CricViz Analysis: Rishabh Pant v Wriddhiman Saha

Ben Jones analyses a textbook philosophical keeper battle.

This morning, India announced their XI for the first Test against South Africa, which starts tomorrow in Visakhapatnam. Whilst the return of Rohit Sharma to the top of the order was arguably the most headline grabbing choice from the Indian selectors, that decision was announced well in advance and so caused little fuss. Consequently, the main talking point was the call to drop wicket-keeper Rishabh Pant, and replace him with Wriddhiman Saha.

It’s caught the imagination, as a call, largely because of the man heading out of the team rather than heading into it. Pant is a player who incites strong feelings in cricket fans and pundits; for some those feelings are joy and excitement at an outrageously talented 21-year-old, and for some those feelings are frustration and irritation at what they see to be a poor use of those talents.

For those in the latter group, too many loose shots, in too many important moments for India, have been indicative of a young man not temperamentally ready for international cricket. Some choose to criticise his wicket-keeping which, whilst serviceable, is certainly not his strongest suit and he’s been prone to the odd blunder. In England, during his debut series with the ball moving around, he looked less than comfortable.

However, on the raw facts of his batting returns, there is little to criticise about Pant’s performance in the Test arena. He has a Test batting average of 44.35; since he made his debut last summer, the only wicket-keeper with a higher batting average is Quinton de Kock. In that time, Pant has made more centuries than any other keeper in the world, while only Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli have made more tons for India whilst Pant has been in the side. For a player who doesn’t know ‘how to construct an innings’ and plays with too much ‘recklessness’, he has a remarkably good record.

But, as is always the case when examining selection, focusing on just one side of the process is not enough. Saha, the man replacing Pant, has a clearly defined set of skills which set him very clearly as an alternative to Pant, not just the next cab off the rank. A far inferior batsman, with a Test batting average of just 30, Saha’s value to the team is with the keeping gloves, rather than the batting ones. It’s widely acknowledged by those who follow the Indian domestic game that Saha’s glovework is the best around, and his selection in the Test side has been interpreted by some as being in-line with India’s recent tendency to go for specialists rather than all-rounders.

Off the back of this, you can make the argument that Saha’s wicket-keeping excellence gives more to the Indian team than his poor batting record takes away; for Pant, you can argue vice-versa. The question, really, is which of the two equations gives India the best net result. It’s a question which has, across cricketing history, generally been answered with opinion, some of it expert and much of it not, and with the overall conversation conducted along ideological lines. The reason for this is that generally there has not been an accurate means of measuring the impact of keeping (and fielding more broadly) on cricket, in terms of the most tangible, valuable commodity – runs.

At CricViz, we use a metric known as “Fielding Ability”, built from advanced fielding recording data and modelling, which calculates the average number of runs a player contributes or costs, per match, through their fielding. The very best fielders have a very high Fielding Ability, the very worst have a very low Fielding Ability.

It is a measure which confirms Saha’s excellence behind the stumps. Since the start of 2017, Saha has a CricViz Fielding Ability Rating of +5.7, making him the best Test wicketkeeper in the world during that time period (min five matches) and meaning that he saves his team 5.7 runs-per-match more than you would expect from the average wicket-keeper. Pant, by comparison, has a Fielding Ability Rating of -1.5.

The difference between the best and worst keepers – globally – in our database averages out at being worth around 8.5 runs per Test. You would feel, instinctively and according with received wisdom in the game, that having a good keeper in Asia would be more valuable, given the challenges of keeping against spin. The numbers seem to back this up – the difference between the best and worst keepers – in Asia – in our database averages out at being worth around 30 runs-per-Test, or 15 runs-per-innings.

Which is, of course, the difference between Pant and Saha’s batting averages in Test cricket. If Pant was the worst keeper in world cricket, with Saha remaining as the best, then their net contributions would be the same. And yet – while Pant is certainly a below average keeper, he isn’t the worst keeper in the world. The gap between their Fielding Ability is significant, but not 30 runs or even close to that. Their net contributions move closer together when Saha’s keeping is taken into consideration, but Pant is still offering more to India, on average. The gap between their batting is far more relevant than the gap between their keeping.

Whenever this sort of selection battle comes up, your mind is always drawn to the other famous keeper-batsman v pure-keeper selection quandaries: Russell v Stewart, Gilchrist v Healy, Prasanna v Sangakkara. Everyone has their position, and more often than not it’s a philosophical one rather than based on the actual situation and players at hand. Keeping is a noble art, which should not be sullied in the pursuit of run-scoring, say one side; the idea of a pure keeper is an archaic luxury, say the other. Yet what we can see is that, rather than simply selecting on the basis of vibe and personal preference, the qualities and skills involved can be measured, quantified, and interrogated.

In truth, there is almost certainly a political element to the decision to axe Pant, one which may or may not benefit the team overall. Internal rifts which create an unpleasant environment should be dealt with and, if the Indian coaching staff have seen fit to remove Pant for reasons along those lines, then so be it. However, what we can see through this analysis is that the cricketing reasons for dropping him, particularly on the grounds of his keeping, are minimal.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: How Can South Africa Compete in India?

Ben Jones looks at the potential opportunities for the Proteas.

India’s home record is terrifying for visiting teams. Of the last 30 Test matches they have played in India, they have lost just one; of their last 50, they have lost just four. Home conditions as clearly defined as India’s (high-scoring and flat, slowly breaking up over four-to-five days) have allowed the coaching staff and captain to prepare the side with specific plans and roles. The only home Test Kohli has lost – against Australia in Gahunje – was when the surface was radically different from what had been expected. Just 4.3% of India’s home Tests under Kohli have ended in defeat, making India the most impenetrable Test nation in world cricket.

So how can South Africa compete in this upcoming series?

APPROACH SPIN CORRECTLY

South Africa have issues playing spin that are long-running, technical, and deeply set. In the last decade, only Zimbabwean batsmen have a lower batting average against spin in Asia than South Africans do. As a batsman, the most dangerous place to intercept spin bowling is between 2m and 3m from your stumps. It’s the classic situation of not having gone neither forward nor back, the “danger-zone” where you lose a significant amount of control, and are playing with too much risk. Deliveries intercepted in that zone average far, far less than deliveries intercepted elsewhere.

And so, a fundamental part of playing spin well is not intercepting deliveries in that zone, i.e. getting fully forward for fully back. The best players of spin almost never get caught in that zone, and the best teams are naturally disinclined to avoid it. And of course, the opposite is also true. Since South Africa last went to India in 2015, no side in the world has played in the “danger-zone” more regularly.

