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IPL Season Preview: Kings XI Punjab

Ben Jones previews Kings XI Punjab.

Last season: 7th

2018 was a year to forget for Kings XI. Whilst KL Rahul and AJ Tye had serious personal success, the rest of the team were not able to back up their good work, as they slumped to second bottom on the ladder following a bright start to the competition.

Personnel Changes

Englishman Sam Curran was a notable arrival, given his relative lack of experience in T20 cricket, and for the substantial price of 7.2 crore he will have serious expectations placed upon him. Australian Moises Henriques arrives with his all-round abilities offering a bit more balance, and ostensibly a replacement for fellow Aussie Marcus Stoins. Spinner Varun Chakravarthy – a relative unknown quantity – offers something a bit new, but given the lack of success last year, it was a surprisingly quiet window.

Squad Summary

  • Total players: 23
  • Numbers of overseas players: 8
  • Openers: KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, Chris Gayle
  • Middle-order batsmen: Karun Nair, David Miller, Mandeep Singh, Sarfaraz Khan
  • Wicketkeepers: Prabhsimran Singh, Nicholas Pooran
  • Allrounders: Agnivesh Ayachi, Varun Chakravarthy, Darshan Nalkande, Harpreet Brar, Moises Henriques, Sam Curran
  • Wristspinners: Mujeeb Ur Rahman, M Ashwin
  • Fingerspinners: R Ashwin
  • Fast bowlers: Ankit Rajpoot, Andrew Tye, Arshdeep Singh, Hardus Viljoen, Mohammed Shami

Strengths

Top-Order Batting

The opening partnership of KL Rahul and Chris Gayle is arguably the most destructive in the tournament. Right-hand/left-hand, power and finesse, they compliment each other very nicely indeed. Kings XI will be be eager for the West Indian star to maintain his excellent form from the ODI series against England, where he plundered 424 runs in five innings, scoring at a rapid 8.05rpo. Rahul’s place in the World Cup squad could well depend on his performance this season – regardless of what his Indian skipper says – and so he will be motivated and aiming to please. Kings XI could well start plenty of matches like a house on fire.

Overseas Bowling

Young Afghanistan bowler Mujeeb-ur-Rahman took the Big Bash League by storm this year, in the colours of the Brisbane Heat, and will look to replicate his success in Mohali. He’ll be backed up by the leading wicket-taker from IPL 10, AJ Tye the attack leader for Ashwin’s side, the Australian’s famous range of slower ball variations making him a threat on almost any surface. It seems likely that both will be in the first choice XI, which added to Gayle’s presence does limit their flexibility with regard to overseas spots, but that is something they can cope with.

Weaknesses

Indian seam bowling

Part of the issue with Kings XI’s flexibility (or lack thereof) comes from the relative weakness of their domestic seam bowling options. Ankit Rajpoot and Mohammed Shami are solid performers, the latter improved in recent white ball series, but they aren’t the star performers seen on the other lists. They will need to over-perform in this area if they’re to compete.

Wrist-Spinners

Murugan Ashwin is the sole experienced wrist-spinner on the Kings XI roster. In this age of T20 cricket, you need to have a wrist-spinner in your side, and if he loses form or isn’t up to the required standard, then KXIP are in trouble. Mujeeb does offer some of the required mystery to fill this role, but the point still stands. A lot rests on Murugan’s shoulders.

Key Player: KL Rahul

Whilst Tye is arguably Kings XI’s best player, Rahul is their most important. Given the lack of depth in their domestic batting stocks (one of Mandeep Singh or Sarfaraz Khan has to play, and both are inexperienced), Rahul succeeding is crucial if KXIP are going to manage their delicate overseas balance. His poor year in other forms for the national side has put unexpected pressure on his campaign as an individual, but this season offers an opportunity for him to kickstart his own attempt to get into the World Cup.

Best XI:

1 Rahul+

2 Gayle

3 Agarwal

4 Nair

5 Mandeep

6 Curran

7 Ashwin*

8 Mujeeb

9 Tye

10 Shami

11 Chakravarthy

IPL Season Preview: Delhi Capitals

Freddie Wilde previews the Delhi Capitals.

Last Season: 8th

The 2018 IPL represented another disappointing campaign for Delhi who were the first team unable to qualify for the Play Offs and finished at the bottom of the table. Delhi were unfortunate with injuries with Chris Morris and Kagiso Rabada ruled out halfway through the campaign while overseas players Jason Roy, Colin Munro and Glenn Maxwell struggled for form. Gautam Gambhir’s rapid decline in returns saw him step down as captain and dropped from the team before the end of the campaign. Delhi had a strong squad on paper but struggled to translate that potential into performances.

Personell Changes

Delhi were involved in the biggest trade of the off-season with Shikhar Dhawan joining them from Sunrisers Hyderabad in exchange for Vijay Shankar, Abhishek Sharma and Shabaz Nadeem going in the opposite direction. Ahead of the auction Delhi released eight further players: Gambhir, Roy, Maxwell, Gurkeerat Mann, Mohammad Shami, Dan Christian, Sayan Ghosh, Liam Plunkett, Junior Dala and Naman Ojha. Delhi’s large number of releases meant only KXIP had more money to spend at the auction. Their major signings were Colin Ingram for Rs. 6 crore and Axar Patel for Rs. 5 crore. Other notable signings were Indian Test specialists Hanuma Vihari and Ishant Sharma and the exciting young West Indian pair of batsman Sherfane Rutherford and bowler Keemo Paul.

Squad Summary

  • Total players: 24
  • Overseas players: 8

Squad Composition

  • Openers (4): Colin Munro, Prithvi Shaw, Manjot Kalra, Shikhar Dhawan
  • Middle-order batsmen (3): Shreyas Iyer, Hanuma Vihari, Colin Ingram
  • Wicketkeepers (2): Rishabh Pant, Ankush Bains
  • Allrounders (5): Chris Morris, Jalaj Saxena, Axar Patel, Bandaru Ayyappa, Sherfane Rutherford
  • Wristspinners (3): Amit Mishra, Rahul Tewatia, Sandeep Lamichhane
  • Fast Bowlers (7): Harshal Patel, Kagiso Rabada, Avesh Khan, Trent Boult, Ishant Sharma, Keemo Paul, Nathu Singh

Strengths

Indian batting

With Prithvi, Dhawan, Pant and Iyer Delhi have one of the strongest Indian batting cores in the league. This strength should give them flexibility with their choice of overseas players, removing the reliance on overseas batsmen that plagued them last season.

Overseas batting

Delhi have two brilliant overseas batsmen in Munro and Ingram. The balance of the side will benefit from only picking one of them, but both are excellent players.

Overseas bowling

Morris, Rabada, Boult and Lamichhane is an exceptional quartet of overseas bowlers. Morris struggled last season but has proven himself at this level before, while Rabada is one of the world’s leading pace bowlers and Lamichhane has had a superb start to his T20 career in the last season. Boult’s T20 record is not particularly good but he provides an international standard left-arm option.

Spin bowling

Delhi have three leg spinners at their disposal with Lamichhane and the Indian pair of Mishra and Tewatia, plus the left-arm spin of Axar. Mishra form has been declining while Tewatia remains unproven but the potential to field two or even three wrist spinners is an exciting prospect.

Weaknesses

Indian pace bowling

Delhi will be heavily reliant on their overseas quicks because their Indian options aren’t great: Avesh Khan has shown glimpses of potential but has not yet established himself at this level. Ishant and Harshal have had fairly long IPL careers without much success.

