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CricViz Analysis: Rishabh Pant

Patrick Noone looks at India’s unorthodox talent

There are not many batsmen in world cricket whose signature shot is the aerial flick over fine leg. There are not many left-handers who more or less totally eschew the off drive, preferring to play square on the off-side or to shuffle across and work to leg in order to manoeuvre the field.

Rishabh Pant is no ordinary batsman though and his idiosyncratic technique, allied to a fearlessly audacious mindset make him one of the most exciting young talents in the modern game.

Originally left out of India’s World Cup squad, Pant was called up as a replacement after an injury to Shikhar Dhawan, and eventually made his tournament bow against England at Edgbaston. In his innings against the hosts, and the subsequent knock against Bangladesh two days later on the same ground, Pant showed glimpses of the undoubted talent he possesses.

His scoring areas from those two innings make for peculiar reading. Every ball he faced against England was from a right-arm seamer bowling from over the wicket, while 20 of the 41 he faced against Bangladesh fell into that category, meaning 49 of the 70 balls he’s faced have been from that angle. As a left-hander, with the ball angling across him, the area through mid-off would be an obvious scoring area against balls on a good length or fuller. But as yet, Pant has not scored a single run through that area.

As the beehive shows, Pant has been willing to play even the very widest balls he’s faced from right-arm quicks through the leg-side, hitting the ball where the fielders aren’t and finding ever more inventive ways to score. That technique makes it close to impossible to set a field to him as he’s capable of hitting almost any ball to any part of the ground. The reason he’s yet to score a run through mid-off is likely because there’s always a fielder there, but which captain would be brave enough to take that fielder out? Surely then, Pant would start scoring through that region for fun.

Pant’s unorthodoxy stems from a constant willingness to score. He is, in cricketing parlance, a ‘busy’ player, always looking for ways to either rotate the strike or hit a boundary. Of the players in India’s squad to have faced 50 balls or more in this tournament, only Hardik Pandya has attacked more often than Pant. Hardik’s role as the big-hitting finisher is clear, and it’s to be expected that his attacking shot percentage would be high, destroying bowlers during the death overs. But Pant has done the bulk of his work through the middle overs, never allowing India’s momentum to drop.

Any cricket fan who has followed the IPL closely will have known about Pant’s precocious talents for a while. He has scored at a strike rate in excess of 160 in each of the last three seasons for the Delhi franchise, with the highlight being his blistering 128 from just 63 balls against Sunrisers Hyderabad in 2018.

However, despite those displays, and indeed his near-seamless introduction to the Test arena, Pant is still dogged by criticisms about a lack of maturity and a tendency to throw his wicket away when set. It’s easy to forget that we are talking about a 21-year-old who will find that maturity in time but, until then, should be allowed to play his own way – the way that has brought him so much success, even at this early stage of his career.

From the outside looking in, it appears that India do not always fully appreciate the player they have on their hands. All of the great modern batsmen they have produced, from Gavaskar to Tendulkar to Kohli have been orthodox in style, simply doing ordinary things to an extraordinarily high level. They have arguably never had a maverick talent in Pant’s mould, even Virender Sehwag was ultra-aggressive, rather than truly unorthodox. He still has a long way to go to match the achievements of any of those names, of course, but with India’s top order one of the most secure in world cricket, there is no reason to not let him thrive in the middle order.

Pant has had to wait to get his chance on the world stage, but the stars have aligned for him to play a key role in the business end of the tournament. India will hope they have three more matches for him to star in, starting with Saturday’s final group game against Sri Lanka at Headingley. Given the flashes of potential he’s already shown in his two innings so far, and the ease with which he has taken to the big stage, you’d be brave to bet against him having a big impact on the remainder of India’s campaign.

India have a genius in their ranks; a batsman with limitless potential who should become a mainstay of their team across all three formats. This tournament is merely one of the early chapters in Pant’s story; there are surely plenty more to come.  

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.

@patnoonecricket

CricViz Analysis: Jasprit Bumrah

Ben Jones analyses another remarkable day for the Indian seamer.

Play that.

There was a moment today, where Jasprit Bumrah bowled a ball so good to Ben Stokes, that it made you stop. It made you catch your breath. It made you consider what a death delivery was supposed to be.

Was it supposed to just be a stopper in the bottle of the scoring rate, or was it supposed to be more? Was it supposed to be a tempter, a sighter above the eyes that draws the batsman in, gets people thinking that here it comes, here’s the boundary ball, only for that hope to disappear? Was it supposed to be a ball that made you feel hopeless, or a ball to destroy your hope?

It made you pause and properly try to empathise. How would I play that? How would I, sat here willing the ball to the boundary, have actually managed to send it for four or six? How would I take that dipping delivery, swooping like a swallow for the rafters in September, and make it a chance for runs? How could I play that?

It was 110kph, to put a number on it. For a man who averages above 140kph, that’s quite a drop. Stokes watched it onto the face, his bat horizontal at the point of impact, guiding it into the turf. It was respect almost taken to the point of parody. Bumrah has bowled one delivery slower than that in 2019. It swung 1.3° back into Stokes. Only 14 balls Bumrah has bowled all year have swung that much. When you’re working at the elite, you have to work at the extremes.

The ball dipped like nothing you’ve seen. Mitchell Starc bowled *that* ball to Stokes in the midweek, but this was altogether more emphatic. It was the lead single to this delivery’s album track banger, the one you find yourself no longer skipping, then skipping straight through to. It was gorgeous. It was terrifying. It was Jasprit Bumrah.

***

Jasprit Bumrah bowled five death overs today. He went for 26 runs. He’s never gone for less, when he’s bowled as many. When the opposition were fighting, scrapping for every run, Bumrah just calmly strolled in and delivered the best death performance of his career. Of course, it wasn’t as big a match for India as it was for England, but it was still huge. India will now likely meet England in the semi-final at this venue. You know, regardless of the spin, that Virat Kohli would have wanted to knock England out. A poor few weeks does not a bad side make.

But Bumrah knows his method now, he knows how this all plays out. Just 7% of his deliveries at the death today were on a good length. 57% were full; 36% were short. If you were going to wait for something in the slot, you were going to be waiting an awful long time. It’s nearing midnight as I write this – you’d still be waiting now.

The value of such bowling, against a side as good as England, is enormous. Mohammed Shami’s Bowling Impact today was +20. Bumrah’s was +21. CricViz analysis suggests that Bumrah’s bowling (one wicket) was more valuable than Shami’s (five wickets). It may not fill the wickets column, but judging by the cheers when he came on to bowl, Bumrah’s bowling fills the stands – and it does its job.

He’s in the sort of form you dream of as a fast bowler. His stuttering run-up never looks fluent, and Bumrah never looks as if everything is working well – but when the ball is released, it’s a kind of epiphany. Everything before just melts away, and what you’re left with is the perfect white ball bowler. Today, he never looked perfect running up to delivery the ball, and never looked less than perfect when he delivered it.

He’s developed his vibe, his style, to the extent that people know what a Bumrah spell looks like. Michael Atherton, on commentary today, commented that this was a classic Bumrah death over spell. He has been playing international cricket for a comparatively tiny amount of time, but people know what he is. In the last 12 months, Jasprit Bumrah has bowled 39 yorkers at the death. Nobody has bowled more.

