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Match Analysis: Bangladesh v England, First Test

Perhaps the two most important areas of a team’s game to win Test matches in Asia are scoring big top order runs and the spin bowlers bowling well. England won this Test despite doing neither of those things: their top order failed twice and their spin bowlers had a limited effect on the match.

That England managed to win despite these shortcomings can be seen as an example of their strength in depth, and that they were given a tough fight from start to finish by Bangladesh can be seen as a benefit for their preparation ahead of their series against India, but that the top order struggled so plainly against spin and that their own spinners could not cause similar discomfort should be cause for concern ahead of six more Tests in Asia this winter.

Admittedly, the combination of a fantastic Bangladesh performance, a dry, turning pitch and playing in searing heat was about as tough an introduction to cricket in Bangladesh as there can be and England deserve credit for winning not ridicule for how close it was. However, India will pose England a far tougher test than Bangladesh and although it is too soon to draw any firm conclusions they will need to improve on this performance if they are to stand any chance in India.

England’s top-order will be a primary area of concern after their first three wickets fell for under 30 in both innings for the first time in a Test match in Asia and thereafter they were 106 for 5 and 62 for 5. 19 of the 20 England wickets to fall did so to spin bowling as their top four batsmen, Joe Root’s first innings 40 aside, struggled to cope against Bangladesh’s three frontline spinners. The balls that took the wickets were, more often than not, excellent deliveries but Ben Duckett and Gary Ballance, both unproven in these conditions, need to find ways to rotate the strike and ensure they don’t allow spinners to settle into a rhythm against them. Duckett’s footwork was particularly stodgy in his second innings with him not committing either back or forward, instead stuck on the crease, to 31% of his 34 deliveries.

The performances of Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow with the bat were instructive. Although this was a match in which batting against spin appeared to get easier as the ball got older both Stokes and Bairstow batted excellently, succeeding where Duckett could not: playing with no or minimal footwork on only 1.98% and 2.38% of the time respectively – well below the match average and demonstrating clear committal to playing forward or back, allowing them to smother the spin or adjust their shot according to it. Moeen Ali’s first innings 68 also bore lessons of patience with him only scoring one run playing against the spin from the 54 deliveries bowled by left arm spinners. He was more clinical against the off spin of Mehedi Hasan, three times hitting brilliant boundaries against the spin. He was judicious in choosing the moments to attack however, recording the lowest attacking shot percentage, 41%, of any innings of more than 25 runs in the match.

England’s batting depth benefitted them notably, allowing them to capitalise on the passages of play when batting got easier against the older ball – Chris Woakes and Adil Rashid contributed 90 valuable runs.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this match was Alastair Cook’s hesitation to entrust his spinners with responsibility, instead turning to Stokes and Stuart Broad when the match reached its climax. Cook has been criticised for this and for his defensive field settings which did allow singles to be taken fairly easily, and while these may be fair claims it is important to remember that they are in part influenced by the inaccuracy of his spinners and Cook’s desire to cut off boundaries.

The trouble with England’s spinners is not that they can’t bowl wicket-taking balls—they took 11 of the 13 wickets of Bangladesh’s top seven batsmen—but rather that they struggle to maintain control – 12.32% of deliveries bowled by England’s spinners were over-pitched (fuller than three meters from the batsman) compared to 6.70% for Bangladesh’s – and against better batsmen the pressure they release will diminish their wicket-taking threat. In this match they still took 12 wickets between them but Moeen and Rashid in particular were expensive. England can perhaps take some comfort from the fact that their inaccuracy is largely a product of over-pitching rather than under-pitching suggesting they are trying to bowl an attacking length.

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On the subcontinent pitches tend to give spinners plenty of assistance – the challenge therefore is exploiting that by bowling accurately – England will need to improve this – and at the right pace, which encouragingly England largely appeared to do. Batty could have perhaps bowled a touch quicker but the signs in terms of pace, are positive.