Absent South African quicks

If Morris is selected in South Africa’s World Cup squad then Delhi will lose both him and Rabada; two absentees that will really hurt them. Both players may well start the season for Delhi and although Boult can cover for one of them, if Morris is also selected by South Africa it will expose their weak Indian seam bowling.

Lower middle order

Beneath their excellent top five, Delhi’s lower middle order looks a little weak. Bowling all rounders Tewatia, Axar and Morris may well be required to fulfill the role of genuine all rounders which might ask too much of their batting. If Morris struggles for form with bat or ball, Rutherford is an alternative option who would strengthen the batting but weaken the bowling.

Key Player: Chris Morris

At his best Morris is one of the most dynamic T20 all rounders in the world. In the 2017 IPL he averaged 30.80 with the bat at a run rate of 9.82 and took 12 wickets at an economy rate of 7.74 but last season he struggled for form before getting injured. If he can replicate his 2017 season he will lend precious balance to Delhi’s team, bolstering their lower order batting and protecting their weak Indian bowling.

Best XI

  1. Dhawan
  2. Shaw
  3. Ingram
  4. Pant+
  5. Iyer*
  6. Tewatia
  7. Axar
  8. Morris
  9. Lamichhane  
  10. Rabada
  11. Mishra/Avesh

Freddie Wilde is an analyst at CricViz. @fwildecricket

CricViz Analysis: The IPL’s English Contingent

The 2019 Indian Premier League season is playing host to an entire team’s worth of England-qualified players. Ben Jones casts his eye over the 11 Englishmen about to take to the stage.

JOS BUTTLER – Rajasthan Royals

Has an Englishman ever had a better IPL than Jos Buttler did in 2018? Even when Ben Stokes was voted Most Valuable Player in 2017, he arguably had less of an impact than Buttler did for Rajasthan Royals, almost single-handedly dragging them into the play-offs following a transformative move to the top of the order. Only twice in IPL history has an opener scored more runs than Buttler did last year whilst maintaining a higher scoring rate. As shown below, he’s in decent company.

Heading back to Rajasthan this year, he’s nailed on to slot back into that opening berth, having established himself as one of the premier openers in T20 cricket. Since Buttler was promoted to open, he’s made 908 runs in that position. Only six other men have made more, and only one (Aaron Finch) has done so whilst scoring more quickly.

Chance of playing: 10/10

Chance of success 9/10

JOFRA ARCHER – Rajasthan Royals

Of all the English-qualified players at the IPL, Jofra Archer has arguably the most intriguing campaign ahead of him. The debate around him has been tainted by numerous issues, longstanding and deep-rooted, relating both to ideas of national identity and to the concept of “earning your spot”. This debate has, more often than is ideal, been conducted by critics who have not watched quite as much of Archer’s T20 career as some others, and as such the arguments have been painted in broad, unhelpful strokes. Amidst this, it is easy to lose the fundamental point here – that Archer is brilliant.

Since he made his T20 in July 2016, playing for Sussex against Hampshire, only eight men in world cricket have taken more T20 wickets. Some will decry the hype around Archer’s potential World Cup inclusion as a passing fad, but his longevity is underrated. Sustaining his level of success for two-and-a-half years is not easy. Plenty of players arrive en vogue for six months, but fail under the pressure. Archer has not done that.

Yet this IPL, there will be plenty of English eyes on Archer’s performances. For Rajasthan, Archer plays that crucial double-role, one which echoes what he’d be asked to do in the England team – take wickets up front, and dominate the death. In 2018 he took more powerplay wickets than any other RR seamer, and had comfortably the best economy rate of their regular death bowlers. Given the lack of real change to their squad, Rajasthan are likely to use him in a similar way in 2019; whilst a slightly disappointing BBL08 will have dampened expectation, Archer is still a classy performer capable of having a real impact on this IPL.

Chance of playing 8/10

Chance of success 8/10

BEN STOKES – Rajasthan Royals

After his MVP exploits in 2017, Ben Stokes had a quieter IPL season last year. With the bat, he passed 40 only once and struggled to hit top gear; with the ball, he went wicketless in eight of his thirteen matches. While Stokes is player who rarely goes long stretches without contributing in the some manner, given his fielding and leadership qualities, his value as a player is still largely determined by the runs and wickets he provides. He will be eager to improve. Stokes’ batting struggles in 2018 were primarily against spin. He was dismissed every 11 balls he faced from the slower bowlers, unsustainable in a tournament with so many quality spinners. If he’s to succeed this year, he’ll need to address that.

As a bowler, Stokes has evolved into more of a middle-overs merchant than he had been; 45% of his deliveries since the start of 2017 have come in Overs 7-15. That shift is reflected in his economy rate of 7.71rpo in that time, indicative of him not bowling at the business ends of the innings, but even so – that is an excellent economy rate. Given the make-up of the RR squad, one would expect the pitch to help seamers, and that could benefit Stokes.

Chance of playing 9/10

Chance of success 7/10

JOE DENLY – Kolkata Knight Riders

Kent veteran Joe Denly has enjoyed something of a career revival in the last few seasons. After a period of solid success on the T20 domestic circuit, beginning in the 2017 BPL, Denly has began to force his way into the thoughts of both major T20 leagues and the England set-up. At the 2019 auction KKR secured his services, banking on his mixture of batting nous and canny leg-spin.

Typically batting at the top of the order, Denly is extremely unlikely to dislodge either Chris Lynn and Sunil Narine from the opening partnership. Equally, since that 2017 BPL season, Denly’s batting has been extremely secure, dismissed every 30 balls against pace and every 26 balls against spin. That is slightly at odds with KKR’s traditional gameplan of charging out of the blocks, but it does make Denly ideally suited to the rebuilding in the middle overs that will inevitably be required. KKR could well use him as a safety net middle-order option, particularly on turning tracks where his leg-spin becomes a greater weapon.

Chance of playing 6/10

Chance of success 6/10

JONNY BAIRSTOW – Sunrisers Hyderabad

A recognised international star now, and with a serious claim on being the best ODI opener in the world, Jonny Bairstow is in a peculiar position at Sunrisers. Given the nature of the overseas players in the Sunrisers squad, he’s unlikely to get a game, competing with established SRH stars David Warner and Kane Williamson for a place in that top order.

Equally, his strong record has largely been based around dominating pace, rather than spin. In and of itself that is not a flaw, but it may limit his effectiveness on the Sunrisers home surface, the Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium. In the last two seasons, only the Sawai Mansingh Stadium in Jaipur has seen a lower economy for spin bowlers – Bairstow will be working against his home conditions. Given his all-format commitments with England, Bairstow has had little experience of T20 cricket in recent times; indeed, he’s only played 16 T20 matches in the last 24 months.

All that comes with the caveat that Bairstow is a man who undoubtedly prides himself on proving people wrong, and may be spurred on by the challenge. Given a full season in Hyderabad, you wouldn’t bet against him dislodging some more established names, but on this occasion the curtailed opportunities from World Cup commitments may limit him.

Chances of playing 5 /10

Chance of success 7/10

HARRY GURNEY – Kolkata Knight Riders

Off the back of a very successful BBL campaign, where he helped guide the Melbourne Renegades to an inaugural title, left-arm seamer Harry Gurney’s stock rose even higher when Kolkata snapped him up at the IPL auction. His canny collection of slower balls and variations has been honed over years of white ball cricket and, as it stands, sees him placed as one of the leading death bowlers in the world.