What’s so impressive is that the yorker isn’t Bumrah’s only weapon. Whilst the other bowlers we discuss in this context take wickets almost exclusively with the yorker, Bumrah mixes it up. His bouncer is sharp, his good length ball can swing and nick you off. He can hurt you every which way.

That sort of variety weakens your brand, your identity, but strengthens your effectiveness. Bumrah doesn’t have the bare naked aggression of Mitchell Starc, that chaotic fear-inducement of Shoaib Ahktar, the unpredictability of Lasith Malinga, the angle of Wasim Akram. Yet he is more complete, more restrained, taut like a trip-wire laid across the crease over which too many batsmen have stumbled. He’s spectacular.

In the last 20 years, only two men have bowled as often as Bumrah at the death and had a better economy. Both – Flintoff and Hall – played in an era without the T20 hitting power that we now have in the ODI game. They were fishing with different bait, playing a different sport to the one Bumrah is dominating right now.

We can see this in the numbers, if we look closer. True Economy compares a bowler’s economy rate to the average for that phase of the game, and gives a better picture of what a bowler is doing. By this measure – a more accurate measure – what Bumrah is doing is historic.

It is elite, undeniably amazing, death bowling.

His impact on the game is hard to ignore. CricViz’s Impact model calculates how many runs a player contributes per match above/below what we would expect the average player to contribute. Since the Champions Trophy, no bowler has a better Bowling Impact than Bumrah.

***

So when do we start talking about it?

When do we start considering the whys and the wherefores of this man’s career? When do we start saying “if he can do this” and “if he manages this”. When do we start to genuinely frame his ability alongside the achievements of the greats?

For some, it’s now. For some, it’ll be in two weeks time if Virat Kohli raises the trophy, though that seems a spurious marker. For some, harder to please, it’ll take a decade, and to an extent fair enough. Respect is earned not gifted, and it’s earned over many, many overs bowled.

For some, it’s now. Now is the time the pages of history begin to flutter, the ink on the record books begin to run. He needs to keep it up, he needs to sustain this, he needs to do it around the world and at different points.

But Jasprit Bumrah could be on his way to being the best death bowler ever.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: How England can beat India

CricViz analysts Freddie Wilde, Patrick Noone, and Ben Jones examine where Eoin Morgan’s side can get ahead.

CricViz Analysis: How England can beat India

England need to stay calm. Over the past four years, Eoin Morgan has made a lot about England’s approach to the game being a “brand” of cricket, or to use a less distressing term, “philosophy”. They have repeatedly presented their uber-attacking batting style as being a holistic process, as being the right way to play to win cricket matches, not simply the only way they can play. They have set it up as a style that you can’t criticise on the basis of one result, and they have been vindicated by their rise to No.1. England should be proud of their achievements. 

It would be cowardly then, and disingenuous to all they have achieved, to abandon the plan that has made them the best in the world. England shouldn’t be going slower, because that’s not who they are. Jonny Bairstow is wrong, of course, in saying that people want England to fail, but it could easily feel like that. England haven’t won all those ODI series in a vacuum, they have won them against all teams all over the world, playing in this way. England in this World Cup have not been guilty of using the wrong tactics, they’ve been guilty of executing those tactics extremely poorly. At times – the Sri Lanka game in particular – as poorly as they have ever executed them.

England don’t need wholesale changes. What they need to do is tweak a few of their selections, adapt the odd strategy, and target the weaknesses of the opposition players who’ll be looking to knock them out their home World Cup. Below are a few suggestions as to how they can do this.

Team Selection Analysis

The CricViz bowling options graphic is an advanced way of looking at batsman and bowler match-ups. As well as considering basic head-to-head, batsman by bowler-type and bowler by batsman-hand data, this model evaluates players on a deeper level. Not all right-arm pace bowlers are the same, for example; neither are all right-handed batsmen. So using ball-tracking data for bowlers and shot-type and footwork connection for batsmen, we have created sub-types of player. For example, Rohit Sharma is a top order, power-hitter, leg side player and Virat Kohli is a top order, dynamic, leg side player. Building on these archetypes of players we can look in more detail at how Jofra Archer, a new ball, attacking, high arm bowler, fares against all batsmen in the mould of Rohit and Kohli – who are of course different. These match-ups go beyond conventional measures and allow us an even greater analysis of player preference. 

Liam Plunkett is reflected excellently in the captaincy grid. He is a good match-up to bowl to every single one of India’s key batsmen, and whilst there’s no guarantee of success against a team like this, he would be working from a position of strength. He’s had fitness issues, but a relatively quiet campaign should mean he is ready and raring to go.

The question of how to get Plunkett into the side is tricky. Wood and Archer have both had excellent tournaments, but both have – at various points – been suffering with injury issues. Most likely, England will want to pick both Wood and Archer if they are at all available.  If for any reason either isn’t fully fit and England decide to take them out of the firing line, then Plunkett should be a straightforward replacement. 

However, such is Plunkett’s suitability to bowling at this India side, including him is slightly more pressing than normal. England need to find a place for him, and the most logical option is to replace Moeen Ali. The reasons for this are slightly more complex than simply Moeen’s poor form. Whilst he’s struggled with the bat, Moeen’s bowling economy of 5.34 is perfectly fine, and he’s picked up key wickets at various points. However, he is significantly better when bowling to left-handed batsmen (as an average of 39.55 v 55.52 attests), and India’s top order doesn’t have any unless Rishabh Pant makes an unlikely return.

This means that Moeen drops out of the side for Plunkett, unless England’s staff make a call on the pitch and expect it to turn significantly. If Jason Roy isn’t fit – though all signs suggest he will play – then a slightly unorthodox move could be to move Moeen to open, perhaps with license to try and get cheap early runs with the field up, thus allowing England to play the extra bowler. James Vince has been an excellent white ball batsman for several years at domestic level, but has struggled to adapt to international cricket over a long period of time now. Both him and Moeen offer significant risk with the bat, but Moeen has the added bonus of being a bowler.

Adil Rashid has had a poor tournament so far. Part of that appears to be down to injury issues with his shoulder which have affected his ability to bowl googlies to left-handers, meaning that his bowling average against them has risen from 26.85 in 2017/18 to 38.20 in 2019. Thus, just as the absence of left-handers is detrimental to Moeen’s inclusion, it’s a good sign for Rashid. His record against right-handers has remained solid and there is no excuse for a sub-par performance this Sunday.

Venue Analysis: Edgbaston 

England like playing at Edgbaston. Since the last World Cup, they have not lost an international game of any description in Birmingham. There will likely be a substantial proportion of India supporters in the ground, helped by Birmingham’s large British Asian population, and so things could feel pretty intense, but England can count on rowdy support particularly later in the day.

There have been two matches played at Edgbaston in this World Cup: New Zealand v South Africa and New Zealand v Pakistan. The pitch used on Sunday will be a fresh 22 yards, but if this second strip at Edgbaston is anything like the first then conditions are likely to be slow and low, with plenty of assistance for the spin bowlers.