It’s too late, in reality, for a coach to set about trying to change that approach, structurally, across the team as a whole. However, it’s not too late for individuals to try and engage with the issue, and take responsibility – even something as straightforward as a conscious disinclination to get right forward or right back could make a huge difference.

KEEP DE KOCK AT NO.7

Since the start of 2017, Quinton de Kock averages 34.26 with the bat, and has made two centuries. For a batsman of his undoubted ability, that’s not really good enough, but coming in at No.7 it’s felt like reasonable returns, with those runs coming rather swiftly as well. Yet every now and then, South Africa see fit to promote De Kock up the order to try and get more out of him – with mediocre results.

The reason for this is his poor defensive technique. Over the last few years, he’s dismissed every 34 times he plays a defensive stroke, just over half of the average of 65 for all top six batsman. De Kock’s defensive game is not good, and compares unfavourably to almost every batsman in Test cricket. Since the start of 2017, there have been 60 Test batsman to have played at least 400 defensive shots, and only two of them lead to wickets more often than De Kock’s.

So, whilst his returns at No.6 in the series against Sri Lanka (80, 55, 86, 1) were impressive, South Africa’s staff have to put De Kock in the position where his poor defensive game is least likely to be relief upon. Get him down that order, and leave him there – even if he dominates.

TRUST ELGAR’S BOWLING

One of the trickier issues of selection that teams face when they go to Asia is how to get enough spinners into the side. The natural balance of most attacks outside of the sub-continent (three frontline seamers, a spinner, an all-rounder who typically bowls pace) is not easily adapted to Asian pitches, either demanding too much of the fourth (now third) seamer, or leaving their batting order too shallow.

Yet in this respect, South Africa are slightly lucky. Whilst that quandary still applies, the left-arm spin of Dean Elgar does rather soften things. Elgar may have only taken 14 Test wickets, but his bowling average of 44.50 in this format is more than acceptable given his role as a part-timer. What’s more Elgar’s record is actually underselling the quality of his bowling – his Expected Average (built from ball-tracking data to calculate what we’d “expect” deliveries he’s bowled to average) is 39. Turning the ball away from an Indian batting line-up dominated by right-handers, he could be a key weapon; South Africa need to trust in the quality of Elgar’s bowling and have him – and Theunis de Bruyn – as a combined fifth bowler.

TARGET THE STUMPS…BUT DON’T SWEAT ON LENGTH

Visiting India as a seamer has been one of the toughest assignments a Test spinner can receive in the modern era, comfortably alongside being an opening batsman in England or a finger spinner in Australia. In the last decade, only three visiting seamers have taken 10+ wickets in a Test series in India: Dale Steyn in 2010, James Anderson in 2012, and Trent Boult in 2016. Competence, as a touring pace bowler, is tough; excellence is all but impossible.

As such, plenty of bowlers have tried to adapt their approach, the approach which has taken them as far as it possibly can in the red ball game, for the specific challenges of cricket in Asia. Generally, it focuses on a particular idea, that the only way to take wickets on slower, lower surfaces is to target the stumps. There is some truth in it – seamers in Asia get a higher percentage of their wickets LBW or bowled than anywhere else in the world.

However, bowlers can get a bit too focused on this idea. In the last five years, the average wicket ball for a Test seamer in Asia pitched 7.47m from the batsman’s stumps; in South Africa, that figure is 7.26m. That isn’t incitement to just bowl bouncers on pitches which won’t offer too much help, but rather encouragement that you don’t just need to run up and bowl drive balls every over. Bowl a good length, between 6m and 8m from the stumps, and you’ll take wickets wherever you are.

CricViz Recommended XI:

Markram, Elgar, Faf, Bavuma, Klaasen, De Bruyn, De Kock, Philander, Maharaj, Rabada, Piedt

***

All in all, it is going to be a serious challenge for South Africa to lay a glove on India, let alone win a Test. But if they get everything right in their initial set-up, strategy and personnel, then they’re at least working with the wind behind them.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: India’s T20 World Cup Preparation

Ben Jones looks at how India are starting to focus on next years tournament.

India’s T20 series against South Africa wasn’t all they needed it to be, in more ways than one. The rain throughout the first scheduled match reduced the series down to just two matches, limiting the opportunity for the selectors to shuffle their pack and look at more players; equally, the loss in Bengaluru has brought up some important questions about India’s strategy, and their broader approach to next year’s T20 World Cup.

Purely as a loss in its own right, the game meant very little. A sub-par score chased down by the opposition’s best batsman is a frustrating but not concerning way to lose a T20 match. No, what will concern Virat Kohli and the Indian coaching staff is that, for the first time in a long time, India’s inability to post a winning target was self-inflicted.

Since the start of 2016, India have won the toss in 26 T20 internationals. In 24 of those matches, they have opted to bowl first. Whilst chasing is the optimal strategy for most T20 sides around the world, the extremity of the bias that India have towards chasing is unusual. On some occasions, even the most ideological captain and coach combination would look at the pitch, look at the opposition, and determine that the best route to victory was to bat first. But up until the start of August this year, Kohli stood strong with his approach.

But now, in two of their last four T20s where they have won the toss, India have opted to bat first. Why?

Well, with a year until the T20 World Cup, these bilateral series have begun to take on greater importance, existing not just in isolation but as high-profile preparation for a tournament which is going to be more keenly fought than ever before. India are blessed with the most high-profile, high-quality T20 league in the world. They are perhaps the most richly funded cricket team of all time. You can make the argument that, for many in this set-up, failure should not be an option.

And so, the elimination of risk and the covering of all bases has come into focus. For cricketing set-up as vast as India’s, weakness that could stem from something as simple as the toss of a coin is not good enough.

Of course, over a long period, India have not shown a particular disadvantage when batting first, their win percentage slightly lower than when they are chasing – but that’s to be expected.

However, that pattern is more concerning in recent times. Since the start last year, the difference in fortune for India depending on whether they bat first or chase is big – too big, for a side as good as India. It’s understandable that Kohli, whilst maintaining his preference for chasing, is eager to give his side more experience of setting a total.

There are other things they can do to ease the process ahead of the World Cup. India could attempt to produce pitches which are less helpful to spin bowlers (similar to the Wankhede) which would allow them to play with the balance of their attack. In both games, at the Chinnaswamy and in Mohali, India selected three spinners; very few sides are going to be selecting three spinners in Australia next year. In the last four years, only 35% of the deliveries bowled in the Big Bash have been from spinners, the second lowest figure for any of the ‘major’ T20 leagues.