Gurney has the double-edged benefit of not being in World Cup contention, meaning he can focus on applying himself to KKR’s cause for the whole campaign. He will be competing with Lockie Ferguson for the overseas bowler spot, an interesting contest given how different they are as bowlers; Ferguson’s raw pace is a fascinating contrast with Gurney’s change-ups, a contrast that should allow the KKR coaching staff to opt for either bowler according to conditions or opposition match-ups. Smart recruitment, and giving Gurney a strong likelihood of playing.

Chance of playing 7/10

Chance of success 8/10

MOEEN ALI – Royal Challengers Bangalore

Mixed in with England’s bounty of white ball stars, Moeen Ali can often be an afterthought. Whilst his bowling has become more appreciated (largely by association with Adil Rashid’s improved form), his batting is routinely relegated to the out-and-out slogging of the last few balls. Without question, this is an underuse of his talents. Since the start of 2017, Moeen Ali has faced 260 deliveries in T20 cricket, and 381 other players have faced as many; only three have scored more quickly – RCB will be eager to make the most of Moeen’s hitting ability.

Given the undoubted presence of AB de Villiers as one of the overseas spots, the probable inclusion of Shimron Hetmyer and the likely need to include Nathan Coulter-Nile as an overseas seamer, Moeen will be fighting with Colin de Grandhomme and Marcus Stoinis for the overseas all-rounder spot. The clear differentiating factor that Moeen has from those two is that he is a spin option, which could be necessary if Washington Sundar and Yuzvendra Chahal need more support on helpful surfaces. While perhaps less valuable in a dressing room full of international stars, Moeen’s cricketing brain is an asset that could prove useful; his performance as Worcestershire skipper in the 2018 Blast semi-finals and final was a masterclass in calm thinking in a pressurised environment. With some hot-headed characters in that RCB squad, Moeen’s calm could offer important balance.

Chance of playing 7/10

Chance of success 8/10

SAM CURRAN – Kings XI Punjab

In T20, Sam Curran’s value is still largely in his potential. Here is a man who has played T20 cricket for only two teams (Surrey and Auckland), never for his country, and is generally regarded by those who know him best as a red ball specialist. A talented and rounded cricketer, but not yet a proven talent against top-class performers. Despite this, he has been made the flagship signing by a team in desperate need of inspiration, in desperate need of a hero. It’s hard to ignore the amplifying effect that Curran’s superb performance in the Test series between England and India will have had. India’s entire cricketing culture watched Curran repeatedly take his side from the point of defeat to the point of victory. Regardless of his pedigree as a T20 cricketer, one can understand why an Indian side are willing to thrust their hopes into his hands.

As a batsman, Curran is less than explosive, with a career scoring rate of 6.31rpo in Surrey colours, though his work in Test cricket shows that he has hitting ability. However, his role/performance with the ball is more clarified; 48% of his career bowling has been in the Powerplay, establishing himself as a new ball specialist. His strike rate and economy in that period are both better than the average for games he’s been involved in, suggesting he is performing reasonably.

Equally, you have to commend Kings XI for being astute in which young player they have targeted – Curran definitely won’t be going to the World Cup, which improves his availability and his opportunity to improve over a season, an investment for the 2020 IPL.

Chance of playing 8/10

Chance of success 6/10

LIAM LIVINGSTONE – Rajasthan Royals

Livingstone has garnered a serious reputation as a dangerous white-ball hitter, and while his opportunities to prove it on the highest stage have been limited, it is a reputation he deserves. He has scored faster than almost everyone in domestic T20 cricket over the last 12 months – indeed, everyone with a better record than him is an established star. Still – he is unlikely to feature for the Royals, certainly before the World Cup exodus begins. The overseas-heavy leanings of the RR squad does dictate that Livingstone’s opportunities will be small, but as a team they are lacking in late innings firepower. With his career scoring rate of 9.4rpo in the last five overs, Livingstone could be well placed to come into the side once that problem has been established in practice, not just in theory.

Chance of playing 4/10

Chance of success 7/10

DAVID WILLEY – Chennai Super Kings

Since the start of 2017, 58% of Willey’s bowling has been in the Powerplay. That is his role. His own economy in that period is almost exactly the same as the average for the games he’s played in, and his strike rate slightly better than the average – he’s a decent option, but for a man who is almost exclusively used in this role, it’s not ideal.

For Chennai, he sits behind Imran Tahir and Lungi Ngidi in the overseas bowler spot, and has a 50/50 chance of leaving the competition midway through to head to the World Cup. As a result, it will be tough for him to get a game. However compared to those two options he has a few key differentiating features. He offers a left-arm variation, which is valuable for strategic planning, and his batting is substantially better than either of the South Africans, as is his fielding. An opener for the Blast-winning Northamptonshire side, and latterly for Yorkshire, Willey has always been a mercurial hitter, but he has serious power with the bat that is probably still underutilised outside of the English domestic game. He scores at 12.13rpo through the legside – none of the English representatives at this IPL can boast a faster scoring rate through that zone.

Chance of playing 4/10

Chance of success 5/10

SAM BILLINGS – Chennai Super Kings

Abundantly talented and under-exposed, Sam Billings has suffered for being born in a generation of wonderful English batsmen. In particular, his career has been in the shadow of Buttler’s, both being audacious wicket-keeper batsmen, with huge potential, born within 12 months of each other. The consequence of being squeezed out of international recognition is that he has gained considerable T20 experience; of the 11 English players at the IPL, only Jos Buttler has played more matches in this form of the game. Equally, he’s had a boost in public profile following his superb 87 (47) against Windies in St Kitts and Nevis, and all signs suggest he’s in excellent form. His batting against spin is excellent, scoring at 8rpo since 2016 and dismissed only every 21 balls, making him an excellent option against spin-dominated attacks likes Sunrisers Hyderabad, used as more of a horses-for-courses selection.

Chance of playing 5/10

Chance of success 6/10

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: Chasing in the PSL

As the Pakistan Super League continues to be dominated by sides batting second, Ben Jones considers some reasons for this ever-increasing trend.

In a climate where for numerous reasons cricket has not been top of the agenda, this Pakistan Super League season has been quietly intriguing. On the surface, this may not appear to be the case. The quality of the action itself has been solid, if not spectacular; the matches entertaining, if not thrilling; the race for qualification competitive but softened a little by the under-performance of the Multan Sultans. But beyond this, there has been a developing trend that, in the truest sense of the word, has been historic.

As it stands, 81% of matches in this PSL season have been won by the side batting second. Among the six major T20 leagues (Bangladesh Premier League, Big Bash League, Caribbean Premier League, Indian Premier League, Pakistan Super League, Blast), that’s the highest figure for any individual season – ever.

Of course, this does reflect a wider trend in T20 cricket. Chasing sides have found increased success in recent years, as many have noted and many more have lamented. However, that improvement has been gentle and gradual, subtle improvement in the chances of chasing sides over time. Yet whilst the past seven years have seen an evolution in the balance between chasing and defending, this season’s PSL has been a revolution.

Captains aren’t missing this trick. There have been 26 tosses so far this season, and only once has the captain who called correctly opted to bat first. 25 out of 26 times, the toss-winning captain has looked up, looked down, looked at the opposition, and decided to chase.

It has created a slightly concerning bias in favour of the toss-winning side. If the tournament had dispensed with cricket altogether, and simply allocated two points for a won toss, the table would look awfully similar to the actual tournament ladder. The order is slightly altered, but the same teams would be heading through the knockout rounds. Of course, that isn’t ideal.

