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.

CricViz Analysis: England’s Reserve Spinner

Ben Jones analyses who will be back-up to Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid.

So, there we have it. England have played their last ODI before the World Cup begins, an emphatic win over Pakistan in Leeds to complete a 4-0 series victory. In most respects, their preparation for the biggest summer of cricket we’ve ever seen has been perfect. All of the top six batsmen have had a hit, looked in good form, and three of them have made tons; Jofra Archer’s assimilation into the side has been swift and successful, potentially solving issues at both the start and end of the innings; and the team has looked slick, fielding well and solving problems, recovering from whatever minor slip-ups have befallen them.

There are, however, two questions to answer. England name their final World Cup squad on Tuesday, confirming the fifteen men who, barring injury, will be spear-heading the hosts’ attempt to bring the trophy home, on home soil. You would suggest that, barring a trip on the stairs or dropping a bottle of aftershave on their foot, 12 of those names are locked in. Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root, Eoin Morgan, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid, Chris Woakes, Jofra Archer, Liam Plunkett, James Vince – these 12 players are near certainties to be confirmed.

From there, some decisions have to be made. The selectors need to fill out the remaining spots with – you would think – three from Joe Denly, Mark Wood, Tom Curran, and David Willey, and Liam Dawson. We’ll deal with the question of the seamers elsewhere; for now, let’s address the issue of the reserve spinner.

Firstly – they do need one. Whilst the World Cup pitches aren’t going to turn substantially (though an average deviation of 2.8° since the 2015 WC is only just below the Global Average of 3°), England do need to protect the strategy which has brought them so much success. 34% of their overs at home since the last World Cup have come from spin, a figure it would be impossible to replicate with only one man capable of bowling spin of some kind. Moeen Ali has suffered from side strains in recent times, injuries that can rule you out for varying degrees of time; whilst a serious one could see you sidelined for the duration of the tournament, but a twinge could be healed rather more quickly, and as such England would be reluctant to replace Moeen in the squad without serious consideration. If such a strain for Moeen was enough only to rule him out of one or two matches, then England would require either Joe Root to step up and bowl out, something he’s done only twice in ODIs, or for a backup spinner to come in. Both of those options have their pros and their cons, and Root’s bowling is perhaps undervalued in international cricket, but the sensible, pragmatic option is to have someone in the squad capable of bowling 10 competent overs. A backup is necessary.

As it stands, the man in possession of that role is Joe Denly – but he’s not had a good few weeks. One wicket in three matches against Ireland and Pakistan reflects poorly on his ability to trouble international batsmen, even if an economy rate of 5.45rpo doesn’t suggest he can be dispatched with ease. According to CricViz’s Wicket Probability Model, the balls that Denly has bowled since returning to the side would, on average, bring a wicket every 64 balls. That is the worst record of any spinner to bowl in ODIs in the last year (min 5 overs). It is very difficult to make an argument for Denly to be the third best spinner, for the best ODI side in the world.

What will worry England’s selectors just as much is the erratic nature of Denly’s bowling, his technique seemingly affected by the pressure-cooker environment of international cricket. He’s bowled six full tosses since returning to the side; Adil Rashid has only bowled seven in his last three ODI series combined.

Of course, it’s fair to say that England have handled his selection less than ideally. A man catapulted back into international contention by an excellent all-round performance with Kent in the Royal London One-Day Cup, Denly is not the ridiculous choice some have painted him as. He made a lot of runs, and was instrumental in Kent’s success. However – his form with the ball was just that, a golden streak of form. He is a top-order batsmen who bowls spin who, out of nowhere, had a perfect period with the ball; 40% of his domestic List A wickets came in a stretch of 44 days during last year’s domestic season. That is not something you should be able to say of a top level bowler.

Equally, Denly has not been given a fair opportunity. Every England player to play at least three matches in a series since the last World Cup either faced or bowled more balls than Denly did this series; regardless of what you think, it’s hard to say that he’s had a proper chance to make his case. Denly has bowled just 66 balls since his return; wicket Probability is a very helpful guide, but that is not enough bowling on which to judge a bowler. At Bristol, Eoin Morgan rightly withdrew him from the attack after one over, in order to win the match. It maintained England’s winning form, and for that reason you cannot fault him, but it robbed England’s coaching staff of the chance to see more of him. Denly is a leg-spinner, after all, and despite being a part-time bowler he is still likely to show the pros and cons of that bowling technique. Sure, he didn’t land three of his first five deliveries, but he beat the bat with his sixth. Had this been a young wrist-spinner, being blooded into the first team, Morgan would never have withdrawn him from the attack, and would have instead played the numbers game, accepting that this is a high risk approach from a high risk bowler.

