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CricViz Classics: Glenn Maxwell v Sri Lanka

Patrick Noone delves into the analytical archives to reflect on one of the most thrilling World Cup innings in recent memory.

When we look back at previous editions of the Cricket World Cup, it is often tempting to pick out features that have come to define each tournament. Whether it’s the start of India’s love affair with ODI cricket in 1983, the switch to coloured clothing in 1992 or the birth of the pinch-hitter in 1996, every tournament has something which sets it apart from the others.

In 2015, one of the enduring features was an unprecedented level of run scoring, particularly late in the innings. The regulations that allowed just four men outside the 30-yard circle in the last ten overs, in addition to a five-over batting Powerplay that permitted just three men outside and had to be taken before the 36th over, meant that teams had more licence than ever to tee off and turn the last 15 overs into a run-drenched slog-fest.

The run rate in the last 15 overs of the 2015 tournament was 7.45, the only time in the last five editions that that figure has been above six runs-per-over, let alone seven.

Australia’s Glenn Maxwell was the perfect player to take advantage of the 2015 regulations. The all-rounder had already lit up the tournament with 66 and 88 against England and Afghanistan, respectively and went into his side’s match against Sri Lanka at the Sydney Cricket Ground with a tournament strike rate of 189.02 from three innings.

Australia built a solid platform against Sri Lanka as fifties from Steve Smith and Michael Clarke guided them to 175-3, when the latter was dismissed for 68 in the 32nd over. That brought Maxwell to the crease and, after Smith got out four balls later, paired him with Shane Watson. It was the perfect storm for a player of Maxwell’s skillset: a platform had been laid, he was at the crease just before the batting Powerplay and had a batsman at the other end that didn’t require him to farm the strike.

What followed was one of the most destructive innings ever seen in a World Cup match. It wasn’t the fastest hundred in the tournament’s history – at 51 balls, it was one ball slower than Kevin O’Brien’s knock against England in 2011 – but there can be few centuries as eye-catching as this one.

Maxwell’s first show of aggression was off the seventh ball he faced when he charged Sachithra Senanayake, lofting a drive over mid-off for four. It was the first of six fours he struck off Sri Lanka’s spinners, with Seekkuge Prasanna coming in for the roughest of treatments.

The leg-spinner bowled 12 balls to Maxwell and conceded 34 runs. Five of those deliveries came in the 37th over and yielded 16 runs. From the first ball he faced, Maxwell disdainfully got down on one knee and carted Prasanna high into the stands over deep backward square leg. Two balls later, he cleared short third man with an impetuous reverse sweep that bounced once before reaching the rope.

Maxwell used the various kinds of sweep – conventional, slog and reverse – as his boundary options throughout his innings. Of the seven sweeps he played, four went for four and one for six. This meant that the majority of Maxwell’s boundaries came square of the wicket while, curiously, none occurred through mid-on.

Maxwell was never one for orthodoxy though, and the sheer audacity of some of his shot selection had already garnered him a cult following among cricket fans around the world. The phrase ‘Maxwellball’, a term invented to imply that Maxwell was playing a game different to everyone else, had been coined as early as November the previous year, but this was the innings he became mainstream. This was when he announced himself as a cricketer who belonged at the highest level and all talk of ‘potential’ was momentarily put to bed.  

That said, Maxwell played just one shot categorised as a ‘slog’ throughout his innings. Often, we hear commentators refer to batsmen playing ‘proper cricket shots’, meaning those which subscribe to a traditional technique, usually low risk, never slogs. Maxwell might not have been slogging, but some of the shots he was playing were decidedly improper, audacious to the point of rudeness. This was a different kind of batting – fearless, innovative and thrilling.

At the time, Maxwell’s innings felt like the start of something special; a player with all the talent in the world realising his potential and defining his role in the most emphatic fashion. As it is, this remains Maxwell’s sole ODI hundred, the apex of a perpetually uncertain 50-over career.

Changes in the fielding regulations following that tournament, allowing five fielders outside the circle in the last ten overs, have not helped him, nor have the peculiarities of the Australian selection process. Maxwell batted as low as seven in the home series against India in early 2019, while at other times he has been left out of squads and teams altogether.