Yet as with everything in cricket, this has caused a fair degree of angst. People have offered solutions ranging from the removal of the toss to penalty runs for the chasing side, the difference in chance of victory too focused on the toss of a coin – or the flip of a bat. It’s only natural that fans push back against a trend which threatens to make the most unpredictable form of the game more monotonous – but rather than worrying about the effect, it’s more interesting to ask why this trend is occurring.

What outside influences have been acting on the game to force this change, and where has it been felt most keenly?

Well, the difference doesn’t seem to be coming in the Powerplay. Chasing sides are actually performing significantly worse in the first six overs, scoring more slowly and losing wickets more regularly compared to sides batting first. It isn’t fair to attribute their slower scoring rates to a consciously more cautious approach; chasers have attacked slightly more than sides batting first, and with slightly more risk. Given the impact we all know that the start of the innings has on the rest of proceedings (heaven forbid you lose three wickets in those first six overs), it feels intuitive to suggest this is where chasers are establishing their massive advantage. But that isn’t the case.

No, the first time in the innings we see a real gulf start to widen between sides batting first or batting second is after the Powerplay has finished, because in the middle overs it’s a different story. Whilst scoring rates for both sides remain relatively close, dismissal rates suddenly diverge. Sides batting first have lost wickets with alarming frequency, whilst the chasing sides have managed to remain stable.

This pattern is particularly clear against spinners. In overs 7-15, sides batting first have lost a wicket every 19 balls against spin; for sides batting second, that’s a wicket every 29 balls. That is a huge gap. Chasing sides play with significantly more control against the slower bowlers, hitting more deliveries to the boundary and accruing fewer dot balls.

It’s affected even the best performers. The four leading spinners (in terms of wickets taken) this season have been Umar Khan, Mohammad Nawaz, Sandeep Lamichanne and Fawad Ahmed, but the bulk of their wickets have come in the first innings. Their combined strike rate in the first innings (15.3) is significantly worse than their strike rate in the second (21.0). The best bowlers in the competition have been unable to exert the same pressure when defending a total as they have when limiting a target.

There are other moments where batting against spin appears to be an area where chasing sides have held an advantage. The attacking strokes that are played against spin are much, much more secure in the second innings. An attacking shot against spin in the first innings is almost twice as likely to lead to a wicket as an attacking shot in the second innings.

However, for all this, the difference in scoring rate in that middle period wasn’t that significant. 0.45rpo is a reasonable difference, but it’s not vast, and certainly not accountable for 81% of chasing sides coming out on top. However, the natural consequence of losing more wickets in the middle overs is that teams batting first can’t accelerate as well at the death, and this has undoubtedly been the case this season. With more wickets in hand going into that climactic period of the innings, chasing sides are able to score significantly more quickly, largely through hitting more boundaries.

So the main factor in the dominance of the chasing sides, from what we can glean from the numbers, is that middle overs wickets have cost sides batting first dearly.

This effect is then amplified by the lower scores that we have seen throughout the tournament. The high-quality of the bowling attacks, and perhaps the relative weakness of the domestic batting options, have contributed to a scoring rate of just 7.68rpo across the tournament – the slowest scoring rate for any Major League season since the 2016 BPL. It’s important to give some credit to the bowlers in this. The Expected Run Rate (Tracking Only) for this season is 7.01rpo, the lowest figure for any PSL season. What this suggests is that regardless of the batting, the defensive quality of the deliveries has been extremely high. This naturally drives scores down, removing the psychological barrier of massive totals, making it easier to chase.

More broadly, T20 leagues developing unique characteristics is a good thing. The reputation of the PSL as a bowlers’ tournament is great, and offers texture and variety to the domestic calendar. Perhaps the effect of this is that chasing will continue to be more prevalent in the PSL compared to other leagues – the natural effect of that will be that teams scramble to reverse that trend. As teams try more specifically to counteract it, the trend will likely disappear. However, for now, the PSL is a chaser’s paradise – so watch that coin closely, chaps.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: The Beauty of Buttler

Ben Jones analyses another dazzling century from England’s white ball star.

There’s a moment, just after a batsman has hit a ball in the direction of the boundary, where your eyes are dancing. They are trying to assess the trajectory of the ball, to predict whether it will fall short or fly over the rope, whether it will land into the hands of fielders or fans. You are using all of your accumulated knowledge of the game, everything you have seen before, to predict what is possible.

When the ball comes off Jos Buttler’s bat, your eyes are dancing – and they don’t stop. All of that accumulated knowledge is worthless, because Jos Buttler doesn’t do what you’ve seen before. When other batsmen flick their wrists at a 90mph yorker, the ball arcs up, before diving down, safe in the hands of the man at mid-on. When Buttler does it, your eyes dart to find the ball dropping out of the sky, but it’s already over the rope, off on its own trajectory over the heads of the men in maroon, off for another maximum. Your eyes can’t fully take it in. Jos Buttler does things that your mind can’t comprehend.

Today, he hit new heights. The 150 (77) he managed today was his seventh century in ODI cricket, and was arguably his most accomplished. He came to the crease in the 27th over, just after the halfway mark and with a clear job to do – restart the chaos. 105 runs in the first 15 overs had slowed to 58 in the next ten. Hardly sluggish, but representing a clear dip in England’s charging progress. He accompanied his captain over the next 15 overs, ticking over the strike as Eoin Morgan continued his rich form. As the 40th over finished, Buttler had faced 42 balls for his 45 runs. His innings had shown glimpses of the usual Buttler brilliance, but there was little to suggest quite was about to occur, this particular knock destined to be played in the slipstream, following closely behind a more spectacular performance. It was reasonable to question, given how Morgan was going at the other end, whether Buttler would face enough deliveries to reach his hundred.

Then, in a mad flurry of 11 boundaries in 11 balls, Buttler wrestled back star billing from his skipper – and rendered that question ridiculous. His scoring rate shot through the roof, the direct consequence of an increase in attacking intent that you rarely see outside of a long-abandoned run-chase.

Of course, the way that Buttler went through the gears shouldn’t surprise anyone. Since the 2015 World Cup, no man scores more quickly than Buttler in the death overs. The only man to match his ability has retired from the international game, with no worlds left to conquer.

That acceleration left its mark. Of all the innings where Buttler has faced at least 20 deliveries, this was his second most attacking. An astonishing 79.2% of his shots were attempts to hit boundaries, a figure only beaten during the 90* (51) he made as England smashed the world record against Pakistan in Nottingham, back in the summer of 2016. When Buttler hits his stride, so do England.

What’s even more remarkable about today, compared to that innings at Trent Bridge, was the efficacy of those attacking shots. At Nottingham, when Buttler was tasked specifically with seeing England beyond that record total, he played 46.1% false shots – a figure that under normal circumstances would be a cause for concern. Of course, the situation dictated that he go wild, and he dutifully did, but in Grenada today he played just 15.5% false shots. That’s only marginally above the average for Test cricket. Buttler was going berserk, trying to hit almost every ball to the rope and yet, astonishingly, he wasn’t losing control. This was a white-ball gun at the peak of his powers, a boundary-hitting machine operating on a different level to what most of us thought possible.

