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CricViz Analysis: Broad’s opening spell

It was Steve Smith’s day as the Ashes got underway at Edgbaston, but not before Stuart Broad showed a glimpse of what might have been for England.

It seems remarkable to think that there were some calls for Stuart Broad to be dropped for this Test match. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, of course, but even allowing for that, this is Broad’s stage. It always has been.

The first morning of an Ashes series with a fervently partisan home crowd barracking for him is where Broad belongs, the kind of situation he’s thrived in before and made some of the most stunning contributions of his career. Today was no different.

It’s become a familiar refrain in recent years that Broad does not bowl full enough at the start of the innings. There have been countless occasions when he has been accused of ‘wasting’ the new ball by bowling too short. Often that criticism has been fair, other times it has not – there is the strong counter-argument that a guy with over 400 Test wickets to his name must have some idea of what length to bowl.

The narrative has nonetheless persisted, but Broad will have silenced a few of those naysayers today. His average length with the new ball spell was 5.6m from the batsman’s stumps, fuller than he’s been since the first innings of the 2014 Sydney Test and the third fullest opening spell of his career.

Coincidentally, that innings was also the last time he dismissed David Warner in a Test match, having subsequently bowled in 16 innings across three series without taking the wicket of Australia’s returning opener.

Broad should have had his man with his very first ball, but Aleem Dar committed the first of several umpiring mistakes when he failed to spot an inside edge as Warner tried to work to leg. It was the second fullest ball Broad bowled all day – the only one fuller was the very next ball and a tone was immediately set that put England in the driving seat in the early exchanges.

A form of justice prevailed in Broad’s second over when Warner was wrongly given out LBW, even though replays showed the ball was missing leg-stump. A raucous Edgbaston crowd erupted with its first almighty roar of the day, leaving their feelings towards the Australian opener in little doubt and Broad’s Ashes were underway.

However, it wasn’t just about the length that Broad was bowling that caused Australia problems. His average speed during his first six overs was 138.92kph, quicker than he’s been with the new ball in a home Test since 2014. The last time he was as quick as this during an opening spell, Alastair Cook was still England’s ODI captain, Gary Ballance was scoring 156 in a Test match and Steve Smith only had four Test hundreds to his name.

Yet it was perhaps ironic while Broad was fuller and quicker than he’s been for a while, that his next wicket would come from one of the slowest, shortest balls of the spell. At 135.76kph, it was the fourth slowest ball Broad bowled, but that’s still quicker than his average speed since the start of 2018 (134.88kph). Cameron Bancroft went fishing outside his off-stump and Broad, lifted once against by the Edgbaston roar, wheeled away in celebration.

At that stage, Australia were 17-2 and it looked as though ‘Edgbaston 2019’ would be added to ‘The Oval 2009, Chester-le-Street 2013, Trent Bridge 2015’ in the list of Broad’s memorable Ashes demolition jobs. However, Bancroft’s wicket meant that Steve Smith came to the crease to a cacophony of boos and played one of the all-time great innings to blunt Broad’s charge.

While wickets fell around Smith, the former captain remained resolute and Broad’s performance came to embody England’s day as a whole; full of verve in the early stages before becoming gradually more sluggish, shorter of ideas and inspiration as Smith ground them down. With each spell he bowled, Broad’s speed fell as his economy rate rose.

In Broad’s defence, he caused more problems than the rest of England’s attack, drawing a false shot from 19% of the balls he bowled to Smith during his Herculean effort with the bat. He would eventually end the pain for England, bowling Smith for 144 and thus dismissing him for the seventh time in Tests, more than any other bowler. Scant consolation after Smith had stolen the limelight, perhaps, but it was a pleasing way for Broad to bookend the day – drawing first blood in the morning, having the final word in the evening.

When Broad has time to reflect, he might well appreciate the neat parallel of what Smith achieved today. Back in 2013, it was he who took to the field on the first day of an Ashes series as the visiting player in the crosshairs of a partisan home crowd. Having stood his ground at Trent Bridge after edging to slip in the home series that preceded England’s tour Down Under, Broad was public enemy number one in the eyes of the Brisbane faithful as the teams locked horns again.

