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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.

Flaky batting and the demise of the draw

Throughout 2016, some 47 Test matches were played around the world. Of them, only seven resulted in draws and three of those were so severely weather affected no result was even possible.

Of the other two draws, the match between West Indies and India at Kingston was badly affected by rain (the equivalent of a day and a bit was lost), and so too the Lord’s match between England and Sri Lanka (even more play lost to rain).

So that leaves two draws which weren’t weather affected, and they both involved England: the essentially dull match in Cape Town when both teams hit more than 600 on a spectacularly flat wicket in the first innings, and the one in Rajkot where a bolder declaration from Alastair Cook might have put India under severe pressure. As it was, they still lost their sixth wicket with more than half an hour to go on what was generally considered an unusually flat wicket, even by sub-continent standards.

There were certainly several instances of teams succumbing to pressure late in the day when a draw seemed almost assured. England in both Dhaka and Chennai last year, and Pakistan in Melbourne are examples that quickly spring to mind.

This lack of draws in 2016 is a fairly remarkable development, even allowing for the more expansive tactics that modern cricket has adopted. Between 2000 and 2015, just under a quarter of Tests (24.4% to be precise) finished as draws. In 2016, it was less than 15%.

The first Test of 2017 has ended in such a thumping win for South Africa that it would have been wrapped up well inside three days had Faf du Plessis chosen to enforce the follow-on. Sri Lanka effectively lost the match on the second day. First, they allowed South Africa to convert a platform of 297-6 to an all-out score of 392. Then they collapsed from 56-1 to 110 all out, losing nine wickets in less than 20 overs.

There was no excuse for this. All our ball-tracking data suggests fairly modest amounts of swing and seam movement throughout the match, and particularly over the course of the opening two days. There was also largely predictable bounce. What there appeared to be, visually at least (this is an aspect that cannot yet be calculated scientifically) was a reasonable amount of pace in the wicket.

Batsmen appeared to be hurried at times, particular when facing the quicker bowlers such as Kagiso Rabada and Lahiru Kumara. But there was none of the really extravagant, unplayable movement that many of the pre-match pundits had forecasted.

Bangladesh win in Dhaka

Bangladesh completed a historic Test win over England last year after a spectacular collapse by the hosts

Perhaps the best concerted spell of bowling in the whole match came when Sri Lanka began their first innings. A very high percentage of balls were edged or missed by Dimuth Karunaratne and Kaushal Silva, but somehow they got through the first 15 overs. Then, Silva was unhinged by a short-pitched ball from Rabada (Sri Lanka were particularly bad at leaving the short stuff) and could only guide it onto his stumps. But the ball was getting softer and Sri Lanka got through more overs. Less was happening… until the batsmen started losing their heads.

In the blink of an eye, Karunaratne, Kusal Mendis, Angelo Mathews, Dhananjaya de Silva and Dinesh Chandimal were sent packing. And the daft thing is, it wasn’t a glut of particularly good balls that did for them. Mendis went slogging the spinner and Karunaratne also brought about his own downfall, slapping a short, wide one to point. Mathews was at least playing defensively when Rabada had him caught at the slips – but the ball wasn’t threatening the stumps. De Silva was skipping down the track when trapped lbw, and Chandimal’s wild, flat-footed nicked drive was one of the worst of the lot.

That was essentially game over, the specialist batsmen all gone – and the tail unable to salvage anything from the wreckage. Whatever happened from that point – and there were four sessions of cricket to follow – the only viable result was a heavy Sri Lankan defeat.

Let’s look at weighted wicket probability (WWP) for the five key Sri Lankan dismissals – the second to sixth wickets in the first innings, the ones that turned hope into despair. Now you may (or may not) have read in previous blogs how WWP works. It essentially uses the tracked characteristics of each delivery to assess its wicket-taking danger – a unique and (we think) rather clever analytical tool. The final number in the grid below is the percentage of times we would expect each delivery to take a wicket.

And here we are:

  • Mendis (slogging spinner) – 0.01 = 1%
  • Karunaratne (cut to point) – 0.013 =1.3%
  • Mathews (defensive prod edged) – 0.023 = 2.3%
  • De Silva (lbw down the track) – 0.016 = 1.6%
  • Chandimal (flat-footed drive) – 0.013 = 1.3%

So, rather appropriately, the highest of these five deliveries on WWP is the one which saw off Mathews – and he was the only one of these five batsmen not to be playing an attacking shot for his dismissal.