It hasn’t been handled as deftly as it could. However, the overwhelming evidence is that Denly is not capable of being England’s backup spinner in the World Cup.

If it’s not Denly, then who?

There are the aggressive, radical options. Matt Parkinson has been a crucial part of Lancashire’s white ball strategy in the past few seasons, and would have gained valuable experience in the BBL this winter had he not suffered an injury. Only one spinner (Nathan Sowter) has taken more wickets than him in the last two seasons of the RLODC. Likewise, Mason Crane has shown an ability to turn the white ball considerably, and does have brief (if unsuccessful) international experience. If introduced into the England set-up over the last 12 months, these might not even be seen as radical options, but rather more obvious ones given the skill of these young bowlers – but you can’t throw young leg-spinners into the intensity of World Cup cricket without sussing them out in less pressurised environments first. It wouldn’t be fair to them, or to the captain managing them.

No, it’s Crane’s Hampshire teammate who has made the most consistent case to be involved. Liam Dawson – the last spinner not called Joe, Adil or Moeen to play for England – would be the obvious choice. He has taken 25 List A wickets in the last two domestic seasons, at an extremely healthy economy rate of just 4.38rpo, whilst bowling as part of a successful Hampshire side. The direct comparison with Denly’s bowling is also rather stark; in the last two seasons, Dawson has more wickets, a better average, a better economy rate, and a better strike rate than his Kent counterpart.

What’s more, Dawson’s insertion into the side would still give England the variety they value so highly. If he were to replace Moeen, England maintain the finger-spin/wrist-spin balance; if he replaces Rashid, they still have two spinners taking the ball in opposite directions.

There is little between the two in terms of their all-round contribution either. Dawson’s List A Batting Average (33.00) is only a smidgen below Denly’s (35.97); both Denly and Dawson have recorded positive Fielding Impact figures in international cricket. The overall effect they have on the XI with their ‘secondary’ skills is almost exactly the same, meaning that the key distinguishing factor between them is their bowling. Dawson’s bowling is better, period.

Of course, it is necessary to acknowledge that England have got almost every decision spot on in the last four years. The handling of Alex Hales’ issues was criticised by some, but the decision to remove him from the squad has given James Vince vital time in the middle, clarifying his role as the next cab of the rank in terms of top six batsmen. Eoin Morgan, Trevor Bayliss, and the ECB as a whole have built the best ODI side England have ever seen, a side that is the best in the world, and one of the best purely batting line-ups in the history of the format. That does not happen by accident, and they deserve enormous credit.

Denly’s selection is a blot on their copybook, but one that is amplified by the fact it comes just before the biggest moment in English cricket’s modern era. The scrutiny over every detail in selection is a new thing for England’s white ball sides – before now, it’s rarely felt that it mattered. These tweaks to the squad matter, because everything is feeding into what English cricket needs to be the perfect campaign. Bringing Dawson into the XV gives England a better chance of winning the World Cup; let’s hope that the selectors make the right choice today. There’s a lot riding on it.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: Jos Buttler – Best of the Rest?

Ben Jones looks at how England’s ODI juggernaut has reached new heights.

Virat Kohi is the best ODI batsman in the world, and has been for some time now. That isn’t in question. But ever since he got the Test captaincy, Kohli has also been consistently labelled the most ‘important’ cricketer in the world. So the story goes – as long as this handsome, chiselled genius takes Test cricket seriously, he will keep people interested in the oldest form of the game. Such is the power of Indian cricket, that anyone who can hold its attention is the most important in the game. Matches are won, matches are lost, but Kohli runs this joint.