There have been glimpses of Maxwell’s outrageous potential since that run-soaked afternoon in Sydney – a Test hundred in Ranchi, as well as three T20I tons – but none felt as seminal as that maiden international three figure score. On that day, we all got a peek at what a Maxwellball world would look like: bold, daring and above all, extremely fun.

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.

@patnoonecricket

CricViz Analysis: Australia’s Mavericks

Ben Jones reflects on Australia’s mavericks.

Mitchell Starc is special.

Most people know that, just from watching him fire it down at 150kph. It’s clear from his statistical record, from the frightening rate at which he’s accrued 150 ODI wickets. Nobody in history has done so with a better strike rate.

Starc is an outlier not just in the effectiveness of his bowling, but in the way he bowls. Most seamers build from a base of good length deliveries; Starc doesn’t. Starc bowls full. In the last decade, no established bowler has bowled a full length more often than him; only two men have hit a good length more rarely.

If we go deeper, it’s even clearer how attacking Starc is. CricViz’s Wicket Probability Model uses ball-tracking data to calculate the likelihood that any delivery – and thus over, spell, bowler – has of taking a wicket. Over the last ten years, no established ODI bowler has a better Expected Strike Rate than Mitchell Starc. The deliveries he bowls are incredibly dangerous, and incredibly attacking.

Australia have the most attacking bowler in the world. And today, he didn’t attack.

***

Glenn Maxwell is special.

He is the fastest scoring current Australian batsman, by a distance. Since the last major ICC tournament, Maxwell scores more than one run-per-over quicker than anyone else to appear frequently in the green and gold. He has a range of strokes that beggar belief, embellished by a crowd-pleasing streak that makes him one of the most loved batsmen in the world.

Only one man who has batted as often as Maxwell in the last two years can say they score quicker than him. That man is Jos Buttler, who has a claim on being one of the best ODI batsmen of all time. Maxwell is elite.

Australia have the second fastest scoring batsman in the world. Today, they hid him.

***

India are the most structured ODI side going around. They are a grooved, well-oiled machine, a set of players who know exactly what they want to do at every stage. This is a strength, and a weakness.

They build their entire batting strategy on preserving early wickets. Rohit and Shikhar set out to be roughly 50-0 in every single Powerplay 1, to set up a base knowing that such is their quality, one of them is likely to make a match-defining contribution – the lad in next isn’t bad either.

The one thing they don’t want you to do, is attack them early on. They really don’t mind you bowling defensively, dotting up in the first 10 overs. Pat Cummins went at 3rpo in his opening spell today, but India won’t have been bothered one bit. He didn’t take a wicket.

In tandem with Cummins, Starc’s role should have been to back up Cummins’s solidity with penetration, but it that wasn’t how it played out. Both of the Indian openers are vulnerable to very full bowling early on in the innings, and as we know, Starc bowls more full deliveries than anyone else in the world.

Not today. Today, when Australia needed him to attack, he didn’t. In the first 10 overs this morning, Starc pitched it up with just 6% of his deliveries. That’s the lowest figure he’s ever recorded in an ODI – by a long, long way. India got through the first 22 overs without losing a wicket, a platform they were never going to waste.

Starc is controlled enough and skillful enough that this was a tactical choice, a decision to be more defensive in the opening period. Across the game, it didn’t work; today, Starc conceded 74 runs in his 10 overs, the most he has in his last 34 ODIs. It was among his worst performances with the ball that we’ve seen in the last four years, his lowest Expected Strike Rate since the tail end of 2016.

As is always the way with Starc, it was a lurch from the previous match against the Windies, when he took the most wickets he’s taken in any ODI since the last World Cup. He won Australia the game, to all intents and purposes. It was among his best performances with the ball we’ve seen in the last four years. Those performances happened three days apart.

Off-form and lacking in rhythm, he can look ungainly and uncomfortable on the approach to the crease, but on-form, he’s a gazelle. Everything moving in the right direction, everything building towards the launch of this missile. At his best, Starc is the perfect fast bowler.

The same dichotomy is true of Maxwell. When he struggles, as he did against the West Indies while Starc flourished, it looks messy.

But today he clicked. He went at India, with the asking rate starting to soar, and he briefly threatened to make a game of it. His ceiling, in terms of what he could possibly achieve for Australia, was up with the stars.