It was an innings skewed in the direction of the seamers. Despite some moments of beauty against the slower bowlers – a pick-up off Bishoo over midwicket for six was remarkable, given the leg-spinner had dropped all of 20cm short – the real carnage came against the quicks. Carlos Brathwaite in particular took some serious treatment, with Buttler scoring 44 runs from the 15 balls he sent down.

Eoin Morgan got some criticism for his refusal to bowl Adil Rashid to Gayle whilst the left-hander was well-set earlier in the series, and Jason Holder left himself open to similar criticism today. Whilst Bishoo’s economy of 10.75 is knee-tremblingly poor, against Buttler that dropped to just 6.92. For the leggie to bowl only four overs given those returns, was a mis-step.

Especially when you consider that for the seamers there was no obvious plan of action. Hitting a good length was the most economical option, but that was saying very little – on this ground, you were on a hiding to nothing regardless of where you landed it.

As with so many white-ball centuries, the importance of the contest and the result began to fade. As the ball was crashed around in those last ten overs, one’s instinct was not to think of the game situation, but to marvel at the individual brilliance on show and to wonder quite how far it could go.

That is the luxury of a bilateral series. Obviously England wanted to win this series, and their record of steamrollering opponents in these contests is a source of pride and momentum, but ultimately there’s no deeper consequence to this win. This is going to change in a few months time, as the World Cup takes centre stage in the British sporting summer. Tension will mount in every match, every swot across the line a little more nerve-wracking than the last, and fear could well return to all but the most unique batsmen. It’ll change the way England’s batsmen play.

Apart, it seems, from Buttler. Because here is a player who has always attacked, always taken the game to new levels, and rarely shown signs of losing his nerve. Buttler is a player to transcend the cricket bubble; he is the sort of player, defined all that by flair and aggression, who appeals to the general sports fan as much as the cricket fanatic. In all senses, he is an easy player to love.

As such, the story of England’s summer is likely to be the story of Jos Buttler. Both him and the ODI side as a whole have been stunningly good for four years now, but the nature of cricket’s position in the national consciousness means that Buttler and co are given brief, sporadic moments to take centre stage. This summer is not the ultimate test of whether they are a great side – the last four years have shown that they are. But it will be the ultimate opportunity for this side, for Buttler, to impress upon the wider public quite how special they are.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz

CricViz Analysis: England’s Slower Ball Strategy

Ben Jones analyses the ever-increasing role of the change-down in England’s ODI bowling plans.

Slow isn’t a word you often see applied to this England ODI side.

Rapid? Sure. Reckless? Often. But slow? Rarely is anything to do with this collection of dashers and chargers labelled as being slow.

Yet in one crucial instance, Eoin Morgan’s boys are attracting this label. In the ODI series taking place in the Caribbean, England’s seam attack have bowled more slower ball variations than they have done since 2009. That’s right. The last time England were reaching for this tactic as often as they are now, Sam Curran was 11 years old, David Cameron was yet to be elected Prime Minister, and Jonathan Trott hadn’t debuted in Tests.

It feels like a sensible move, in the context of this series. On pitches in the West Indies that have welcomed batsmen with open arms, giving bowlers a cold shrug of the shoulders, any innovation is necessary for the men with the balls in hand. Going through the variations makes sense.

But the slower ball is still a bold choice. It doesn’t matter what the format is, you will still be swamped by ex-pros telling you that yorkers are the only acceptable ball to bowl in white ball cricket. “Whatever happened to the yorker?” they cry, as another attempted 91mph yorker that missed by 6cm is thwacked over the rope with a nonchalant flick of the wrist from a batsman trained to perform precisely that move. In opposition, the slower ball is the subtle variation. If it goes wrong, it looks like you have tried to be too clever, the greatest sin one can commit in any sport, in any field of life. Cricket’s had enough of experts.

Over the last few England series, the tactic has been lead by Chris Woakes, the leader of the attack in general. On the face of it, Woakes appears to be the sort of one-dimensional English seamer that defined the pre-2015 team, but he is a far cannier operator than his red-ball reliability suggests. Since the Champions Trophy, he bowls more slower balls at the start of ODI innings’ than almost anyone else in the world. That willingness to move away from traditional upright seam bowling is surprising for a bowler like Woakes, but his is the approach that looks increasingly to be influencing England’s white ball bowling. It is innovation from the top down that appears to be setting the tone.

The modern white ball bowler has more variations than any generation, more aware of the tricks and nuanced specifics of what’s being delivered than those who came before. T20 dictates that this is the case. What England seem to have been focused on bowling more than any other, however, is the cutter. 51% of their deliveries this series have deviated significantly either right or left, the most for any ODI series since the last World Cup.

This trend has undoubtedly been lead by Tom Curran, the Surrey man who has bowled more cutters than almost any other bowler since the 2015 World Cup. Renowned as master of the variation, he dominated the BBL this winter and dragged a mediocre Sydney Sixers squad to the semi-finals. They subsequently went out of the competition when he left Australia for the England camp; few in the world are as good at what Tom Curran does, as Tom Curran.

He is of course only a fringe player in the international set-up, but he represents an interesting trailblazer for the more established players. On the pitches that we’ll see in the World Cup this summer (flat, true surfaces for the majority of the competition in all likelihood), whether bowling sides are able to adapt amidst the mayhem, keep trying alternative tactics, and eventually restrict sides to 325 rather than 350, could be just as important as the ability to bowl sides out for 220. Slower ball bowling, in all its guises, is a massive part of that.

What’s more, England have plenty of these worldly, modern cricketers. If England do select Jofra Archer in their World Cup side, then they will have considerable T20 experience in their line-up. Curran, Liam Plunkett and Archer himself were all in Australia for the BBL this winter, with varying degrees of success, and the opportunity for them to transfer the nous they have learned in the 20 over format into the 50 over game is an intriguing one. They bring so much to a team.

Ultimately, this England side attract a lot of rather peculiar criticisms. People cling to the idea that they ‘wilt under pressure’, or ‘are prone to a collapse’, but that is almost pathetically clinging to the negative. This is the best white ball team England have ever produced. They are the best in the world. Every side is prone to collapses and struggling occasionally, but for England those struggles interrupt strings of flawless defeats, unchecked brilliance, rather than the inconsistency that passes as qualified success for most other teams. The snarky desire from some to measure their performance against perfection, and perfection only, is sad.

However – their bowling is more vulnerable than is ideal, and in the absence of clear personnel improvements, embracing this sort of tactical innovation is the next best option. England have earned the right to be trusted in the last four years, and this seems to be the tactic they are moving towards. If it works, they are dangerously close to becoming the perfect white ball team. Snark all you want – they are slowly treading a path to greatness.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: PSL Round-Up

CricViz summarise some of the key talking points from week one of the PSL.

QUETTA LEAD THE WAY

Quetta Gladiators are the early pace setters in the fledgling PSL table. Three matches, three run chases, three wins for the men in purple who have remarkably scored exactly 161 in each of their three successful chases. 

They have benefitted from winning the toss in all three matches, allowing them to field first, as is their obvious preference. But that takes nothing away from the way they have gone about their business in a clinical, ruthless way. The Gladiators have only used twelve players so far, maintaining a settled bowling attack that has been tight enough to not leave them requiring contributions from a sixth or seventh bowler.

In the Powerplay, Quetta have been the second most economical team, behind Islamabad United, and have bowled a higher percentage of dots than any other team in the competition to date.

In the middle overs, they have been similarly miserly with three of their five bowlers registering economy rates of under seven runs per over. Additionally, leg-spinner Fawad Ahmed is the leading wicket-taker in the tournament during that phase of the innings for four scalps in the three matches he’s played.

