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Strategy Analysis: England v Bangladesh

CricViz analyst Patrick Noone outlines how England should target Bangladesh’s key players. 

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Tigers find their bite in Colombo

You may be familiar with the CLR James epigram which features in the preface of Beyond A Boundary: “What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?”

I often find a total break from the game – in my case a week covering horse racing’s Cheltenham Festival – gives me renewed energy to enjoy cricket, and a hunger to delve into the unique CricViz stats that underpin a particular match.

In this case, I am drawn inexorably to Bangladesh’s maiden Test victory over Sri Lanka. Put in the shade as it invariably will be by the titanic continuing struggle between India and Australia (1-1 heading to a Dharamsala decider, by the way) I certainly feel it deserves some extra attention.

First of all, there is the sheer landmark nature of this result. In their 100th Test, this was only Bangladesh’s ninth win and their first away from home against a team other than Zimbabwe or West Indies. It also comes five months after their Dhaka win against England which followed a winless year in 2015.

Then there was the less than ideal background to the win: a heavy defeat in the first Test, serious pressure and rumours of an impending axing for the captain Mushfiqur Rahim, an injury to the wicketkeeper Liton Das and three other players dropped after the Galle setback.

WinViz suggests it was the Shakib innings that turned Bangladesh from underdogs to favourites

And finally there was the troubling scorecard late on day two in Colombo: Bangladesh up against it at 198-5 on day two, some 140 runs behind. WinViz had a Sri Lanka win at 62% with Bangladesh at 27%: not a hopeless position for the tourists but an unencouraging one.

It was at this stage that Shakib Al Hasan crafted one of the most important centuries of his career. A naturally exuberant player (his strike rate exceeds that of all top current batsmen other than David Warner) he elected to curb his instincts to some degree but still scored at a healthy rate.

He watched the ball onto the bat well: only playing and missing five times from 159 balls faced while producing only two outside edges. When attacking, he timed the ball well – indeed our analysis shows he mistimed just two shots, the second of which finally brought his dismissal on 116, an innings which turned a probable Bangladesh deficit on first innings into a very valuable lead of 129.

WinViz suggests it was the Shakib innings, alongside valuable contributions from Mushfiqur and Mossadek Hossain, which turned Bangladesh from underdogs to favourites. But sometimes the hardest thing in a Test match is to reinforce a dominant position, or to get the job done when you hold all the aces – particularly if you’re a team without much experience of winning.

The next part of the job was carried out by Bangladesh’s bowlers, led by the hugely exciting fast bowler Mustafizur Rahman, backed up admirably by Shakib’s resourceful slow left-arm stuff.

There have been plenty of false dawns for Bangladesh fans in the past, but the rare successes are worth cheering

 

The key period came just after lunch on day four when these two bowlers operated in tandem and the draw had moved in excess of 50% probability on WinViz. Sri Lanka were 137-1, nudging into an overall lead – but suddenly Bangladesh found their bite.

The first breach came when Mustafizur had Kusal Mendis caught behind with a delightful delivery. It was the last ball of the over, and at 79.8mph it was the fastest too. Pitching on a fairly full, almost half-volley length – 5.9m from the stumps – it induced the drive.

All six balls in the over offered to swing away from the right-hander. But unlike two previous balls, which had carried on with the angle after hitting the wicket, this one straightened just enough (moving 0.9° degrees away from Mendis) to take the outside edge. Mushfiqur, the stand-in keeper as well as captain, gleefully accepted the chance.

Five overs went without a wicket before Mustafizur struck again. Continuing with a full length, he had Dinesh Chandimal fishing well wide of off-stump and nicking off. This was not per se a brilliant delivery, but an intelligent one, the sort with which Ian Botham used to take countless wickets. A tempting outswinger sometimes looks like it’s there to be hit. But Chandimal had not been at the crease long enough to play a relatively risky cover-drive and paid the price.

It was Shakib’s turn to get involved next: Asela Gunaratne lbw padding up for just seven. A misjudgement for sure, but again the bowler’s skills played their part: this ball drifted a fair bit, 2.5° into the right-hander who felt that on his initial observation he could afford to let this one bounce and turn away from him. The thing is the extra drift meant the ball was arrowing into the stumps and relatively modest turn away (2.6°, around half of the previous ball’s turn) meant it was straight enough to be hitting.

PlayViz recorded a -38 fielding score for the hosts

Shakib’s next wicket soon followed, a dismissal that reduced Sri Lanka to 190-5 (effectively 61-5). Bowling with a lovely rhythm, Shakib was getting some deliveries to turn really quite sharply, others to skid on without any turn at all. At times like these, batsmen often believe their best bet is to premeditate, and invariably out comes the sweep shot.

Niroshan Dickwella played one such sweep to a ball that turned a lot (6.6° in fact, putting it in the top dozen of Shakib turners for the innings). Also, the length was short of ideal length for sweeping, so the ball had time to turn and bounce before Dickwella’s bat made contact with the ball. Mushfiqur, who had a fine game behind the stumps, anticipated everything smartly to move across to complete the catch.

Sri Lanka fought on. The ninth wicket put on 80 to leave Bangladesh some kind of challenge, namely a target of 191. However the Tigers would not be denied and man-of-the-match Tamim Iqbal hit 82 (Shakib arguably had stronger claims to that individual gong). A memorable victory was achieved with four wickets in hand.

A final footnote: Sri Lanka have been poor in the field for much of the past six months and PlayViz recorded a -38 score for the hosts against a +52 aggregate for Bangladesh. The differential in batting was even more stark at +141 for the winning side (who had the clear disadvantage of batting second) against Sri Lanka’s -21. These indicators are very welcome for Bangladesh going forward while Sri Lanka’s side, still in transition following the retirements of so many key players of late, could find more roadblocks in their path.

India, NZ bask in cricket’s capacity to surprise

One of the most enticing qualities that sport possesses is unpredictability. Over time, enough spectacularly improbably outcomes are achievable to keep us in thrall to the nuances of whichever sport(s) we are most drawn to.

Cricket does not necessarily reign supreme against other disciplines in this aspect. There have been enough predictably one-sided outcomes in the past few months alone to keep us grounded. South Africa’s home Test series against Sri Lanka was almost depressingly one-sided, for instance. But the duller days allow uss= to appreciate the more exciting stuff even more.

It is fair to say the past 24 hours have provided a triple whammy of extraordinary events. And the mere fact that the least remarkable of them was Pakistan’s one-day international win at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (their first victory of any kind against Australia in Australia for 12 years) tells it all.

Pakistan, who had been competitive for much of the first ODI, strolled to victory over a disjointed Australia side. It was the discipline of both the spinners and then the top-order batsmen that set up a six-wicket win with 14 balls remaining. According to the official team rankings, this was a case of the eighth best team in the world trumping the no. 1 side. But you may remember Australia were whitewashed by South Africa just three months ago.