Well, for the first time in a long time, that crown might be on the move. A World Cup and an Ashes in England this summer, a once in a lifetime occurrence, and there is a core of around five players likely to play a substantial role in both: Ben Stokes, Joe Root, Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, and Jos Buttler. These men are the core of the England’s cricketing summer. Yet within that group, one man stands out. Buttler is the most talented player of that five, the core of the core, the most thrilling. And right now, he is arguably the most important cricketer in the world.

***

On Saturday, in the aftermath of yet another destructive century from his wicket-keeper, Eoin Morgan spoke of Buttler having “a gear that not many of us have”. It’s true; even amongst this crop of explosive English batsmen, Buttler seems capable of going further, hitting harder, and scoring more quickly than his peers. When trying to hit a boundary, Buttler scores at 10.75rpo, faster than any other established England batsman; Buttler’s top gear is just faster than anyone else’s.

Then again, this isn’t anything new. Buttler has always had that gear. Even back in the day when England were much, much worse at ODI cricket than they are now, Buttler could always come in and raise spirits, hammering the ball about to lift England’s score to only slightly sub-par. Back then though, he always had flaws; target him with the ball spinning away, either from a leg-spinner or a slow left-armer, and he would struggle, both to score and to survive. He was always susceptible to a Mankad, though that rather more charming flaw still remains.

What Buttler has added to his game now is a level of consistency, to go with his ferocity. At this moment in time, he has no weaknesses. Since the last World Cup, he averages over 40 against every one of the five main bowling types, and matches this with a scoring rate of better than a-run-a-ball against each of them. As a captain you might have a bowler of great quality that you fancy to limit Buttler’s scoring, or dismiss him, but there isn’t an obvious kind of bowler to turn to. The much talked-up use of ‘match-ups’ doesn’t really work against Buttler.

Of course, he’s better against some deliveries than others. Imagine a team purely of Jos Buttlers; if you were bowling at that team in an ODI, a team of only Buttlers in the form he’s been in for the last four years, you would concede 376-7. Not bad, you’d have to say. However, such is his brilliance at dispatching full pitched deliveries, that if you played a team of Buttlers facing nothing but full balls, you’d have them seven down again by the end of the innings, but in the meantime, they’d have wracked up 531.

There’s only one Jos Buttler – for bowlers, that’s probably a good job.

What Buttler – and the people around him – have started to perfect, is the application of his talent. He’s always had all the shots, but improving his shot selection, and thus his shot success, has been crucial. Since the World Cup, Buttler scores at 10.75rpo with attacking shots. The only batsman in the world who can better that is Rohit Sharma, but whilst the Indian’s strokes score more quickly, they’re less secure. Buttler is dismissed every 41 attacking shots; Rohit, 36.

This new-found breadth to his game, and the way he’s refined his attacking skills, mean that Buttler is easily utilised in all areas of the innings, his ability straining against that more traditional idea of ODI batsmanship. His role in this England side isn’t just that of the archetypal finisher. England have identified that he can move up the order, off the back of a bright start by Roy, Bairstow and Root, allowing Buttler more time to just tee off with limited downside if he fails.

Since the last World Cup, Buttler has batted 74 times in one-day internationals; 57 of those innings have been at No.6, his normal position, the one on the teamsheet before a ball is bowled. Yet when he receives a promotion into the top five, his numbers soar. His average rises from 44.59 to 71.81, his scoring rate from 6.85rpo to 9.15rpo, and he makes a century every 4.25 innings. England deserve considerable credit for judging when to promote him, because his success rate in such a high-risk, high-octane role is remarkable. Trevor Bayliss, the support staff, and Eoin Morgan, have repeatedly got the call right about when to send Buttler in early.

Of course, from another angle, giving Buttler the most time possible to express himself does make very straightforward sense. You can see in his recent record that one of the primary limits placed on what Buttler can achieve, is what the other team can achieve. In the last four years almost exactly the same whether batting first or batting second, the difference between the two is not his input, but his scoring rate. Yet what a difference it is.

Given the blank canvas of setting a total, unencumbered by the other team’s effort, Buttler shoots for the moon and, more often than seems possible, he finds the target. Six of his seven centuries have come in the first innings of matches, showing that if his efforts aren’t cut off by England having reached the target, then he’s going to town.