PitchViz is CricViz’s unique model for evaluating the characteristics of pitches using ball tracking data. It measures all sorts of features, but the defining feature of Edgbaston pitches so far has been the pace – it’s extremely slow. Indeed, the two pitches we’ve had at Edgbaston in this World Cup have the two lowest Pace Ratings. It’s also been obscenely helpful to the spinners; of the three surfaces in this World Cup with the highest Deviation Rating, two have been at Edgbaston. Slow, and low.

What does this mean? Well, such conditions are likely to work marginally in India’s favour. Since the 2015 World Cup, India’s record on pitches like this – tricky ones with a lower than average PitchViz Pace Rating – has been better than England’s.

The extreme nature of conditions at Edgbaston in the first two matches at the venue give both teams no excuse for being caught off guard by a slow and turning track, should they be faced with that on Sunday. It needs to be considered in selection on the morning of the game.

Specific Batsman Analysis (Since CWC 2015 unless specified)

ROHIT SHARMA

The Indian opener is probably the second most important batsman in the Indian line-up. England will be desperate to find a way to limit his effectiveness, and ideally remove him early – easier said than done.

However, there are clear patterns to the way Rohit does get out in ODI cricket. In the first 20 balls of his innings, he struggles against good and full length balls from seam, just like any other batsman.

He has an issue with swing in both directions when the bowler pitches up, but struggles against neither more than the other. Rohit’s technique is very simple, and whilst he sets up to dominate the short ball early on, he doesn’t obviously favour the offside or legside.

As such, later movement can find cracks in his technique more obviously. Seam movement away from him is more dangerous than movement back in – you can square him up, and nick him off early. You have to stay aggressive with plenty of catchers, ideally two slips and a catching cover.

After that first 20 balls, you have to change things, because pitching it full becomes a far less effective tactic. You have to adjust your lengths – the defensive option becomes the good length ball, and the aggressive option becomes the short ball. What’s happening at the other end can dictate the approach here – going hard, if Rahul is still around, could feel too high risk, and a more sensible holding pattern could be dropped into by trying to dot him up.

KL RAHUL

Rahul is a very talented young batsman, but his flaws are far more straightforward and easy to target than Rohit’s. Rahul has repeatedly struggled to deal with the ball coming back into him, and with the ball targeting his stumps. He averages 14.33 against the ball swinging in, compared to 49.00 against out-swing; he also averages just 12.33 against the ball coming back in off the seam. It’s clear that his exaggerated backlift, which does give him excellent power and range of strokes, also stops him being able to defend with ease against full and straight bowling. In all international cricket, Rahul averages 10.73 against deliveries that would have hit his stumps.

VIRAT KOHLI

We have analysed how to dismiss the Indian captain in plenty of detail in this piece here, but there are still some key pointers to remember. Essentially Kohli’s dismissals follow the same pattern as Rohit’s – he gets out to full and good length balls early on, and short balls once set.

Equally, the narrative around bowling to Virat Kohli became very focused on the idea of hanging the ball out wide, and drawing him into loose shots away from his body. Amir in the Champions Trophy Final kick-started an idea that Kohli was vulnerable wide outside his off-stump. Initially, Kohli countered this by not going after those balls – or at least trying not to. Before 2019, he only attacked one in two deliveries in the channel outside off-stump, and one in four against balls wider outside off. 

However, it seems like Kohli’s had enough; now, he’s going after them. In 2019 he’s still being very restrained against balls in the channel, but against balls wider than that he’s almost doubled his intent early on in his innings.

The reason it’s a weak point is that the ball is outside of Kohli’s eyeline, and his hand-eye co-ordination is superb – if you disrupt it, he’ll struggle. England should target this. In addition to the length variations, England should consider ‘creating’ a left-arm option, by sending one of the right-arm seamers round the wicket early and bowling a very wide line, leaving a boundary option through cover if Kohli wants to go after it. Given current form, he’ll likely go after it, and back himself. However, England need only remember back to the Birmingham Test last year to know that when Kohli wants to, he can be very restrained.

MS DHONI

At the start of Dhoni’s innings he is massively restricted by spin in terms of scoring, but gets out far more regularly against pace. It is as if he’s made a choice not to be dismissed by spin early on, and will take the consequences.

The way seamers can maximise their chance of getting Dhoni early is bowl very full, or very short. The Indian veteran doesn’t get out to length balls early on, treating them with similar respect to how he treats the spinners.

Once he’s set, Dhoni can be much harder to dismiss, and so you need to keep a range of tricks up your sleeve. Slower balls are a good attacking option to Dhoni, because whilst he scores relatively briskly against them, he does get out to them far more often than normal deliveries.

Another trick to have up your sleeve, particularly as a right-arm quick, is to go wide of the crease. Dhoni averages a whopping 63 when bowlers are releasing the ball close into the stumps, but when they’re wide of the crease that drops to just 27 Mark Wood has often done this in international cricket, leaping wide at the end of his run-up, and it could be a very good option to Dhoni.

HARDIK PANDYA

The most basic rule when bowling to Hardik is to avoid bowling spin as much as possible. Hardik destroys spin, and has a very healthy average against it.

Rather, what England should do is attack him with pace, and in particular with full and short deliveries. Hardik sits deep in the crease and gives himself time to hit short balls – and is thus very effective against them.

The other main option is to go hard at Hardik with extreme pace. His average against bowlers slower than 140kph (87mph) is mediocre, but it plummets against bowling quicker than that. England are blessed with two bowlers – and if Plunkett is on form, three – bowlers who can hit 140kph regularly, and they will likely be bowling at the death. If England manage to push through the top order and get Hardik to the crease in the middle overs, then going hard with Archer or Wood is a great option.

Restraint is needed though – don’t go for the magic ball. Hardik destroys very full lengths, so trying to hit a length around 6m from the stumps (just full of a good length, nothing fuller) is the best option, allowing for any movement but not quite an attempted yorker.

It’s also important to stay straight. Hardik’s uniquely high grip allows him extra reach, meaning “wide” yorkers in particular aren’t out of his hitting zone. Challenging him instead to hit straight, by bowling at his stumps, is a much more effective measure.

Specific Bowler Analysis 

FRONTLINE SEAMERS

In the first Powerplay of the innings Jasprit Bumrah, arguably the world’s best white ball bowler, is likely to be partnered by Mohammed Shami – who only came into the team after an injury to Bhuvneshwar Kumar but has since proved his worth with two excellent performances. Bumrah and Shami are both right-arm quicks but they demonstrate how within this type of bowling it is possible to have very different styles. 

In 2019 both bowlers have stayed over the wicket to right-handers in the first ten overs from over the wicket, and both largely look to hit a classical good length – around 6 to 8 metres from the batsmen. However, that is where the similarities end. As illustrated by this graphic, Bumrah – with his unique high-arm action that goes beyond the perpendicular has an exceptionally wide release, while Shami is far more conventional. 

Bumrah’s wide release creates an angle into the right-hander, while Shami’s conventional release produces a more natural stump-to-stump line. 

Bumrah’s more skiddy bounce allows his short lengths to be slightly fuller than Shami’s – whose more traditional up and down bounce means he has to go really short to attack the neck and head of the batsmen, or else the ball will sit up. Bumrah’s back of a length balls have partly given rise to the term ‘hard length’ where the top of the batsman’s bat is attacked by balls that are short but on a flat trajectory. 