Perhaps that’s India’s point of difference, that they are lucky enough to have three spinners who each demand selection, albeit to varying degrees. But when the IPL is played on the variety of surfaces that it is, there is a strong argument that a player base able to bend and adapt to the conditions of a match, series, tournament, is the very least Kohli and Shastri can demand.

Ultimately, India are in a similar position to how they were 12 months before the 50 over World Cup, part of a leading pack of favourites, albeit one not as far ahead. Such is the strength of the player base they can select from, India are going to be formidable opponents regardless of the quirks and specifics of tosses and teams. However, they shouldn’t be complacent – with the right preparation, informed by the conditions and the situations they’re likely to meet, India could run away with it.

Ben Jones is an analyst.

CricViz Analysis: Rory Burns and James Vince

Ben Jones analyses two of the more extreme English batsmen of the last few years.

Style and substance. It’s the central conflict which cycles through in the background whenever we talk about cricket. There it is, looping through our words as we casually talk of there “being something about him”, or of someone “just getting the job done”. It’s there when we talk about grit, about class, about skill and survival. Substance, and style.

It’s ingrained in the way we talk about even the finest players, dividing the most rounded performers into one of two camps. Cook and Pietersen, Dravid and Sehwag, Smith and Amla. One of the most apposite cricketing observations of the modern era was that between Steve Waugh and Mark Waugh, you’d want Steve to bat for your life so you could spend the rest of it watching Mark. Two great players, brought together as brothers and teammates, but separated by this almost philosophical difference.

On the opening day of the last 2017/18 Ashes series, James Vince made 83 runs. Against Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon, he strolled around the Gabba like he owned the place, playing cover drives off which were appropriately late night viewing for the England fans back at home. It was a glimmer of hope, eventually snuffed out by Nathan Lyon’s balletic run out. England stumbled, fell apart. They lost 4-0.

The issue with run-outs is that you get no closure. It’s too easy to deny that, essentially, no bowler got Vince out. In some parallel universe, he’s still batting, still dominating the then best attack in the world.

In this actual universe, he’s certainly not still batting. He’s not even playing for England. On the opening day of this Ashes series, Vince will likely be at Chelmsford, readying himself to play Essex in the Blast. Rather different surrounds to the Gabba.

His replacement in the England team, if not directly, is Rory Burns. On the face of it, you couldn’t find a player more different. Vince awaits the ball stood almost perfectly still; Burns sets up with almost trademark oddness, head and elbows twitching like a getaway driver keeping a keen eye out for the police. Burns’ case for Test selection was built on thousands and thousands and thousands of runs in the County Championship, while Vince’s was built on a perceived sense of class and almost unlimited potential. Vince was picked for his style, Burns for his substance.

Yet right now, they average almost exactly the same in Test cricket. One has a high score of 83, the other of 84. One is dismissed every 49 balls they face, the other every 50 balls.

In some ways, that’s to be expected. Both have faced almost exactly the same quality of bowler in their Test career to date. The combined bowling average of everyone Vince has faced in Test cricket? 30.88. The same figure for Burns? 30.93. They have faced a similar calibre of attack, and have produced similar results. 

What’s more interesting, is that they have gone about it in very different ways. Not just in the shots they have played, though that is stark – against pace, Vince drives one in every seven balls, while Burns drives one in every fourteen – but in the type of deliveries which have dismissed them.

Our Expected Wickets model uses ball-tracking data to work out the likelihood that any given delivery is going to take a wicket, or lead to runs. It allows us to put every ball in Test cricket into a little bucket of quality, to divide it up according to how threatening it was. Tier 1, the easiest 20%, all the way up to Tier 5, the hardest 20%. Thus, we can see whether a player tends to get out to very good balls, or to mediocre ones. JaffaViz, if you will. In this specific way, the difference between Vince and Burns is illuminating. 

Burns is actually very good at keeping out the good balls. Extremely good, in fact. Of all England’s players recent players, only Ben Foakes averages more than Burns against the hardest tier of deliveries, against the absolute cream of the crop. Something in the water at The Oval, perhaps.

And yet, Burns really struggles against deliveries he should dominate. Against the far easier Tier 1-4 deliveries, he averages just 28. Against easier deliveries, he’s worse than Anderson; against harder deliveries, he’s better than Root.

As you can see, Vince is the opposite. None of England’s recent players are more effective against Tier 1-4 bowling, nobody else more capable of bullying the vast majority of deliveries sent down. In this respect, he is a class apart – but he can’t keep out the good ones.

Part of the reason for this is exactly what you’d think, holding the cliched image of Vince in your mind. The average batsman only attacks 25% of those genuine jaffas, while Vince insists on attacking 34%. It’s not an enormous difference, but it’s a significant one. It points towards the broader difference between these players, and how we talk about them.

This is a question of aesthetics. A certain group of fans and pundits give Vince more credit and leeway because he looks so effortless, as if he barely needs to try. By virtue of the fact he is so untroubled by the majority of bowling in Test, he looks superb the vast majority of the time. And he averages in the mid 20s.

A certain group give Burns more credit because it looks like he’s really, really trying. There’s so much obvious concentration and thought, a technique that has been constructed to help him deal with the toughest challenges thrown his way. It’s an unusual method, which means he gets out in unusual ways, to unusually “easy” deliveries, but he keeps out the unusually hard ones. And he averages in the mid 20s.

The point is, it’s important to assess the qualities that batsmen’s quirks and peculiarities actually give them. Burns’ technique is almost perverse, but it means he can dominate balls that others don’t. Vince’s technical excellence means he essentially doesn’t get out unless you bowl a great ball. There is substance to Vince’s style, and style to Burns’ substance. Each have a method which has got them this far, and perhaps understanding what they’re both good at, what they’re better at than any other English player, allows us to give them the credit they deserve, and give them a better chance of succeeding.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: Jonny Bairstow

Ben Jones analyses what’s going on with Bairstow’s Test method.

Life is about sacrifice. It’s about looking at what you have, what you want to have, and understanding what you need to give up in order to achieve it. 

English cricket feels like it’s made something of a sacrifice in the last few weeks. All that joy, all that feverish tension and euphoric release that sustained it through the World Cup, the memories made, will never leave the collective folklore of the game. It was a carnival, a reward for a cycle of investment in a style of play Yet it was never going to come without some form of penance. Everything has a price, every weight a counter-weight.