Yet even with this new breadth to his game, Buttler is a finisher at heart – the death is where he comes alive. From the 41st over onwards, Buttler scores at almost 11rpo. Since the World Cup, that is 2rpo faster than the next quickest death overs hitter. Sure, he’s jumping from a more solid base than many others on that list – England rarely fail to give him a platform to work from – but he has no right to be that much better than everybody else. The rate at which he accelerates in those final overs is stunning, lifting England’s totals above 350, above 400, above what any others have achieved before them.  

In those last 10 overs, you can see the effect that Buttler has on opposition teams. You can see, in the bowler’s eyes, in the captains’ floundering, that trying to limit Buttler in this period is a fool’s errand, because when Buttler is in that zone, there is nowhere you can bowl to him. He scores at frightening rates all around the field, his technical excellence such that even his slowest scoring area – cover – still sees him score at 9rpo.

Typically, this sort of analysis would now show a graphic, with high strike rates against all deliveries, apart from a lower scoring spot against the well-executed yorker. It would reaffirm that even though yorkers are tough to get right, and go the distance if they go wrong, they are still the best option to this explosive player if you get them right. For most batsmen, the perfect ball stops them in their tracks. It does not stop Jos Buttler. When he hits full speed, the only option is to get out of the way.

All of the above is explanation for why Jos Buttler is, right now, the best ODI batsman in the world not named Virat. The destructiveness he achieves with such startling regularity is not something we have seen from an Englishman before, and it’s not something we’ve often seen from anyone. He has, Since the World Cup, 19 men have made more runs than Buttler; eight men have made more runs at a better average than Buttler; nobody has made more runs, at a better average, quicker than Buttler.

Nobody.

However, it’s not an explanation for why he has so rapidly become the most important cricketer about. To understand that, you need to watch him bat. You need to see the way he transforms, as the bowler releases the ball, from a tousle-haired heartthrob into a ruthless agent of chaos. You need to see how different he is to everyone else.

Joe Root is a gorgeous ODI batsman, playing chanceless knocks with a calm assuredness that few in the world can match. Jonny Bairstow is arguably the finest opener in the world right now. Ben Stokes is, well, Ben Stokes. The point of difference with Buttler is that, for all the practice hours, all the training that he’s put in, you still get the sense that Buttler is discovering new things he can do. When he backed away at Southampton at the weekend, and tennis-shot flat-batted a bouncer to the rope, he looked a little shocked. We all did too, of course, but Buttler was as surprised as the rest of us. His particular type of ability is accessible to anyone – nobody could watch him ramp a 90mph bowler for six into the Taff last summer, and fail to be awestruck. He is obviously, aesthetically, physically incredible.

Sometimes you need a breakthrough single, a louder, sparkier effort that presents a case to the world and invites it to get involved. This summer, the summer of all cricketing summers, Buttler is English cricket’s lead single, the one they are throwing at the radio, plastering across billboards, the one they want you to hear because they know that, after hearing that, you’ll hunt out the album.

Cricket in England isn’t at some terrible moment in its history, but it has been given an opportunity that no previous generation has ever had; the two events that non-cricket people have heard of, are happening in England, in one summer. Buttler has an audience this summer, an audience that shown the right thing, will fall in love with the game. Buttler is the right thing – and he’s the most important cricketer in the world.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: Hardik Pandya’s Batting Resurgence

The way Hardik Pandya holds the bat is strange. His hands are set much higher up the handle than most batsmen, and when his wrists whip through a shot it can often look as if the bat is about to burst through his hands, and fly off away from him. It clearly aids his explosiveness, helping him get extra leverage against deliveries that others would hit along the ground, but it also lends a certain frisson to his batting, a sense of danger. At times in the last few years it has felt like Hardik’s grip on his own career was just as loose. At times, it’s felt like all his potential was slipping through his fingers.

***

18th June 2017. The Champions Trophy Final is taking place, South London filled with India and Pakistan fans flocking towards The Oval, preparing to see cricket’s fiercest rivalry appear on a worthy stage. Less than two years later, and the story of how that day unfolded is already a familiar one, how Fakhar Zaman and Mohammed Amir shocked the World No.1s, and blew India away. Two magnificent individual performances gave the men in green the title, as well as the most keenly fought bragging rights in world sport.