With the boos and abuse ringing in his ears, Broad responded that day with five wickets, including all of Australia’s top four batsmen. He kept his side in the game they would otherwise have been out of, much as Smith did for Australia today in the face of relentless heckling from the increasingly vocal Hollies Stand. Broad will hope the parallels continue, the outcome of this series is the reverse of that ill-fated 2013-14 tour and he has the last laugh. But whatever happens over the course of the rest of this Test, the 33-year-old medium pacer has given Australia a timely reminder that his days of defining Ashes battles are far from over.

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.

@patnoonecricket

CricViz Analysis: Australia prepared for English conditions

Patrick Noone on why we shouldn’t write off Australia, even if the ball is swinging and seaming

Australia have not won an away Ashes series since 2001. The reasons for them failing to win in England since have been numerous and varied, but the enduring image from their most recent tour, in 2015, was of a succession of batsmen throwing hard hands at balls outside their off-stump during Stuart Broad’s 8-15 demolition job at Trent Bridge. Since then, the prevailing narrative has been that Australia Do Not Play The Moving Ball Well and that England’s bowling attack, allied to helpful conditions, are perfectly placed to exploit those weaknesses.

Conditions in Test cricket in England have rarely been as bowler-friendly as they are right now. Top six batsmen averaged just 28.32 across the seven Tests played in 2018 and, if the one-off Test at Lord’s between England and Ireland is anything to go by, we look set to be in for another summer of ball dominating bat.

Last year’s series against both Pakistan and India saw seam bowlers from all teams find prodigious movement off the pitch. In fact, there was more seam movement, on average, in Tests on UK soil last year than in any previous summer on record. Given the decision to use last year’s batch of Duke’s balls for the upcoming Ashes series, there is plenty to suggest that seamers will once again dominate proceedings.

While their batsmen might still be dogged by criticism about how they play the moving ball, Australia’s recent record against balls seaming a large amount (more than 0.75°) is far better than many might think, better even than every other team’s top six since the start of 2015.

This suggests that, despite their reputation, Australia are as well-equipped as anyone to deal the ball in seaming conditions. Where they have struggled in recent years is in conditions where there is lateral movement through the air – swing, rather than seam. Balls that swing more than 3.00° tend to be less threatening than those in the bracket between 0.75° and 3.00°, suggesting it’s possible to find too much swing. Australia’s record against balls in that sweet spot of swing is poor; their average is lower than any other team since the start of 2015.

As we’ve already seen, bowlers are finding more seam movement than ever in England at the moment, but it’s actually a different story for balls swinging a dangerous amount. The last two years have seen the lowest percentage of balls in the 0.75°-3.00° bracket since records began.

So, while the ball is doing plenty off the pitch, we know that Australia can deal with the seaming ball. And, while they might struggle against the swinging ball, recent data suggests that they won’t be facing as many balls of the kind they struggle against as they might ordinarily expect.

Furthermore, Australia’s preparation for this series has been solid, both in terms of their warm up matches and in their batsmen getting valuable experience in English conditions. Cameron Bancroft and Marnus Labuschagne have respectively played nine and ten matches in this season’s County Championship and both are in the top ten list for batting averages across the two divisions.

In fact, of the ten batsmen named in Australia’s squad, only Matthew Wade and Marcus Harris have played less than five First Class matches on English soil. With hints from the Australian camp that it will be Bancroft who partners David Warner at the top of the order, rather than Harris, Australia’s probable top six will have played 64 First Class matches in England before the series gets underway. 

For context, in 2015, Australia’s top six had played a total of 87 First Class matches in England prior to the first Test, and that team contained veterans such as Chris Rogers, Adam Voges, Michael Clarke and Shane Watson. For the current team to have played just 23 fewer matches than their 2015 counterparts, despite their relative youth and perceived inexperience, is a credit to the preparations made by the Australian setup this time around.

In comparison to the batsmen selected in England’s squad for the first Test at Edgbaston, Australia’s batting line-up actually boasts a very slightly superior record in First Class cricket on these shores. Of course, the sample sizes differ and the margin between the two sides is small, but the numbers do at least suggest that Australia won’t be the rabbits in headlights that some have been expecting them to be against the Duke’s ball.