The indications are that the ICC Champions Trophy in June – for which hosts England are joint favourites alongside Australia (the two of them narrowly ahead of South Africa in the betting) – will be wide open and with the scope for plenty of surprise.

The two even bigger shocks of Sunday into Monday were India’s recovery from 63-4 to overhaul England’s 350 in the ODI series opener in Pune and New Zealand’s Test win over Bangladesh, who scored 595-8 declared in the first innings.

Let’s begin with India, if only because the match was completed around 12 hours before New Zealand’s dramatic success. It was interesting to note – and indeed this was an aspect that received plenty of traction on Twitter – that India were rated 55% on WinViz at the halfway stage. In other words, we had them narrow but clear favourites. Some pessimistic Indian fans and some optimistic England supporters would have certainly queried with this assessment, and the betting exhanges, in which the odds are set up by bettors rather than bookmakers, also had England favourites.

But look at what lay ahead: a very small batting ground and a flat wicket (even David Willey managed to flick a one-handed six), the presence of the two best chasers the game has in MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli, and perhaps most crucially a notably weak England bowling line-up.

The fast bowlers, with Mark Wood and Reece Topley both injured and unavailable, has a lack of spite and variety to it. Willey and Chris Woakes in particular – and to some extent Ben Stokes too – always seem to struggle to either contain or attack once the game reaches the middle overs. This is something I have blogged on before – but by far the biggest concern was the form of Adil Rashid.

Wellington Test: General view

New Zealand and Bangladesh exchange handshakes after a remarkable Wellington Test was won by the hosts

The Yorkshire leg-spinner began the match rated the fifth best bowler in the world in ODIs, believe it or not. And when the confidence is flowing, he is a force to be reckoned with as he possesses a good googly that he is not afraid to use and usually gets plenty of turn if there is any offer. On Sunday the confidence was not flowing. Rashid sent down five wicketless overs costing 50 runs. The poor fellow’s lengths were all over the place – less than half landing on a good length according to our stats – with a brutal 41 runs being hit off the 16 deliveries that were too full or too short.

Contrast Rashid with Ravindra Jadeja, who landed 88% of his balls on a good length and collected figures of 10-0-50-1, making him the most economical bowler in the match.

But of course the game was not won and lost simply because Jadeja showed so much more control than Rashid. Massive credit has to go the way of two Indian batsmen, and in particular Kedar Jadhav. When Virat Kohli scores 122 off 105 balls in a successful chase and still isn’t man of the match you know there has been one heck of a performance from someone else.

Jadhav provided it with 120 from just 76 balls, and remember he came in when Dhoni had departed. India were down below 13% on WinViz but Jadhav took pressure off Kohli by attacking immediately, with the senior batsman cleverly realising mere singles from him in the middle overs would keep the required rate in check.

The stats on the Jadhav innings are pretty special. He looked to score runs off all but seven balls he received, and on only nine occasions when he attacked did he fail to score at least a single. His driving was clinical and brutal – 28 runs from nine such shots – and he was by far the most effective puller on the day with 26 runs from 13 shots.

And so on to New Zealand’s Test win in Hamilton. This was clouded with misfortune for Bangladesh, who had captain Mushfiqur Rahim injured twice in the match: batting with a suspected broken hand in the second innings he was then struck a blow on the helmet and forced to retire hurt. Nor was he the only top batsman to get injured. Opener Imrul Kayes was also in the wars, re-emerging at the fall of the seventh wicket on the final day in some desperation having hobbled off late on day four.

Before Kayes’s injury, Bangladesh led by 102 with all 10 second-innings wickets in hand and New Zealand were down to 3.7% on WinViz with the draw a massive favourite. But has as been noted recently the draw is an exeptionally rare commodity in Test cricket right now (there has been just one in the last 27 Tests) and when pressure came to bear on Bangladesh they couldn’t deal with it.

Eight balls into the final day, Shakib Al Hasan played a ridiculous chip to mid-on and New Zealand’s vultures scented blood. Bangladesh now led by just 122 with four batsmen dismissed and two more under a massive injury cloud. After Neil Wagner had ousted Mominul Haque, and the unfortunate Mushfiqur was forced out of the fray, Trent Boult quickly took three of the last four wickets needed. That left the hosts needing 217 to win in 57 overs, and they cruised it.

New Zealand’s seam bowlers have fixed roles. Wagner concentrates more than any other international bowler on short stuff. In Bangladesh’s second innings, he bowled 58 deliveries on a short length and 16 back of a length. Just 11 balls were full length with six half-volleys thrown in. The really full ball becomes the surprise weapon, and it was one of those that did for Mominul.

Tim Southee is perhaps the best equipped to profit from any natural movement available while Trent Boult opts for subtle changes of angle, pace and length. Boult removed the dogged Sabbir Rahman with a very wide delivery that perhaps begged to be smashed but was neither the length to drive or cut. And he took out the tail-enders Taskin Ahmed and Subashis Roy with some lovely yorker bowling. He attempted 10 yorkers, a high number by modern standards, and one or two were not quite in the slot, but it mattered not.

We quickly move on, for that is the way with the modern international calendar. England have two more ODIs in India before three T20 internationals, Bangladesh have one more Test in New Zealand and Pakistan three more ODIs in Australia. Follow all the action in our free-to-download app. If the experience of the last few days is anything to go by there could be some absorbing cricket to soak up.

MATCH ANALYSIS: BANGLADESH V ENGLAND, SECOND TEST

England escaped defeat in Chittagong thanks largely to a superb all-round performance from Ben Stokes and Bangladesh’s first innings batting collapse; they were not so lucky in Dhaka where their shortcomings playing and bowling spin were exposed again and they crashed to a heavy defeat. There is no shame in losing to this Bangladesh team but there is shame at the manner of the result, in which their batting, bowling and fielding were alarmingly substandard.

It is difficult to ascertain which area of their spin-game, playing it or bowling it is a greater problem and quite frankly it is facile to apportion blame to one or the other; both were poor and both must be improved dramatically if they are to avoid a thrashing at the hands of India.

As bad as England’s batting was though, chasing 273 in the fourth innings was always going to be a very difficult task on a turning pitch against an excellent spin attack, and the size of that run-chase can be traced back to bowling and fielding errors throughout the Test.

After the match Alastair Cook was forthright in admitting that “we didn’t bowl great. And yes, their spinners did out-bowl our spinners. We’re not hiding behind the fact that we haven’t got world-class spinners.”

If the spinners England do have cannot exploit helpful conditions at their disposal then they are always going to struggle to win matches on the subcontinent because they will more often than not be chasing too many runs.

In the first Test England’s spin problem was primarily their inaccuracy and in the second Test the same can be largely said again. England’s inability to land the ball in roughly the same area consistently contributed to Bangladesh’s spinners bowling 15 maidens in the match compared to England’s eight and 50 in the series to England’s 21.

This failure to build pressure prevents spinners finding a rhythm against batsman and lining them up. Balls that turn fractionally more or less than preceding deliveries are far more dangerous if they are bowled at the same batsman rather than a different batsman because the same batsman is more likely to be influenced by the ball before and play down the wrong line.