The death overs has been the only slight area of concern for the Gladiators so far. They conceded 54 and 52 in the last five overs of their first two matches and only took three wickets across the two innings. In their third game, they took six Multan Sultans wickets – including three in the last over – but still conceded 49 runs. 

Up until now, their bowling in the first 15 overs has been sufficiently good that it is yet to cost them, but as it stands, their death bowling has been the difference between opposition sides posting middling scores or going on to set more challenging targets.

So far though, Quetta have had little difficulty chasing the targets that they’ve been set, thanks largely to the batting of Shane Watson and Umar Akmal. Watson is the tournament’s leading run-scorer with 161 runs in three innings, while Akmal is joint second with 136. With Rilee Roussow not far behind on 96, Quetta have again been able to benefit from a settled top order that has prevented the tail from being exposed.

Even allowing for the poor form of Ahmed Shehzad, who was dropped after two matches, the Gladiators have still only lost nine wickets in three innings, fewer than every team besides Peshawar Zalmi (seven) who, at the time of writing, have played a game fewer.

Watson and Roussow have scored their runs quickly – 8.78 and 8.86 runs per over, respectively – thanks to a particularly aggressive approach that sees Watson top the list for attacking shot percentage, with Roussow not far behind in third position.

As a team, Quetta have been the most attacking batting unit, but that extra aggression has not led to a higher rate of errors. Despite the inherent risk being taken, the Gladiators have been able to record one of the lowest false shot percentages in the competition.

Of course, it’s still early days and nothing can be taken for granted in the volatile world of a T20 league. Quetta could yet come unstuck if they find themselves chasing a higher target and some of the other batsmen are required to step up if and when Watson, Akmal and Roussow miss out. But as it stands, they are the form team and look to have most bases covered as the tournament enters its second phase of matches.

BIG CHASE; SMALL DEFENCE

The Lahore Qalandars – perennial strugglers in the PSL – have made a start to the season which encapsulates their inconsistency. After failing to defend 171 on the opening night against Islamabad United – the sixth highest chase in PSL history; they then managed to defend 138 against Karachi Kings – the fourth lowest defence in PSL history. Then, in their third match they were bowled out for 78 – the second lowest first innings score in PSL history. The Qalandars are yet to put a complete performance with bat and ball together and find themselves rooted to the foot of the table.

ANDRE RUSSELL’S PACE STRUGGLE 

Andre Russell was a late addition to the Multan Sultans’ squad – signed as a replacement player for Steve Smith. So far though, while he has made a typically explosive start with the bat – scoring 43 runs at 10.74 runs per over – he has struggled badly with the ball – conceding 90 runs in 10 overs and taking just one wicket. What has been particularly noticeable about Russell has been the speed of his bowling, which has been well down on his typical levels. 

CHASERS CONTINUE TO DOMINATE 

Six of the eight matches so far have been won by the chasing team, enhancing the PSL’s reputation as the most chasing-friendly league of the major T20 leagues. Since the league’s inception 60% of matches have been won by the chasers. 

CricViz Analysis: A Tale of Two Tons

England went 1-0 up in the first of five ODIs against West Indies. Patrick Noone analyses the innings of two of the game’s centurions.

England completed their highest ever successful run chase in ODI cricket, winning the 1st ODI by six wickets in Barbados. It was the story of two hundreds as two openers played contrasting innings on a run-soaked day at Kensington Oval.

Chris Gayle scored his first ODI century against a Full Member nation since the 2015 World Cup. It was an innings full of powerful, thrilling shots that the self-proclaimed Universe Boss has become known for across a 20-year career, but Gayle’s hundred was unusual in terms of its construction.

He’s known for being something of a slow starter, but his strike rate in the early part of today’s innings took him to rare extremes. Only once has he reached the end of the first ten overs with fewer runs and lower strike rate than the 8 (26) he found himself on at the end of the first Powerplay. That match was over 18 years ago, against Bangladesh in Dhaka when Gayle would go on to make 21 from 43 balls having been 2 off 27 after ten overs; a recovery of sorts but nothing like what we saw in Bridgetown today.

Gayle only attacked three balls in the first ten overs – he was dropped off the fourth ball he attacked, when on 9, but after that he began a relentless onslaught that saw him attack exactly half of the balls he faced. He only played a false shot to 16% of those balls he attacked – the global average for attacking false shots is 21%.

Liam Plunkett’s individual record against Gayle in this innings just about summed up how he went about his business: 14 balls, six dots, six singles, four sixes. It was all or nothing from the left-hander who, despite crashing 12 sixes, only recorded a strike rate of 104.65.

55% of the balls Gayle faced were dots, the highest percentage he’s faced in a century innings for nearly six years. That’s despite the fact that, after 20 overs, West Indies had recorded their lowest dot ball percentage at that stage of an innings for over five years. As exhilarating as the latter half of his innings became, perhaps in hindsight the opener had chewed up too many deliveries and prevented West Indies from posting a score in excess of 400.

That feeling of ‘what if?’ only lingers thanks to a century of a different nature from Jason Roy. Unlike Gayle, Roy hit the ground running in England’s response, only defending one of the 85 balls he faced on his way to 123.

It didn’t matter what lengths West Indies seamers bowled to Roy, he was going after everything, striking at 170.58 against short-pitched bowling, 136.36 when they went full and a more than healthy 123.52 to everything in between.

Against spin, he was strong on both front and back foot. His three sixes were all from over-pitched deliveries right in his slot, two of which he drove and one he slog-swept. Meanwhile, four of the six fours he struck against the slower bowlers were from balls shorter than 6.4m that he could cut and pull with characteristic aplomb.

It is a measure of how far this England team has come that chasing a total as high as 361 never looked in doubt. That’s despite this being England’s highest ever successful run chase in ODIs; it didn’t feel like anything groundbreaking was happening, because it was so effortless and so in-keeping with the progression of this team. In conditions such as these, where the pitch is flat and bowlers have a minimal amount to work with, almost no total is too out of reach for this batting lineup.

With Friday’s 2nd ODI set to be played on a similar-looking surface at Kensington Oval, it could be another run-fest. Doubts still remain over the make-up of England’s bowling attack, and playing in conditions such as these gives little opportunity for seamers to shine. We will perhaps learn more about those vying for places in the World Cup squad when the series moves to Grenada but, until then, England’s batting lineup can add another stellar achievement to an ever-growing catalogue of improbably excellent innings.

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.

@PatrickNoone08

CricViz Analysis: England’s ODI Pace Bowling

CricViz Analyst Freddie Wilde assesses England’s pace bowling options in ODIs. 

With 99 days to go until the World Cup England’s batsmen and spinners are locked in. Alex Hales looks set to be the reserve batsman with Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root, Eoin Morgan, Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes forming the top six and Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid as the two spinners. 

However, the make up of the pace attack remains uncertain. With three spots in the starting XI and potentially two back-up spots in the squad up for grabs. The last spot in the 15 man squad is likely to be occupied by a reserve batsman with Joe Denly currently the man in possession but James Vince and Sam Billings also potential options. 

Between now and the start of the tournament England have five ODIs against the Windies, one against Ireland, five against Pakistan and two warm-up matches. Here we summarise their pace bowling options with analysis featuring Match Impact – an analytical tool used by England’s management in white ball cricket. 