We’ve seen it throughout the Test, in the loose techniques and tired, scrambled shot selection. But nowhere is it quite so obvious as in the recent career of Jonny Bairstow.

After returning to the Test team in 2015, Bairstow was on one. He banged the door down in county cricket for two seasons, replete with his new exaggerated high backlift, and refused to not be picked for England. Eventually, James Whittaker relented, and for two years Bairstow didn’t look back. Averaging 49.78 across 24 matches, he went from the outsider to the heartbeat of the team. The list of those to score more heavily than him in that time is a Who’s Who of Test batting: Warner, Smith, Williamson, Kohli, Root, Cook. He was elite.

And then, England decided to make him ODI opener. He tweaked his stance, standing further to the legside and opening himself up to enhance his offside attacking play, and it worked perfectly. He dominated. The promotional video for England’s World Cup campaign – “Express Yourself”, a spectacular piece of work which rightly went viral – included a short section where Bairstow played his cut-come-drive with a bat photoshopped into a sort of lightsaber. It felt apt, and a great choice to define Bairstow’s game. It’s an iconic shot of modern white ball cricket. 

But in red ball, that drive is loose. With more swing and seam around, it becomes considerably more dangerous – when the ball is doing anything through the air or off the pitch, the lightsaber glows rather more dimly. Typically, when Test players drive at balls on their stumps, they average 22.76 runs per dismissal; for Bairstow, that figure 6.71. Arguably his most important and productive shot is becoming too high-risk to play.

That tweak to his stance isn’t an isolated incident, of course. The backlift has gone from extremely low to extremely high; he’s opened up his stance to increase his access to the offside, and to stop him falling over to off. Part of the reason Bairstow succeeds in almost everything he tries is because he is willing to try things, and to change to fundamental aspects of his batting. It’s admirable. It’s also why he can sometimes end up chasing his tail, in a technical sense.

Nip-backers, which his initially low backlift seemed designed to negate, have now become kryptonite to him. Before being promoted to that white ball opening berth, he was dismissed every 35 in-seaming deliveries he faced in Test cricket. Since then, that’s fallen to 22.8, and an average of just 8.66. It is difficult to sustain a career as an elite batsmen when your weakness is quite so obvious. Since taking that role at the top of the ODI order, Bairstow averages 6.83 against balls on his stumps. It is a fatal flaw.

And yet, and yet – it’s a different story when the ball is white. Against those same deliveries in ODIs he averages 47 in the last two years. His technique was changed to succeed in white ball cricket, and it he’s done just that. But his technique is now failing him in red ball. He has sacrificed Test stability for ODI greatness.

He’s a funny old duck, Bairstow. His career arc is the stuff of redemptive, cinematic scope, overcoming personal tragedy and professional failure to force his way back into the England Test side, to become arguably the most impressive batsman within that side. His story, whilst not relatable in the most straightforward sense, is one which invites empathy easily. In the minds of most cricket fans, there is a lot of inherent goodwill for Jonny Bairstow.

Yet he is a man seemingly defined against things, in conflict with people and ideas, in his mind constantly butting up against obstruction that he simply doesn’t deserve, in his eyes. He drives himself through responding to criticism. That criticism doesn’t even have to be real to be effective; if he was a superhero, he’d be Strawman.

Perhaps this will be just the latest in a string of critiques that Bairstow will take to heart, reflect on, then emphatically prove to be wrong by scoring lots and lots of runs. Perhaps he’s just another tweak to his stance away from hitting his stride in red ball again. Perhaps a bumper Ashes summer is but weeks away. It’s all very possible, because Bairstow has rarely failed for long, at anything. However, right now he is a walking, talking, snarling fable for how when life gives you lemonade, you best believe there are some lemons coming shortly after.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: Adil Rashid’s Googly

Ben Jones analyses a ball that defined a World Cup.

A brief confession – I always wanted to be a leg-spinner. I wasn’t great, I grew at the wrong time, and was too easily frightened off by aggressive batsmen, but I wanted it badly. There was enough promise that at 12 years old, I was invited to attend a coaching session with Australian leg-spinning guru Terry Jenner, he of Shane Warne mentorship. It was a group of all the lads who bowled leg-spin in the Midlands, a seriously wide range of quality and potential.

In amongst my roof-bothering wrong uns, he mentioned something that stuck with me. He said , if we were to emulate anyone, if there was anyone in the world to focus our efforts in imitation of, it was another English youngster. There was a young lad from Bradford, 20 years old at the time, who Jenner had been working with. A slow, looping mystery bowler who was willing to toss the ball up and beat the batsman in the air. Warne had been retired two years; the world was still looking for the next one. This youngster, from northern England, was seen as the best hope, by a man who knew better than most.

But England wasn’t ready for him. The story of how this young man was messed around, how he was given a limited opportunity to succeed and a never-ending chance to fail, has been well-trodden. We needn’t rehash it.

Express Yourself. That’s what England said they wanted to do, from the outset. It’s hellishly easy to say that without backing it up; but Eoin Morgan, Trevor Bayliss, Andrew Strauss, they all changed England’s attitude with practical, tangible actions. They spoke differently, they selected differently, they played differently. They changed England’s cricketing culture; they made English cricket ready for Adil Rashid.

They were repaid handsomely. Across four years, they were repaid over, and over, and over again. Nobody in the world has taken more wickets since the last World Cup than the Yorkshire leggie.

The varying risk of those wicket-taking spells was always a slight worry, but the benefits outweighed the dangers. Rashid has the highest economy of anyone with more than 60 wickets since the last World Cup; he exemplifies, completely, England’s commitment to taking the high-risk option.

Batting is the most obvious example of England being more attacking than they used to be; they come out, they swing from ball one and they try to take the bowler down. It’s tangibly different from what came before. England made Rashid their lead spinner, and have backed him to the hilt, because they recognised that they needed a bowler like him – and he was the best they had. It was a break from English history. There have been 149 wickets by English leg-spinners in ODI history. 143 have been Adil Rashid’s.

It’s one thing doing it it in the middle of a bilateral series. It’s another doing it in the biggest match of their lives, with everything to play for. Hence, today, there was jeopardy. The shoulder injury Rashid suffered earlier in the year had affected his ability to bowl that googly, and there was genuine concern that it was damaging his threat. Those early games – when he took two wickets in four matches – were a worry.