But the best innings of the day wasn’t played by a man in green, but in blue. The 76 (43) that Hardik played was remarkable. Innings are typically spoken of as being “constructed”, but none of those 43 shots gave the sense of a man building anything. This was pure destruction. Hardik was decimating the attack, tearing down Pakistan bowlers one by one. Planted in the minds of the most optimistic Indians, and pessimistic Pakistanis, was a sense that something special was happening. The potential for this game to have a final twist was there.

Then of course, it ended. Run out by Ravi Jadeja, Hardik flounced back to the pavilion in visible discomfort and anger. It was understandable. Here was a 23 year old in the biggest match of his life, sensing greatness, at however great a distance, then it was yanked away from him.

Yet those detached from the heat of the situation could see something else. With a sense of perspective, it was clear that here was a talent truly announcing itself on the global stage; this was the final match of one tournament, but this young man was clearly on a serious trajectory. The next world tournament that rolled around would surely be in his sights. Hardik Pandya had arrived.

Has that been the case?

In short, no. India head into the World Cup as second/joint favourites, and are correctly regarded as a brilliant side. However, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who sees Hardik as one of the “defining” players of this side. In ODI cricket last year, he averaged just 13.60 with the bat. He may ‘balance the side’, get through overs and help the overall structure of India’s line-up, but that is a dramatic collapse.

From the Champions Trophy onwards, he’s passed 50 twice, never passed 100, and averaged 23.30. On that June day back in 2017, Hardik stood up and told the world he was the next superstar in line. He hasn’t said it since. His Average Batting Impact since then is almost exactly zero, suggesting that the average player could have offered everything that Hardik has offered with the bat.

It’s not hard to pinpoint the issue. Just as he showed when clattering Imad Wasim over long-off two years ago, Hardik can decimate spin – but he’s crumbled against the seamers. A recent average of 41.80 against the former is dragged back down to earth by an average of just 17.13 against the latter. Those are humbling numbers.

It’s infected his game across the board, and has lead to a very strange 12 months or so for the young man. Some blamed India’s Test losses in South Africa on his presence. In England he starred with the ball at Trent Bridge, but struggled to make an impact with the bat, and fell through the cracks as India, again, came up short overseas. Personal controversy has seen him miss matches, and lose the support of some fans and commentators. In Hardik’s absence from the touring party going to Australia, Kohli’s side made history. Many predicted that Hardik’s ascension to international cricket would be instrumental in India’s all-format supremacy; in fact, the supremacy came without him.

However, in the last few weeks, Hardik’s loose grip on his career has tightened, if only metaphorically – because he’s having one of the great IPL seasons with the bat. 355 runs, considering he’s coming in late in the innings, is astonishing. His scoring rate, 11.96rpo, is well and truly elite. In the history of the competition, this storied tournament that’s seen all of the greats appear on its stage, only one man has scored 200+ runs in a season at a faster rate. The only batsman to ever outperform Hardik in this regard is Andre Russell, this season.

The effect that Hardik has had on Mumbai Indians’ batting has been immense. This season, his Batting Impact of 9.3 is the second best of anyone on show. Again, he’s trumped by Russell – but being the best of the rest is an impressive achievement in this scenario. Hardik is finally bringing his talent to bear on a major tournament and making a tangible, obvious difference to his team.

It’s come out of nowhere. Nothing in Hardik’s performance over the last 12 months have suggested he was ready to ascend to these new heights, and while there have been some changes to his game since the start of this tournament, they have been more qualitative than strategic. This season, Hardik has attacked a higher proportion of his deliveries this season than he has ever done before; he has also played a false shot to a lower proportion than ever before. To match increased aggression with increased security is impressive. Few could do it.

Encouragingly, he has maintained this excellence against all bowling types. He’s averaged 48.40 against pace, and 56.50 against spin, scoring at more than 11rpo against both. The imbalance we’ve seen in his ODI batting has not been evident in his T20 form. There has been some substantial improvement in all areas of his game that has left him a more complete batsman.

However, rather than some silver bullet that has solved his ills, Hardik’s improvement seems to be more down to various elements falling into place. Before this year, at various points, he has shown ability in all facets of batting. In 2015 – his debut IPL season – he recorded an Attack Rating of 198, remarkably high. In 2017, he managed to record Timing and Power Ratings of 133 and 142 respectively, but was unable to match it with the naked aggression he showed when he first burst on the scene. This year, he’s brought it all together; an Attack Rating of 199, a Timing Rating of 149 (his highest ever) and a Power Rating of 147. It’s the first time that every aspect of Hardik’s batting has come together and clicked. And my, how it’s clicked.