Cook said that he would be interested to see the stats comparing England’s spin lengths to Bangladesh’s, suggesting that their bowlers maintained a better length. In fact both sets of spinners bowled very similar lengths overall [see below] with Bangladesh over-pitching slightly less, but both teams landing about 60% of deliveries in a two metre range between 3 and 5 metres – categorised as a ‘good’ length for spin bowlers.

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England’s lengths, were almost identical to the first Test [see below] while Bangladesh’s actually got slightly worse. The home team were able to maintain more control because they bowled far tighter lines [see above]. Bangladesh’s pitching line groupings are tighter and straighter than England’s which forces the batsman to play and increases the chances of getting a wicket bowled or lbw.

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Moeen was the most accurate of England’s three spinners [see below] and improved the percentage of deliveries bowled in the 3-5 metre range from Chittagong from 58% to 61% by cutting down on over-pitched and short deliveries. He also improved his line considerably – recording a far higher percentage of deliveries that would have gone onto hit the stumps. Rashid’s lengths actually got worse from Chittagong, most notably pitching 13% of his deliveries six metres or shorter. Ansari, meanwhile, recorded better lengths than Gareth Batty did but struggled to maintain his line.

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Speaking after the match Cook explained the problem inaccurate bowling poses for setting fields. “You always feel you are a fielder short,” he said. “If you are leaking four, five runs an over in a low scoring game you have to put your boundary-riders out. It would be great if you could attack but you have got to hold your line and length better.”

England struggled to play spin just as much as they struggled to bowl it. Their dramatic collapse from 100 for 0 to 164 all out in a single session was the vertex of a problem that had been made all too apparent in the three preceding innings in the series in which they were 106 for 5, 62 for 5 and 114 for 6.

As has already been mentioned, batting in these conditions is not easy and Bangladesh have a very good spin attack, however to lose ten wickets in a single session is indicative of a more deep-rooted problem.

In terms of personnel, five of England’s top seven: Cook, Joe Root, Moeen Ali, Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow, are proven performers at this level and are guaranteed selection, while Ben Duckett’s second innings fifty showed enormous promise. Only Gary Ballance, who could well be dropped for the first Test in India, can be said to be out of his depth. In this sense England’s problem is not who, it is how – it is technique and strategy.

What has characterised the success of Bangladesh’s spinners, like that of Ravi Ashwin, Ravi Jadeja and Rangana Herath too in recent years, has been the lack of ‘mystery’ in their bowling. Rather than doosras and carom balls posing the threat instead it has been orthodox spin bowling. Alongside their accuracy these bowlers’ chief weapon is very slight differences in deviation and the key variation is the one that goes straight on. What makes this particular variation so deadly is that more often than not it is a natural variation, meaning it cannot be consistently read from the hand.

Eight of the fourteen dismissals of England’s top seven batsmen were to deliveries that deviated less than the average for any of the frontline spin bowlers [see below]. Playing against natural variations such as these is understandably difficult because there are no visual cues on which to predicate decision making other than the trajectory of spin after pitching, by which point the reaction time is negligible unless the batsman has gone back deep in his crease and therefore has some time to adjust, or, the spin can be nullified if the batsman is well forward and has smothered the turn. This reemphasises the importance of clearly committing either forward or back.

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Given the average height and stride length of a batsman, deciding whether to commit well forward or well back is particularly difficult to balls pitched between 3 and 5 metres from the batsman’s stumps, within which 60% of all Bangladesh’s spinners deliveries landed, and also, as the match progresses and bounce becomes less predictable, balls pitched between 5 and 6 metres from the stumps, within which a further 21% of the spinners’ deliveries landed.

All the deliveries to dismiss England’s top seven batsmen excluding Ballance’s second innings leading edge pitched within this three metre range. This illustrates how difficult it must have been for England to commit either forward or back to those balls that they got out to because they were landing within a length range in which making the appropriate footwork is extremely difficult and even then once having committed either back or forward they then have to play the ball successfully. The less committed they are to going forward or back the less spin they will have smothered or the less time they will have to adjust.

The foundational aspect to succeeding against spin bowling therefore is reading the length well, something that England are going to have to work on ahead of the India series where the opposition is even stiffer.

MEHEDI MAGIC: HOW TIGERS’ TALENTED NEW SPINNER UNPICKED ENGLAND

You would not have required an expert knowledge of cricket to make the visual observation that the wicket prepared for Bangladesh’s historic Test win over England was a raging “bunsen”. The pseudo-Cockney slang term (bunsen burner = “turner”) indicates a wicket particularly conducive to spin, and traditionally alien to cricketers brought up in English conditions.

What was less usual about this particular surface was that it turned from the word go and did not deteriorate as such. CricViz ball-tracking data shows England debutant Zafar Ansari was getting deliveries to turn a whopping 11 degrees on day one. The most successful bowler in the match by some distance – Mehedi Hasan, who brilliantly captured 12 wickets – was peaking at between nine and 10 degrees deep into the final session.

The BatViz slider on the CricViz app provides further evidence to support this theory. Rather than showing a gradual move towards maximum difficulty, it reveals fluctuations throughout the course of the match.

And that’s really what made the Test match quite as fascinating as it was: three big partnerships, one of 170, one of 100 and one of 99 (by England’s ninth-wicket pair, no less) and yet modest totals of 220, 244, 296 and 164. If ever there was a track where batsmen had to get themselves in before finding any confidence then this was it.

What was surprising was that only one spinner in the match consistently caused problems, and that was Mehedi – the man who turned 19 in the short window between the Tests. A fairly conventional off-spinner in style, he would have been delighted to find himself up against four left-handers in the England top six – and by bowling round the wicket to them he worried the outside edge of their bats with the one that turned a lot, and the stumps with the one that didn’t turn so much.

Mehedi removes Woakes

Mehedi removing Woakes on day two and ending a 99-run stand for England’s ninth wicket

His first wicket in the match was the key one of Alastair Cook, and it came early. The six balls in Mehedi’s first over had turned between 3.7 degrees and 6.9 degrees. The six in his second varied even more widely, turning between 2.7 and 7.3 degrees. Cook had faced 10 of those 12 deliveries and was on strike again when Mehedi bowled the first ball of his third.

This one turned the least of all of Mehedi’s deliveries up to then, just 1.7 degrees. You may have heard commentators at the time mentioning the ball “skidding on”. Well that’s partly becuse the ball didn’t bounce particularly high either – 55cm from a pitching position five metres from the stumps. A considerably fuller ball in his previous over had bounced higher. With variable bounce and variable degree of spin to account for, there was much in favour of high-quality spin even against the most watchful batting and Cook was a gonner – lbw after a successful review by the Bangladesh team.