Like all great stories, we needed some threat. We needed to feel, collectively, that maybe that moment of fulfilment wouldn’t arrive. We felt it in this match alone, as the pairing of Steve Smith and a patched up Alex Carey drove Australia forwards. Nervous English hearts add a fair few runs to the scorecard, in that scenario.

Then Carey holed out. Or rather, Adil Rashid laid a trap, and Carey walked straight into it. England’s coaching staff are meticulous in their research, just like any other international side, but they have buy in from their captain. Eoin Morgan listens. He will have known that Alex Carey is a big slog sweeper, a big scorer through mid-wicket. This was always in their minds.

The ball from Rashid to Carey spun 4.4°, the most of any ball Rashid had bowled all today. He found something extra. That extra spin disrupted Carey’s up-to-that-point immaculate strokeplay, drawing a less than middled skew to the fielder in the deep, in the heart of Carey’s hot zone.

The real magic was close though. It was just around the corner.

Marcus Stoinis is not an elite hitter. In terms of his heightened reputation, he benefits from plenty. An epochal innings early in his career, against New Zealand; an all-round skillset; a face, body and personality that advertisers and fans drool over. His Batting Impact is, despite the hype, just +0.6. He is the opposite of a Moneyball man.

And yet, he has enough hitting ability to take a game away from a side; with him at the crease, Australia had a chance. His wicket had enormous value, match-defining value.

And so, Rashid sent down a ball laced with the wonder that comes with a career that only he has had. It fizzed down with 1.3° of drift through the air, humming with the skill of a thousand balls bowled in nets up and down the country, across the world; it gripped, turning 1.4° off the surface, a shock that spat off the Birmingham turf like a kick from a mule; it would have cannoned emphatically into the stumps were it not for the lump of Western Australian in the way. Stoinis was gone. The game was won.

The googly isn’t a normal ball. It’s high-risk, it flies out of the back of your hand into neighbours gardens, taking your dignity with it; it is the sign of an elite spinner to be able to nail it more often than not. It’s freakish to be able to even land one. Let alone land it like Adil.

Plenty of people criticise England for the fact that the ancestry of their playing XI is scattered around the globe. To do so is often coming from a place that, if we were being kind, is only a gentle form of xenophobia.

But Britain is a country in flux. It’s a nation where Tommy Robinson is a figure no longer on the fringes, where questioning the Britishness of people born on these shores is a mainstream act, despite being a violent, hateful one; Adil Rashid is far more than a Muslim athlete, far far more, but he is that as well. English cricket should be proud of that. English cricket should shout it from the rooftops.

But it should be almost as proud that finally, they have sculpted and shaped a talent like Rashid. His like has not been welcome in English cricket for many a year; too risky, too unreliable, too other. Whilst the vast, vast majority of credit for his achievements falls on him and him alone, the culture which allowed him to flourish deserves credit. England changed, to accommodate Adil Rashid. It’s all the better for it.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: Mitchell Starc’s Yorker

Ben Jones analyses a modern-day classic.

Bowled, Mitch.

Everything is worse than it used to be, you know. The modern day greats aren’t quite as great as those of the 90s, the 80s, the 70s. Sure, Virat Kohli’s a great ODI batsman, but he’s doing it in era of the bat dominating ball. If Viv could have faced today’s bowling, he’d have had a field day.

If Wasim and Waqar had been bowling at these loose modern batsmen they’d have taken more wickets than even they managed. “Just bowl a yorker – I know it’s old fashioned, but it works“.

It’s understandable. There are plenty of people who don’t want their heroes – and friends – dethroned. There is resistance to younger talent coming through in cricket like there is in any walk of life, but we pay more attention to cricket. It matters more.

Yet ultimately, it doesn’t matter what people say about the old days; Mitchell Starc is one of the great yorker bowlers the game has seen.

***

The match was on the line when Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes were batting together. Australia knew they should win, but there was no swagger in the steps of the fielders. It wasn’t England’s to lose, or anything close, but it was shifting. They had taken Pat Cummins – Pat Cummins – for 22 in his last two overs, and were on the charge. They were attacking, they were middling it, and they were scoring runs. On commentary, Michael Slater was prompted to say that he wasn’t sure where Australia’s next wicket was coming from.

Then Starc came out swinging. He ran in, and unleashed an absolute weapons-grade yorker of the like we only really see coming out of his hand, these days. It flew down to Stokes, set and certain at the crease even while cramping up in the humid London weather, hammering his bat down, unable to stop it zinging the bails across the outfield.

It swung 1.9° back into Stokes. All day, he only faced seven balls that swung more. The magnitude of the movement alone was vicious.

It was full. Only one delivery Stokes faced all day was fuller; this was out of nowhere, Australia’s attack taking a gamble on England’s linchpin that they had been too nervous to take before. Outrageous, really.

It was 144kph. Hurtling at Stokes’ feet, inherently in the slot but charging towards it too quickly for that to be an issue. You can see from the graph below – not many balls match that pace, with that degree of swing. This was an outlier.

It felt like the perfect delivery. And that’s because it basically was.

CricViz’s Wicket Probability Model uses historical ball-tracking and shot-type data to calculate the likelihood that any given delivery will take a wicket. It considers the swing, the pace, the release point, the seam movement, and basically any metric you can think of that might affect whether a ball will dismiss a batsman, and then gives each delivery a percentage chance.

The yorker to Ben Stokes had a wicket probability – according to the ball-tracking data, nothing else – of 22%. That’s the second highest value for any delivery bowled at this World Cup.

If you’re playing a computer game, you might have a bonus move up your sleeve, some turbo-charging effect you could apply to get out of a sticky situation. You would use it sparingly, saving it for the moment when you really needed it. This was that moment, and that ball was Starc’s secret weapon.

Dismissing the opposition’s crucial player?

A player you have personal history with?

To secure the win?

The win that takes you through to the semi-final?

Yes, when you think about it, that really would be the perfect time to send down such a ball.

And yet, even that does Starc an injustice. The conceit there is that he has a limited number of these deliveries – there’s no evidence that, bowled from Starc’s hand, these balls are in short supply. According to Wicket Probability, of the eight most dangerous deliveries in this World Cup, four have been bowled by Starc. That is astonishing.

Starc has a well deserved reputation as a man capable of doing what other dream of, exploring the outer reaches of what your normal performers think is possible.Here is a man capable of sending down the most attacking deliveries in the world, of dismissing the very best with the very best he can offer. Starc is a player who receives criticism well beyond what he deserves. He is more than many realise, better than many are willing to admit.