Yet Australia had placed their own ceiling on what he could do, by bringing him in at five, and more importantly, in the 37th over. From there, it was either Maxwell playing one of the greatest ODI innings of all time, or defeat for Australia. To steal a line the journalist George Dobell would often use when Peter Moores’ England would bring Jos Buttler in with the required rate up around 10rpo, Australia were asking Maxwell to turn water into wine.

You wouldn’t have garnered much support mentioning Maxwell’s pros last week, of course. Against West Indies, when his ill-advised second ball hook saw him depart for nothing, we saw the other side of a player capable of producing the best and the worst of batting. With all the goodwill that the cricketing community has invested in him, the joy that he’s imparted, it is hard to see him fail – but fail he does. It’s fair and reasonable to do so; when you’re trying to do what Maxwell is generally trying to do, failure is an acceptable bi-product. But he sure does produce a lot of it.

Former England coach Duncan Fletcher used to speak about ensuring there was a “critical mass” of solid characters in the dressing room. As detailed by Steve James in The Plan, “he wanted eight good characters who could drag the weaker ones through, one who might be a quieter lad, and two who were tougher to handle”. When the balance was wrong, the team didn’t work.

There is a similar principle in play when constructing a side, with regard to maverick players and dependable performers. You need a critical mass of reliable players, with bat and with ball. Guys who will make solid, consistent contributions. If you don’t have enough of those, then your team is going to struggle; but you do need the other type of player as well. You need the maverick who can go the distance, and then win you a game.

Australia probably have that balance about right, in terms of personnel. You can quibble over the particular selections, but it’s essentially a reasonable team. But they need to make the most of their mavericks, in a way that – perhaps – they haven’t been of late.

That’s why you have to accept Starc’s performance today; it’s why you have to accept Maxwell’s performance on Thursday. If you don’t put up with them at their worst, then you don’t deserve them at their best. Starc has to bowl that attacking length, otherwise he’s not the same bowler; Maxwell has to play those audacious shots, otherwise he’s not the same batsman. They’ve got to be free to do what they want to – they’ve got to be free to have a good time, to have a party.

The genius of this India side is straightforward. They are masters – tactically, technically, consistently – at making their opposition do what they least want to do. To negate their batting order you need to attack early when it feels like you have most to lose; to take down their bowling, you have to attack early, because their spinners are superb and their death bowling is, well, Jasprit Bumrah. Your window to try and gain an advantage is at the top, and Australia defended throughout it. The time to have Glenn Maxwell at the crease, your best attacker, was in the first 20 overs, and they waited until the 37th over. He should have batted at No.3. The time to have Mitchell Starc push his length full, and try to get the ball swinging, was in the first 10 overs. Australia did neither; that’s where they lost the game today.

The format of this World Cup dictates that it wasn’t a fatal error. It won’t in isolation see Australia knocked out, and it didn’t see them humiliated on the day. They fought back and avoided a significant NRR penalty. However, unless they embrace the mavericks in their side, and give them the opportunity to find the outer reaches of their talents, then Australia can’t win this World Cup.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: South Africa v India

Patrick Noone looks at two compelling battles between opening batsman and opening bowler as India leave South Africa on the brink.

There is something particularly evocative about a great spell of fast bowling. It’s the passage of play that gets the crowd ooh-ing and aah-ing as batsmen poke and prod, hop around the crease and play and miss at the ball as it whistles through to the wicket-keeper. They are the periods of play that stick in the mind and are talked about for years to come – Donald to Atherton, Wahab to Watson, Anderson to Kohli – the duels that provoke those who witnessed them to speak of them in hushed, reverential tones as though discussing something wholly other-worldly.

At The Hampshire Bowl on Day Seven of the 2019 World Cup, just under 15,000 spectators witnessed not just one, but two such spells of heated, high quality, hostile fast bowling. First, it was Jasprit Bumrah, arguably the best all-format bowler in world cricket, with the new ball from the Hotel End. Quinton de Kock was on strike, the premier batsman for South Africa.

Bumrah’s first ball took the inside edge of de Kock’s bat and dropped harmlessly onto his body. The second was too wide to trouble de Kock and was let go outside the left-hander’s off-stump. Bumrah reset the radar for the third ball, found the line, found the length; de Kock prodded forward and the ball flew past the outside the edge. Cue the oohs and aahs from the crowd, as though witnessing a strangely intense fireworks display.