Even good right-handed batsmen were prey to Mehedi’s variations. Jonny Bairstow, statistically England’s best batsman in 2016, had survived for almost an hour when also falling lbw to the young man from Khulna. This one was pitched 58cm shorter than the ball he had trapped Cook lbw with but bounced even less and Bairstow, playing off the back foot to give himself time to assess the degree of spin, was unable to adjust to the low bounce.

The most important wicket of all for Mehedi was Cook in the second innings. England were by now in deep trouble at 127-4 needing 273, but with their captain still there on 59, an in-form partner in the shape of Ben Stokes and a capable tail to come the beast had not yet been slain.

“I always wanted to do well whenever I got the opportunity. I didn’t really think it would be this series. It could have been any time in the next year or two. I wanted to come into the national team with a strong mentality so that I could perform well” – Mehedi

This delivery was again at the perfect in-between length. On another pitch Cook might well have played back to it, but perhaps wary of the manner in which he had fallen in the first innings, he came forward and looked to push runs into the off-side. But this was a slower one from Mehedi and it turned a fair bit, not too much as Cook would have missed it and the delivery would have been wasted but at 6.2 degrees of spin it was just right, slightly more than the average spin achieved by Mehedi through the match, and enough to locate a thick outside edge – and for the man at silly point to complete a fine catch.

Mehedi’s consistency of length was so important. He bowled 78% of his deliveries in the match on a good length, so was constantly provoking doubts in English batsmen. As for England’s spinners, they fell well short of this, particularly in the first innings where they collectively sent down just 40% of deliveries on a good length (Moeen Ali the best of a very poor bunch with a 50% ratio). And that really says it all: when you’re a slow bowler there is no substitute for being able to exert control over your opponents – just think back to the halcyon days of Muttiah Muralitharan and Shane Warne. Mehedi had it; England’s spinners did not.

There is a footnote to this blog and it concerns the value of picking a talented young player unexposed to the rigours of hard-toil professional cricket across multiple formats. Mehedi is the first teenager ever to take 19 wickets in his first two Tests.

England are famously reluctant to pick teenagers for Test cricket. One of the most remarkable stats I found during the Dhaka Test was that in all, only five teenagers have ever represented England in Test cricket. Bangladesh, who began playing Tests more than a century after England, have had 26.

And another thing: when given their head, talented youngsters have tended to do well in the bowling department. Three bowlers took 50 Test wickets as teenagers, and you may well have heard of them: Waqar Younis, Daniel Vettori and Mohammad Amir.

Bangladesh have produced four of the most productive teenage batsmen ever, including England’s nemesis Tamim Iqbal, in a list headed overall by a certain Sachin Tendulkar, who amassed 1,522 runs before turning 20.

Match Analysis: Bangladesh v England, First Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WORLD T20 2016, SUPER 10 PHASE ANALYSIS

A summary of venue and innings-phase statistics from the Super 10 stage of the ICC World Twenty20 2016

The following data is comprised of the 38 innings that were played over 20 scheduled overs in the Super 10 stage of the ICC World Twenty20 2016. Therefore the rain-reduced match between India and Pakistan is not included.

Phase Breakdowns:

  • Powerplay: 1-6
  • Middle Overs: 7-16
  • Death Overs: 17-20

Venue Analysis

VenueAverage RunsAverage WicketsAverage Boundary PercentageAverage Dot Ball Percentage
Bangalore142.166.6614.52%36.69%
Delhi140.506.6613.75%38.79%
Dharamsala1388.5012.50%37.08%
Kolkata1456.6616.00%37.95%
Mohali170.665.3317.09%30.52%
Mumbai200.836.1622.07%28.93%
Nagpur1157.838.64%43.58%

Mumbai clearly emerged as the best venue for batsmen with the highest average runs, highest average boundary percentage and lowest average dot ball percentage of all seven venues. Mohali also proved to be a good batting venue coming second to Mumbai in runs, boundary percentage and dot ball percentage and recording fewer average wickets than any other ground.  Nagpur was the toughest batting venue recording the lowest average score, second highest average wickets, lowest boundary percentage and highest dot ball percentage. Dharamsala only hosted one Super 10 match, while Bangalore, Delhi and Kolkata proved similar venues across all metrics and make up the middle of the table.


Powerplay Analysis: Batting

TeamAverage Runs ScoredAverage Wickets LostAverage Boundary PercentageAverage Dot Ball Percentage
Afghanistan40.252.0014.58%54.86%
Australia53.001.0018.41%47.89%
Bangladesh38.251.7511.80%43.05%
England54.502.2522.91%38.88%
India36.002.3312.03%45.37%
New Zealand46.250.7520.13%50.00%
Pakistan54.001.3325.92%45.37%
South Africa55.501.2527.77%46.52%
Sri Lanka40.752.2515.27%46.52%
West Indies42.661.3319.44%50.00%
Match Winners47.151.3620.61%45.17%
Match Losers44.891.8917.54%47.26%

The most striking set of data from this phase belongs to India who are one of the four Semi-Finalists despite recording the lowest average score, the highest average wickets lost and the second lowest average boundary percentage. Interestingly another Semi-Finalist, West Indies also struggled in the phase, recording the fifth lowest average score and third highest average dot ball percentage. South Africa and Semi-Finalists England both boasted high average runs scored and average boundary percentages largely due to their record-breaking aggregate Powerplay total in their match in Mumbai of 172. England did however record the second highest average wickets lost. Another intriguing set of data belongs to Pakistan, who despite becoming the first ICC Full Member to be unable to qualify for the Semi-Finals recorded the second highest average score, fourth lowest average wickets lost, second highest average boundary percentage and fifth lowest dot ball percentage. Fourth Semi-Finalists New Zealand have batted in all four of their matches and have been chasing modest totals in three of them which accounts for their mid-table average runs scored and high dot ball percentage. Notably they did record the lowest average wickets lost and a healthy boundary percentage. Australia had success in the phase with the fourth highest average score having scored more than 50 in each of their four Powerplays and second lowest average wickets lost.


Powerplay Analysis: Bowling

TeamAverage Runs ConcededAverage Wickets TakenAverage Boundary PercentageAverage Dot Ball Percentage
Afghanistan45.752.0022.91%51.38%
Australia42.251.5016.66%45.14%
Bangladesh46.750.7520.13%42.36%
England50.002.0023.61%49.30%
India45.661.3318.51%48.14%
New Zealand43.752.0017.36%43.05%
Pakistan50.661.3319.44%43.51%
South Africa59.252.2523.61%43.75%
Sri Lanka36.751.0014.58%44.44%
West Indies40.502.0013.88%51.38%
Match Losers47.151.3620.61%45.17%
Match Winners44.891.8917.5447.36%

West Indies emerge as the success-story of this phase, conceding the second lowest average runs, taking the joint highest average wickets, the lowest boundary percentage and the joint highest dot ball percentage. Their bowling statistics are boosted by virtue of being the only team to play two matches in Nagpur – the best bowling venue. Sri Lanka also recorded impressive data in this phase conceding the fewest average runs despite taking the second fewest average wickets. They were the only team who didn’t concede more than 40 in the phase.  Semi-Finalists New Zealand recorded impressive figures: the fourth fewest average runs conceded, joint second highest average wickets taken and the fourth lowest boundary percentage and they did so despite playing at four different venues including the relatively high-scoring Mohali. Australia recorded the third lowest average runs concede. Semi-Finalists England and India recorded high average dot ball percentages, the former’s average runs conceded is dented largely by conceding 83-0 against South Africa, India meanwhile, struggled to take wickets finishing with the joint third fewest average wickets taken alongside PakistanSouth Africa, who played twice at Mumbai where attacking cricket is encouraged by conditions, conceded the highest average runs but took the most average wickets.


