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CricViz Analysis: The Antigua Pitch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.

@PatrickNoone08

CricViz Analysis: Chase leaves England in a spin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.

@PatrickNoone08

CricViz Analysis: Roach & Holder blow England away

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.

@PatrickNoone08

CricViz Analysis: Battling Brathwaite lays platform

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.

@PatrickNoone08

CricViz Analysis: How Sri Lanka Can Beat Australia

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

Sri Lanka arrive in Australia as afterthoughts.

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

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

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

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

BOWLING PLANS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FINDING THE RIGHT LENGTH

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

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

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

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

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

SPINNERS SPEEDS

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

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

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

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

ATTACKING THE NEW BALL

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

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

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

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

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

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

USING YOUR FEET AGAINST LYON

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: Did MS Dhoni cost India?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: Australia’s ODI Decline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.

@PatrickNoone08

CricViz Analysis: Who Should Australia Pick?

Ben Jones considers who the Australian selectors should be 

calling ahead of the Sri Lanka series.

In the coming days, Australia are expected to announce their Test squad for the home series against Sri Lanka. As a series in isolation, it shouldn’t represent the toughest challenge for Tim Paine’s side, but the Tests will be as much about finalising Ashes preparation as they will be about victory in Brisbane and Canberra. Because Australian batting is in a bit of a state.

Two of their last three series have seen no centuries from Australian batsmen, and the collective batting average they recorded in 2018 is the lowest for any calendar year since 1978. India were better than them in pretty much all departments throughout the four match series, but ultimately the series was lost in the final two Tests with the Aussies unable to respond to India posting substantial first innings totals. Broadly, the batting was to blame.

And it’s because of this that the team Australia choose for the Sri Lanka series is a big deal. With the potential addition of Steve Smith and David Warner, this side will form the guts of the touring party for next summer’s Ashes. True, the conditions at the Gabba will be rather different to the greentops England will prepare at Edgbaston and Old Trafford, but this is as close to a rehearsal as Australia will get. They need to get it right.

Some players will be retained. Marcus Harris has the highest average of  any player to appear more than once, and has generally shown a level of control at the crease that suggests he can maintain his moderate success, and improve on it. Tim Paine has had a decent summer – though perhaps his rise has been overstated given what preceded him. There is little case for him remaining in the side from a cricketing perspective, but he seemingly has the backing of the players, and in a disrupted period for the side that has significant value. Usman Khawaja is one of very few senior players in that side, and whilst his form dipped briefly in this series, he is clearly a good player.

But the others’ places should be up for discussion. Travis Head may have top scored but an average of 33.85 is not substantial. Shaun Marsh failed to step up when younger, less experienced teammates needed him to. Peter Handscomb’s technique is still questionable. They are not out of contention, but their place should not be assumed.

The question of who to replace them has been a hot topic in the past weeks, and one phrase has come up time and time again. Many have complained that ‘nobody is banging the door down’, the selectors frustrated that they can’t simply call upon batsmen averaging 75 over three Shield seasons.

But if a player is performing in this manner then, frankly, a selector’s job is all but unnecessary. Picking a player in that sort of form doesn’t require any skill or judgement. Weighing up relative strengths when a player has weaknesses as well is quite literally the job. To suggest that a player must present a perfect case before they are allowed into the team is perverse. Particularly when that team has won just one of their last nine Test matches.

Sure, no player is banging down the down, but plenty are knocking pretty damned hard. You’ve just got to know what you’re listening out for – and that’s where data can help.

So many names have been bandied about in the past few weeks that it pays to keep an open mind, so let’s start with a big pool of candidates. Our shortlist of 24 Sheffield Shield players possesses a wide variety of skills and experience; there are classical red ball performers in there, T20 specialists, youngsters and veterans. We’ve then looked at their data for the last three Shield seasons, including this current season, to try and work out the merits of their case for selection. The data we have included extends beyond the raw numbers of runs and averages (though they are included), offering a more in-depth assessment of each player’s relative quality.

Welcome to the CricViz selection meeting.

Runs and Balls Faced

Firstly, let’s look at the most basic statistic available – how many runs these chaps have scored since the start of the 2016/17 Shield season. It’s a measure which rewards those to have been consistent across a prolonged period of time, accumulating runs not in clumps or purple patches but just as standard. It penalises players to play international cricket of any form, given those matches eat into the Shield season.

Of course, it’s not all about runs – as Australia have seen in this series when bowling to Cheteshwar Pujara, occupying the crease is key. The ability to face lots of deliveries is just as important as being able to score off them.