Twice more in the over Bumrah would beat the bat of de Kock – it’s what he does. No seamer since the 2015 World Cup has induced a higher percentage of plays and misses than him. More oohs. More aahs.

Bumrah only bowled one ball to de Kock in his next over, beating the bat yet again. The opener was surviving but doing little more than that. Bumrah’s third over would prove decisive – three balls tight to de Kock’s off-stump cramped him for room, allowing him only a single, before the fifth ball delivered the killer blow. Wide enough to go after, full enough to drive, de Kock’s eyes lit up and he threw everything at it, only this time Bumrah didn’t beat the bat. The inside edge flew to Kohli at third (yes, third) slip and the oohs and aahs turned to a single roar. It was a second wicket for Bumrah having seen off the out of sorts Hashim Amla in his previous over – three overs bowled, two wickets, not a single clean connection from either batsman off his bowling.

Bumrah’s opening burst was thrilling and set the tone for what would follow. Yuzvendra Chahal bowled beautifully and deservedly finished with the best World Cup figures for an Indian leg-spinner for 16 years, but it was Bumrah who gave nothing away, forcing the South African batsmen to take risks against Chahal that they wouldn’t have otherwise had to do.

But Bumrah was not the only fast bowler to make a telling contribution with the new ball. Kagiso Rabada, another contender to the ‘best all-format bowler’ crown came out in the second innings with a modest total of 227 to defend and bowled with an intensity and an aggression that caused arguably the finest opening partnership in ODI cricket all manner of problems.

If the previous duel was Bumrah v de Kock, this was Rabada v all of India. When the crowd is as partisan as the one in Hampshire today, you can feel every shift in momentum, every subtle swing of the pendulum. There was a hush around the ground as Rabada steamed in and beat the outside edge of Shikhar Dhawan’s bat. Oohs and aahs again, but this time the expectation was replaced with trepidation. Rabada’s second ball was a snorter that rose up at Dhawan, the batsman only able to fend it to point for a single. This was serious pace, serious bounce, serious cricket.  

Rohit Sharma then faced nine successive balls from Rabada and failed to score off the first eight. One of the dots was a genuine bouncer, the other seven in a tight cluster outside the right-hander’s off-stump. Only when Rabada went fractionally shorter did Rohit have the opportunity to score.

And so, with that single, Rabada’s battle with Dhawan resumed. The fifth ball of his third over was the first bad ball he bowled – a full toss that Dhawan failed to make the most of. Rabada had now bowled three balls to Dhawan – one too wide, one too short and one too full. As though using those balls to calibrate his line, his fourth delivery struck the killer blow, tempting Dhawan to push at one and feather it through to de Kock.

If you happened to be looking away at the moment the wicket fell, you would have been forgiven for not knowing it had fallen. The only reaction the crowd gave was one of a restless anxiety, little more than a murmur. Rabada had planted seeds of doubt in the Indian faithful’s mind. Maybe this wasn’t going to be the formality we all expected.

He would finish his first spell with figures of 5-0-21-1, numbers that hardly did justice to the quality of fast bowling he was showcasing. Rohit would survive the opening exchanges and go on to make the defining innings of the match with an unbeaten 122, while Rabada was not even afforded the consolation of picking up his wicket late in the piece, thanks to an inexplicably awful drop from David Miller. It summed up South Africa’s day – their tournament even – but Rabada is one of the few Proteas who will emerge from this campaign with credit, however it ends.

It is a quirk of the nature of cricket in 2019 that the two key battles in this contest should be between players who were team-mates in the IPL a mere three weeks ago. Bumrah was able to dismiss de Kock his fellow Mumbai Indian, before Rabada perhaps called on his memory of net sessions with Delhi Capitals to get rid of Dhawan. He would ultimately fall short of winning the match for his side but for a moment, he had a whole nation holding its breath.

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.

@patnoonecricket

CricViz World Cup Analysis: Fast bowlers strike early blows

Four games in to the tournament, Patrick Noone looks at how some of the quick bowlers have been the standout performers so far.

