CricViz analysis of the second Test between India and England in Vizag.
Wide turn stymies spinners
This was a difficult pitch to read with ball-tracking data indicating that it took significant turn from the second day onwards and by the third day was taking more turn on average, 5.14 degrees, than the pitch in Dhaka did at the same stage, 5.09 degrees. The graph below shows the rate at which the pitch turned as the match progressed. However despite this significant deviation only 21 wickets fell in the first 380.1 overs of the match and only when eight fell in the last 69.2 overs did the scorecard begin to reflect the amount of turn on offer.
The critical difference between this pitch and the one in Dhaka was that the extra grass on this pitch held it together far better and for longer meaning in Rajkot the sharpest turning deliveries predictably pitched in worn areas of the pitch, whereas in Dhaka balls spun big unpredictably from previously compact areas of the pitch that were broken up by the impact of the ball.
The nature of this pitch meant that the sharpest turning deliveries pitched well outside the line of the stumps, nearer the bowler’s foot holes, as illustrated by the pitch map above. Naturally more of a threat is posed if balls turn big from within the line of the stumps. 41% of the 58 deliveries that turned more than eight degrees but did pitch within the line of the stumps were bowled in the fourth innings when the pitch was most worn.
England’s spinners improve; India’s get worse
Speaking after the match England’s coach Trevor Bayliss suggested that their spinners had improved their control of length. Ball-tracking data shows this not to be the case with England’s length percentages remaining almost exactly the same as in the Bangladesh series. What they did improve however was their line, illustrated by the pitch map below: they maintained tighter groupings and conceded runs at 3.36 runs per over compared to 3.63 against Bangladesh as a result.
India’s spinners meanwhile bowled with less control than against New Zealand, as illustrated by the pitch map below. This was the flattest of the four pitches India have played on this season and England’s first innings was the longest they have been in the field in a home Test since they played England in Kolkata in 2012. In these less helpful conditions Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja struggled to maintain the exceptional groupings they managed against New Zealand.
England’s best spinner in this match was Adil Rashid who took match figures of 7 for 178. Rashid displayed significant improvement in his control of line and length from the Bangladesh series, illustrated by the pitch map below.
In this Test Rashid landed 60% of his deliveries in a two metre range between four and five metres from the batman’s stumps, in the Bangladesh series that figure was just 46%. The principal improvement came in bowling fuller: against Bangladesh he dropped 14% of deliveries shorter than six metres from the batsman’s stumps, in Rajkot that figure fell to just 9%.
England commit forward and back
It is perhaps too soon to pass judgement on England’s batsmen against spin given that this pitch did not break up and turn as both pitches in Bangladesh did and as they are expected to do more in the rest of this series. However, England’s four centurions, Joe Root, Moeen Ali and Ben Stokes and Alastair Cook, as well as debutant Haseeb Hameed showed really encouraging signs with their footwork against spin. None of Root, Moeen or Stokes played a single shot with footwork categorised as “no movement” in their hundreds suggesting that they committed clearly to going forward or back, which is critical to playing spin well, while Cook played just 28 out of 290 balls in the match as such and Hameed just 12 out of 259.
England escaped defeat in Chittagong thanks largely to a superb all-round performance from Ben Stokes and Bangladesh’s first innings batting collapse; they were not so lucky in Dhaka where their shortcomings playing and bowling spin were exposed again and they crashed to a heavy defeat. There is no shame in losing to this Bangladesh team but there is shame at the manner of the result, in which their batting, bowling and fielding were alarmingly substandard.
It is difficult to ascertain which area of their spin-game, playing it or bowling it is a greater problem and quite frankly it is facile to apportion blame to one or the other; both were poor and both must be improved dramatically if they are to avoid a thrashing at the hands of India.
As bad as England’s batting was though, chasing 273 in the fourth innings was always going to be a very difficult task on a turning pitch against an excellent spin attack, and the size of that run-chase can be traced back to bowling and fielding errors throughout the Test.
After the match Alastair Cook was forthright in admitting that “we didn’t bowl great. And yes, their spinners did out-bowl our spinners. We’re not hiding behind the fact that we haven’t got world-class spinners.”
If the spinners England do have cannot exploit helpful conditions at their disposal then they are always going to struggle to win matches on the subcontinent because they will more often than not be chasing too many runs.
In the first Test England’s spin problem was primarily their inaccuracy and in the second Test the same can be largely said again. England’s inability to land the ball in roughly the same area consistently contributed to Bangladesh’s spinners bowling 15 maidens in the match compared to England’s eight and 50 in the series to England’s 21.
This failure to build pressure prevents spinners finding a rhythm against batsman and lining them up. Balls that turn fractionally more or less than preceding deliveries are far more dangerous if they are bowled at the same batsman rather than a different batsman because the same batsman is more likely to be influenced by the ball before and play down the wrong line.