Middle Overs Analysis: Batting

TeamAverage Runs ScoredAverage Wickets LostAverage Boundary PercentageAverage Dot Ball Percentage
Afghanistan66.753.2510.00%36.25%
Australia72.003.2510.93%36.67%
Bangladesh60.754.2512.16%43.76%
England77.252.2511.25%27.08%
India62.003.007.22%35.00%
New Zealand63.003.508.75%36.66%
Pakistan86.332.0016.11%25.55%
South Africa71.502.509.58%27.50%
Sri Lanka69.503.0011.25%35.83%
West Indies78.662.3315.00%38.33%
Match Winners74.102.6312.10%31.66%
Match Losers65.843.319.93%35.88%

Fascinatingly it is Pakistan who boast the most impressive middle over batting statistics ranking first in all four metrics. Of course, this data does exclude their match against India in which they scored 118-5 in 18 overs on a difficult pitch, and they did play two matches in the second highest scoring venue Mohali, but even considering these factors their numbers are still impressive enough to suggest the existence of a trend. Semi-Finalists England and West Indies both registered high average runs scored and low average wickets lost, England also had an impressive dot ball percentage. This is the phase where the Bangladesh batting came unstuck. They recorded the lowest average runs scored, highest average wickets lost and highest dot ball percentage. Interestingly unbeaten Semi-Finalists New Zealand also registered some poor figures in this phase: the third lowest average runs scored, second highest average wickets lost, second lowest average boundary percentage and fourth highest dot ball percentage. They were, of course, chasing relatively low totals in three of those four innings. India recorded a high average wickets lost having lost three and four wickets against New Zealand and Bangladesh respectively. India’s boundary percentage is dragged down by hitting none in the phase against New Zealand. Afghanistan and Australia both lost a relatively high number of wickets in this phase.


Middle Overs Analysis: Bowling

TeamAverage Runs ConcededAverage Wickets TakenAverage Boundary PercentageAverage Dot Ball Percentage
Afghanistan64.502.759.58%35.41%
Australia73.752.7512.08%31.25%
Bangladesh81.003.0015.00%29.16%
England90.503.0015.41%28.33%
India65.003.338.33%37.22%
New Zealand47.754.505.91%42.51%
Pakistan74.332.6614.44%33.88%
South Africa73.753.0011.25%27.08%
Sri Lanka68.252.0011.25%36.66%
West Indies60.752.757.08%37.08%
Match Winners65.843.319.93%35.88%
Match Losers74.102.6312.10%31.66%

It is in this phase that New Zealand clearly set themselves apart from the other nine teams in the competition. They are not only ranked first in all four metrics but are so by large margins, particularly in terms of average runs conceded and average wickets taken. Astoundingly in the four combined six over periods between overs seven and thirteen New Zealand conceded only two boundaries and took 12 wickets for just 89 runs. That is a boundary percentage of 1.38% across 24 overs. India were also impressive in this phase, recording the second highest average wickets taken, third lowest average boundary percentage and second highest dot ball percentage. Although they did not take a high number of wickets West Indies conceded very few runs in this phase and had low boundary and high dot ball percentages. Interestingly the fourth Semi-Finalist England conceded more runs on average in this phase than any other team. They did at least take the joint fourth average number of wickets in the phase. Sri Lanka had the lowest average wickets taken while Pakistan were second from bottom in terms of wickets and also had a high boundary percentage.


Death Overs Analysis: Batting

TeamAverage Runs ScoredAverage Wickets LostAverage Boundary PercentageAverage Dot Ball Percentage
Afghanistan36.753.0021.87%35.41%
Australia36.002.0519.85%27.65%
Bangladesh36.002.2521.66%27.70%
England49.501.7532.00%21.49%
India30.661.6626.47%38.06%
Match Losers34.502.6618.28%30.53%
Match Winners38.521.5725.15%24.67%
New Zealand39.002.7515.62%20.83%
Pakistan36.662.6615.27%16.66%
South Africa33.002.0011.17%25.04%
Sri Lanka29.252.5018.49%35.34%
West Indies23.501.5012.63%36.49%

Semi-Finalists England dominated this phase scoring the highest average runs and highest average boundary percentage and doing so by considerable margins. They also registered the fourth lowest average wickets lost and third lowest dot ball percentage. Despite completing their run-chases in this phase with relative ease in all four of their innings New Zealand recorded impressive results in all four metrics, particularly average dot ball percentage where they ranked second and did so despite not once facing the full four overs. They did have a high average wickets lost but of all four metrics in this phase wickets lost can be said to be the least important. Although the other Semi-Finalists India and West Indies recorded poor figures in this phase their data is to an extent excusable because India’s numbers are dragged down by being bowled out by New Zealand in the phase after scoring just 13 while West Indies didn’t once face a full four overs having completed their run-chases on three occasions and being bowled out on the other. Having recorded strong numbers for the other two batting phases it is here that Pakistan drop off. They set a mid-table average runs scored and had the lowest dot ball percentage but had the second highest average wickets lost and crucially the third lowest boundary percentage. Sri Lanka struggled in this phase with the second lowest average runs scored, the second highest average wickets lost and the fourth highest dot ball percentage.


Death Overs Analysis: Bowling

TeamAverage Runs ConcededAverage Wickets TakenAverage Boundary Percentage Average Dot Ball Percentage
Afghanistan 45.501.2528.61%20.46%
Australia41.752.0027.46%15.40%
Bangladesh34.503.0021.66%29.79%
England34.501.2518.75%34.45%
India33.002.6616.66%25.00%
New Zealand25.002.6618.28%30.53%
Pakistan48.001.0025.00%18.05%
South Africa 28.253.5019.04%42.43%
Sri Lanka38.251.0029.22%19.73%
West Indies36.002.7518.75%31.25%
Match Winners34.502.6618.28%30.53%
Match Losers38.521.5725.15%24.67%

After their sensational middle-over phase it is unsurprising that New Zealand dominated the following death over phase recording the lowest average runs conceded, joint third highest average wickets taken and second lowest average boundary percentage – and they did this despite bowling first in their four matches. India also fared well in this phase, registering the third lowest average runs conceded, joint third average wickets taken and the lowest average boundary percentage. Semi-Finalists England were relatively frugal, notably bowling a large number of dot balls. So too were West Indies who recorded the third lowest average runs conceded and third highest dot ball percentage. They were also potent too collecting the third highest average wickets taken. Pakistan, having struggled in the corresponding phase with the bat, did so also with the ball, recording the highest average runs conceded, joint lowest average wickets taken  and second lowest dot ball percentage. Sri Lanka struggled to collect wickets and had high boundary and low dot ball percentages. Afghanistan had a high average runs conceded.