When bowling full and good lengths both men rely on seam movement rather than swing for their threat – they each only average around 0.50° lateral movement in the air – however, while Shami’s primary direction of movement is in to the batsman, Bumrah relies on movement away. It is the combination of Bumrah’s angle – speared into the right-hander, and his seam movement – going away from the right-hander, that make him such a dangerous bowler. Together this in-out duo is what gives rise to the effect of ‘opening up’ the batsman or ‘turning him into an S’ whereby they play down one line, typically challenging the stumps, but end up being beaten on the outside edge by the seam movement away. Handling Bumrah is immensely difficult because of this. Against Shami, England’s batsmen need to remain aware of the threat he is posing to their inside edge by the nip-backer. 

At the death Bumrah is a menace. No pace bowler in the world has a lower economy rate in overs 41 to 50 since the last World Cup than him. It is critical that England do not leave themselves too much to do against Bumrah in this phase of the innings because chances are they’ll come off worse for it. Shami doesn’t reverse the ball at the death, averaging just 0.6 degrees of swing in the last 10 overs, compared to Bumrah’s 0.9 degrees. As such, his plans should be a bit more predictable.

THE SPINNERS

In general, England have played Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal pretty well, despite the odd issue. Since the series last summer, both Indian wrist-spinners have begun to bowl more defensive lines, after being dealt with rather effectively by England. Despite the stereotypical concerns of facing Asian spinners on a dry wicket, England won’t be as concerned by the slower bowlers as they are by Bumrah.

However, there are some key points to remember. If you’re a left-hander, sweeping is a decent option against Chahal. You score at more than 7rpo, and average a very healthy 56.50. However, the same is not true of right-handers.

Chahal doesn’t bowl many googlies at all, roughly one every two overs regardless of whether he’s bowling to right or left-handers. He does increase his percentage the longer the innings goes on, but not by a lot.

By contrasts, Kuldeep Yadav bowls a lot of googlies, roughly one an over to the left-hander and two an over to the right-hander.

England have actually played Kuldeep rather well. After being taken apart by him at Trent Bridge last summer, they adapted their methods. Joe Root was pinned deep in the crease twice by Kuldeep in that first ODI – next two matches he came 1m further forward and counter-acted him. However, in general Kuldeep’s speed means that you can sit right back and play him off the pitch. He bowls a lot of googlies, and you can counter the effectiveness of these by playing him as late as possible.

Against Kuldeep, this is a much better option than sweeping . Neither left-handers or right-handers are able to sweep him effectively, his up and down trajectory so exaggerated that it’s tough to time the stroke appropriately.

Fielding 

In a game like this, the tiniest advantage could be influential. England should be aware of India’s stronger and weaker fielders, so that they can target them, turning ones into twos, twos into threes when possible. Unsurprisingly, the strongest fielder in the Indian squad according to CricViz’s analysis is Ravi Jadeja, renowned as an elite fielder for a long period of time. Perhaps more surprising is seeing Rohit Sharma at the upper end of the list. Similarly, KL Rahul being adjudged a poorer fielder is surprising, but other than that the fielders to target are exactly who you’d expect. Kuldeep, Chahal, Kedar are all weaker fielders than the average, and are worth pushing harder, particularly towards the end of the innings/if the required rate is rising. 

Conclusion

If England use these strategies, they’ll have a chance. India are an elite side, the newly crowned world No.1 team, and will take some beating. But as with everything else about this game, the key is England remembering how good they have been for such a long period of time, and how good they still are. If they can remember that, then we’re going to have one hell of a match on our hands.

CricViz Classics: New Zealand v Australia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boult came to the crease as the number 11.

Two balls to survive.

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

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

One ball to survive.

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

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

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

Those straight boundaries; so easy to clear after all.

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.

@patnoonecricket

CricViz Analysis: Jasprit Bumrah’s Double Wicket-Maiden

Patrick Noone analyses the six balls that clinched the game for India at Old Trafford

Sport is about moments. The moments that define matches, tournaments, even careers. We talk about ‘big game players’ who routinely step up and deliver such moments to seize the initiative, change the course of a match or make the crucial contribution at the crucial time to turn the game in their team’s favour.

In Jasprit Bumrah, India have a bowler who produces this kind of moment with such regularity that his career is starting to resemble a highlights package of match-defining balls, wickets or spells.

In the penultimate over of India’s last outing in this World Cup, with Afghanistan needing 21 runs from 12 balls, Bumrah delivered five perfect yorkers and a low full toss that cost him just five runs, leaving Afghanistan with too much to do in the final over.

Today, Bumrah’s killer blow to West Indies’ hopes of chasing 269 came in the form of a double-wicket maiden in the 27th over. In truth, the stakes were not as high today in Manchester as they were on Saturday in Southampton. It was the middle of the innings and West Indies had already been reduced to 107-5 when Bumrah began the second over of his second spell.

But in Carlos Brathwaite, the man who took his side so close to victory on this very ground just five days ago in a similarly improbable run chase against New Zealand, West Indies had a man at the crease more than capable of dragging his side back into the contest.

It was early in Brathwaite’s innings though and he was yet to get going. He never would. Bumrah struck with the first ball of the over with a beauty that swung one way and seamed the other, just enough to tempt Brathwaite to have a nibble at, just enough to find the edge of his bat, before MS Dhoni was able to stretch just enough to take the catch behind the stumps.

You have to feel a bit for Fabian Allen at this stage. Playing in his first World Cup match, walking to the crease with his team in more than a spot of bother, the partisan India crowd on their feet and making a cacophonous noise to greet him, he could perhaps have been forgiven if the occasion got to him. Especially when you consider what he was having to face from Bumrah, a bowler with his tail up, creating another seminal moment in front of our eyes.

Allen would only last ball – at 143kph it was the quickest delivery of Bumrah’s over and it cannoned into the right-hander’s front pad. The umpire’s finger went up, the crowd noise that had gone from roar to hubbub was reignited once again. Allen reviewed the decision, perhaps realising that him surviving was now West Indies’ best chance of getting over the line, or perhaps genuinely thinking it was going past leg stump. Not so; Bumrah had been able to straighten it just enough – 0.5° to be precise – for the verdict to be umpire’s call.

107-5 had become 107-7 in a flash and India were almost home. Kemar Roach was the next man in, the man to face the hat-trick ball. Roach is a capable batsman, certainly for a number nine. He played his part in the drama of the New Zealand match on Saturday, hanging around for 31 balls and 14 runs, but keeping out Bumrah was going to be a different challenge altogether.

As Bumrah started his idiosyncratic, stuttering run up, the atmosphere was one of expectancy – almost certainty – that he would complete the three-card trick. As the ball left Bumrah’s right hand, and floated out at just 97kph, there was a split second in which everyone watching expected the batsman to be bamboozled and for the zing bails to light up.

Bumrah’s slower ball has been a potent weapon for him ever since he made his international debut in 2016. He has taken 24 wickets with it in all formats, eight of them bowled and, famously, one LBW when Shaun Marsh was trapped in front during the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne last year. The hat-trick ball today was even slower than the Marsh dismissal – 97kph compared to 112kph – but the lines of the two balls were almost identical.