Nonetheless, Australia will have seen what England did to Ireland on the third morning at Lord’s. They will know that when they get it right, they can be devastating in these conditions, especially once James Anderson and Jofra Archer are added to the equation, but they come into the series knowing they have done all they can to counter that threat.

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.

@patnoonecricket

CricViz Classics: New Zealand v Australia

As the Southern hemisphere rivals go head-to-head in the World Cup once again, Patrick Noone looks back on their last group match encounter: a thriller at Eden Park.

When New Zealand took on Australia at Eden Park in Auckland in the group stage of 2015 World Cup, the pre-match discussion was largely centred around the power of the two batting line-ups. Martin Guptill and Brendon McCullum v David Warner and Aaron Finch. Kane Williamson v Steve Smith. Corey Anderson v Glenn Maxwell.

Both teams were packed with talent who, at that stage of the tournament, had already shown themselves to be capable of making big scores; New Zealand through their all-out aggression from ball one, Australia with their well-grooved approach that was more measured, but by no means less effective.

And it was not just the identity of the batsmen on display that led to many assuming that this would be a run-soaked affair – the playing area at Eden Park is one of the smallest in world cricket, with tiny straight boundaries that batsmen of this calibre would surely have no trouble clearing repeatedly.

A washout in Brisbane for their game against Bangladesh meant that Australia had not played for two weeks since dispatching England with ease on the opening night of the tournament. Meanwhile New Zealand came into the Auckland game off the back of three comfortable wins against Sri Lanka, Scotland and England. Even at this early stage of the tournament, there was a sense that this was a battle between two of the strongest teams in the World Cup, the winner of which would likely top the group.

The game began much in the way that many expected. Australia hit 15 off the first over, nine off the second; Warner and Finch hit a six each – the former a top edge that flew over third man, the latter a booming drive over long-on. Those straight boundaries; so easily cleared.

The ball after Finch’s six, New Zealand struck back as Tim Southee bowled the right-hander. Relief for the bowler after conceding 17 runs from his first seven balls, but the respite was brief as Shane Watson worked his first ball – a leg-stump full toss – through square leg for four.

There was a chaotic, frenzied nature to everything in the opening stages of this encounter. Southee and Trent Boult had polished off both England and Scotland for less than 150 in their previous two matches, but Southee in particular was struggling for rhythm. He was either too full or too short, leaking boundaries and unable to string more than two dot balls together. After six overs, The Black Caps were staring down the barrel with Australia having raced to 51-1.

McCullum had to do something out of ordinary to change the momentum of the game, and he did so by turning to Daniel Vettori in the seventh over. New Zealand had not bowled a single over of spin in the first ten overs in any of their previous three matches, but desperate times called for desperate measures.

Bringing on a left-arm spinner to a well-set David Warner on a ground with short straight boundaries is about as gutsy as bowling changes get. But Vettori was one of the canniest operators around at the time and he repaid the faith his skipper bestowed upon him, beginning his spell with five successive dots before Warner finally cut him away for two off the last ball of the over.

Vettori would end up bowling his ten overs in succession, firing in darts at an average speed of 94kph, the fastest he’d ever registered in an ODI spell. He had two wickets to his name – the key scalps of Watson and Steve Smith – before he’d so much as conceded a boundary. Vettori completely changed the complexion of the match and his dismissal of Watson, coupled with Southee removing Warner for 34 with the very next ball, laid the platform for Boult to return for his second spell.

Having gone wicketless in his first five overs, it took the left-armer just two balls to strike in his new spell as Maxwell went for an expansive drive but could only drag the ball onto his stumps. Two balls later, Mitch Marsh was dismissed in identical fashion and it was now Australia’s turn to be in disarray.

Where McCullum was able to wrest back control of the game in bringing on Vettori, Australia were unable to stop the slide. 51-1 had become 97-6 and Boult’s tail was up – Clarke slapped him straight to cover in his next over – a wicket-maiden – before Mitchell Johnson did likewise in the over after that. Both were the kind of shot batsmen only play when their minds are muddled, when the game is so fraught that it does not allow for clarity of shot selection or execution.

Boult picked up his fifth when Mitchell Starc was bowled and the final analysis of his second spell was a staggering 5-3-3-5.