CHRIS WOAKES

Woakes is England’s attack leader and is a certain starter. Woakes is an exceptional bowler in the first ten overs the innings, where since the last World Cup he has the highest average bowling impact of any pace bowler in the world of +10.8 runs per match. Woakes’ brilliance in the phase lies in him combining a low economy rate of 4.23 with a low strike rate of 32.3- something which is built on his accuracy – 67% of his balls in the first ten overs are in the channel outside off stump – the third best in the world of any bowler. Since the last World Cup England have utilised Woakes’ new ball strength well: he has bowled 50% of his overs in the phase. 

Woakes is less effective in the middle and death overs where he bowls the remainder of his overs. Woakes possesses good defensive skills with an effective slower ball and a comparatively effective yorker but he has struggled to keep a lid on the scoring rate – his economy rate of 7.45 is comparatively high. However, notably his True Economy Rate – which compares his performance to the expected economy rate in the overs he has bowled is -0.25, suggesting he is performing above expectation in the phase. 

The fact that a half-fit Woakes was not risked for England’s three Tests against the Windies is indicative of his importance to the ODI team. 

LIAM PLUNKETT

Plunkett is almost certain to start alongside Woakes, despite a slight downturn in his performances last year. While Woakes has become a master of the first Powerplay, Plunkett has in turn become a master of the second Powerplay. Since the last World Cup, among those to have bowled more than 750 balls in the middle overs only three pace bowlers have a higher average bowling impact in the phase than Plunkett’s +3.11 runs per match. As with Woakes England have utilised Plunkett well, bowling 75% of his overs in the middle phase. 

Plunkett’s impact in the middle overs is based largely on his wicket-taking prowess – since the World Cup he is one of only seven pace bowlers to have a strike rate of less than 40 in the phase. Plunkett’s success is built on a method that sees him bowl largely on a good length and shorter and bowling a high number of cross-seam deliveries. This method is well-suited to the middle overs but it is fairly dependent on him maintaining good speeds and in the last two years his speeds have been dropping.

Plunkett very rarely bowls in the first Powerplay and his remaining overs are typically bowled at the start of the third Powerplay where his impact of +3.2 is excellent. Whether his natural back of a length can work so well in the later death overs when batsmen are attacking every ball is uncertain but it could be worth England trying him in the latter stages a little more often. 

DAVID WILLEY

Since the last World Cup Willey is the third most capped of England’s pace bowling options with 41 matches, behind Woakes and Plunkett who have both played 44. This is reflective of his level of performance where his average bowling impact of +0.4 runs per match ranks him as England’s third most effective pace bowler in this period. As England’s only left-arm option it is likely that Willey will make the 15-man squad but his relatively mixed record at ODI level makes him far from a certain starter. 

With Plunkett a middle over specialist the third seamer will take the new ball with Woakes – something Willey has done in all of his 41 ODIs. Willey has a solid record in the first Powerplay where he combines an economy rate of 5.18 with a healthy strike rate of 40.1.

Willey is clearly at his most effective when the ball is swinging. Analysis of ball-tracking data shows his average drops by more than half when the ball swings more than 2.25°. In conditions where the ball is likely to swing Willey is an excellent pick. 

Willey is perhaps unfairly pigeon-holed as a new ball bowler. His match impact of +1.8 in the death overs is the third best of England’s options. His economy rate in the phase of 6.85 is excellent and offers reason for encouragement that he could do a job in the period. 

At Willey’s pace his margin for error when the ball isn’t swinging is small but last year he showed notable improvement in his yorker success rate in the death overs and returned excellent figures in the phase. 

MARK WOOD

Wood’s overall ODI record is poor: 35 wickets in 34 matches at an average of 48.50. More specifically his record in the first Powerplay, where he has only taken 13 wickets in 35 matches is woeful. It is indicative both of England’s scarcity of options, but also his potential upsides, that he remains in consideration for selection. 

Wood offers England the most precious of skills: pace, and he served a scintillating reminder of that in his most recent Test for England were he bowled the third fastest spell for England since ball-tracking records begin in 2005. With a new, longer run-up England will be desperate for Wood to bring his red-ball speeds to the ODI arena where his pace could help take flat pitches and unresponsive balls out of the equation. 

However, there is more to Wood than simply his pace. Although his overall record is poor he has an excellent record at the death – with an average match impact of +3.7 in the phase. This Impact is built on an excellent economy rate of 6.69 which is -0.79 runs per over better than we would expect from a bowler in the overs he has bowled. Wood’s strike rate at the death is poor but wickets are less valuable in the phase and the emphasis is on run-saving. He is England’s standout death bowler in terms of Match Impact since the last World Cup. 

That said, with Tom Curran coming off the back of an impressive Big Bash League season, Jofra Archer soon to be eligible and Ben Stokes capable of playing an enforcer role when required, Wood’s poor overall record cannot be ignored for much longer. His exploits in the Test in St Lucia will buy him some patience but unless he can put in some consistent performances he will struggle to secure a starting spot and may be in danger of missing out on selection in the squad altogether. 

TOM CURRAN

Having played 11 ODIs, Curran is the least experienced of England’s current pace bowling options but in the last 12 months he has vaulted above Jake Ball as one of the reserve seamers. 

So far across Curran’s ODI career he has had most impact in the first Powerplay where he has an economy rate of 4.66 and a strike rate of 27.0. However, it is his death bowling that has caught the eye at domestic level in 50-over and T20 cricket and arguably offers him the best way into England’s squad with England lacking a death overs specialist. 

Curran’s assortment of slower balls and effective yorker are the tools required to withstand the onslaught of the last ten overs and it is likely that time will show the death overs to be his preferred phase. Curran impressed in the recent Big Bash League, taking 20 wickets at an economy rate of 7.95. 

The biggest obstacle to him breaking into the starting XI may well be opportunities: he might only have two or three matches to prove his worth before the tournament. 

JOFRA ARCHER

The elephant in the room is of course Archer. After the ECB adjusted their eligibility rules late last year Archer will qualify for England in March. Although Archer has never played at international level his superb domestic record, proven ability in major T20 leagues and skillset that includes high pace, a searing bouncer and pinpoint yorkers means he will be hard to ignore. England must at the very least give him the opportunity to prove his worth in the series against Ireland and Pakistan, their first engagement after he becomes eligible. 

The 23 year-old Archer has only played 14 List A matches in his short career but with a strike rate of 34.8 and an economy rate of 5.29 he has performed well. More significant have been his returns in the IPL and BBL where he has appeared at home playing alongside the world’s best white ball players. Archer is a proven wicket-taker with the 20th best strike rate in T20 history of 16.7 and a True Economy Rate in the IPL and BBL of -1.09 runs per over in the death overs. 

Archer’s brilliance extends beyond the scorecard. With an average speed – excluding slower balls – of 142.19 kph since his T20 debut Archer is the fifth fastest bowler in the world. Archer has rare raw attributes and is a special talent. He combines the pace of Wood with the variations of Curran and elevates them further. 

Of course, England must be wary of placing too much expectation on Archer who remains young and inexperienced but given England’s struggle to balance their attack it would arguably be more risky for England to ignore him than it would be to pick him. 

CONCLUSIONS

Two of England’s five pace bowling spots will certainly go to Woakes and Plunkett, and both men are almost certain to start. That leaves three places in the squad and one in the team which means one of Willey, Wood, Curran and Archer won’t make the squad and two of them won’t make the team. Willey – so dangerous when the ball swings, a left-arm option and underrated at the death – is unlikely to miss out on a squad place. Wood’s pace offers great potential and his excellent record at the death is encouraging but he must translate skills into performance. Curran’s abilities, particularly at the death, are exciting but he may struggle to get opportunities to prove himself. All the signs are Archer has the quality to perform at international level but whether he can establish himself in a short window of time and with the burden of expectation remains to be seen. 