His improvement could equally be a result of what has gone on around him. Mumbai weren’t exactly a rabble last year, but they weren’t exactly on their game; this year, they are clearly an improved team. Specifically, they have been getting off to better starts – their dismissal rate in the Powerplay (36) is the best they have ever recorded in an IPL season. Hardik has been able to launch his fireworks from a solid platform, and it’s hardly a surprise that they’ve gone further and burned brighter than before.

India’s decision to omit Rishabh Pant from their World Cup squad leaves a vacancy that needs to be filled – the guy who goes berserk at the death. Hardik may still not quite have the temperament to bat at No.4 in ODI cricket, but he can certainly take the late-order hitting role. His role in the World Cup is going to resemble his Mumbai Indians role rather closely, arriving in the final overs and trying to smack a tired attack over the rope. On the evidence of this IPL, you’d have to say he’ll do well.

If Hardik couldn’t bowl, people would appreciate his batting far more. It would be spoken of in similar tones as people speak of Pant’s – stylish, flawed, but recognised. His versatility, his ability to contribute in all areas of the game, has meant that in the area where he can contribute the most, he goes underappreciated. He’s a man who has made a Test century on debut, who can almost match Rohit Sharma for power and swagger, if not yet in material returns.

So in a way he’s gone full circle, from prodigy to the doldrums and back again. June 9th, almost exactly two years since he last did so, Hardik will walk out to bat in an ODI at the Oval. A lot has happened since then. There is still a gulf between how Hardik Pandya presents himself to the world, and how the world judges him. Yet if the runs he’s made in IPL 2019 – and the way he’s made them – say anything, it’s that the gulf is closing.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

IPL Season Preview: Royal Challengers Bangalore

Freddie Wilde previews the Royal Challengers Bangalore.

Last season: 6th

A late run of victories took RCB to the brink of qualification and a win in their last match of the season against Rajasthan Royals would have been enough to finish in the top four. However, they lost and ultimately finished sixth on Net Run Rate. This was probably a fair reflection on a season marred by death bowling struggles, inconsistencies in selection and an over-reliance on Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers.

Personnel Changes

RCB have made a number of changes to their squad from last season. Before the auction they released Brendon McCullum, Chris Woakes, Corey Anderson and Sarfaraz Khan, traded Quinton de Kock to Mumbai Indians and Mandeep Singh to Kings XI Punjab in exchange for Marcus Stoinis coming in to the squad. Star batsmen de Villiers and Kohli were retained along with all the all rounders and the majority of the bowling attack. At the auction RCB spent the bulk of their purse on three players: the exciting all rounder Shivam Dube, rising star batsman Shimron Hetmyer and the local batsman Akshdeep Nath. RCB also picked up South African wicket-keeper batsman Heinrich Klaasen for just Rs 50 lakh.

Squad Summary

  • Total players: 24
  • Numbers of overseas players: 8

Squad Composition

  • Openers (1): Devdutt Padikkal
  • Middle order batsmen (5): Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers, Milind Kumar, Himmat Singh, Shimron Hetmyer
  • Wicket-keepers (2): Parthiv Patel, Heinrich Klaasen
  • All rounders (7): Moeen Ali, Colin de Grandhomme, Marcus Stoinis, Prayas Ray Barman, Akshdeep Nath, Gurkeerat Singh, Shivam Dube
  • Wrist spinners (1): Yuzvendra Chahal
  • Finger spinners (2): Washington Sundar, Pawan Negi
  • Pace bowlers (6): Kulwant Khejroliya, Umesh Yadav, Navdeep Saini, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Mohammad Siraj, Tim Southee

Strengths

Star-studded batting

De Villiers is the best T20 batsman in the world and Kohli is one of the most consistent, together they have formed the bedrock of RCB’s batting for half a decade and will continue to do so this season. Hetymer is an exceptional talent and will join de Villiers and Kohli in a potentially fearsome triumvirate, Klaasen is also a dangerous T20 basman. On their day they RCB be hard to stop, particularly at the batting-friendly Chinnaswamy Stadium.