When we rated James Anderson’s swing-bowling masterclass at Headingley (also against Sri Lanka), we found his average WWP was 2.13%. The average of these five dismissals in question is just 1.5%, a significant amount less.

To go back to where this blog started off, Sri Lanka should not be castigated for failing to draw the Test as such. It’s possible this match was never meant to be drawn. But they certainly should have been able to bat for longer than 43 overs in the first innings.

Don’t be surprised if 2017 brings us another famine on the draw front.

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.

THE ANATOMY OF A THRILLER

Freddie Wilde analyses the key moments in the first ODI of the five match series between England and Sri Lanka that ended in a tie.  

Read more

ENGLAND’S NO. 3 PROBLEMS CONTINUE

England will head into the late summer Test series against Pakistan with some comfort regarding certain selection issues. The bowling, although Steven Finn has taken some time to get going, is settled. Chris Woakes has filled in admirably for Ben Stokes and will count himself unfortunate to miss out on 14 July if the Durham man is fit and firing by then.

Most pleasingly, Alex Hales, ironically by throttling down his attacking instincts, has become the opening partner Alastair Cook has craved for. The irony is that he was given the role specifically to provide some oomph up front, but there is no way anyone can crab a production rate in this series of 292 runs at an average of 58.40 even if he has batted more slowly than expected.

Jonny Bairstow was the batsman of the series, but his wicketkeeping continues to cause serious cause for concern, and one solution going forward would be to pick a specialist gloveman while of course retaining Bairstow’s batting ability. Nick Compton looks sure to be discarded. And even though he has had just this series to make an impression, James Vince can scarcely be relaxed about his chances of appearing against Pakistan with only 54 runs in four innings.

The selectors put faith in Compton to make the problematic no. 3 position his own this summer after the 32-year-old had earned 13 Test caps on the fringes of the side starting in late 2012.

He has failed to pay that faith back, returning scores of 0, 9, 22 not out, 1 and 19. CricViz data reveals that during his relatively short stays at the crease the ball found the edge of his bat eight times and he was hit on the pads seven times. Those edges, by the way, do not include shots designated as “thick edges”, ones less likely to fly to catchers. The same analysis process finds that Vince, who had one fewer innings than Compton, edged the ball six times and was hit on the pads twice. In addition, he played and missed five times (Compton only once) for his four dismissals (9, 35, 10, 0).

What this data suggests is that beyond their poor results, these two right-handers were not playing well enough in any event to suggest that a big score would be around the corner. We might, for example, expect a batsman to play and miss a few times and edge the ball once or twice in a long, substantial innings – just as Compton and Vince did – but not in such curtailed circumstances.

Now let us look in particular at the no. 3 position and how England have tried to fill it since 1 January 2012. Why pick that date, you might ask? Well it was after sweeping India 4-0 that very summer that England reached the coveted no. 1 position. A rapid decline ensued with only one of the following four Test series won, and they’ve been generally inconsistent all the while.

At the start of 2012, the man in possession was Jonathan Trott, a reassuring presence at the crease. Trott performed creditably during the time in question (averaging 40.40), but was forced to relinquish the position after one Test of the 2012-13 Ashes debacle when suffering from severe mental burn-out.

The first man England turned to was Joe Root. But, for all his success before and since lower down the order, a promotion for the talented Yorkshireman did not work and it is not thought likely there will be a further Root experiment at three again any time soon. In June 2014, England went with Gary Ballance. For a while this was a great success, but then there was a run of five poor Tests for Ballance. And despite an average of 50.82 at number three, he was dropped. Ian Bell was tried – it didn’t work – and finally we got to Compton.

Good number threes are difficult to find. In the modern era, Kumar Sangakkara, Ricky Ponting, Hashim Amla and Rahul Dravid stand out. Before them, you really have to go as far back as Don Bradman, Wally Hammond and George Headley to find exceptionally good players at first drop. It’s notable that the great West Indians Brian Lara and Viv Richards preferred hiding themselves further away from the new ball, Greg Chappell did better lower down and Sachin Tendulkar never batted higher than no. 4 in 200 Tests. In other words, there appears to have been a golden age of number threes before the War, and then a 60-year hiatus before the emergence of Sangakkara et al.

It’s fair to conclude that this is a position that as a selector you have to take great care over. But England guessed when they dropped Ballance. They asked Bell to move up a spot following scores of 1 and 11 from the Warwickshire man in last year’s heavy Lord’s defeat to Australia. And they guessed again when they put Compton there despite some fairly modest form for his county Middlesex.