If we rank each player on our shortlist by their position in these two charts, then average out their ranking, then we can make an overall ranking. Kurtis Patterson was ranked 2 for runs scored, then 1 for balls faced, so his average ranking is 1.5. Thus, our table looks like this.

Batting Averages and Dismissal Rates

Of course, runs and balls faced only measure some things. They measure quantity, but not always quality, and focusing just on that area unfairly penalises international players, whose commitments with Australia mean they miss out on matches. So of course we consider batting averages.

We can also look at the average length of innings for all of our players. The average dismissal rate takes the number of balls faced and divides it by dismissals – what you’re left with is a good measure of a batsman’s ability to occupy the crease over time.

When we factor in the rankings for Batting Average and Dismissal Rate, our list changes.

False Shot Percentage

The way that a batsman makes his runs is also important to consider. If a player is edging or missing the ball a lot, they could be riding their luck with an average of 40, whilst a player with an average of 30 could be suffering a run of poor fortune.

We can try to understand a bit more of what’s going on by looking at false shot percentages. This measures what percentage of a batsman’s deliveries does he miss or edge – essentially, a measure of control. The average false shot percentage for top-order players in Shield cricket is 13%, so anything below that is a sign of quality.

When we add in these rankings, our selection table looks like this:

Average Comparison

Sometimes, averages aren’t always indicative of a player’s quality. If you play exclusively on friendly wickets, or in high-scoring games, there is a reduced value to your runs. As a result, it’s helpful to compare how a player has done relative to other batsmen who’ve played in the same game.

For instance, George Bailey has averaged 38.88 in Shield cricket over the past three seasons. Moises Henriques has averaged 42.18. But the average for all top seven batsmen in games where Bailey’s played was 32.53; for Henriques, that figure is 37.25. This shows that generally the pitches Henriques have played on have been more batting friendly, whilst Bailey has overperformed compared to others in the games he’s played. Bailey has averaged 6.35 more runs per dismissal than everyone else in his matches, whilst Henriques just 4.93 more. Henriques has averaged more, but Bailey’s been worth more.

We can find this figure for all of our contenders, and get a better picture of when they have made their runs.

When we add this to our table, the list looks like this:

Consistency

It’s important to be able to play a wide range of bowling if you are to succeed in Test cricket. Often players can have exorbitant FC batting averages against either pace or spin, hiding a weakness against the other, and while players will always have a preference for a certain style of bowling, consistency across the game is a valuable asset.

When we add this to our table, it looks like this:

Conclusion

The CricViz selected five batsmen for the series against Sri Lanka would be: Joe Burns, Kurtis Patterson, Will Pucovski, and Matthew Wade, with Peter Handscomb as the spare.

It’s a mixture of a list. Pucovski and Wade are at different ends of their careers, representing both youth and experience. Handscomb has already been in and out of the Test side, whilst Patterson has never played an international match of any sort. This isn’t about “putting faith in youth”, or “trusting experience”. It’s about trying to take a more objective look at every player, and ignore irrelevant factors. This is a middle order picked on weight of runs, control, ability to perform in tough conditions and against all kinds of bowling. Those are pretty solid criteria.

It also has the benefit of being a relatively exciting group. Pucovski’s youth is alluring, and the story of Wade’s return alongside the man who replaced him is an interesting one. Patterson’s status as a relative unknown to those on the international stage makes him an interesting prospect; Burns is so clearly the best batsman in domestic cricket that giving him the opportunity to prove that is filled with anticipation.

Of course, this is just a suggestion. Data offers just one perspective, and this should not be read as a foolproof means of selecting talent. It’s important, as always, that these sort of assessments interact with cricketing judgement, in order for both perspectives to have the best chance of getting the decisions correct.

Equally, you can read this article and think that certain metrics should be worth more. Perhaps you think pure runs should be worth more than false shot percentage. Perhaps you think the opposite. There is scope to make this broader, or more specific, weighting certain skills ahead of others, but for now, this will do.

Regardless, Australia really do need to get this correct. Sri Lanka have some very talented batsmen, and if Langer et al take a wrong step then they could be punished both now and then again in England. It’s a hugely significant moment for the Australian selectors; will they get it right?

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: 9 reasons India won & why it matters

CricViz analyst Freddie Wilde identifies why India won in Australia & why it matters.

INDIA WON MORE TOSSES

A hugely significant reason for India’s win in Australia was their success at the toss. India won just one of the eight tosses in South Africa and England but won three of the four tosses in Australia.