Spin bowling

Chahal, Washington and Negi has the potential to be a strong spin trio. Chahal has been a consistent performer in the IPL for many years now. RCB need Washington to replicate his brilliant debut season, not his first season for RCB where his struggles robbed the team of a controlling finger spinner and a potential all rounder.

Powerplay bowling

Umesh, Southee and Coulter-Nile are all dangerous new ball bowlers. The earlier wickets are taken the more valuable they are and last season Umesh was a revelation for RCB, making regular breakthroughs in the first six overs – helping RCB to the equal best Powerplay strike rate of all teams of 20.1 balls per wicket.

Weaknesses

Indian batting depth

Aside from Kohli RCB’s Indian batting is alarmingly light. This was a problem for RCB last season with Indian players other than Kohli averaging 17.11 runs per dismissal. Since then they have traded Mandeep, their second highest Indian run-scorer last year, to KXIP and made no significant Indian additions to the batting other than Nath who remains unproven at IPL level. The experienced Parthiv will be carrying considerable responsibility.  


Squad balance

Having used three overseas spots used on all rounders and spent a large proportion of their budget on batsmen RCB’s squad is unbalanced. They have a number of bowling options but their first choice attack is unclear while their batting appears to be heavily reliant on de Villiers, Kohli and Hetmyer.

Death bowling

Death bowling was one of RCB’s major problems last season – their economy rate in the last five overs of the innings of 11.86 was by far the worst in the competition. This season they will be strengthened by Coulter-Nile who missed last with injury but Umesh, Southee and Siraj are inconsistent defensive bowlers and they may struggle to contain runs towards the end of the innings once again.


Key Player: Virat Kohli

RCB’s reliance on Kohli cannot be overstated. Their failure to bolster the Indian batting leaves him with huge responsibility to anchor the innings and provide stability to the big hitters around him. His captaincy will also be put under pressure, particularly in the death overs where he lacks options.

Best XI

1) Moeen

2) Parthiv+

3) Kohli*

4) de Villiers

5) Hetmyer

6) Dube

7) Washington

8) Coulter-Nile

9) Siraj

10) Umesh

11) Chahal

Freddie Wilde is an analyst at CricViz. @fwildecricket

CricViz Analysis: Cheteshwar Pujara – A Batsman Transformed?

CricViz analyst Ben Jones assesses whether the success of India’s No.3 is due to a technical change, or just their class shining through.

Edgbaston, 2018. It’s not quite as evocative as the date which preceded it by 13 years, but for Indian cricket, it could come to be as prestigious a moment.

On the 1st of August, India dropped Cheteshwar Pujara.

They opted to pick KL Rahul, the swaggering talent of half-fulfilled wonder, ahead of their hard-knock proven No.3. It was a staggering decision, one that left the press box and the stands aghast. One senior journalist in the room, when the decision was announced, exclaimed “where the **** is Pujara?”. It was a sentiment shared by many. Even now, it feels like a bizarre decision, and that may have cost India that Test. They lost it by 31 runs. Rahul made 17 runs in the match.

Yet if you proffer this opinion, that the decision to drop Pujara was a catastrophic error, you will be met with resistance from many who insist that the dropping was the best thing to ever happen to him. They insist that he changed his technique as a result of the dropping, altering the issue that had prevented him from completely dominating away from home in the way he had in India.

It’s fair to offer this. Since being dropped, and then subsequently returning for the following Test at Lord’s, Pujara has faced 2,035 deliveries, more than any other batsman in the world. He’s faced more deliveries and made his runs at a better average than his captain.He has become a colossus, ascending to a level others have been unable to match.

So, it feels appropriate to ask the question: has Pujara actually changed anything?

The first thing to isolate is that the problem for Pujara, an untrusted tourist, was that people didn’t think he could play the moving ball away from home. Whilst this isn’t completely borne out in the data, the numbers do point towards a clear issues against pace – specifically, an issue against good length deliveries from seamers.

This feels so incongruous, considering the caricature of Pujara. He is a wall, a Dravidian descendant who can bat for days – surely his resistance can’t be undone by the most basic of things, the ball on an awkward length? How can a man so solid average less than the 20.79 that top seven batsmen have averaged against those deliveries in the last two years? Yet the data suggests that, despite our impressions, this has been a flaw.