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The success of Stokes and Broad in getting the ball to reverse swing was important because like the lower order batting it allowed England to dominate old-ball phases of the match. It does also throw up a tactical proposition that if it can be maintained then England could perhaps look at their seam bowlers as wicket-takers and their spin bowlers as containers. This will require the spinners to offer more control than they did in this Test however and is a high-risk strategy in that reverse swing requires careful management of ball shining and a greater emphasis on seam bowlers will exhaust the attack.

ODI SERIES ANALYSIS: PAKISTAN V WEST INDIES

While the result of this series, a Pakistan win, might not have been a total shock given that it was being played in the UAE, the margin of it, three-nil, and of each victory, 111, 59 and 136 runs, was. There was little between the teams in the rankings before the series with West Indies eighth and Pakistan ninth and both teams chasing valuable points for automatic World Cup qualification; on the pitch however, there was an enormous gulf in class.

This was an encouraging result for a Pakistan team in their third series under new coach Mickey Arthur. Particularly impressive was their batting – perennially their weaker suit in limited overs cricket – which registered scores of 284 for 9, 337 for 5 and 308 for 6. Their series run rate of 6.23 is their second best ever against major opposition.

The standout player was of course Babar Azam who scored a century in each match on his way to surpassing Sir Vivian Richards as the leading ODI run-scorer after 18 matches with 886 runs. The top five generally were very impressive with Azhar Ali, Sharjeel Khan, Shoaib Malik, Sarfaraz Ahmed and Azam scoring 806 runs between them at an average of 62 and a strike rate of 99.87.

This series offers an interesting case-study of Pakistan’s approach in ODIs because in none of the three matches did they suffer a significant collapse meaning they were able to apply their strategy largely unaffected. Analying their innings in ten over phases reveals their strategy to be one of attack in the Powerplay, led by Sharjeel, followed by a consolidation and a gradual increase through the middle overs towards the last ten. Their ten over phase run rates were 6.23, 4.73, 6.43, 6.00 and 8.03.

Although Azam was the leading run-scorer for Pakistan it is hard to look beyond Sharjeel as Pakistan’s most important player not only in this series but to Pakistan’s batting strategy more generally.

Sharjeel is Pakistan’s only player with a career strike rate of more than 100 and his aggression in the Powerplay is integral to affording Ali and Azam the time to play themselves in. Across his first ten balls in this series Sharjeel’s strike rate was 130.00, while Ali and Azam’s was 56.86; across his next ten balls Sharjeel’s strike rate was 145.45, while Ali and Azam’s was was 70.00, only after facing 30 balls did Ali and Azam’s strike rate begin to rise towards a run-a-ball and once they had faced around 70 they begun scoring at consistently more than a run-a-ball.

Interestingly there was only a very subtle difference in intent from Pakistan’s batsmen in this series compared to the series against England that they lost 4-1, playing at 3.05% more deliveries and attacking 2.17% more. It seems that the critical difference, beyond the opposition and conditions, was that Sharjeel played three quick fire cameos at the start of the innings, with strike rates of 125.58, 200.00 and 92.68. Sharjeel’s aggression alleviated the pressure on Ali and Azam, who were able to play themselves in without feeling forced to play more positively, and as a result Pakistan did not lose as many early wickets as they did against England and were able to stay in control of their run rate, attacking balls they wanted to attack rather than those they felt compelled to after rebuilding.

There is a fragility to Pakistan’s batting success in this series. Ali and Azam are capable of scoring at strike rates of around 90 and may well get better at doing so earlier in their innings but currently they take their time to do so. While Shoaib and Sarfraz are in a bracket above in terms of scoring rate Shoaib has only played eight innings of more than 20 balls at a strike rate of above 110 since 2010 and Sarfraz has only played three ever. With little lower-order firepower below Shoaib and Sarfraz to speak of this batting order places enormous importance on the contribution of Sharjeel to get Pakistan off to a quick start to allow Ali and Azam to play themselves in which subsequently doesn’t leave Shoaib and Sarfraz too much to do when they come to the crease.