With the batting and spin bowling settled these next few months will be crucial to England’s World Cup campaign. 

CricViz Analysis: How BBL08 was won

It was a thrilling conclusion to a long and eventful story. The eighth edition of the Big Bash League culminated at Marvel Stadium on Sunday with Melbourne Renegades crowned champions for the first time.

The win was as improbable as it was dramatic. Crosstown rivals Melbourne Stars were 93-0 in pursuit of 146, before a remarkable collapse left them 112-7 just 30 balls later. The game had swung in the blink of an eye and the Renegades went on to claim a 13-run victory. The progression of the WinViz percentages shows just how great a turnaround it was.

Below, Patrick Noone looks at how Aaron Finch’s side came out on top in BBL08.

THE TOSS

Before even getting into the ins and outs of how the Renegades performed with bat or ball, it is necessary to point out their extraordinary run of luck with the toss. Of the 16 matches they played, the Renegades won the toss on 11 occasions, choosing to field first in ten of those 11 matches.

The only time they opted to bat first was when they faced Sydney Thunder at Marvel Stadium. That was a tactical decision borne out by the fact that the Thunder had a preference for batting first, having won four of their six completed matches in BBL08 when setting a target. The decision also served to nullify the threat of the Thunder’s spin attack which, on a pitch that that often slow and low throughout the tournament, would likely have been more dangerous during a run chase.

On the whole though, the Renegades saw themselves as a team most comfortable chasing, owing to the strength of their bowling unit that routinely restricted teams to manageable totals.

THE BOWLING

The Renegades benefitted from having a settled bowling attack throughout the majority of the competition; Kane Richardson’s omission from the Australia ODI squad meant that Usman Shinwari’s departure to play for Pakistan was the only disruption they suffered due to international callups. And the Renegades had a more than adequate replacement in Harry Gurney to mitigate the loss of Shinwari.

They only used ten bowlers in the tournament, the joint lowest amount alongside Hobart Hurricanes, and there was hardly a weak link among them. Tom Cooper, with his occasional off-spin was the only bowler of the ten to go through the tournament wicketless, though his three overs went for just 18 runs. In all, only Joe Mennie – who featured in just two matches – conceded more than 7.70 runs per over.

It was during the Powerplay that the Renegades were at their most miserly – they conceded more than 50 runs on just four occasions during the first six overs. It was a key barometer of their success, given that the final was the only match they went on to win after conceding more than 50 runs in the Powerplay.

The Renegades’ attack had depth and variety: right-arm seam from Richardson, Chris Tremain, Jack Wildermuth and Dan Christian, left-arm seam from either Shinwari or Gurney, off-spin from Mohammad Nabi and leg-spin from Cameron Boyce.

They were flexible and consistently played to the conditions they found themselves in, for example, choosing to open the bowling with the off-spin of either Nabi or Cooper in four of their seven matches at Marvel Stadium. On two of the three occasions where seam opened from both ends, against the Hurricanes and the Thunder, Richardson picked up wickets in his first over and the Renegades adapted their strategy accordingly.

At the other end of the innings, the Renegades were just as effective. Only six bowlers to bowl 50 balls or more during the last five overs conceded runs at less than 8.00 runs per over, three of them were Renegades players.

Boyce’s return is particularly remarkable – only two spinners in BBL history have registered a better economy rate than him in the death overs: Brad Hogg in BBL03 (5.30) and Adil Rashid in BBL05 (6.00).

Meanwhile, Gurney conceded a boundary off just 6.66% of the balls he bowled in that phase, a figure that has only been bettered by Nathan Rimmington (5.88%) and Gurinder Sandhu (5.00%), both in BBL03.

The only other Renegades bowler to bowl during that phase of the innings was Richardson who went at 9.50 runs per over, but that was mitigated by the ten wickets he took at the death, making him one of only five bowlers to reach double figures in the last five overs of the innings.

THE BATTING

It is a statistic that has become common knowledge since the Renegades progressed to the finals that the franchise only registered three individual 50+ scores throughout the whole competition. That kind of return can be generously described as an unlikely blueprint for success, but the Renegades made it work.

Their highest score in the whole competition was the 184 they chased in the semi-final against Sydney Sixers, and that was the only time they passed 180 throughout BBL08. It’s an obvious thing to say, but one of the advantages to having such a strong bowling attack is that you simply don’t need to score as many runs to win matches.

In fact, during the home and away stage of this year’s BBL, the Renegades scored fewer runs and lost more wickets than every other side, yet finished second in the ladder and went on to win the whole competition.

The Renegades’ highest score when batting first was just 157; this was not a team that was setting imposing targets for other teams to chase down, though it should be noted that this was, at least in part, a result of the conditions at Marvel Stadium.

Of the major BBL grounds that are still used regularly, only Sydney Thunder’s Spotless Stadium has a lower average run rate than the 7.77 seen at Marvel. This year, that figure was even lower at 6.90, making it the slowest scoring ground in BBL08, while Kardinia Park in Geelong, the Renegades’ home for two matches, was the next in the list at 7.28.

Continually, it was a case of different batsmen stepping up when required and doing just enough to keep the Renegades in the game and get them over the line. Sam Harper was the most consistent Renegades batsman, passing 30 in seven of his 16 innings and finishing the season as his side’s leading scorer with 341 runs.

Before this season, the 22-year-old had played four games for Melbourne Stars in BBL06, scoring just ten runs before making the switch across town to the Renegades. Given that Aaron Finch and Marcus Harris missed much of the season owing to international commitments, the Renegades needed someone in the top three to step up in their absence, and Harper proved to be the man to do so. Only Sydney Sixers’ Josh Philippe could better Harper’s Powerplay run rate of 9.18.

In the middle order, the Renegades made up for some scratchy starts thanks to contributions from Cooper and Christian, who each scored at more than 10 runs per over during the last five overs and Boyce, who wasn’t far behind with a run rate of 9.94. Having that firepower down the order meant that, even when early wickets fell, the Renegades knew that, more often than not, they would be able to either post competitive scores to give their bowlers something to bowl at, or get themselves over the line when chasing.

THE FIELDING

Much like the batting, the Renegades fielding performance was defined not by spectacular individual contributions, but by consistently solid team performances. There were no extraordinary catches or improbable run outs, but the Renegades did the basics well and they did them often.

Using CricViz’s fielding ability metric, where each fielding action is rated according to its difficulty and a value is assigned in runs to measure the effect that that the action has had on the scorecard. According to this metric, the Renegades’ fielding was worth 2.72 runs per game, more than twice as high as the Sixers (1.20), the next highest team on the list.

SUMMARY

All of the above factors contributed to the Renegades pulling off a memorable tournament win. They were a tight-knit team that kept things simple and struck the right balance between having a gameplan and being flexible enough to adapt to the changing situations that are inevitable in T20 cricket. They combined a versatile, varied attack with a batting lineup packed with experience and lower order power, alongside younger players hungry to make an impact and they fielded well throughout the competition.

Both of the knockout matches epitomised the kind of team they were as victory was snatched from improbable, but not impossible positions. They did enough to stay in the game and had the experience, the nerve and the skill to get themselves over the line.

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.

@PatrickNoone08