Innings Analysis: Batting

TeamAverage Runs ScoredAverage Wickets LostAverage Boundary PercentageAverage Dot Ball Percentage
Afghanistan143.758.2513.75%41.66%
Australia161.006.5016.81%32.03%
Bangladesh142.166.6614.52%36.69%
England181.256.2518.85%29.43%
India128.667.0011.68%36.88%
New Zealand148.257.0013.54%37.50%
Pakistan177.006.0018.88%29.72%
South Africa146.007.5011.75%36.96%
Sri Lanka139.507.7513.40%38.60%
West Indies137.505.5013.76%41.31%
Match Winners159.785.5716.88%31.13%
Match Losers143.427.7313.70%38.13%

Having performances well across all three phases England top the batting rankings in terms of average runs scored and average dot ball percentage. Strong showings in the Powerplay and middle over phase from Pakistan as well as two matches in Mohali see them end up with the second highest average runs scored, third lowest average wickets lost, highest boundary percentage and second lowest average dot ball percentage. The runs scored data for New Zealand is somewhat skewed by them having batted second in all four innings but they still managed to be ranked fifth. New Zealand’s high average wickets lost is their weakest performance across phase metrics; they also struggled to hit boundaries – but this can in part be explained by comfortably chasing totals. The West Indies fared poorly in terms of average runs scored but batted second on all four occasions, chasing two out of three low totals. India had the lowest average runs scored and lowest average boundary percentage, two statistics which are largely shaped by being bowled out for 79 against New Zealand. Australia were ranked in the top five across all four metrics. Afghanistan and Sri Lanka had the highest average wickets lost.


Innings Analysis: Bowling

TeamAverage Runs ConcededAverage Wickets TakenAverage Boundary Percentage Average Dot Ball Percentage
Afghanistan155.756.0016.87%36.87%
Australia157.756.2516.26%32.45%
Bangladesh162.256.7517.85%33.07%
England175.006.2518.54%34.79%
India143.667.3313.05%38.05%
New Zealand110.258.509.62%40.89%
Pakistan173.005.0018.05%33.61%
South Africa161.258.7516.46%35.09%
Sri Lanka143.254.0014.90%36.14%
West Indies137.257.5011.45%40.20%
Match Winners143.427.7313.70%38.13%
Match Losers159.785.5716.88%34.13%

England and Pakistan, who had the highest average runs scored also register the highest average runs conceded, low numbers for average wickets taken and the highest two average boundary percentages. Bangladesh had similarly high average runs conceded and average boundary percentage and also bowled relatively few dot balls. Interestingly Australia, who performed mid-table in terms of average runs scored, average wickets taken and average boundary percentage had the worst dot ball percentage. Semi-Finalists New Zealand and West Indies, who batted second in all four of their matches registered the best two average runs conceded figures, second and fourth highest average wickets taken respectively and the two lowest boundary percentages. India recorded mid-table average runs-conceded and took a relatively high number of wickets. South Africa were the most potent bowling team, collecting the highest average wickets taken and Sri Lanka were the least potent bowling team.


Super 10: Aggregate Trends

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Freddie Wilde is a freelance journalist, @fwildecricket. 

WORLD T20 2016, FIRST ROUND ANALYSIS

A summary of statistics from the First Round stage of the ICC World Twenty20 2016

The following data is comprised of the sixteen innings that were played over 20 scheduled overs in the First Round of the World T20 2016. Therefore the two No Results, Netherlands v Oman and Bangladesh v Ireland, are not included, neither is Scotland’s 8-over run-chase against Hong Kong, both innings of the rain reduced match between Ireland and Netherlands and Oman’s 12-over chase against Bangladesh. Hong Kong’s 20-over first innings v Scotland and Bangladesh’s 20-over first innings v Oman before rain reduced the remainder of the matches, are included.


Powerplay Analysis: Batting

Team/CategoryNumber of PowerplaysAverage Runs ScoredAverage Wickets LostAverage Boundary PercentageAverage Dot Ball Percentage
Afg346.33118.51%43.51%
Ban2310.59.72%54.16%
HK332.661.6613.88%57.40%
Ire146022.22%61.11%
Net139119.44%50%
Oma144022.22%58.33%
Sco244219.44%51.38%
Zim340.661.6616.66%48.14%

Afghanistan emerge as the team who utilised the Powerplay best as a batting team. On average they scored the most runs and had the lowest dot ball percentage. Interestingly the other qualifier from the First Round, Bangladesh, on average scored the fewest runs in the Powerplay and had the lowest boundary percentage, crucially however, they only lost 0.5 wickets in the phase on average, bettered only by Ireland and Oman who just played one innings each and did not lose a wicket.

Powerplay Analysis: Bowling

Team/CategoryNumber of PowerplaysAverage Runs ConcededAverage Wickets TakenAverage Boundary PercentgaeAverage Dot Ball Percentage
Afg347117.59%45.37%
Ban139119.44%50%
HK248120.83%43.05%
Ire144022.22%47.22%
Net13318.33%47.22%
Oma237.5016.66%61.11%
Sco334.331.6613.88%53.70%
Zim335.662.3316.6655.55%

Scotland and Zimbabwe stand out as the two teams who fared best in the Powerplay as a bowling team. On average they took the most wickets in the first six overs and only Netherlands conceded fewer runs. Hong Kong really struggled in the first six overs; they conceded the most runs on average, had the lowest dot ball percentage and highest boundary percentage of those to have played more than one phase. Qualifiers Afghanistan and Bangladesh both also toiled in the Powerplay, although the latter only bowled in one six-over Powerplay in which the batting team was scheduled to bat for 20 overs.


Middle Overs Analysis: Batting

Team/CategoryNumber of Middle Over PhasesAverage Runs ScoredAverage Wickets LostAverage Boundary PercentageAverage Dot Ball Percentage
Afg373.662.3311.11%31.11%
Ban2963.57.22%24.16%
HK2632.667.22%32.77%
Ire172413.33%31.66%
Net173311.66%35%
Oma168535%35%
Sco2693.57.5%33.33%
Zim3703.668.33%31.66%

The two qualifiers, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, performed best in the middle over phase with the bat. Bangladesh comfortably scored the most runs on average, thanks largely to their 110-3 against Oman – which was the only three figure phase score. Bangladesh had the joint lowest boundary percentage but made up for it with the lowest dot ball percentage. Afghanistan lost the fewest wickets in the middle over phase and had the second lowest dot ball percentage after Bangladesh. Zimbabwe had a notably low dot ball percentage, only fractionally worse than Afghanistan’s, but lost a high number of wickets on average in the phase.