He and Vettori had changed the course of the game and Australia, rattled and reeling inside a now raucous Eden Park, were bundled out for 151 having scored 100-9 in the 25.2 overs since Vettori’s introduction.

This would surely be an easy chase for New Zealand, wouldn’t it? This was still Eden Park, with those short straight boundaries. Guptill and McCullum had chased down a similar target against England inside 13 overs just eight days previously; Australia’s chances looked slim.

They looked even slimmer still as soon as the run chase began. A no-ball from Johnson was glanced for four by Guptill and the ensuing free hit was disdainfully mauled over cover for six. Australia were defending 151 and had conceded 11 runs from one ball. Johnson would rein it back for that over at least, bowling five successive dots, but the carnage was set to continue, nonetheless.

McCullum charged his first ball from Starc – a harbinger of what was to come later in the tournament – nailing it for six over long-off. The Black Caps skipper followed that up in Johnson’s next over with a six and a four before misjudging a bouncer and being struck on the arm as he tried to duck. McCullum was deemed fit to carry on, but the whole episode added to the gladiatorial, frenetic nature of the contest.

Johnson had dealt a blow to McCullum but, in a game where only 303 runs were scored across both innings, his eventual figures of 6-1-68-0 are almost fascinatingly bad, not least because he managed to somehow sneak a maiden in there despite conceding more than 11 runs per over.

Those numbers illustrate the ruthless efficiency of Guptill and McCullum’s attacking against Johnson. Guptill’s free hit six was the only ball of Johnson’s he attacked, while McCullum attacked 11 balls, scoring 34 runs including five fours and two sixes.

With Johnson unable to get any semblance of control over the run chase, it was left to Starc to step up and try and drag Australia back into the contest. The left-arm quick picked up Guptill’s wicket at the end of the fourth over and delivered a body blow to the Kiwis when both Ross Taylor and Grant Elliott were bowled in successive balls after Pat Cummins had dismissed McCullum in the meantime.

Taylor was bowled by a searing 145kph in-swinging yorker before Elliott suffered the same fate, though on that occasion, Starc cranked it up further to 149kph and found even more swing. It was as close to perfection as you’re likely to see; a fast bowler delivering two balls on an almost identical spot at a crucial stage of a tight run chase.

Suddenly New Zealand were 79-4 and it was Starc’s turn to have the wind in his sails. The second of the tournament’s leading bowlers taking centre stage as a previously buoyant Eden Park was plunged into uncertainty.

A period of relative calm followed as Anderson rebuilt the innings with Williamson but, when the former was dismissed by Maxwell with the score on 131, it reopened the door for Starc to have one final push for victory.

Luke Ronchi gloved one behind in the second over of Starc’s new spell. Williamson remained as the sole recognised batsman, and after Cummins saw off Vettori in the next over, it became clear that this was going to the wire. New Zealand were 145-7, seven to win, three wickets in hand, Starc at the top of his run up.

Williamson took a single from the second ball of the over, giving Adam Milne four balls to survive. He would not even make it through one of those deliveries as Starc speared in another yorker that made a mess of his stumps. Southee was next and he was no match for the Starc yorker either; stumps flying again, and Australia were on the brink of a famous victory.

Boult came to the crease as the number 11.

Two balls to survive.

The two protagonists of this most brilliant, blistering and downright bonkers game facing off against each other with the match on the line.

Boult was able to defend his first ball, Starc’s length comfortable enough for him to deal with

One ball to survive.

Starc went for his yorker again but for once his line was off and Boult could let it go through to the wicket-keeper. He had survived; six to win.

In amongst the madness, Williamson was a sea of calm at the other end. Allowing Milne to take strike in the previous over was about to become the costliest of errors, but you wouldn’t have known it from the way he nonchalantly backed away and struck the first ball of Cummins’ over for six over long on, one of only two sixes he would hit in the entire tournament.

For all the talk of this being a batting paradise, it was the performances of two bowlers that defined this match and turned it into a classic. Though, perhaps the discussions about the dimensions of the ground weren’t as ill-founded as it appears at first glance. Either side of the Boult/Starc heroics, this was a game that began with a six over third man and ended with a six over long-on.

Those straight boundaries; so easy to clear after all.

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.

@patnoonecricket

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