Cook said that he would be interested to see the stats comparing England’s spin lengths to Bangladesh’s, suggesting that their bowlers maintained a better length. In fact both sets of spinners bowled very similar lengths overall [see below] with Bangladesh over-pitching slightly less, but both teams landing about 60% of deliveries in a two metre range between 3 and 5 metres – categorised as a ‘good’ length for spin bowlers.
England’s lengths, were almost identical to the first Test [see below] while Bangladesh’s actually got slightly worse. The home team were able to maintain more control because they bowled far tighter lines [see above]. Bangladesh’s pitching line groupings are tighter and straighter than England’s which forces the batsman to play and increases the chances of getting a wicket bowled or lbw.
Moeen was the most accurate of England’s three spinners [see below] and improved the percentage of deliveries bowled in the 3-5 metre range from Chittagong from 58% to 61% by cutting down on over-pitched and short deliveries. He also improved his line considerably – recording a far higher percentage of deliveries that would have gone onto hit the stumps. Rashid’s lengths actually got worse from Chittagong, most notably pitching 13% of his deliveries six metres or shorter. Ansari, meanwhile, recorded better lengths than Gareth Batty did but struggled to maintain his line.
Speaking after the match Cook explained the problem inaccurate bowling poses for setting fields. “You always feel you are a fielder short,” he said. “If you are leaking four, five runs an over in a low scoring game you have to put your boundary-riders out. It would be great if you could attack but you have got to hold your line and length better.”
England struggled to play spin just as much as they struggled to bowl it. Their dramatic collapse from 100 for 0 to 164 all out in a single session was the vertex of a problem that had been made all too apparent in the three preceding innings in the series in which they were 106 for 5, 62 for 5 and 114 for 6.
As has already been mentioned, batting in these conditions is not easy and Bangladesh have a very good spin attack, however to lose ten wickets in a single session is indicative of a more deep-rooted problem.
In terms of personnel, five of England’s top seven: Cook, Joe Root, Moeen Ali, Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow, are proven performers at this level and are guaranteed selection, while Ben Duckett’s second innings fifty showed enormous promise. Only Gary Ballance, who could well be dropped for the first Test in India, can be said to be out of his depth. In this sense England’s problem is not who, it is how – it is technique and strategy.
What has characterised the success of Bangladesh’s spinners, like that of Ravi Ashwin, Ravi Jadeja and Rangana Herath too in recent years, has been the lack of ‘mystery’ in their bowling. Rather than doosras and carom balls posing the threat instead it has been orthodox spin bowling. Alongside their accuracy these bowlers’ chief weapon is very slight differences in deviation and the key variation is the one that goes straight on. What makes this particular variation so deadly is that more often than not it is a natural variation, meaning it cannot be consistently read from the hand.
Eight of the fourteen dismissals of England’s top seven batsmen were to deliveries that deviated less than the average for any of the frontline spin bowlers [see below]. Playing against natural variations such as these is understandably difficult because there are no visual cues on which to predicate decision making other than the trajectory of spin after pitching, by which point the reaction time is negligible unless the batsman has gone back deep in his crease and therefore has some time to adjust, or, the spin can be nullified if the batsman is well forward and has smothered the turn. This reemphasises the importance of clearly committing either forward or back.
Given the average height and stride length of a batsman, deciding whether to commit well forward or well back is particularly difficult to balls pitched between 3 and 5 metres from the batsman’s stumps, within which 60% of all Bangladesh’s spinners deliveries landed, and also, as the match progresses and bounce becomes less predictable, balls pitched between 5 and 6 metres from the stumps, within which a further 21% of the spinners’ deliveries landed.
All the deliveries to dismiss England’s top seven batsmen excluding Ballance’s second innings leading edge pitched within this three metre range. This illustrates how difficult it must have been for England to commit either forward or back to those balls that they got out to because they were landing within a length range in which making the appropriate footwork is extremely difficult and even then once having committed either back or forward they then have to play the ball successfully. The less committed they are to going forward or back the less spin they will have smothered or the less time they will have to adjust.
The foundational aspect to succeeding against spin bowling therefore is reading the length well, something that England are going to have to work on ahead of the India series where the opposition is even stiffer.
You would not have required an expert knowledge of cricket to make the visual observation that the wicket prepared for Bangladesh’s historic Test win over England was a raging “bunsen”. The pseudo-Cockney slang term (bunsen burner = “turner”) indicates a wicket particularly conducive to spin, and traditionally alien to cricketers brought up in English conditions.
What was less usual about this particular surface was that it turned from the word go and did not deteriorate as such. CricViz ball-tracking data shows England debutant Zafar Ansari was getting deliveries to turn a whopping 11 degrees on day one. The most successful bowler in the match by some distance – Mehedi Hasan, who brilliantly captured 12 wickets – was peaking at between nine and 10 degrees deep into the final session.