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Pakistan would go a long way to solving this problem by unearthing more lower-order firepower, thereby lifting pressure on the squeezed middle order from below as well as above. Pakistan’s run rate of 8.03 in the final ten overs in the series may not seem too bad but in this era most teams are scoring at nearer 10 in that phase. Pakistan have failed to score more than 75 in their final ten overs seven times in their last ten ODIs batting first (HT: Hassan Cheema).

Although Ali scored a hundred in the third match of the series, doubts about his ability to score fast enough in limited overs cricket remain, and it is an inconvenient possibility that Pakistan’s ODI team would be better off without their captain. While most teams now have two power players in their top three, Pakistan have just the one and the effects of that are felt throughout the batting order.

The lingering uncertainty surrounding Pakistan’s ODI batting should not tarnish the acceleration of the emergence of Azam in this series who appears a to be a fantastic player. He scored runs off all types of bowling, on both sides of the ground, off front and back foot and coming down the pitch and did so at a healthy strike rate. It is possible to see him filling a Joe Root-style role at number three for Pakistan for a long time to come.

For the West Indies this was a bitterly disappointing series. With the ball they were unable to expose the holes in Pakistan’s batting and when chasing they got off to slow starts, struggling to time the ball despite positive intent, missing or edging 18.81% of their shots and they found it hard to rotate the strike, recording a dot ball percentage of 54.12% compared to Pakistan’s 38.30%. Ultimately they fell too far behind the rate too early to make their way back against Pakistan’s spin bowlers on slow pitches.

Freddie Wilde is an analyst at CricViz.

MATCH ANALYSIS: INDIA V NEW ZEALAND, SECOND TEST

India 316 (Pujara 87, Rahane 77, Saha 54*, Henry 3-46) and 263 (Rohit 82, Saha 58*, Boult 3-38, Henry 3-59, Santner 3-60) beat New Zealand 204 (Bhuveneshwar 5-48) and 197 (Latham 74, Jadeja, 3-41, Shami 3-46, Ashwin 3-82) by 178 runs

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T20 SERIES ANALYSIS: PAKISTAN V WEST INDIES

Pakistan’s 3-0 whitewash of the T20 world champions West Indies was a stunning result and one that uncovered the shortcomings of West Indies’ power-hitting strategy on slow pitches with big boundaries and also suggested the capability of Pakistan’s bowling attack to become one of the world’s best.

Before the start of this series the West Indies had won six of their seven completed T20 matches in 2016 and had utilised a deep and powerful batting order but in this series it was largely their batting that lost them each of the three matches.

In the first match, batting first, they were reduced to 22 for 5 before being bowled out for 115; in the second match, chasing 161, they were reduced to 19 for 3 and then 45 for 4 before finishing 144 for 9 and in the third match, batting first, they were reduced to 31 off 4 before scrapping their way to 103 for 5.

The first two matches of the series were played in Dubai while the third was played in Abu Dhabi. Pitches in the UAE are slower and lower than elsewhere and the boundaries are bigger; such conditions, where the ball does not come onto the bat as well and the bounce is less predictable, are not conducive to power-hitting which is largely dependent on the ability to swing hard and fast through the expected line of the ball and being rewarded for this is understandably made harder as the size of the boundary increases. The conditions therefore required the West Indies to adapt their method but they didn’t.

Prior to this series the slog made up 10% of the shots played by the West Indies in 2016, in this series that number fell slightly to 7% but tellingly the strike rate of those shots fell from 242 to 51, the average from 31 to five and the shots per dismissal from 13 to nine. Similarly, prior to this series the pull shot made up 8% of shots played by the West Indies in 2016, in this series that number actually increased fractionally but again the strike rate of those shots fell from 261 to 151, the average from 68 to 15 and the shots per dismissal from 26 to ten. Similar falls were experienced for the cut shot as well. Revealingly, the shot-types that failed the West Indies were cross-batted shots – ill-advised on slower, lower pitches. Unsurprisingly the larger boundaries in the UAE correlate with a rise in the strike rates for working, pushing, flicking and steering the ball.