Equally, since the the Birmingham rejection, that record has altered significantly. His career average against pace in SENA countries (28.89) has risen to 37.33. It’s not huge, but it’s allowed him to dominate.

He has improved against all lengths, more solid in all areas, but most crucially he’s improved against those good length balls.

There are a number of things one could do to counter this kind of issue. You could bat more or less out of your crease, in the manner of Virat Kohli. The Indian captain has taken to striking the ball on average 2.2m away from his stumps during this series, whilst others like Ajinkya Rahane have opted to make the most of their back foot strength and sit deep. However, Pujara appears to have done neither.

An alternative option is that he’s playing the ball into different areas. If the batsman is looking to score in alternative areas of the field, and is succeeding, then that points to a change in technique. Across his career, Pujara has typically been heavy scoring behind square. That trademark cut, underrated in its aesthetic beauty and its ability to make you catch your breath, allows him to batter the seamers through backward point.

If we compare that to how Pujara has gone in these last two away series, has that changed?

Barely. These are minor alterations, the sort of small changes that are the result of an edged four here, a skewed drive there. Nothing has changed here. Pujara is still Pujara.

So if the issue in the South Africa series – the one that preceded being dropped – was the way he played pace, and he hasn’t changed when or where he’s hitting the ball, then how has he changed his intent?
In South Africa, he averaged a jot under 20, and struggled against the marauding seamers, let loose on hard, spitting pitches, but how did he respond? Has he run scared? Has he come out all guns blazing?

Below is Pujara’s batting record in SENA countries, across his career.

Since being recalled Pujara has attacked balls on his stumps less and attacked balls outside off stump more. He has, generally, been very aggressive off his pads, but cautious outside off stump, but this pattern has changed in that last six months. It is a tweak, an alteration in intent which hasn’t seen him score more heavily through off (as we’ve seen), but an alteration nonetheless.

So what we’re seeing here is a man who has slightly increased his intent in one area, whilst slightly decreasing his intent in another. It is a man who has changed his modus operandi marginally, but has certainly not thrown his previous game away. This is unequivocally not a man transformed.

And so, it’s fair to push back. Pujara has not become a different player since being removed from the side in Birmingham – he has simply regressed to the mean.

This is a phrase that, for better or for worse, has become associated with analytics. Leave things be, we say, and everything will revert to the norm. Leave Stuart Broad in the Test side, and he will take wickets. Keep Jose Mourinho, and he will win games. It is an instinctively and emotionally difficult argument to take, and it is easy to throw it back in the faces of those who throw it in yours. But is is valid, and it is important.

Because it’s simply a new version of an old idea. “Form is temporary, class is permanent”. Pujara will go to bed tonight with a Test batting average of 51.07. Of those to play 20 Tests in their career – the standard, accepted line where a sample becomes reasonable – just 32 men in history have managed to better Pujara’s record. Here before our eyes is a great of the game, a player of such skill and substance that only a generous handful of those before him could compete.

Yet he isn’t trusted. Perhaps this is an aesthetic issue, though I’ve made my personal position clear. Perhaps it is a broader issue, his status as a man untethered to an IPL franchise leaving him with fewer hardcore supporters than others in his homeland. Perhaps it’s simply that, aware of the crop of wonderful players at their disposal, India’s selectors erred on the side of youth and aggression.

But history will suggest that their decision was wrong. If Pujara plays in Birmingham, India may win that Test. They may remain faithful to a victorious side, and decide against including Kuldeep on the greentop at Lord’s. They may ultimately defeat an England side strong in spirit but low on confidence, and then arrive in Australia not with a point to prove, but with a supremacy to affirm. The history of Indian cricket could well have been oh so different.

Yet ultimately, this is just another microcosm. Pujara is a great, a great who will transcend any of these series, and anybody who doesn’t acknowledge this is wrong. And yet, as Day One turns into Day Two across the harbour in this famous city, India are content. They have assumed a dominant position in their most important Test of the 21st century, their overnight WinViz an assured 66%. At this most crucial of moments, they are in control of their destiny. For that, they can thank Chesteshwar Pujara: unassuming, unchanged, immoveable.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.