Roach was equal to it on this occasion though. He got his bat down and defended the hat-trick ball – an inch-perfect yorker that Bumrah could hardly have executed better. It was a delivery more than worthy of dismissing a batsman of greater repute than Roach but, on this occasion, he was able to keep it out and Bumrah was denied his hat-trick. He would see out the rest of the over too, defending twice and ducking once as Bumrah finished off his work for the day – six overs, one maiden, two for nine.

A hat-trick would have been the icing on the cake for Bumrah; the obvious, show-stopping moment, on a level that even he is yet to reach in his astonishingly successful career to date. Perhaps we were denied that moment, but this over was no less thrilling as a result. Sometimes, the best moments are the ones that give you just enough, the ones that leave you wanting just a little bit more.

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.

@patnoonecricket

CricViz Analysis: Babar Azam’s Century

Ben Jones analyses the knock of the tournament from a Pakistan star.

Trust Babar Azam.

Pakistan needed a hero today. It might not have looked like it by the end, as they won by an apparently comfortable six wickets. It might not have felt like it when they had the ball in hand, and New Zealand wickets were falling against Shaheen Afridi’s new ball brilliance. It might not be remembered in years to come, but in this chase, Pakistan were up against it. They needed a hero.

Sure, they were going after a low total. But something had happened to that Edgbaston pitch that wasn’t normal, that we don’t normally see in Birmingham in this sort of match. Mitchell Santner’s opening over had an average of 6.9° spin off the pitch; that’s the most of any over from a finger-spinner in ODI cricket since August 2018. This was a pitch that was offering bowlers – bowlers who would typically be negged with the use of “canny” and “accurate” – prodigious, significant spin. It was surprising as well, that the average deviation off the surface for the spinners was 4.2°, the highest figure for any ODI at Edgbaston since that data has been recorded. Out of nowhere.

But of all that was in hand. Babar Azam was in control.

Trust youth.

In the history of the ODI format, only one man – Hashim Amla, a great of the game – has reached a career total of 3,000 runs quicker than Babar. He has arrived in international cricket with an ability to make runs that very few people possess as they start their careers at the top level. Plenty go through an entire lifetime without reaching these heights.

Today, he became the second youngest Pakistan batsmen ever to make a century at a World Cup. Saleem Malik in 1987 was about 60 days younger when he made 100 (95) against Sri Lanka – but this wasn’t against an attack like that. This was against the quickest bowler in the world, the best new ball bowler in the world, and a high quality spinner on a deck that was spitting and gripping. Without question, this was one of the great Pakistani centuries.

Trust skill.

At CricViz, we’ve spent a lot of time trying to use the detailed data we have to tell different stories. We don’t want to say what’s happened, we want to tell you why it’s happened. There’s so much rich detail available, so many quirks and turns of events that can be recorded, which haven’t been previously. One of these details comes out in the form of a Timing Rating for players, a figure built around how often a player makes a good contact with the ball, and the resulting score from those shots. It’s rated out of 100, and in our entire database only two players have registered 100 as a Timing Rating. One is AB de Villiers, and the other as I think you’ll have guessed, is Babar Azam.

It’s a stat that tells you in three figures what your gut could tell you in an instant. One shot, on drive on the up, one crisply middled push through the covers is all you really need to know that here is a man who hits the ball differently. It doesn’t sound different like when Jos Buttler hits it; it doesn’t look different, like when Steve Smith hits it; when Babar Azam gets it right, it feels different.

We didn’t feel it much today, in truth – but when we did, oh how we did. Babar held his nerve, held the absolute peak of his timing back, until he turned it up in the 42nd over. A pair of sweeps off Mitchell Santner, who until that point in the day had gone for next to nothing, were dismissive to the point of rudeness, crisply struck derision at the pretence of this chase being a contest. Very, very few players in the world have the ability that Babar has. Very, very few players could have done what he did.

Trust control.

It’s the greatest indicator of a player’s class. Since the last ICC tournament, the Champions Trophy in 2017, roughly 30 players have made 1,000 or more ODI runs. It’s a reasonable cut off to distinguish the top-class players in the game, those who have consistently achieved things at this level. Of those players only three men have made their runs with a lower false shot percentage than Babar. Those men are Kane Williamson, Joe Root, and Virat Kohli, the absolute elite of the game. Babar hasn’t achieved anything like what those three have done across all formats, but in the 50 over game he is their contemporary. He has earned the right to be discussed in their company.

Trust fortune.

Babar has made 10 ODI centuries. They’ve come over four calendar years, against six oppositions in five countries. He has proven his worth, and his quality is not in doubt. But none of those 10 centuries have seen him err as often as he did today. Over his 127 balls, he played a false shot 16.1% of the time – he has never played more while compiling a century. For a man who is so immaculate in his execution, so precise in the way he approaches his batting, that is a figure out of nowhere. It’s not what he wanted to happen – this wasn’t calculated risk. This was a wedge of good fortune coming the way of a player who has done nothing but deserve it for a long time now.

Trust quality.

Because Babar does more than most people do, you know. According to CricViz’s Wicket Probability Model, which uses historical ball-tracking data to give every delivery a percentage chance of taking a wicket/ leading to a run, the deliveries that were bowled to Babar today should have lead to 107 runs, but also to 3.3 wickets. The average batsman, facing the balls that Babar faced today, would have been dismissed more than three times. Babar Azam, is not your average batsman.

Pakistan aren’t your average team, of course. The patronising nonsense of their “mercurial” nature can be left at the door, in all honesty – they are a good team, with several extremely good cricketers in their ranks. Mo Amir has been consistently their best player in this tournament, the man most likely to carry them through to the knock-outs. Wahab Riaz has had his moments, not least defeating the World No.1 side in a game that feels like it took place four years ago. Even Shaheen Afridi, lamented and criticised after an abject new ball performance against Australia , came through and made a decisive contribution today. Pakistan have too much quality in their ranks to describe them as “mercurial”. They’re just good.

But when it came down to it, they needed to be able to place their faith in someone who couldn’t ever be described as mercurial. Sure, he’s a cover-driver, but you don’t make as many runs as him in as few matches without a serious wedge of consistency. You don’t produce so much in such a short space of time without being a player of generational ability, of stylish substance, of historical significance.

Trust in Babar Azam. He won’t let you down.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: The Genius of Kane Williamson

Patrick Noone looks at how the New Zealand captain has quietly gone about his business on his way to successive World Cup centuries.

Kane Williamson is not an obvious modern-day batting superstar. He doesn’t possess the power of Andre Russell, the swagger of Virat Kohli or the innovation of Glenn Maxwell. He is an old-fashioned batsman in a modern world, breaking the mould in the most measured way imaginable.

Williamson might lack the obvious charisma and rock-star status of some of his contemporaries, but that should never be mistaken for timidity or meekness. Beneath the calm exterior is a sharp cricketing brain, a steely mental resolve and, above all, a relentless thirst for runs.