The conditions in the UAE mean boundaries are harder to come by and running between the wickets assumes greater importance but it is clear from the shot-type analysis that the West Indies either failed or refused to recognise this.

Speaking after the first match West Indies captain Carlos Brathwaite appeared to suggest that it was not the shot selection but shot execution that cost his team. “We didn’t execute it the way we wanted to,” he said. “On some other day those same shots could have gone for boundaries and sixes.” Brathwaite did admit however that his players needed to be more “situation aware” for the following two matches. There was some improvement in this regard with West Indies scoring 144 in the second match and Marlon Samuels and Kieron Pollard restraining their aggressive instincts in the third match but they failed to find a gear in between attack and defence and both scored at well under a run-a-ball. Samuels’ innings was the third slowest of all innings to have lasted at least 50 balls in T20i history.

Interestingly this is not the first time that West Indies’ approach has been exposed on such pitches. Earlier this year on the low, slow Nagpur pitch during the World T20 West Indies narrowly beat South Africa and lost to Afghanistan.

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The West Indies’ task in this series was undoubtedly made more difficult by the brilliance of Pakistan’s bowling attack which, in four consecutive T20s including their win against England, has been superb.

Pakistan’s attack is made up of an eclectic mix of bowlers of varying styles, paces, angles and trajectories. Their unpredictability and variation combined with the low, slow UAE pitches makes them hard to dominate.

Pakistan played the same team in the first two matches before making two changes for the last match but in all three, and the match against England earlier in the month, their bowling order and changes followed a similar structure demonstrating the existence of a clear plan of who would bowl when and it was stuck to.

Left arm spinner Imad Wasim, who took nine wickets, the joint-second highest wicket-haul in a series of three matches or fewer, bowled the first and third over in each of the three matches and took three, one and two wickets in his three opening spells, setting the West Indies back early on and from there they could not recover.

Imad generally bowls an accurate line and length, largely full and very straight, relying on subtle changes in length, line, pace, angle and trajectory to avoid batsmen lining him up and waits for the batsman to miss, something the West Indies, attacking hard, did regularly on two-paced pitches with unpredictable bounce. Six of his nine wickets were bowled or LBW.

Imad largely bowled two different lengths: a traditional good length pitching between four and seven metres from the stumps and a fuller change-up length between one and four metres. In the match against England it was the fuller length that took him two wickets, here in this series, all his wickets came from the more regular length deliveries.

The damage done by Imad was reinforced and built on by the rest of the attack. Left arm seamer Sohail Tanvir bowled from over the wicket, angling the ball across right handers and into left handers, largely from back of a length, between seven and ten metres from the batsmen with the yorker and changes in pace, dropping to as low as 55mph, as variation.

Right arm seamer Hasan Ali bowled over the wicket and varied his length and pace with almost every delivery, rarely bowling similar balls consecutively with his speeds ranging between mid-80s to high-60s.

Left armers Wahab Riaz, entirely from over the wicket, and Mohammad Amir from over and round, were employed as impact bowlers, relying on significant changes of pace from around 90 mph to mid-60s and regular short deliveries. Left armer Rumman Raees bowled a slightly fuller average length than Wahab and Amir and dropped his pace from mid-80s to mid-60s almost every other ball.

The attack was completed by left arm spinner Mohammad Nawaz and off spinner Shoaib Malik who varied their line and length subtly and within a small range, never trying anything notably unusual but changing things just enough to ensure the batsmen could not settle.

The variation in style and strategy offered by Pakistan’s bowling attack is well-suited to T20 where being unpredictable is key. It will be fascinating to see them on flatter pitches with smaller boundaries to see if they can maintain their impressive form in more difficult conditions for bowling. Make no mistake though, this was a hugely impressive series victory for Pakistan and an equally, if not more unimpressive, series defeat for the West Indies.

Freddie Wilde is an analyst at CricViz. 