Since the start of 2017 toss winners (60%) have won roughly the same proportion of Tests as home teams (59%): in other words home advantage equates to toss advantage. The large majority of the time toss winners elect to bat first, get ahead in the game and build an unassailable first innings lead from which the chasing team cannot recover. This is exactly what happened in each of the first three Tests and would almost certainly have happened in Sydney had rain not forced a draw. 

The only Test India won in South Africa came when they won the toss; the only Test India won in England came when England won the toss but elected to field first and the only Test India lost in Australia came when they lost the toss. 

There were many cricketing reasons behind why India beat Australia but luck at the toss was also a very significant factor. 

INDIA WERE BETTER WITH BAT AND BALL

Using CricViz’s Expected Analysis which assesses the quality of bowling based purely on ball tracking data alone it is clear that India outperformed Australia with bat and ball. 

According to Expected Analysis we expected India’s bowlers to average 28.00 runs per wicket and Australia’s to average 30.80 which suggests India bowled marginally better than Australia. 

In reality Australia’s bowlers averaged 34.69 and India’s bowlers averaged 25.90 which means India’s batsmen exceeded our expectations based on the balls they faced from Australia by +3.89 runs per wicket and Australia’s batsmen under-performed based on the balls they faced by -2.10 runs per wicket. 

India were the better team in both departments and were deserving winners. 

GULF IN FIRST CLASS BATTING PEDIGREE 

A central reason for India’s better performance with the bat was the huge gulf in first class batting pedigree between them and Australia. Before the start of the series only one Indian batsman had a lower first class average than the Australian batsman with the highest first class average. Of course, add in Steve Smith and David Warner, with first class averages of 57.27 and 48.63 respectively and this is a different story.

A discrepancy in first class averages is often apparent between Australia and India but the gulf for this series was at historic levels. India’s first class averages were exceptionally high and—more importantly given this was a series played in Australia—Australia’s were exceptionally low. Indeed the four biggest differences between the first class averages of Australia’s top seven and their opponents’ top seven in a Test match all came in this series.

For the Boxing Day Test India’s top seven averaged 49.98 or better in first class cricket coming into the Test, that is the second best of any team ever; only in Don Bradman’s final Test have the top seven of a Test team all entered the match averaging more than 50 in first class cricket. 

The vast difference in first class pedigree was clearly apparent. While Australia’s highest score was 79 India had three different centurions and a total of five hundreds. India’s batsmen defined matches where Australia’s couldn’t. 

A significant factor India’s batting strength was their decision to select six frontline batsmen and a wicket-keeper in all four Tests—a decision enforced by Hardik Pandya’s injury but one that they didn’t reverse even after Hardik became available. Hardik is a talented and developing Test batsman but he is not yet a batsman of the calibre of Rohit Sharma or Hanuma Vihari who took his place in the team. 

The contrasting performances of the top orders was significant given the comparative ability of each team’s lower orders. In India’s series against England the dominance of England’s lower order in a series when the top orders generally struggled was a key difference between the two teams. In this series the strength of India’s top order and the weaknesses of Australia’s minimised the importance of lower order batting. 

INDIA HAD BETTER DEFENSIVE BATTING (AGAINST PACE)

More specifically a fundamental difference between the two teams’ batting was their defensive games against pace bowling. Across the series 64% of overs were bowled by the quicks and across the series India’s batsmen proved far more effective at resisting Australia’s than Australia were of India. 

India were led by Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane in this regard. Pujara averaged 152 defensive shots per dismissal against pace while neither Kohli—across 130 shots—nor Rahane—across 77 shots—were dismissed playing a defensive shot against pace. Mayank Agarwal’s 104 defensive shots per dismissal was also excellent. The only Australian batsmen who could match these levels of solidity were Marcus Harris with 129 defensive shots and no dismissals and Tim Paine with 87 defensive shots and no dismissals. 

INDIA NEGOTIATED THE BOUNCE

One of the biggest challenges associated with playing in Australia is negotiating the extra bounce in the pitches. A comparison of Australia and India’s batting against pace by bounce shows that as expected for a subcontinental team—although the margin was very large—India outperformed Australia against balls that bounced at stump height but more interestingly against balls that bounced above the stumps India managed to return better figures than Australia – the first time in the CricViz database than an Asian team has achieved this feat in Australia.

INDIA’S QUICKS OUTPERFORMED AUSTRALIA’S

India’s bowling prowess was the product of their pace bowlers. The spinners on each side matched each other in terms of Expected Average but India’s quicks won the battle with their contemporaries.