Since New Zealand’s tour to England in 2015, Williamson has played 12 ODI innings in the UK across that bilateral series, the 2017 Champions Trophy and the ongoing World Cup. Only twice has he failed to pass 50, and even on those occasions he made 40 and 45. That is an astonishing level of consistency for a player in foreign conditions over such a prolonged period of time.

It speaks volumes that even after such a long run of success, Williamson has arguably elevated his game to a higher level in this tournament, having played two of the finest innings of the competition so far. First, against South Africa at Edgbaston, his ice-cool hundred got the Black Caps over the line in a difficult chase, before he repeated the trick in the next match against West Indies, rescuing New Zealand from a precarious position at 7-2 to take them to what turned out to be a match-winning total.

With the exception of the ten-wicket win against Sri Lanka, New Zealand have lost their first wicket within 5.1 overs of every innings they’ve batted so far in this tournament. On two occasions – against Afghanistan and West Indies – Martin Guptill has been dismissed from the first ball of the innings, leaving Williamson to come in as a de facto opener.

Against South Africa, Williamson was afforded slightly longer as Colin Munro lasted 2.1 overs with just 12 runs on the board in a chase of 242, but his task was the same: rebuild, consolidate, accumulate. But that’s not to say Williamson was negative or was guilty of getting bogged down. In a relatively brisk partnership of 60 with Guptill, the skipper was happy to attack when South Africa over-pitched or erred with a wide line. He scored at 5.40 runs per over in his first 30 balls, quicker than any subsequent chunk of his innings, until his final match-winning flourish.

Rather than building a platform and kicking on, Williamson instead played the situation, reined his innings back as wickets began to fall around him and continued to score at a measured, but remarkably consistent rate throughout.

This was a batsman showing complete faith in his technique to get his team over the line. It was far from Williamson’s most fluent innings – the 15% false shots he played is the highest he’s ever registered in any of his ODI hundreds – but he knew that if he was there at the end, he would get the job done. And so it proved.

Three days later at Old Trafford, Williamson again strode to the crease with his side in trouble. 0-1 from 0.1 overs promptly became 7-2 after 0.5 overs and The Black Caps were left to rely on their two most experienced heads to get them out of another difficult situation. Williamson, alongside Ross Taylor, rebuilt the innings and drove New Zealand towards a competitive total.

But Williamson would not have it all his own way. His battle with West Indies left-armer Sheldon Cottrell, the other outstanding performer in the match, made for compelling viewing. After serving up a juicy full toss that was dispatched for four for Williamson’s first ball, Cottrell would then bowl 14 dots from the remaining 17 balls he bowled to the New Zealand captain in his opening spell.  

Williamson picked his moments to score off Cottrell – his only boundaries coming from the occasions when the seamer was too full, too short or angling into his pads. A further illustration of Williamson’s judiciousness is the nature of the balls he opted to defend. When Cottrell hit the line and length just outside his off-stump, Williamson showed no interest in scoring during the early part of his innings. It was only during the death overs when looking for quick runs that he played an attacking shot to a ball in that region, costing him his wicket and giving Cottrell a victory of sorts.

Williamson is already rightly considered one of the finest batsmen New Zealand has ever produced. Perhaps only Martin Crowe can rival the current skipper for that particular gong, but what sometimes gets overlooked is his prowess across formats and across conditions. Williamson was the leading run scorer in the 2018 IPL, has the most Test hundreds by a New Zealander (20) and averages 51.44 in ODIs since the 2015 World Cup. You can make a strong case that, alongside Virat Kohli, Williamson is the greatest all-format batsman in the world.

And that’s before we even consider the mental strength of the man. As is often the case, the numbers are informative, but they only tell half the story. Williamson’s finish at Edgbaston was reminiscent of the Eden Park thriller of 2015, when he held his nerve to hit Pat Cummins for six over long-on to beat Australia. For a player not renowned for his power, to have hit a decisive six in a high-pressure World Cup run chase not once, but twice, only serves to highlight the calibre of batsman we’re talking about.

After hitting that six in Auckland four years ago, Williamson celebrated with a gentle fist pump before embracing Trent Boult in the middle. At Old Trafford on Saturday night, Boult again was involved in the winning moment, taking the catch that ended Carlos Brathwaite’s onslaught. Once again, Williamson was as calm in the victory moment as he had been with his captaincy in the overs leading up to the finale.

Nothing seems to faze him on or off the field. While 20,000 people in the Old Trafford crowd were losing their minds, while the New Zealand fielding was becoming ragged and while cracks were starting to appear in his charges, Williamson kept his cool. It was an all-round performance that epitomised the emotions of both Williamson the captain and Williamson the man.

New Zealand so often fly under the radar, but in Williamson they have an indisputable world great leading them. In each of the last two World Cups, they have been a team built in the image of their skipper and, while they might lack the fireworks and the brutality of the McCullum regime, the 2019 Black Caps vintage have quietly gone about their business in a manner befitting their captain.

Williamson has taken his team to almost certain qualification for the semi-finals, not quite single-handedly but with a single-mindedness that few in the game can match. Williamson is always under-stated, often under-rated but after the tournament he’s having, he will never be under-appreciated.

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.

@patnoonecricket

CricViz Analysis: Brathwaite’s Century

Ben Jones analyses one of the great ODI tons.

Carlos Brathwaite hit five sixes today. Brutal, totemic sixes. 30 iconic runs from all out assaults on the New Zealand attack. Five shots. Just short of six.

Carlos Brathwaite hit 25 runs off Matt Henry, in the 48th over of the game: 25% of his total runs in five minutes and 50 seconds of absolute, utter chaos. It brought West Indies’ prospects up from a 3% chance to a 45% chance, from a shot in the dark to within touching distance. Five minutes, fifty seconds. Just short of six.

Carlos Brathwaite hit Jimmy Neesham to long-on. A muscular parabola, the ball arced high into the Manchester sky, white on black in the night, arcing towards the fielder. Just short of six.

***

When Brathwaite came to the crease, West Indies were 142-4. They were almost exactly halfway to their target, but it felt an awful lot further away than that. In the overs that followed, they lost Chris Gayle, Ashley Nurse and a crocked Evin Lewis. A frustrating session, the sense was that Pooran, Gayle and Hetmyer had thrown it away. Fans had begun to leave, and we’d all allowed our minds to wander, back to the wonder of the match we’d witnessed in Southampton earlier that evening, and to Lord’s for another crucial encounter tomorrow. The light had gone out.

When Lewis fell, their chances with WinViz dropped to 1%. People will mock, but who can look you in the eye, as they say they thought West Indies had a hope?

Unlike most team sports, cricket is binary. Ties go down in history, and you can count them on your hand. In white ball cricket, you win or you lose. You’re up, or you’re down. You’re dead, or you’re alive.

Carlos Brathwaite gets that.

He gets that if you’re still stood at the crease, you still have a chance. That’s why, when all others around him were falling, he stood, and let the action happen. He let the game come to him. As the wickets fell, and the game began to flat-line, Brathwaite just hung. He put no pressure on himself to hit out from the start, absolving himself of blame with easy talk of aggression or counter-attacks. He calmly, authoritatively, took the burden of the whole game, the whole campaign, on his broad Bajan shoulders, and waited.