Essex’s Tom Westley and Durham’s Scott Borthwick are among the players who will be considered now for this critical position, and whichever one gets the nod could have quite a tough baptism given that Pakistan have a significantly more exciting bowling attack than Sri Lanka’s. There’s the added menace of the returning Mohammad Amir to consider too.

England’s specialist batsmen cannot expect to keep being bailed out by the lower order, as they were both in South Africa and again during this series against Sri Lanka. And that’s why the men who are paid to make the big calls need to take great care in getting that number three selection spot on.

RATING ANDERSON’S MASTERCLASS

Just how good was England’s bowling at Headingley? Sri Lanka’s batsmen struggled in tricky conditions against a skilled attack and CricViz can measure how much more dangerous the hosts’ seamers were than their counterparts.

The BatViz model analyses ball tracking data to produce wicket and run ratings for every ball. We conduct a nearest neighbour analysis of the six Hawk-Eye categories that comprise each ball: speed, line, length, seam, swing and bounce.

This process, counting the runs and wickets associated with the 1,000 most similar deliveries in our database based on those categories, allows the measurement of wicket threat and ease of scoring.

England’s bowlers had an average wicket probability of 1.87% per ball, Sri Lanka’s 1.38%. The top five bowlers in this ranking were members of the home attack, led unsurprisingly by James Anderson (2.13%).

Average wicket probability per ball bowled 
Bowler%
Anderson2.13
Stokes1.90
Vince1.83
Finn1.74
Broad1.71
Eranga1.60
Pradeep1.55
Chameera1.50
Herath1.45
Moeen1.18
Mathews1.13
Shanaka1.12

The Hawk-Eye data from the first Test testifies to Anderson’s mastery of seam and swing. Of the frontline seamers, only Shaminda Eranga had a lower average speed, but the Lancastrian’s 81mph is plenty when combined with lateral movement that no other paceman in the world can match.

Eranga actually swung the ball more on average, but Anderson’s ability to move the ball both ways is crucial. 16 of the 25 biggest inswingers (as faced by a right-hander) were delivered by England’s talisman.

Dangerous swing bowling is partly about controlling the movement in favourable conditions and Anderson is adept at finding just the right amount. Eranga bowled 13 of the 20 biggest outswingers (to right-handers) in the match, but these were not of the right line or length to trouble the batsmen.

Anderson can famously switch between inswing and outswing with little discernible change in action, a skill that is especially useful in the context of expert seam bowling. He possessed the highest average seam movement in the match.

Average wicket probability per ball faced 
Batsman%
Herath2.38
Mathews2.08
Karunaratne2.07
Mendis1.98
Finn1.94

Applying the wicket probability ratings to each batsman, the struggles faced by the visiting batsmen become clear. Of frontline batsmen the highest average wicket probability per ball was faced by Angelo Mathews (2.08%) and Dimuth Karunaratne (2.07%).

That the best was kept for the two most experienced opposing batsmen says much about the efficiency of England’s bowling. Anderson’s unique combination of seam, swing and accuracy, a combination that has brought him 443 Test wickets, was too good for the tourists.

SOUTH AFRICA V ENGLAND 3RD TEST ANALYSIS

The scene on the third afternoon at Johannesburg was a familiar one. Stuart Broad was on a roll and the opposition had no answer. The knees were pumping and the face was ruddy, an irresistible force who made wickets rather than runs seem inevitable.

They were, too. Broad took five wickets for one run in 36 balls just after lunch, single-handedly reducing the hosts from 23-0 to 35-5. Another hot streak, another Test won for his team. But how did Broad decimate the hosts? What changed from the first innings?

Being fully fit helped, Broad having struggled with illness on the first day. He lacked zip and was evidently frustrated in not being able to take advantage of helpful conditions. This was reflected by an average speed of 81.9 mph, which increased to 84.9 mph in South Africa’s second innings.

However, his accuracy also improved greatly. All of his 73 balls on day three were either outside off stump or in line with off stump. Nothing on the pads or on the hips for batsmen to work into the legside, unlike in the hosts’ first innings, when 23.3% of his deliveries were on middle or leg stump or down the legside.

Bowling too short is a regular criticism of England’s bowlers and Broad certainly improved where he had initially erred – 74% of his balls on day three were on a good length, up from 37.6% in the Proteas’ first innings.

Faster, more accurate and with greater seam movement – his average deviation off the pitch increased from 0.74 degrees to 0.94 – Broad expertly combined the ingredients that make him so hard to handle.