And yet, this mercurial quality is met with an ability to bring his A-Game when it matters. Starc is wonderfully capable of delivering on the biggest stage of all. Nobody in history with 25 wickets in World Cup cricket has taken them at a better rate than Starc.

England will be hurting this evening. Partly, that hurt will be the easy to understand pain of having let yourself down in an important situation, the feeling of embarrassment that’s inevitable after high-profile errors.

Alongside that is the altogether more existential pain of having been beaten by some moments of utter brilliance. Sometimes, the difficult thing you have to process is that your actions actually didn’t matter very much at all, and that the opposition were simply able to find a gear that you were not. It’s a grubby, humble pain, but it’s one England will be experiencing right now. Vince got Behrendorffed. Root and Stokes got Starcd. It happens. The latter happens a great deal.

We are lucky to be watching peak Starc. He is a modern great who, in years to come, we’ll all swear was quicker than he looked on telly, swung it more than you can see on a screen, had an aura that cannot be conveyed in mere words and numbers. He’ll become one of the Sacred Cows that we don’t dare question, of the type he now threatens with his brilliance. We should cherish him while he’s still around, and fear him while he’s still fearsome. England will be hurting, but today, cricket was given a gift. Build a plinth, and place that yorker on it.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: Andre Russell’s Short Ball Barrage

Ben Jones analyses the opening spell from the Windies all-rounder, which set the tempo for a remarkable day in Nottingham.

T20 does many things brilliantly. It calls for speed of thinking, strategic flexibility, and for players to be adapting on the hoof. It rewards power, skill, physicality. It’s a brilliant format, and cricket is undoubtedly richer for having it.

However, one thing that T20 doesn’t do, is allow you to do the same thing for very long. If you lose your focus and settle into a rhythm, you’ll be punished. Predictability, with bat or with ball, is the cardinal sin of the shortest format.

A case in point; in T20s this year, Andre Russell bowls an average of 16 deliveries per match. Accordingly, he varies his length a lot; 52% short, 16% good length, 32% full. He bowls slower balls 21% of the time, and cutters 40% of the time. He’s constantly shifting, moving the ball into new areas, making it do different things. In T20s you have to stay ahead of the game. In ODIs, not so much – and today Russell showed why the distinction between 20 over and 50 over cricket is still significant.

Pakistan’s innings started shakily with the early wicket of Imam-ul-Haq, but the situation wasn’t terminal. Jason Holder, taking the new ball, had taken some tap from his opening spell. After two overs, the Windies captain removed himself from the attack, and threw the ball to his all-rounder.

Russell’s next 16 balls – his typical allocation in T20s, remember – couldn’t have been more predictable. Every single one of those first 16 balls was dug in short, pitching further than eight metres from the batsman’s stumps. It was the execution of a repetitive plan over 16 balls, doing the same thing over, and over, and over again. He ran in, he bowled a short ball. He ran in again, and bowled another, then did that fourteen more times. Russell wasn’t messing about with variation – he was bowling bouncers, and he was bowling 140kph heat.

Yet that 16 delivery period proved rather effective. Fakhar Zaman, a man not averse to making a splash in ICC tournaments, was pushed back by a 137kph zinger, pushed deep into his crease from where he was able only to cannon the ball back onto his stumps. Proper pace does that. Haris Sohail was deceived by the barrage coming down, and couldn’t judge the bounce. It sparked the collapse that saw Pakistan lose wicket after wicket, haphazardly throwing their bats at bouncers as they zoomed towards their helmets. The compulsive hooking spread like a virus. Pace does that.

It really was proper pace as well, and pace that Russell’s never found before. He was finding an extra gear, in terms of the raw speed he’s capable of generating; 39% of the balls Russell bowled today were over 140kph, the most he’s ever recorded in an ODI, and the most of the five West Indian seamers on show at Trent Bridge. For a man whose bowling is rarely given centre stage, that’s some statement to make with your opening three overs in the biggest tournament in the world. It broke Pakistan’s spirit, and they were bundled out for 105. The chase last 64 minutes.

ODI woes are nothing new for this iteration of Pakistan’s white ball side, but for Russell, this felt like a departure. It’s hard to call a spell consisting almost entirely of bouncers ‘sophisticated’, but it was a version of Russell we’ve not seen in a West Indian shirt for a long time. This was him showing that, given the room, his skills aren’t limited just to T20 cricket, but can influence matches in a more traditional manner as well. Given 16 deliveries, he is capable of doing more than simply cycling through the variations. Today’s spell was – whisper it – the sort of spell that could take wickets in Test matches. This wasn’t the franchise inflected ‘Dre Russ’; this was Andre Russell, new ball enforcer.

The 94% short balls that he sent down (the only variation a snorting yorker that almost snared Sarfaraz Ahmed first ball) is the most he’s ever done in an ODI. Today, given the knowledge that he had plenty more overs to play with, Russell had time to try a tactic for a chunk of time, to not be concerned about predictability.

The story of the day – inherent behind Russell’s performance – was that West Indies are here in England to compete. Their batting line-up is brutal, but their attack was considered suspect before the tournament began. Today was a loud, unequivocal statement to the contrary. It made it clear that Holder (is there a more admirable captain in international cricket?) is still capable of getting the best out of men like Russell, men with talents and reputations formed in shorter formats. If Shimron Hetmyer, Nicholas Pooran, Carlos Brathwaite, and Oshane Thomas can follow Russell’s lead, and successfully adapt their skills to a 50 over contest, then this squad has as much ability as any other. If they can do that, then this West Indies team could do something special.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: The Unheralded Quinton de Kock

Ben Jones analyses how the South African keeper is severely underrated, and is arguably the finest ODI opener going around.

Discussion around the South African side ahead of this World Cup has focused largely on their attack. Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi, Dale Steyn and Imran Tahir form the bulk of arguably the tournament’s most fearsome bowling line-up, and overall it’s probably likely that any South African success will be down to that quartet.

However, they are ably supported by the batting. Whilst it isn’t as terrifying as some, it’s solid and substantial all the way down to No.5, and you would expect them to consistently post totals around 300 which, with their attack are definitely defendable. It’s only a coincidence that both Faf du Plessis and Imran Tahir play for Chennai Super Kings in the IPL – a bowling heavy side whose batting is reliable if not explosive – but there is a shared ethos between those teams. Responsibility from the batsmen, and trust that the bowlers can get the job done.