Brathwaite attacked only 18 of the first 60 deliveries he faced in Manchester today. He gave himself the option to sit, to assess the situation, to gather information about the pitch and the bowlers, knowing he had firepower to come. He knew that, for all the runs required and all the balls remaining, this was essentially in hand.

In his hand, of course. From the moment he arrived at the crease, another 137 runs came from the bats of the West Indian side; 101 came from Brathwaite’s.

And so he bided his time. He waited, stealing from over to over, getting closer to the desired target in tiny increments, nothing more. He knew the end could be emphatic, he’s always had it in him.

He waited, and waited, until he was within striking distance – and then he struck. After those first 60 deliveries, he attacked 18 of the next 22. He made a break for it, and it was sustained. The 36 attacking shots Brathwaite played was the most he’s ever played in an ODI innings. It was twice as many as he’s ever played before in a single match.

But he picked his deliveries. This wasn’t indiscriminate slogging, in the slightest. Brathwaite knows his strengths and weaknesses all too well, and approached this task appropriately.

Brathwaite is a big man. He’s more than that, of course; few cricketers in the world are as intelligent in terms of using their skills as efficiently. But he is, fundamentally, a big strong man who can hit the ball a long way if you put the ball in his half. His scoring today was clinical, his attacking strokes destructive, but they came against full pitched bowling.

Terrifyingly, out of nowhere, Williamson suddenly clocked what was going on. He tuned into the destruction, and knew what he had to do to get his side over the line.

The last eight balls Brathwaite faced were all short. New Zealand had realised as a collective what was happening. Anything in the slot, or near it, was going the distance, but plenty else was causing Brathwaite issues. This was their in, their last chance to save face.

Ferguson, the short ball specialist – no Black Caps seamers has sent down more bouncers in this World Cup – had bowled out. So Williamson turned to Neesham, a man always willing to do a job, and from what we can tell from the sidelines, told him to bowl short every ball.

He was dismissed by a short ball. The only type of bowling he never got hold of. Williamson had sussed him, just in time.

Brathwaite was left, on his own, on the floor in a moment that called to mind those other great valiant defeats. Lee in 2005, particularly, was at the forefront, the sense of a player so close to snatching unlikely victory, denied it at the last minute. This was a man who had walked all the way up to the mirror, the emphatic binary of win and lose, and fallen short with his nose touching glass.

***

Far too many people are ready to attack this West Indian side, when they make errors that plenty of other sides have been guilty of. Too much T20, they cry; no pride; no thought. It is fair in a number of instances, and should certainly burn the ears of few talents in the middle order. But it’s not true of Carlos. This is a man who thought his way through this problem, who plotted his route out of trouble and fell short by a matter of metres.

No other innings this World Cup has had a higher impact on their side, in any given game. No other individual can walk back into the dressing room, look their teammates in the eye, and say that they did more.

It’s frustrating, but we can’t talk about this innings, without talking about that innings. Kolkata, April 3rd, 2016. Brathwaite does what we all know he did, hitting four consecutive sixes off Ben Stokes in the most remarkable end to a cricket match ever seen. We remember the way it all unfolded, the thrill, the shock, the name. The game was England’s, and then it was gone.

Briefly, on Friday night, Stokes saw his own shot at redemption, his own opportunity to wrestle a victory out of the jaws of defeat with his hands only. It slipped away. Mark Wood was unable to play his part with the bat, and Stokes’ latest redemptive shot was struck out. It could be his last. These moments come along ever so rarely.

That’s the beauty of days like today. It’s not in the tumult of the back and forth, the fortunes of two sides thrown from side to side, sparing only one. It’s that performances like Brathwaite’s are so rare, and for one man to produce two in a lifetime – no, in three years – is nothing short of astonishing.

Don’t let anyone convince you that history only remembers the winners. Holland in 1974. New Zealand in 2015. We remember those that made us feel things, those that defined moments and tournaments with performances that will never fall into line with others.

Carlos Brathwaite – we’ll remember the name.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: Why Aren’t Chasing Sides Winning?

Ben Jones analyses the two main trends in this World Cup – sides opting to chase, and that side then losing.

You have a bat, and we’ll have a bowl, then we’ll have a bat, and you have a bowl. It’s the rhythm of white ball cricket, the balance on which the game is built. Some sides prefer batting first, some prefer batting second, but ultimately, there is no structural advantage to doing either. You have to do one or the other at some point. You have to play well to win the game.

But there’s something odd going on in this World Cup. Captains aren’t reflecting this inherent balance. Instead, they are repeatedly opting to chase, doing so 18 times from 23 tosses; it’s a clear strategy that, across a range of teams and a range of conditions, different captains have seen as the best route to victory.

In actual fact, this preference for chasing is greater than it’s ever been in the modern era. None of the last eight World Cups have seen captains so regularly call correctly and send the opposition in. There is a bias in the 10 captains currently gallivanting around the United Kingdom, and it’s a bias we’ve not seen the like of in the last 30 years.

However, that bias is not showing up in the results. Just 10 of the 22 wins we have seen in the last month have come when chasing. That’s a win percentage of 45% – chasing right now is harder than teams, captains, and pundits think.

It really makes you ask – why are captains so in favour of doing something which, to all intents and purposes, isn’t favouring their team?

In part, they’re simply continuing a trend. There have often been drifts towards particular theories in cricket, drifts that take decision-making with it but leaving results behind. Over the last decade we’ve seen greater and greater numbers of captains opt to bowl first in ODI cricket, but as the two graphics below show, it has not been combined with any great increase in the success rate of chasing. Teams are chasing more, but it doesn’t mean chasers are winning more.

Perhaps the desire to chase is a result of T20, where chasing holds a genuinely easier route to victory. Another potential reason for captains chasing more regularly, in this particular tournament, is that there is a certain expectation of what conditions are going to be like. This is Britain. It’s rainy, it’s wet, it’s damp, it swing. Bowlers expect the ball to swing and seam; it’s been a torrential June, one of the wettest on record and, so people expect batting to be hard; there have been 10:30am start times, so people have expected to catch teams cold batting first.

Yet in reality, there has been no more movement in this World Cup than we’d expect in a normal ODI series. Bowlers aren’t finding more swing than usual with the new ball in the first innings, and are finding only slightly more seam movement. There is an obvious argument that captains are getting lulled into thinking that the early starts are going to make the ball do a bit more – and there’s no evidence that it’s done more than we expect at the start of a normal ODI.

In the context of misunderstanding the conditions, chasing makes sense. Cricket, conservative in every sense imaginable, has a weird perversion when it comes to punishing those who stray from the Normal Path. Bowl first on a flat deck – the most statistically successful way to win a match on a high-scoring pitch, by the way – and you’re derided. Nasser at Brisbane. Ponting at Edgbaston. It’s exaggerated in Tests, but the point stands that in popular cricketing culture, the worst thing a skipper can do is throw his bowlers under the bus. Call correctly, bat first, get rolled? Nobody gives a toss. Bowl first, on your best judgement, from a career of reading pitches? We’ll be in the carpark, waiting with a hammer.

When it comes down to it, there’s not more seam or swing movement available to the side bowling first in this World Cup. The size of the weapon is almost exactly the same regardless of whether you’re bowling first or second. Sides haven’t clocked this, hence the bias towards bowling first – but fundamentally there’s no atmospheric/conditional difference.