MATCH ANALYSIS: INDIA V NEW ZEALAND, FIRST TEST

India 318 (Vijay 65, Pujara 62, Boult 3-67, Santner 3-94) and 377 for 5 dec (Pujara 78, Vijay 76, Rohit 68*, Jadeja 50*) beat New Zealand 262 (Williamson 75, Latham 58, Jadeja 5-73, Ashwin 4-93) and 236 (Ronchi 80, Santner 71, Ashwin 6-132) by 197 runs

Unsurprisingly since India’s home Tests have begun being played on big turning pitches, this match was decided by spin: both how it was bowled and played. On both counts India were the better of the two teams. India’s two spinners, R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja took 16 wickets at an economy rate of 2.65; New Zealand’s three spinners, Mark Craig, Michell Santner and Ish Sodhi took eight at 3.58.

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MATCH ANALYSIS: SOUTH AFRICA V NEW ZEALAND, 2ND TEST

After South Africa’s large first innings score in the Second Test at Centurion it was always going to be difficult for New Zealand to save the match with South Africa able to set aggressive fields and reap the benefits of scoreboard pressure. However South Africa still had to take twenty New Zealand wickets and they did so thanks largely to Dale Steyn who took 8-99 from 36.2 overs in the match.

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MATCH ANALYSIS: ENGLAND V PAKISTAN, 3RD ODI

Trent Bridge has been a high scoring venue in limited overs cricket of late—earlier this season the average score across six domestic innings was 380—but even given the ground’s recent history few people could have envisaged the carnage that unfolded in the first innings of this match.

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MATCH ANALYSIS: ENGLAND V PAKISTAN, 2ND ODI

It took just 19 balls of this match, after which Pakistan were 2 for 3, for England to have established a position of dominance from which it was extremely unlikely Pakistan would recover.

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MATCH ANALYSIS: ENGLAND V PAKISTAN, 1ST ODI

The average first innings score in the five most recent ODIs at the Rose Bowl before England v Pakistan on Wednesday was 310 and the average winning first innings score in ODIs at the Rose Bowl is 289.

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ENGLAND’S ODI BOWLING REMAINS A WEAKNESS

It’s hard to know right now if England are truly on the cusp of surfing a wave in one-day cricket, but there has certainly been something of a revival since their pitiful displays in the last World Cup 18 months ago.

In all, they have won 13 one-day internationals since then and lost nine. They have won series against New Zealand, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, and lost narrowly to Australia and South Africa.

The evidence suggests the batting is in excellent shape at the moment. In that time, England have posted grand totals of 408, 399, 365, 355 and 350 – five of their seven best totals ever. Even allowing for some flat wickets and the modern trend for a par score to be so much higher than in previous times, this is a remarkable feat. However the bowling has not always been so good.

Against Pakistan, in the five-match series that begins on Wednesday, England are likely to start as fairly strong favourites thanks to their batting might, but this would be a good time for them to have a strong series with the ball.

In South Africa in February, England did not generally excel in the bowling stakes, though they led 2-0 with three to play and at Centurion set a faltering side, who had just lost the Test series, 319 to win.

Let’s examine what happened from that point. David Willey and Reece Topley, both currently injured, failed to strike with the new ball, allowing Quinton de Kock and Hashim Amla to get away with a fast start. But it was what ensued subsequently that really hurt England. Ben Stokes, Chris Jordan and Moeen Ali – all in the squad for the upcoming series – failed to stem the flow or take wickets in the overs that followed. Only Adil Rashid, who returned an exemplary 1-45 from his 10 overs, emerged with credit.

The CricViz database records that Stokes, in returning 0-54 from 8.2 overs, attempted just three slower balls and found no discernible swing or seam. The lack of movement was not his fault – this was a flat wicket and he did not have use of the new ball – but should he have been trying more slower balls? Chris Jordan bowled seven slower balls in his 1-54 from seven overs. South Africa scored just two runs from Jordan’s slower deliveries suggesting it was a tactic worth pursuing, but Jordan bowled only one per over, Stokes less than one every two overs.