Broad knows the value in finding the ideal length but has in the past discussed his tendency to ‘float’ the ball too full in trying to draw batsmen forward. There were no freebies as the home side subsided at the Bullring, the ball spitting off a decent length with just the right amount of lateral movement.

Stuart Broad, 3rd Test v South Africa1st innings2nd innings
Balls on a good length (%)36.674
Balls on / outside off stump (%)76.7100
Average speed (mph)81.984.9
Average length (metres from stumps)7.746.99
Stumps (% to hit)7.465.48
Average swing (degrees)1.110.95
Average seam (degrees)0.740.92

There was more swing for Broad in South Africa’s first innings, but excessive deviation in the air is not always a major advantage. James Anderson (1.84 degrees average swing) regularly hooped the ball past the outside edge, whilst Broad (0.95 degrees) did enough to bring keeper and slips into play more frequently.

This is what Broad does so well. He identifies helpful conditions and harnesses them superbly, rising to the occasion when he smells blood. His line and length becomes unerring, the batsmen hustled by optimum bounce and lateral movement.

Memories of Trent Bridge were stirred by this latest Broad salvo and it is worth noting that England produced more seam movement in their surge to victory at the Wanderers. South Africa faced an average deviation off the pitch of 0.92 degrees on day three, Australia 0.7 degrees in their 60 all out.

Broad is the session-changer who breaks a partnership and gets on a roll when the game is drifting. He can create something out of nothing when the pitch is flat, but it is just as important to deliver when conditions are helpful and wickets expected. Broad delivers them in abundance, the enforcer turned demolisher.

AUSTRALIA V NEW ZEALAND 1ST TEST ANALYSIS

Australia’s Test record at the Gabba makes it the most well-known fortress in cricket. Only one other home team have gone more than five Tests undefeated at a venue since 1990: India, nine matches without a loss at Delhi. Australia have played 25 Tests at Brisbane in this period.

There are various factors that explain this streak beyond ones specific to the venue. Australia have lost only 18 times in 143 home Tests in this period, with five reverses in 24 Tests at Perth their worst return.

Being the traditional series opener also helps Australia at the Gabba. In the last 10 years the difference between home team win and loss percentages in the first matches of series is 30% (48% won, 18% lost). It reduces to 22% in the second Tests of series and 18% in the third.

In this era of compressed tours and brief warm-up periods away teams often get caught cold in series curtain-raisers, regardless of the conditions.

However, the CricViz model is more concerned with the expected performance of the players involved in the game in question. It evaluates each player in the context of the opposition and the expected conditions.

It was Australia’s suitability to the bounce of the Gabba wicket that contributed to their win probability of 65% after the toss. They had the stronger seam attack and batting unit and the better spinner. New Zealand started at 27%, with 8% for the draw.

This is a seemingly low stalemate probability for a Test match, but a decent weather forecast and high projected scoring rates made this the least likely outcome, despite the good batting conditions.

The match unfolded in a way that was unsurprising to most observers. The Aussie openers survived a brief testing spell before piling up the runs against a toiling seam attack and a spinner who lacked control. The average projected outcome of a 223-run home win in PredictViz at the start of day two was very near the mark.

The suitability of the home seamers to Brisbane became clear when New Zealand batted. In the last 10 years 33.9% of Test wickets have been LBW or bowled. At the bouncier Gabba that figure is 24.1%.

Wicket distributionLBWBowledLBW + Bowled
Gabba - home batsmen7.9%10.5%18.4%
Gabba - away batsmen13.5%14.1%27.6%
All Tests16.9%17.0%33.9%

Australian bowlers are largely responsible for this figure – 27.6% of the hosts’ wickets in this period have been LBW or bowled, compared with just 18.4% of visiting teams’ scalps. The extra pace of the home pacemen, of whom Mitchell Starc in particular likes to attack the stumps, was a major cause of New Zealand’s first innings collapse.

The Black Caps were seemingly cruising on a hot second day, 56 without loss in prime batting conditions. Most expected them to go on to score more than the 353 PredictViz projected, but the underlying expected averages produce a sound prediction when re-simulated 10,000 times.

New Zealand’s problems mounted throughout the Test. They have lost their all-rounder to injury – the performance of the fifth bowler is a key factor in the CricViz model – and have a concern over Tim Southee, a crucial part of their attack. Don’t be surprised to see a high Australia win probability at Perth, a venue that brings the opposition into the game more than most in Australia.