Before the World Cup started, much of the talk around how the matches were likely to play out centred around batting. Flat pitches, small boundaries and some of the biggest hitters in world cricket surely pointed to scores well in excess in 300. There was even talk of the 500-run barrier being broken at some point during the competition. That could well still happen, of course, but the early exchanges of the tournament have, on the whole, gone the way of the fast bowlers.

England’s Jofra Archer set the tone in the opening game. He was fast, hostile and accurate; excluding the five slower balls Archer bowled, only two of his deliveries were below 140kph. Perhaps the delivery that embodied Archer’s performance the most was the fifth ball of his second over when his bouncer hurried Hashim Amla into miscuing a pull shot. Amla has rarely looked as troubled during his 15-year international career as he did when negotiating that delivery. So often it seems that he has more time than anyone else at the crease, such is the serenity he usually bats with, but this was different. Amla was struck on the helmet and had to retire hurt for much of the innings.

That delivery from Archer landed 10.5m from the batsman’s crease. From the six subsequent balls he bowled on a shorter length than that, South Africa’s batsmen wisely opted to leave four of them. The two that were played at – by Faf du Plessis and Rassie van der Dussen – resulted in wickets.

At Trent Bridge the following day, West Indies carried on that theme of hostile fast bowling against Pakistan. Andre Russell only bowled three overs, but the first 16 of his 18 balls were short of a length and accounted for both Fakhar Zaman and Haris Sohail.

The way Pakistan played the short ball was similar to how South Africa had done so the previous day. The batsmen played a shot to the first five balls Russell bowled, with the fifth of those the wicket of Fakhar. After that, they opted to leave eight of the next ten, swaying and ducking on the crease in the face of a fiery barrage from the all-rounder. When Haris finally lost patience and played a shot, he was out.

After two matches of the World Cup, the short ball had accounted for 20 of the 26 wickets to fall to seam bowling while only two had been taken from balls on a traditional ‘good’ length.

New Zealand were the first team to buck that nascent trend when they took on Sri Lanka in Cardiff. Faced with one of the greenest pitches you’re likely to see in international cricket, the Black Caps’ seamers set about bowling full lengths, looking to exploit the seam movement on offer.

Cardiff is a venue that presents something of a dilemma for seam bowlers. On the one hand, it has offered more seam movement than any other UK venue in recent times, a fact that would ordinarily encourage a bowler to pitch it up. However, the short straight boundaries mean that such a tactic is high risk and bowlers have instead often preferred to bowl a shorter length to protect themselves from being driven down the ground.

The pitch on Saturday was so green and, given the make-up of the Black Caps’ attack New Zealand’s tactics were more or less decided for them. Trent Boult came into this World Cup in sparkling form, having taken four wickets in each of the Kiwis’ two warm up matches, but it was Matt Henry who made inroads with the new ball. New Zealand are lumbered with the ‘dark horses’ tag so often it’s become a cliché, but in that sense, it was almost fitting that it would be Henry who did the damage, rather than the more heralded Boult. Perhaps not as eye-catching as Boult, certainly not as quick as Lockie Ferguson, Henry is the darkest horse in a packed stable, but he showed exactly why he was selected in place of Tim Southee for New Zealand’s tournament opener.

Henry used the conditions to his advantage, finding more movement off the pitch than any other New Zealand seam bowler and landing 52% of his deliveries on a good length.

When pitching the ball up, Henry epitomised the risk-reward nature of bowling full at Cardiff. The nine full length deliveries he bowled cost him 12 runs, including two occasions when he was driven for four, but balls in that area also accounted for the crucial wickets of Lahiru Thirimanne and Kusal Perera.

Whether it’s hostile bouncers from Archer and Russell, or accurate fast-medium seam bowling from Henry, this tournament has already showcased some high-quality fast bowlers displaying a range of skills and causing batsmen no end of discomfort. It would be naïve and premature to suggest the bowlers are going to have it all their own way as the competition progresses; there are likely some big scores around the corner and, as ever, the bowlers will be challenged to come up with new plans to mitigate them. Likewise, as the weather becomes warmer and pitches become dryer, spinners will likely have a more prominent role than they have had to date. But right now, it’s the fast bowlers who have grabbed the early headlines and laid down a marker that batsmen aren’t going to have it all their own way in this World Cup.

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz. 

@patnoonecricket