INDIA GO TOE-TO-TOE WITH AUSTRALIA’S QUICKS

In every metric except average speed India’s pace bowlers out-performed Australia’s.

MORE OLD BALL SWING

The phase of the innings in which India’s quicks most clearly dominated Australia’s was with the old ball – specifically overs 41 to 80. In this period India averaged 23.62 runs per wicket while Australia averaged 42.50. 

The foundation of India’s dominance in this period of the innings was the amount of swing they found with the old ball.

INDIA’S FOOTWORK AGAINST SPIN 

Another key difference between the two teams was their contrasting methods against spin. Although the conditions didn’t greatly assist spinners the quality of spin bowlers in the series was high and negotiating their overs safely was a key factor in innings building, especially with the pace bowlers posing such a threat from the other end. Across the series Australia averaged 29.40 against spin while India averaged 36.57. 

While India appeared to have clear plans to counter Nathan Lyon, either skipping down the track to the pitch of the ball or getting a big stride forward to hit him off his length, Australia either didn’t have such plans or were unable to execute them against India’s spinners. 

Key to batting against spin is getting well forward or going well back and minimising interception points between two and three metres from the stumps within which batting averages in Test cricket drop to 29.46 compared to 72.54 further forward or further back than that. 

A comparison of the interception points against spin shows how Australia intercepted 59% of deliveries in the danger zone compared to just 49% for India. The global average is 57%. India, as you’d expect from a subcontinental team, were superb against spin; Australia were mediocre and against a team with a pace attack as good as India’s they couldn’t afford to give up ground to the spinners as well.


WHY THIS WIN MATTERS

India’s series win in Australia is so significant because it represents the triumph of this Indian team in unfamiliar conditions – a victory which not only secures their legacy as a truly great Indian team but one which confirms them as the undisputed number one ranked Test match side, not merely in the rankings but in the harsher eyes of those who know away series victories are what separate great teams from the merely good. 

India started 2018 as the ICC’s number one ranked Test team having dominated for a number of years in Asian and Caribbean conditions. Therefore—with away series in South Africa, England and Australia—2018 represented a once in a generation opportunity for this Indian team to extend their dominance to shores traditionally seen as their final frontier: before this year India had only ever won three series in England and none in South Africa or Australia. The extent of this opportunity was heightened by the strength of India’s pace attack: so often their weakness and downfall in conditions that assisted quick bowling, India’s rise to number one – even in home conditions – was supported by one of the strongest pace attacks in the world. Between the start of 2016 and the end of 2017 despite India playing all of their Tests in Asia or the Caribbean they had the second best pace bowling average in the world. As they embarked on their epic away odyssey anything less than a series win in one of the three would be seen as a monumental missed opportunity. 

However, in South Africa and England, despite playing some excellent cricket and challenging far better than the eventual scoreline suggested, India were unable to achieve the away victory that would define this team’s legacy. Heading to Australia the pressure on India to secure that elusive victory—already intensified by the absence of Smith and Warner—was greater than ever. For this excellent Indian team it was now or never.

Australia being without their best two batsmen made India’s task easier but India’s record in Australia—just five Test wins in 44 Tests—was indicative of the size of the task facing them. Conditions in Australia are so different to those in India, most notably the bounce, that Indian teams have always struggled to adapt. With or without Smith and Warner – winning in Australia is among the most difficult tasks in cricket. Australia’s batting may be weak but their bowling attack of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon is among the finest in modern Test match cricket. 

WHAT NEXT?

It is important to remember that India won this series without their first choice wicket-keeper Wriddhiman Saha (although he has been eclipsed by Rishabh Pant), without their first choice spinner Ravi Ashwin in three of the four Tests, without one of their first choice openers: Prithvi Shaw, without their premier all rounder, Hardik Pandya, and without Ishant Sharma in Sydney. The Test in Sydney, with major contributions from Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav underlined the depth of India’s spin attack while the domestic form of the likes of Shubman Gill and Shreyas Iyer is indicative of the depth of batting talent in the country. 

India will be disappointed not to have taken more away from South Africa and England but this win in Australia will absolve those defeats—missed opportunities though they were—and it will lay the foundation for the next step for Kohli’s team. India now have a run of Test series against weaker opposition in more familiar conditions; this Indian team are already laying claim to be one of the greatest Indian teams of all time, if they can continue to dominate at home that accolade will be beyond doubt and they will begin to be considered one of the greatest Test teams from any country. 