Middle Overs Analysis: Bowling

Team/CategoryNumber of Middle Over PhasesAverage Runs ConcededAverage Wickets TakenAverage Boundary PercentageAverage Dot Ball Percentage
Afg357.664.334.44%37.22%
Ban173311.66%35%
HK264.52.57.5%35.83%
Ire168510%35%
Net182415%30%
Oma2913.520%25%
Sco375.662.6611.11%26.11%
Zim376.332.3311.11%30.55%

The middle over phase is where Afghanistan clearly put distance between themselves and the rest of the teams. Only Ireland took more wickets on average than Afghanistan and only have one innings worth of data. No team conceded fewer runs on average, no team conceded a lower boundary percentage and no team had a higher dot ball percentage.


Death Overs Analysis: Batting

Team/CategoryNumber of Death Over PhasesAverage Runs ScoredAverage Wickets LostAverage Boundary PercentageAverage Dot Ball Percentage
Afg338.331.6622.22%23.61%
Ban239.5120.83%35.41%
HK233.33210.41%31.25%
Ire136112.5%37.5%
Net133212.5%16.66%
Oma 146212.5%25%
Sco233211.17%24.05%
Zim333.33313%31.69%

Of the teams to have played at least two death over phases, the qualifiers Afghanistan and Bangladesh emerge as the teams with the highest average score in the phase and this is despite Afghanistan’s average score being skewed by completing their run-chase against Hong Kong with two overs remaining. The two qualifiers also boast the lowest average wickets lost in the phase and the highest boundary percentage too. Bangladesh did, however, struggle with dot balls in the final phase, with only Ireland, who played just one phase, demonstrating a higher percentage. Both of Bangladesh’s 20-over innings were recorded batting first.

Death Overs Analysis: Bowling

Team/CategoryNumber of Death Over PhasesAverage Runs ConcededAverage Wickets TakenAverage Boundary Percentage Average Dot Ball Percentage
Afg328.331.668.83%28.91%
Ban133212.5%16.66%
HK2262.518.75%33.33%
Ire146212.5%18.75%
Net138212.5%20.83%
Oma238.50.518.75%37.5%
Sco338212.5%20.83%
Zim343.332.6619.94%27.14%

Hong Kong’s low average runs conceded in this phase is misleading as Afghanistan only batted for two overs of it before beating them, they did still at least boast an impressively high dot ball percentage. Below Hong Kong in terms of average runs conceded again comes Afghanistan and Bangladesh, although the latter only defended one phase, against the Netherlands. Afghanistan, again performed well in terms of dot balls and boundaries but less so in terms of wickets. Zimbabwe, like they did in the Powerplay, averaged the most wickets taken, but were also the most profligate and conceded the most runs of teams to have played more than one phase.


Innings Analysis: Batting

Team/CategoryNumber of InningsAverage Runs ScoredAverage Wickets LostAverage Boundary PercentageAverage Dot Ball Percentage
Afg3158.33515.12%33.54%
Ban2166.5517.5%35.41%
HK31296.3310.83%40%
Ire1154515.83%41.66%
Net1145614.16%35.83%
Oma1158714.16%40%
Sco21467.511.75%36.96%
Zim31448.3311.70%36.61%

The result of their dominance through the batting phases is that Afghanistan and Bangladesh on average scored the most runs,  lost the fewest wickets and had the lowest dot ball percentage. Only Ireland prevents Afghanistan coming second to Bangladesh in terms of boundary percentages. Ireland, Hong Kong and Oman were conspicuously poor at rotating the strike while Hong Kong, Zimbabwe and Scotland struggled to hit boundaries.

Innings Analysis: Bowling

Team/CategoryNumber of InningsAverage Runs ConcededAverage Wickets TakenAverage Boundary PercentageAverage Dot Ball Percentage
Afg313379.20%37.99%
Ban1145614.16%35.83%
HK2138.5613.10%37.82%
Ire1158714.16%40%
Net1153713.33%35.83%
Oma2167418.75%38.33%
Sco31486.3314.16%31.25%
Zim3155.337.3314.50%37.41%

Zimbabwe’s wicket-taking threat posed in the Powerplay phase and the death over phase resulted in them averaging the most wickets taken, but they leaked boundaries regularly and could not bowl enough dot balls so ended up conceding a high number of runs. Afghanistan conceded the fewest runs thanks largely to a remarkably impressive boundary percentage of less than 10, which was considerably better than Hong Kong in second, who also conceded the second fewest runs. Of those to bowl in more than one 20-over innings Oman emerged with the highest dot ball percentage, followed closely by Afghanistan. Bangladesh struggled to prevent rotation the strike in their one 20-over bowling effort against the Netherlands. Scotland had the lowest dot ball percentage.


Freddie Wilde is a freelance journalist, @fwildecricket. 

OPENING VOID

We are in an era of Test cricket, or a mini-era at least, in which opening partnerships are struggling almost as much as they ever have. In only two half-decades since the Second World War have opening partnerships averaged fewer than they have since 2011.

Since January 1st 2011 opening partnerships in Test cricket have averaged 35.07, which is 2.52 runs fewer than the historical average for the first wicket and more notably 6.05 runs fewer than the half decade between January 1st 2006 and December 31st 2010. An even sharper decline can be traced back to the first half decade of this millennium in which opening partnerships averaged 41.60, 6.53 more than they have in the most recent half a decade. The fall of 6.05 runs from the last half decade is considerably greater than the overall fall in average for all wickets of 2.09, suggesting that the decline in the average for opening partnerships is not only the product of an overall decline in averages.

PeriodOpening Partnership AverageOverall Average
All Time37.5932.17
2011-Present35.0733.51
2006-201141.1235.60
2001-200641.6034.24
1996-200133.2330.81
1991-199637.8432.04
1986-199136.9232.84
1981-198635.5532.98
1976-198136.5431.08
1971-197640.3434.24
1966-197138.9330.83
1961-196641.1133.70
1956-196135.6928.02
1951-195633.5929.68
1946-195145.2734.37

The last half decade of opening batting in Test cricket has been defined by the relative lack of consistently successful players. Since January 1st 2011 only Alastair Cook (4839) and David Warner (4277) have scored more than 3000 Test runs as openers while in the half decade before that Cook (4363), Virender Sehwag (4305), Andrew Strauss (3990) and Graeme Smith (3855) all scored well over 3000 runs, and in the decade before that Matthew Hayden (6366), Marcus Trescothick (5162), Justin Langer (4631), Herschelle Gibbs (3955), Chris Gayle (3476), Smith (3332) and Marvan Atapattu (3136) did so too. This abundance of successful openers established a relative golden age for opening partnerships between 2001 and 2011.