Indeed, if there was a star player with the bat, it’s not one you’d think of straight away. It’s not the muscular charisma of Du Plessis himself, the elegance of Hashim Amla or the T20-based brutality of David Miller. Instead, it’s the meek left-hander at the top of the order, perennially squinting out from underneath a helmet lid, the opposite of a poster boy. It begs the question; how underrated is Quinton de Kock?

Since the last World Cup, De Kock has made 2971 runs opening the batting in ODIs. That is a vast amount, a tally only beaten by Rohit Sharma for openers in that period, and the South African has played fewer matches than those around him. What’s more those runs have come at an average of more than 50, and at a brisk 6.05rpo. That sort of record isn’t common.

At CricViz, our Impact model calculates the average number of runs that any player contributes above or below what we’d expect. Hopefully, it gives a better impression of how effective a batsman is than simply a pure batting average. Since the last World Cup, De Kock’s Average Batting Impact is 11.6 – that’s the best in the world, after Virat Kohli.

This naturally takes into account the conditions a batsman is playing, and doesn’t punish players who are working in tough conditions; this plays into De Kock’s hands. The only batsman in the world who consistently contributes more to his team’s cause than De Kock, is arguably the best to ever play the format.

In a way, the more interesting part of De Kock’s success is that it’s gone relatively under the radar. His record is outstanding in terms of the runs it’s yielded, but few people herald him in the way they do other, more inconsistent talents. Ask a fan to name the five best ODI openers in the world, and you’ll cycle through a fair few Indian and English names before De Kock even comes up. That’s fine, of course – but it’s a curious oversight.

Perhaps part of his lack of appreciation is that De Kock is a little bit in the middle of everything. In an age where, globally, people are scrambling to find the extremes of everything, he remains in the middle, a mixture of qualities and skills. He’s neither one nor t’other. He’s neither super attacking or super defensive; he’s neither England nor India; he’s not Blur or Oasis, he’s Pulp; he’s not Pep or Mourinho, he’s Ancelotti. By standing in the middle, he stands for very little, and that counts against him.

He isn’t a Chris Gayle (a slow starter who accelerates), or a Jonny Bairstow (who charges out of the blocks). His scoring rate in the first 20 balls of an innings is 5.11rpo, quicker than the average for established openers (4.71rpo), but down on the super-aggressive starters like Bairstow and Colin Munro. You watch him, and you’re neither compelled to think “gosh, he’s taking his time” or “yikes, he’s started like a house on fire”. He slips under the radar, and before you know it, he’s 50* (55).

He doesn’t struggle notably against pace or spin. The slightly wonky imbalance of a Jason Roy, so obviously dominant against pace and in pieces against spin, is to many more endearing to the effective all-round competence of De Kock. He averages 45 and 57 against spin and pace respectively, since the last World Cup – no bowler his Achilles heel, no bowler his lamb to the slaughter.

His dominance is built on a rather more basic strength. The really decisive factor in De Kock’s success is not anything extreme or unusual, nothing built of ‘philosophy’ or anything so abstract; he has, through technical excellence, all but eradicated risk from his batting. He can play with remarkably few edges or misses in any given innings, especially for someone batting at more than a run-a-ball, and that is a hell of a skill to have. Just 13.5% of the balls he’s faced have brought a false shot, a figure that’s just slightly less than the average for all players in Test cricket. The most effective way to ensure you make runs, is to play with no risk and remain at the crease, and so it’s no coincidence that Rohit Sharma, the only opener with more runs than him, is the only one to play with less risk.

The basic principles of ODI batsmanship are adhered to – keeping busy, not getting stuck at one end. Only two openers (David Warner and Jonny Bairstow) have a lower dot-ball percentage than De Kock since the last World Cup. He stand out in some respects, but it’s in subtle, missable areas; he’s a remarkably legside dominant player, with 57.2% of his runs have come through the onside. Of established openers (min 20 innings) since the last World Cup, only four men have scored more of their runs through leg. This is offset by is offside game is though, competent and effective, as his trademark cut shot (with which he averages 99.75) has made clear. His method is clear, relied upon, and reliable.

However, it might not be this all-round consistency that stops people appreciating De Kock. There is a certain quality to De Kock, a particular air of absent-mindedness, that almost makes you dismiss his achievements as accidental. As Daniel Gallan wrote in a recent article for The Cricket Monthly, “Perhaps it is those slightly droopy eyes; de Kock often looks like he is one soothing lullaby away from deep sleep.” When the man playing the shots looks unbothered, almost confused by the shots he’s playing, it’s far trickier to be thrilled by them than when, say, a bristling Indian No.3 is staring the bowler down, biceps tensed, ready to charge. Kohli and De Kock have batted together for RCB many times, and the popularity of one rather explains the lower profile of the other.

Equally, South African cricketing culture is different to many others. Stars are forged there, but they tend to make their true name elsewhere. Back in the day, that would have been through huge Test performances in Asia, England, and the West Indies; now, it’s through dominating the IPL. De Kock has made steps towards the latter, but has struggled profoundly away from home in ODI cricket. It’s perverse, really – few places in the world are harder for batsmen than South Africa, but home conditions do seem to really suit De Kock’s strengths. His average in home ODIs since the last World Cup is significantly higher than it is away from home.

This isn’t to claim, without caveat, that De Kock is the second best ODI batsman in the world. Impact is one of a number of tools we can use to assess batsmen, and whilst we may feel it’s more valuable than others, it’s merely part of the discussion. The more salient point is that, despite his achievements, De Kock is a man rarely brought up when discussing the crop of batsman fighting to be the best of the rest, the group behind Kohli – and that isn’t fair. It’s probably, on balance, because he doesn’t have the intense furore behind him that many benefit from.

Which is why, with a World Cup about to start, he serves as a rather nice lesson. Cricketing excellence comes from all over the world, in all different guises and in plenty of different styles. It can, in the focused environment of the next seven weeks, become a bit too easy to want players to fail, to want teams to fail, to benefit your own side and to prove your own assessments correct. Yet we’re lucky – this is a festival of cricket, with something for everyone, and we should celebrate that. Quinton de Kock will walk out to bat against England tomorrow with the world watching, and in truth many will be hoping he spoils the hosts’ party. From what we’ve seen over the last four years, there are few better candidates on the market to do so.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: David Warner at No.3?

Australia’s selectors have intimated that the controversial batsman may bat at first-drop; Ben Jones analyses their options.