PAKISTAN V ENGLAND SERIES PREVIEW

Predicting what will happen in England’s Test tour of UAE is a difficult task. Will we see a run feast, or perhaps death by spin? A Joe Root masterclass, or maybe a seamer-inspired show of English bowling strength?

The memories of 2012 are fresh. England arrived as the number one-ranked Test team. Unbeaten in nine series, they had risen from seventh to first in that list in little more than two years. Ashes winners down under and World T20 champions, a win in alien conditions against a talented, if fragile, Pakistan team seemed very much achievable.

However, England were humbled in all three Tests, coming out second best in a series that was defined by the bowlers. The expected attritional slog never materialised – batsmen struggled from the outset, with England’s 58-5 at lunch on day one of the opener setting the tone.

Azhar Ali scored 251 runs in his five innings, but no other batsman from either side averaged more than 40 in the series. On supposedly batsman-friendly wickets, the England batting unit misfired spectacularly.

The tourists’ opening day collapse was followed by a slump to 87-7 in the second innings and a failure to chase 145 in the second Test. They followed that by earning the unwelcome accolade of becoming the second team to lose a Test after dismissing the opposition for below 100 on day one.

The bowling attack functioned well. Stuart Broad took 13 wickets at an average of 20.4, Monty Panesar 14 at 21.6, Graeme Swann 13 at 25.1 and James Anderson nine at 27. However, the batting gave little respite – England were in the field on every day of the series.

Saeed Ajmal (24 wickets at 14.7 average) and Abdur Rehman (19 wickets at 16.7) were rampant. On low, skiddy pitches they bowled quickly for spinners, often touching 60 mph, testing both edges of the bat.

The pitches brought the stumps into play throughout, and a combination of excellent bowling and the new DRS system contributed to a record number of LBWs – the 43 in this three-match series is the joint-most ever recorded in a Test series.

However, the tour as a whole was not a disaster for England. They bounced back in the ODI series to deliver a whitewash of their own, and learned enough to seal a historic Test series triumph in India the following winter, the first by an England team in nearly 30 years.

So what can we learn from the last tour?

Attack the Stumps

Bowling straight in UAE gains much more reward than other host nations. Far more batsmen are dismissed bowled and LBW than the worldwide average, and in particular in comparison to Tests held in England.

Dismissals in Tests by venue
BowledLBWTotal
UAE19.7%24.8%44.5%
England16.7%14.6%31.3%
World17.1%16.9%34.0%

This table shows that nearly half of all dismissals in UAE are bowled or LBW, compared to less than a third in England. In the 2012 series 22.6% of the balls bowled would have gone on to hit the stumps. By way of comparison, in the fourth Ashes Test at Trent Bridge this summer, 9.1% would have struck the timbers.

The prominence of spin is obviously a major factor here – over half the overs bowled in the UAE are bowled by spinners, whereas in England it is about a quarter. Spinners bowl more balls that would hit the stumps, whilst the lower bounce of the pitches means that both seamers and spinners can hit the stumps from shorter lengths.

A Spinner’s Length

In general, balls that are hitting the stumps in Test cricket have a considerably lower average than those that don’t. For spinners, about 25% of balls bowled would go on to hit the stumps, and these take their wickets at an average of 17.4; the balls that are going to miss the stumps average nearly three times as much.

Stumps - Spinners% BallsAverage
Hitting25.7%17.4
Missing74.3%48.1

What the Pakistani spinners did particularly well in 2012 was to bowl quicker, dragging their lengths back a little whilst still attacking the stumps. Monty Panesar was able to perform a similar role for England when he was selected for the second Test.

 Average SpeedStumpsAverage LengthBatViz Predicted AverageSeries Average
Aimal56.136%4.724.814.7
Hafeez54.940%4.525.916.0
Rehman57.039%5.026.916.7
Panesar55.435%4.829.021.6
Swann52.932%4.539.325.1
Pietersen53.322%4.742.8-

The spin bowling in this series was of a very high standard. Spinners normally average around 36 in Tests, so for BatViz to be predicting averages in the 20s the size of the challenge facing batsmen is evident. The actual Series averages show how much batsmen struggled to cope, with all the spinners having greater success than was expected.

For comparison, here are the statistics of spinners in the Ashes Test at Cardiff. They bowled slower and fuller, and were less able to attack the stumps.

 SpeedStumpsAverage Length
Root53.231%4.2
Ali50.822%4.5
Lyon52.423%4.3

Pakistan start as favourites

With their strong batting and bowling line-ups and traditional strength in familiar conditions, it is no surprise that WinViz favours Pakistan at the series outset.

