innings and a failure to chase 145 in the second Test. They followed that by earning the unwelcome accolade of becoming the second team to lose a Test after dismissing the opposition for below 100 on day one.

The bowling attack functioned well. Stuart Broad took 13 wickets at an average of 20.4, Monty Panesar 14 at 21.6, Graeme Swann 13 at 25.1 and James Anderson nine at 27. However, the batting gave little respite – England were in the field on every day of the series.

Saeed Ajmal (24 wickets at 14.7 average) and Abdur Rehman (19 wickets at 16.7) were rampant. On low, skiddy pitches they bowled quickly for spinners, often touching 60 mph, testing both edges of the bat.

The pitches brought the stumps into play throughout, and a combination of excellent bowling and the new DRS system contributed to a record number of LBWs – the 43 in this three-match series is the joint-most ever recorded in a Test series.

However, the tour as a whole was not a disaster for England. They bounced back in the ODI series to deliver a whitewash of their own, and learned enough to seal a historic Test series triumph in India the following winter, the first by an England team in nearly 30 years.

So what can we learn from the last tour?

Attack the Stumps

Bowling straight in UAE gains much more reward than other host nations. Far more batsmen are dismissed bowled and LBW than the worldwide average, and in particular in comparison to Tests held in England.

Dismissals in Tests by venue
BowledLBWTotal
UAE19.7%24.8%44.5%
England16.7%14.6%31.3%
World17.1%16.9%34.0%

This table shows that nearly half of all dismissals in UAE are bowled or LBW, compared to less than a third in England. In the 2012 series 22.6% of the balls bowled would have gone on to hit the stumps. By way of comparison, in the fourth Ashes Test at Trent Bridge this summer, 9.1% would have struck the timbers.

The prominence of spin is obviously a major factor here – over half the overs bowled in the UAE are bowled by spinners, whereas in England it is about a quarter. Spinners bowl more balls that would hit the stumps, whilst the lower bounce of the pitches means that both seamers and spinners can hit the stumps from shorter lengths.

A Spinner’s Length

In general, balls that are hitting the stumps in Test cricket have a considerably lower average than those that don’t. For spinners, about 25% of balls bowled would go on to hit the stumps, and these take their wickets at an average of 17.4; the balls that are going to miss the stumps average nearly three times as much.

Stumps - Spinners% BallsAverage
Hitting25.7%17.4
Missing74.3%48.1

What the Pakistani spinners did particularly well in 2012 was to bowl quicker, dragging their lengths back a little whilst still attacking the stumps. Monty Panesar was able to perform a similar role for England when he was selected for the second Test.

 Average SpeedStumpsAverage LengthBatViz Predicted AverageSeries Average
Aimal56.136%4.724.814.7
Hafeez54.940%4.525.916.0
Rehman57.039%5.026.916.7
Panesar55.435%4.829.021.6
Swann52.932%4.539.325.1
Pietersen53.322%4.742.8-

The spin bowling in this series was of a very high standard. Spinners normally average around 36 in Tests, so for BatViz to be predicting averages in the 20s the size of the challenge facing batsmen is evident. The actual Series averages show how much batsmen struggled to cope, with all the spinners having greater success than was expected.

For comparison, here are the statistics of spinners in the Ashes Test at Cardiff. They bowled slower and fuller, and were less able to attack the stumps.

 SpeedStumpsAverage Length
Root53.231%4.2
Ali50.822%4.5
Lyon52.423%4.3

Pakistan start as favourites

With their strong batting and bowling line-ups and traditional strength in familiar conditions, it is no surprise that WinViz favours Pakistan at the series outset.

WinViz   
EngDrawPak
1st Test28%21%51%
Series23%19%59%