When the clouds are low and the umbrellas are quivering at half mast in the crowd, it’s far less risky to insert the opposition than to bat. If you bowl badly, and take no wickets, credit will likely go to the batsmen; if you bat, you will be blamed if you collapse. This sort of logic is clearly in play, when captains look nervously at the grey skies and send the opposition in, knowing that in this World Cup that leaves them vulnerable.

Of course – it doesn’t always leave them vulnerable. It’s also important to ask who has been chasing, and how often has it been the pre-match favourite.

In this World Cup so far, there have been 11 instances of the chasing side starting the match as favourites (i.e. with a WinViz of above 50%). In those 11 matches, the chasing side have won eight times. When the chasing side has been the better side – in the eyes of WinViz, at the start of the match – they have generally chased with a clear degree of success. When they haven’t been the better side, the chasing side has struggled; in the 12 matches where the side batting first was favourite at the beginning of the match, only twice has the chasing side gone on to win.

On top of this, there has been a tournament-wide trend of teams falling behind, and failing to recover. There has been a slight lack of ebb-and-flow classics – New Zealand v South Africa apart – and that is reflected in the WinViz patterns throughout the games. Only four games have been won by the side behind (with a WinViz of <50%) at the innings break, and of those four instances, only one (Bangladesh, against West Indies) has been the chasing side overturning that deficit. Games have been won before the halfway point.

So, in some ways it’s down to the fact that captains are making the wrong decision because of their own judgement; in some ways, it’s down to their own fear of failure; in some ways, it’s down to the fact that basically, the luck of the draw has ensured that the better side has been batting first more often than not.

In the end, perhaps it does come down to pressure. Perhaps, in the intensity of a World Cup, everything returns to that baseline equality – half of games are won by the side batting first, and half by the side batting second. Really though, underneath it all, what we’re dealing with are the cultural quirks of generations. Some prefer the focus of batting second and knowing a target, some prefer the lack of ceiling provided by batting first. Some players suited to batting with the handbrake off and some to batting with the finish line in sight.

You have a bat, and we’ll have a bowl, then we’ll have a bat, and you have a bowl. It’s the rhythm of white ball cricket, the balance on which the game is built. Some sides prefer batting first, some prefer batting second, but ultimately, there is no structural advantage to doing either. You have to do one or the other at some point. You have to play well to win the game.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: Kuldeep Yadav’s Delivery

Ben Jones analyses the delivery of the day.

In the age of 300+ scores, middle overs wickets are key. It’s rapidly become a key tenet of ODI strategy that, within your bowling ranks, you need someone who can strike in Overs 11-40, because the overwhelming majority of modern batsman can score rapidly when set. Containing them is all but impossible. The only way to keep scores down, is by taking wickets.

That’s what defined Hasan Ali’s Champions Trophy in 2017. He was the middle overs king, averaging just 10.77 runs per wicket in Powerplay 2. Pakistan won the final at the Oval because of Amir’s opening blitz, but they won the tournament because of Hasan in those middle overs.

Many of Pakistan’s ODI difficulties since that triumph have come from Hasan’s inability to recapture that form. Amir would take you on up front, and if you got through that barrage, then Hasan would mop you up, but that strategy only works if both men are on form. Hasan’s strike rate in the middle has soared ever since that final.

Today, Pakistan were lacking the spark that Hasan used to provide. KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma started like a house on fire, building the sort of opening partnership that you dream of as an opening pair, gaining a stranglehold on the game that Pakistan could never really loosen. Pakistan, for a team supposedly full of maverick talents, were unable to find anyone to break the game open – and worst of all, the contrast with India couldn’t have been more stark.

What’s more it was also beautifully distilled into a single moment. The delivery from Kuldeep Yadav to Babar Azam was the moment of the day, the piece of outstanding skill which lit up a contest that, in truth, failed to live up to its billing. The perfect delivery to the right-hander, Kuldeep drew the batsman forward with a teasing length, and a line wide enough – helped by the unique angle of the left-arm wrist-spinner – that Babar couldn’t play it under his eyes. It then gripped, came back through the gate, and bowled him. It was the piece of partnership breaking magic that Pakistan had been unable to find.

Because of the angle, the spin was the most immediately striking aspect. It turned 5.8° off the surface – given that Kuldeep’s average career delivery turns 3.6°, it could have surprised even him, and it certainly surprised Babar. The Pakistan No.3 played down the line of that career average, expecting a more realistic degree of turn, and was gone.

The spin was remarkable, but in reality it was only the icing on the cake. The real work had gone on beforehand. In golf, they say you drive for show, putt for dough, i.e. that the flamboyance of the tee shots have to be matched with finesse on the green. The same could be said of the relationship between spin and drift. Turn off the pitch is the obvious, shouty member of the double-act, but it’s the movement through the air which really foxes the very best batsmen – and it was the 2.96° of drift which really did for Babar.

As shown, plenty of deliveries spun more than the wicket ball; only six, from all spinners who bowled today, moved more through the air. Babar is a top class player, and a good judge of length; to deceive him the way that Kuldeep did, requires something special. In his ODI career, just 7.7% of Babar’s shots against spin have resulted in an edge or a miss; only two men to face as many balls as him can better that record, and they’re Kohli and Kane Williamson. To freeze Babar’s feet in his stance, and prevent a press either forward or back, demands a delivery either unusually slow, or swerving unexpectedly, disrupting the triggers and alignments that allow batsmen to remain in control.

Kuldeep very subtly changed his pace as well. There was a change of pace as well. The previous ball, at 74kph, was the slowest he’d bowled at that point in the innings. Thus, the speed of the wicket ball – 78kph, nondescript in isolation – was a threat, a variation from the previous. It’s a chaotic world, facing wrist-spin. Whilst the length was almost exactly the same as the ball before, Kuldeep had dragged the previous too straight – the wicket ball was back on the right trajectory.

Aside from the set-up, the context in which it was delivered, it was a magic ball in its own right. It was the sort of ball we’ve all bowled a million times in our heads, in corridors as we mimic our heroes, aping their actions and imaging the ball pirouetting through the air, arcing, drifting, pitching and gripping before knocking the stumps out of the ground. Yet Kuldeep hadn’t done it in his mind, he’d done it in the World Cup, against Pakistan – and it won India the game.

That’s what tends to prosper in the middle overs, when partnerships are set and the first line of attack has been fought off. Atypical skills. Extreme pace, wrist-spin, or unusual tactics. That’s why Kuldeep and Chahal are so valuable to India, because as well as being reliable performers, they still retain that quality of unpredictability. Pakistan’s bowlers didn’t have that today.

Ultimately, India were always in control of this match. Their chances with WinViz never fell below 50%, rarely fell below 70% once Rohit and Rahul got going. Babar and Fakhar were unlikely to go on and chase the runs required – but there was hope that they might, an opportunity that these excellent players could thwart India as they had done two years previously. There was a slowly building sense, throughout that partnership, that what was being asked was possible. It may have only been a spell that the neutral was willingly falling for, but it was working – and Kuldeep’s brilliance broke it in an instant.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.