Freddie Wilde is a CricViz analyst. @fwildecricket

CricViz Analysis: Australia’s Century Problem

Ben Jones analyses how Australia’s batsmen are failing to make the most of their starts, and reflects on their lack of centurions.

Getting in and getting out. Across all levels of cricket, it’s seen as the greatest crime that a player can commit. Having done the hard work, surviving those first 30 deliveries where you’re getting your eye in and adapting to the conditions, to throw it all away when in the groove is seen almost as a misuse of privilege. It’s ungrateful. You had it all, and you squandered it.

This summer, Australia have been squandering opportunities left, right and centre. It may not feel like it, given the ever-increasing dominance of Virat Kohli’s Indian side, but this series has been a parade of Australian batsmen coming to the crease and fighting through the tough period, only to then fall away once the threat has supposedly diminished. In their entire history, Australia have never seen more batsmen dismissed having faced between 30 and 100 balls (max four matches). More than at any other point in their history, Australian batsmen are getting in, getting set, then getting out.

This is demonstrably a worrying trend. This summer Australia have not made a single red ball century and as such, have found it difficult to make truly imposing totals. No batsman has been able to act as the backbone of the innings, standing tall as the maypole around which the others can dance. An Australian batsman has faced 200+ balls in an innings just once. India have done so six times.

This insubstantial element to their batting has come to define their batting of late. In the whole of 2018 they made four individual centuries. The last time they made fewer was in 1996 when they managed just two, but then they played just five Tests. In years where they’ve played at least 10 Tests, they have never registered a lower total. Australia’s inability to go on and make centuries has plagued them.

Indeed, the absence of centurions stands out, because for so long Australia had a plentiful supply. In every Test series they played between September 2010 and March 2018, one of their batsmen made a century. That’s 26 consecutive series. Unless someone passes 100 in the second innings of this Test, then Australia will have gone century-less in two of their last three series.

It’s a problem evident in Shield cricket as well. In the 2017/18 season, the average Shield game saw 1.42 centuries; since 1990, only one season has seen a lower number of centuries-per-match. At both the international level and the domestic level, the last 18 months has seen a clear reduction in batsmen going on and raising the bat.

With regards to the specific struggles of this series, this could be a direct result of the quality and depth of the Indian attack. Jasprit Bumrah has been the standout performer for the tourists, but those at the other end and in support have been almost as impressive. Barring Hanuma Vihari in the Perth Test – which was a unique situation, due to the surface the game was being played on – there has rarely been a tangible weak link in the tourists’ attack. Opportunities to accelerate after that tough opening period have been few and far between.

Equally, for all the talk of flat pitches, the bowling on both sides this summer has been as dangerous as it ever has been in recent years. Using CricViz’s Wicket Probability Model, we can use ball-tracking data to calculate the likelihood that any given delivery will take a wicket, then translate it into the ‘expected’ dismissal rate for any given spell, bowler, or match. The 2018/19 summer has seen an expected dismissal rate (xDR) of just 52.8, the lowest for any of the last seven Australian summers. Conditions at the MCG may have been less than ideal for exciting cricket, but the average delivery faced in this Test series has been significantly more likely to take a wicket than in previous years. A jaffa will still get you, whether you’ve faced 10 balls or 100 balls.

This isn’t simply a question of the performance in this series, but it is where they’re being given their most high-profile airing. Good bowling in tough conditions is a challenge to overcome, not a free-pass to failure.

There are plenty of skilled batsmen to work with in Australian cricket. Not as much as in the past, sure, but there are talented players who, with good coaching and improvement from experience, could be effective Test players. Some of those players are in Justin Langer’s team, some aren’t.

Whoever they are, they need to be coached to play with the appropriate level of aggression, to strike a balance between intent and caution. 58% of Australia’s dismissals in this series have come from attacking shots – between 2010 and 2015, just one of Australia’s series saw a higher proportion of dismissals come in that manner. For whatever reason – and there will be plenty of theories flying around – Australia are getting out playing attacking strokes more than they have done previously. That needs to be addressed.

This is where the coaching staff really earn their dollars. Players who can’t face 30 balls without being dismissed are probably beyond saving; players who regularly go beyond it probably don’t need the help. It’s the way that coaches work with guys in the middle that really reveals their skill, the specificity of their expertise. Tweak this, and you’ll improve. Tweak that, and you’ll find things easier. That’s where a mentor can really make a difference at this level.

Australia are going to need it. In tougher conditions like those they’ll encounter in the Ashes next winter, set batsmen making big contributions can define low-scoring series. They need to improve in that area, fast, if they are to compete in England.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.