Australia don’t arrive at the 2019 World Cup in the best of nick. Whilst series wins against India and Pakistan have boosted their confidence after a dreary year, they are still one of the least formidable Australian sides of the modern era. They will go into their opening game against Afghanistan having won just 48% of their matches in the previous 12 months; that’s their worst record ahead of any tournament in the modern era.

This isn’t a poor Australian team – their attack is too talented to say that – but rest assured, it isn’t a strong Australian side either. Their batting is a touch under-powered, and their spin attack could be shown up on flatter wickets. If they get to the semi-finals, they will have performed well, and should be pleased with their efforts.

Of course, that isn’t really the Australian way. Even back when India were touring last winter, commentators and writers were looking at ways to fix the ODI side, and what was curious (to an outsider) was how they didn’t speak about simply improving the side, but about picking a team that could ‘actually win the World Cup’. The tone was of revolution, not evolution; settling for respectability is not, at least in the broad-brush world of national stereotypes, part of the Australian sporting psyche.

As such, Australian fans, pundits and coaches are willing to be a bit radical, to try and steal a march on their rivals by pulling an unusual move. This has manifested most obviously in the discussion around the reintegration of David Warner. Returning from his ban, the batsman should slot in at the top of the order, his natural home and where he’s made his substantial reputation. Yet this has been questioned.

After all, those Australian wins in the UAE and India came with Usman Khawaja and Aaron Finch at the top of the order, forming a solid opening partnership that built platforms, time and time again, for other players to come in and move the score from defendable to genuinely competitive. Beating India in India is a serious achievement, and the combination of Finch and Khawaja was hugely influential in that result. To disrupt that partnership by bringing Warner back would, so the argument goes, be a significant mistake.

If Warner were to return to the top of the order, it would be Khawaja who would make way, given that Finch is not as versatile as his current partner. The Victorian has batted 105 times in ODIs, and 103 of those innings have been in the opening pair; Khawaja on the other hand is used to batting in the middle order, in both ODIs and Tests. Pushing against this, eloquent cases have been made for Khawaja holding onto that opening berth, cases that have largely focused on how his personal record opening the batting is significantly better than when not. Khawaja averages more runs per innings when opening, and he scores those runs more quickly. It’s hard to refute that he prefers batting in the opening pair.

One of the potential reasons for this is that Khawaja starts slowly. Whilst a very elegant batsman when he’s in form, he does not have a particularly wide range of easy release shots, and can get bogged down; he also lacks the power to just go hard and frighten captains into putting the field back, easing any early pressure.

The consequence of all this is that, when batting in the middle order, Khawaja scores more slowly off his first 20 balls than any other Australian.

When opening the batting, he can get away with these slow starts. He has more gaps to hit in Powerplay 1, getting better value for the attacking strokes he does play, but also crucially he has more time to play with. A slow start is not fatal to Australia’s chances, because there is time both for him to catch up, or for others to recover. When he arrives in the 25th over, bats slowly for 10 overs and then gets out, he’s significantly damaged the team effort. Opening doesn’t so much maximise the effect of Khawaja’s strengths, but rather minimise the negative effect of his flaws.

So, in that sense, there is a lot to be gained from Khawaja opening. There could also be unexpected benefits, not just in keeping Khawaja at the top of the order, but of batting Warner at three. Australia don’t have many good players of spin in their side; only three Aussies average 50+ against spin since 2015, and David Warner is one of them. Putting him lower in the order could help them in the middle overs, when more spin is bowled.

It’s not necessarily that Warner has a wide range of devastating techniques to counter spinners. He does sweep effectively (averaging 32 but scoring at 8.6rpo), and rarely uses his feet to the spinners (coming down just 7% of the time, less than the 9% average for Australian ODI batsmen since 2015), but the primary strength in Warner’s game against spin is his elimination of risk. He scores at less than a run-a-ball, but he does so extremely securely.

Since the last World Cup, Warner is almost twice as secure against spin than he is against pace. It is rare that a spinner is able to find the edge of Warner’s bat; in part due to the periods of the innings when he faces them, but also because his technique is watertight against them. Even when facing spinners in Powerplay 1, Warner gets out every 39 balls, compared to every 41 against pace.

So, there’s the logic behind why you may want to drop Warner down the order to No.3. His strengths cover a weakness of this Australian side – moving him to three is appealingly simple, and potentially gets the best out of another player.

However, it feels a bit like overthinking. Warner appears to have been the first person ever to get worse while he’s not been in the team. English all-rounder Liam Dawson’s reputation grew from competent cricketer to a Ponting-Murali hybrid when he wasn’t selected for the initial World Cup squad, and it’s not a new phenomenon. Players left out always feel more enticing, a silver bullet that can return to the side and cure all the ills of the XI. It’s more appealing than waiting for good players, already in the team, to start being good again. Yet Warner has suffered the opposite fate. People have rapidly forgotten how good he is.

Since the last World Cup, no Australian has a higher average Impact with the bat than Warner. His Impact (+11.1) is more than double the next best batsman, Matthew Wade, whose +4.6 figure is rendered yet more obsolete by the fact he’s not even in the World Cup squad. There is no question, no modicum of doubt, that Warner is Australia’s best batsman.

Since that 2015 tournament, Warner has made 2296 ODI runs, at an average of 56.00, and has chalked up 10 centuries. Every one of those runs, each of those centuries, was made opening the batting. To look at this batsman, who has proved over a long period of time – not just in two series over the last six months – that he is the beating heart of the ODI side, and suggest that the place he has forged that reputation is, perhaps, not best suited for him, is perverse.

In truth, the calls for Warner to drop out of the opening pair are as likely to be fuelled by the controversy of the last year, as they are by cricketing judgement. Moving him away from his preferred position feels like a form of contrition, a statement from the powers that be that you don’t just get to slot back in as you were, no questions asked. There is probably a fair bit of weight to that argument. If that’s what matters most, then it makes sense.

However – it isn’t what matters most. Australia are one of six teams who can win the World Cup, but they are only just in that bracket. England have enough world class batsmen to drop Alex Hales because he was becoming a distraction; Australia don’t have enough world class batsmen to in any way limit Warner’s effectiveness. Make your statements in the press, present his reintegration in whatever manner you wish, but when the cricket starts, Warner is Australia’s star player and should be treated as such.

The actual radical option, in this curious situation, is to return to the status quo. Warner should open the batting – if he does, Australia give themselves a puncher’s chance.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.