As for the spinners, whereas Adil Rashid created a degree of uncertainty by bowling seven googlies in his 10 overs, every single delivery sent down by Moeen Ali was an off-break. Little wonder, perhaps, that he went for 30 more runs than Rashid.

The stats show also that Moeen had a bad shift at the office with his lengths that evening: six short-pitched balls and three full tosses, one at beamer height. As for the seamers, Stokes only got one attempted yorker on the spot, three others ending up as half volleys, two as full tosses. Jordan got two in the spot, but bowled three full tosses and seven half-volleys in all. When Jordan dropped short he was punished, with 27 runs coming off 16 balls.

As for the bowlers’ lines, Jordan bowled the vast majority of his balls outside off or down the leg side. On the 11 occasions he bowled at the stumps, South Africa scored just four runs. Stokes bowled significantly straighter, while Rashid – as you would expect from a decent leg-spinner – bowled all but five balls on a line between middle stump and outside off. Moeen’s default line, outside off stump, was easily milked – 47 runs coming from the 32 balls he bowled there.

Let’s fast forward to the mid-summer home ODI series and the only game England game close to losing against Sri Lanka, which ended in a fascinating tie at Trent Bridge.

On this occasion, Sri Lanka batted first and hit 286-9. It should have been a winning score when England then collapsed to 82-6 – that was until Jos Buttler and Chris Woakes had other ideas. In the Sri Lanka innings, 40 of the 50 overs were sent down by bowlers picked for the series that starts on Wednesday. They produced some varied results. Rashid took no wickets but his 10 overs cost just 36 runs, against batsmen who play spin particularly well. Ali was again much more expensive, taking 1-69. Liam Plunkett returned 2-67 and Woakes 2-56.

Ali again produced barely any variety, with 58/60 off-breaks and 55/60 missing off-stump. His lengths were an improvement on the Centurion ODI – nothing short, no full tosses – but he sent down 11 half-volleys which cost 21 runs.

The most expensive seamer on the day, Plunkett, had a problem with his lengths – a beamer, four full tosses and eight half volleys among his bag. His line was OK, but movement was hard to obtain – the one leg cutter he produced was hit for four in any event.

Woakes produced a little more movement, with five off cutters, and his lengths were better than Plunkett’s. However his economy rate would have surely been even better had he not bowled 20 balls on leg stump or down leg which produced 24 runs in all.

Why was Rashid so hard to score off? His line was excellent; by now he had added the top spinner to his armoury (so was bowling three different deliveries) and 77% of his balls were at that ideal spinner’s length just short of a half-volley.

In terms of overall stats, Rashid now has the foundations of what could become be a very good ODI career. He has played in all 10 of England’s ODIs this calendar year, picking up 11 wickets from 10 matches at an economy of 5.03. Ali’s record over the same period is six wickets from eight matches at an economy rate of 5.75. You would have to worry that having been treated to some pretty rough treatment at the hands of Pakistan’s spinners in the Tests that England might be tempted to overlook Ali at the start of the ODIs.

If they want a second spinner, then Liam Dawson, who enjoyed a fine T20 international debut in July, might be a better option.

As for the seamers, they are also a unit in flux. Mark Wood has not played an ODI in almost a year but his raw speed, seen to fine effect on Twenty20 finals day last Saturday, will surely be called upon. England’s lack of variety elsewhere – made all the more acute by the absence of the left-armer Topley alongside Willey who can swing a white ball – is a potential weakness. It has been demonstrated in this piece that Stokes, Woakes, Plunkett and Jordan – as right-arm seamers who don’t move the ball a huge amount and who all bowl speeds in the mid 80s – can struggle to be an effective unit. And that problem only exacerbates itself when they miss their yorkers, bowl too short or slide the ball down the leg side.

It sure has been fun to watch England bat of late in white ball cricket – when Jos Buttler and Jason Roy are in full cry few teams can live with them – but sometimes the pyrotechnics of the batsmen have masked the imperfections of the bowlers. Against a Pakistan side invigorated by squaring the Test series in the final match of that rubber, England might need all 11 players to pull their weight.