WinViz   
EngDrawPak
1st Test28%21%51%
Series23%19%59%

PROBABILITY SPACES IN TEST CRICKET

The first Test at Abu Dhabi is moving on quickly. You have just checked WinViz and it has Pakistan at 42%, England at 35%, and the draw at 23%. You then look at PredictViz and it is showing an England win by a handful of runs. Surely something has gone wrong? One tool is saying Pakistan are going to win, the other that England are.

There has not been a technical meltdown; the CricViz tools are working correctly. Remember, we are not predicting a Pakistan victory. In fact, we think Pakistan are more likely to not win (58%), than win (42%). Therefore, it should not be a huge surprise that the average result is not a Pakistani win.

But wouldn’t you expect the average result to come from the most likely outcome?

Well, sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. There are a couple of concepts to understand before looking at the details of why this happens.

First of all, percentiles: If you are in the 40th percentile for height, you would expect 40 out of 100 people to be your height or shorter. If you were in the 95th percentile for height then you would expect only five in every 100 people to be taller than you.

Similarly, if we look at the possible range of scores for a Test team we can use percentiles to measure how likely a team is to make a certain score. For example, let’s look at an average team batting second in a Test match. A score of 420 is in their 70th percentile. 30% of the time they will score more than 420.

Secondly, let’s take a look at probability spaces. Imagine we each roll a six-sided die and add the two numbers together. There are 36, equally likely outcomes, which we can illustrate in a diagram:

roll 1

As you can see, the total eight occurs five times, so we can say that the probability of getting a total of eight is five in every 36, or 5/36.

We are now going to play a game. The rules are as follows:

1.) If your score is greater than or equal to mine, then you win
2.) If my score is greater than yours, I win.
3.) However, if we both throw a 4 or higher, then it is a draw.

How likely is each of the three results? We can look at the probability space to tell us:

roll 2

So, in 15 of the 36 possibilities you win, so you will win 5/12 of the time. I will win 12 out of 36 or a third of the games, and a quarter will be draws.

We can take the same approach with Test matches, by creating a probability space based on how well each team scores during the match. Let’s take a look at the probability space of a Test match between two well-matched teams with no weather interruptions.

Here the batting performances of each team form our axes. So the left-hand side are low Team A scores, the right-hand side are high scores. The top half of the chart shows good Team B batting performances, the bottom half are poor performances. As you can see, when both sides score highly (top, right-hand corner) we get a draw. When one side or the other scores poorly, they tend to lose.

Probability space for two well-matched teams:

Probability-Space-blog-tables-Tables-1

So, if Team A’s scores are in the 70th percentile then we are looking at the column above the number 70.  And we can see by looking up this column that they won’t lose if they bat this well.  The result now depends on Team B’s batting.  If they perform better than their 40th percentile then they will save the match, otherwise Team A will win.

One thing you will notice is that the chart is not exactly symmetrical.  The team batting first has a slight advantage in terms of scoring; the pitch tends to be more batsman friendly in innings 1 and 3 than in 2 and 4.  So in low-scoring matches, where there will be a result, Team A has a slight edge.  If you look at the 100 squares (from 5th to 50th percentile for each team) in the bottom left-hand section of the chart, you will see that 53 of them are blue Team A wins, and 47 are red Team B wins.  The blue squares include the 50th percentile match, our median match, which is what PredictViz shows.  If both teams produce their average performance, then the result will be a Team A win by a very small margin.  This is true even though the balance of power lies with Team B who will win 7% more matches than Team A.

So, if Team A scores more runs, why does Team B win more matches?  Well, the key is what happens in relatively high-scoring games.  It is far easier for Team B to force a result in matches where they bat well.  Look at the top, right-hand corner of the chart where both sides have batted better than average.  You can see that the red squares extend into this space where as the blue squares don’t.  There are no wins to the team batting first in matches where both sides score relatively highly.

We can see what this means in reality by thinking about the effect of a first innings lead.  If Team A gets a first innings lead, then to win the match they will generally bat on until they can make the game safe, declare and then bowl out the opposition, who know just what they have to do to save the game.  On the other hand, if Team B get a first innings lead, they just have to bowl Team A out and chase down the resulting total.  They are able to use the time left in the match far more efficiently to force a result.

PredictViz shows what will happen if both teams perform exactly as expected, how their innings will fall across the days of the match and what the average shape of the match from here will look like.  It is obviously showing just one of the infinite ways that the match can evolve from here.  How many of those fall to each team is represented by WinViz.