PairInningsRunsAverage100s50s
Sehwag & Vijay1079879.8031
Hayden & Jacques1178471.2726
McKenzie & Smith27166466.5658
Gambhir & Sehwag61350560.431019
Hughes & Katich1160460.4024
Jaffer & Karthik1474457.2332
Gibbs & Smith56298356.28710
de Villiers & Smith30164654.8656
Katich & Watson28152354.39310
Petersen & Smith1475954.2125
Strauss & Trescothick52267052.35812
Hayden & Langer113565551.881424
Farhat & Umar1575450.2631

Therefore, principal among the reasons for the sudden and dramatic decline in the returns of opening partnerships since 2011 has been the retirements of many of these hugely successful opening batsmen. Namely, Smith (last Test 2014), Sehwag (2013), Strauss (2012), Hayden (2009), Gibbs (2008), Langer (2007), Atappattu (2007) and Sanath Jayasuriya (2007) as well as the inconsistent selection of Chris Gayle for the West Indies who has only played 27% of West Indies’ 43 Tests since 2011.

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Replacing such prolific batsmen was of course never going to easy; but every team—perhaps with the exception of Australia—have failed to do so. Since 2011 nine of the ten Test match teams have averaged less than 36.66 for their opening partnership and only Australia, with an average of 48.66, have managed more.

TeamPartnersInningsRunsHighAverage10050
Australia11104501323748.661721
South Africa767234613836.65510
Bangladesh848166331235.5825
England10105360423134.65812
India1388288928933.20413
Sri Lanka1491287820732.70315
New Zealand1081263215832.49414
Pakistan1380249517832.40711
West Indies1483245725430.7159
Zimbabwe82864310222.9612

The struggles of opening partnerships since 2011 is reflected in the relative instability of them. Since 2011 the average number of innings per opening pair is 7.17 which is the shortest life-span of an opening partnership since the half decade between 1996 and 2001.

PeriodInningsNumber Of Opening PairsAverage Innings Per Opening Pair
2011-Present7751087.17
2006-20117651067.21
2001-20069221227.55

Of course, replacing players of the quality that retired was never going to be easy, but teams have almost universally struggled to do so. Since the turn of the decade only Warner has emerged to join Cook as a consistently successful Test match opener.

Perennial strugglers Zimbabwe have predictably fared the worst, averaging just 22.96 since 2011.

Sri Lanka and West Indies have tried fourteen different opening combinations, more than any other team, [Sri Lanka, West Indies] but have only given more than ten innings to two and one of those combinations respectively.

Dimunth Karunaratne appears to be a promising prospect for Sri Lanka, with a Test average of 35.97, including a healthy average of 49.66 in bowler-friendly New Zealand, but they are yet to find a partner for him, with Kithuruwan Vithanage the latest to occupy the spot.

West Indies meanwhile are desperately missing Gayle who is 461 runs shy of becoming his country’s most prolific opening batsman ever but is nowhere near the team currently. Kraigg Brathwaite is, and has now played 25 Test matches. With three ducks in his last six innings and five single figure scores in his last ten, he is far from consistent but 94 in his most recent innings against Australia and an average of 33.76 suggests he is worth persisting with. Rajendra Chandrika is Brathwaite’s latest partner.

Similarly to Sri Lanka and West Indies, Pakistan have tried a lot of opening combinations: 13 to be precise, and have had a few relatively successful pairings. After Cook and Warner, Mohammad Hafeez is the next most prolific opening batsman in this half decade and he takes up one spot at the top of the order, leaving Azhar Ali, Shan Masood and Ahmed Shehzad to fight over the second spot.

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New Zealand, who possess the third worst average (30.48) for opening partnerships after Bangladesh (28.55) and Zimbabwe (21.72) since the turn of the millennium, have the makings of a successful pairing in Martin Guptill and Tom Latham. Guptill’s Test record is uninspiring but the Kiwis will hope a century last week against Sri Lanka in Dunedin can be the beginning of him translating the quality he has displayed in limited-overs cricket into the Test arena. Latham meanwhile is arguably the most promising Test opener in the world. In Dunedin Guptill and Latham recorded 50 partnerships in both innings of the Test—the first time a New Zealand opening partnership has done so for six years. Admittedly, the Sri Lankan bowling attack is not the most threatening, but perhaps a corner has been turned.

Ostensibly India appear to have finally solved their opening partnership conundrum which has seen them attempt thirteen different combinations since January 2011. Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan have now opened together on 33 occasions and average 46.20. However, that average is inflated by huge partnerships of 289 against an Australian team that would go onto be whitewashed by India and 283 against Bangladesh. Excluding those two partnerships Vijay and Dhawan average just 23 together.  With a Test average of 41.09 overall, 47.75 this year and and 45.93 since 2013, Vijay looks to be a solid option for India. It is Dhawan, who has an average of 29 outside of Asia who remains something of a concern. Admittedly, India’s problems are not as serious as those facing other teams, but it would be wrong to assume the Vijay-Dhawan axis is a stable one.

England’s opening problems have attracted a lot of attention, possibly because they have attempted seven combinations (excluding Moeen Ali & Jos Buttler’s cameo in Abu Dhabi) in just 19 Tests since Andrew Strauss’ retirement, but in fact their first wicket average of 35.41 since Strauss’ retirement is merely in line with the global average of 35.07 since January 2011. Indeed, the downward global trend makes England’s decision to axe Nick Compton, who averaged 57.93 with Cook, all the more surprising. None of the other opening partnerships attempted by England since 2011 have averaged more than 36.60. Alex Hales is expected to be the next to be given an opportunity.

Bangladesh have only played 25 Tests since January 2011only Zimbabwe have played fewer—but their first wicket average of 35.58, is only bettered by South Africa and Australia. In that timeframe, Tamim Iqbal and Imrul Kayes have the best average of opening pairs who have played more than ten innings together. However, the only time they batted together outside of Asia was against Zimbabwe.

Despite never appearing to be totally secure Alviro Petersen managed to form a fairly strong partnership with Graeme Smith for South Africa, and at least gave the top order some consistency. However, with Smith and Petersen now retired, neither opening position is safe. It is expected that Stiaan Van Zyl will partner Dean Elgar against England next week with Temba Bavuma, who opened in the final Test against India, lurking down the order. It is apposite of the age that the weakest link of the world’s number one ranked Test nation is their opening batting.

With Chris Rogers and Warner, Australia were the only team in the world with a stable and consistently successful opening partnership. Now Rogers is gone not one team can claim to have two openers who are assured of selection. Joe Burns has made a promising start to his career, but it is far too early to pass judgement on his new axis with Warner.

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Without diminishing what Warner and Rogers achieved it is revealing that they are the most prolific opening partnership of this half-decade with just 2053 runs. In the half-decade before that Cook and Strauss scored 3678 runs together, and in the half-decade before that Hayden and Langer scored 5122 runs together.

Rarely in the history of Test cricket have opening batsmen struggled as much as they are now. The extent to which that is self-inflicted is uncertain but what is certain is that as selectors and coaches itch to make changes to their struggling partnerships they should bear in mind that statistically at least, opening the batting has rarely been harder.

The seeds of success at the top of the order are there for most teams; but they will need patience and care in this harsh age.

With inputs from Patrick Baatz.