The BatViz slider on the CricViz app provides further evidence to support this theory. Rather than showing a gradual move towards maximum difficulty, it reveals fluctuations throughout the course of the match.
And that’s really what made the Test match quite as fascinating as it was: three big partnerships, one of 170, one of 100 and one of 99 (by England’s ninth-wicket pair, no less) and yet modest totals of 220, 244, 296 and 164. If ever there was a track where batsmen had to get themselves in before finding any confidence then this was it.
What was surprising was that only one spinner in the match consistently caused problems, and that was Mehedi – the man who turned 19 in the short window between the Tests. A fairly conventional off-spinner in style, he would have been delighted to find himself up against four left-handers in the England top six – and by bowling round the wicket to them he worried the outside edge of their bats with the one that turned a lot, and the stumps with the one that didn’t turn so much.
His first wicket in the match was the key one of Alastair Cook, and it came early. The six balls in Mehedi’s first over had turned between 3.7 degrees and 6.9 degrees. The six in his second varied even more widely, turning between 2.7 and 7.3 degrees. Cook had faced 10 of those 12 deliveries and was on strike again when Mehedi bowled the first ball of his third.
This one turned the least of all of Mehedi’s deliveries up to then, just 1.7 degrees. You may have heard commentators at the time mentioning the ball “skidding on”. Well that’s partly becuse the ball didn’t bounce particularly high either – 55cm from a pitching position five metres from the stumps. A considerably fuller ball in his previous over had bounced higher. With variable bounce and variable degree of spin to account for, there was much in favour of high-quality spin even against the most watchful batting and Cook was a gonner – lbw after a successful review by the Bangladesh team.
Even good right-handed batsmen were prey to Mehedi’s variations. Jonny Bairstow, statistically England’s best batsman in 2016, had survived for almost an hour when also falling lbw to the young man from Khulna. This one was pitched 58cm shorter than the ball he had trapped Cook lbw with but bounced even less and Bairstow, playing off the back foot to give himself time to assess the degree of spin, was unable to adjust to the low bounce.
The most important wicket of all for Mehedi was Cook in the second innings. England were by now in deep trouble at 127-4 needing 273, but with their captain still there on 59, an in-form partner in the shape of Ben Stokes and a capable tail to come the beast had not yet been slain.
“I always wanted to do well whenever I got the opportunity. I didn’t really think it would be this series. It could have been any time in the next year or two. I wanted to come into the national team with a strong mentality so that I could perform well” – Mehedi
This delivery was again at the perfect in-between length. On another pitch Cook might well have played back to it, but perhaps wary of the manner in which he had fallen in the first innings, he came forward and looked to push runs into the off-side. But this was a slower one from Mehedi and it turned a fair bit, not too much as Cook would have missed it and the delivery would have been wasted but at 6.2 degrees of spin it was just right, slightly more than the average spin achieved by Mehedi through the match, and enough to locate a thick outside edge – and for the man at silly point to complete a fine catch.
Mehedi’s consistency of length was so important. He bowled 78% of his deliveries in the match on a good length, so was constantly provoking doubts in English batsmen. As for England’s spinners, they fell well short of this, particularly in the first innings where they collectively sent down just 40% of deliveries on a good length (Moeen Ali the best of a very poor bunch with a 50% ratio). And that really says it all: when you’re a slow bowler there is no substitute for being able to exert control over your opponents – just think back to the halcyon days of Muttiah Muralitharan and Shane Warne. Mehedi had it; England’s spinners did not.
There is a footnote to this blog and it concerns the value of picking a talented young player unexposed to the rigours of hard-toil professional cricket across multiple formats. Mehedi is the first teenager ever to take 19 wickets in his first two Tests.
England are famously reluctant to pick teenagers for Test cricket. One of the most remarkable stats I found during the Dhaka Test was that in all, only five teenagers have ever represented England in Test cricket. Bangladesh, who began playing Tests more than a century after England, have had 26.
And another thing: when given their head, talented youngsters have tended to do well in the bowling department. Three bowlers took 50 Test wickets as teenagers, and you may well have heard of them: Waqar Younis, Daniel Vettori and Mohammad Amir.
Bangladesh have produced four of the most productive teenage batsmen ever, including England’s nemesis Tamim Iqbal, in a list headed overall by a certain Sachin Tendulkar, who amassed 1,522 runs before turning 20.
Perhaps the two most important areas of a team’s game to win Test matches in Asia are scoring big top order runs and the spin bowlers bowling well. England won this Test despite doing neither of those things: their top order failed twice and their spin bowlers had a limited effect on the match.
That England managed to win despite these shortcomings can be seen as an example of their strength in depth, and that they were given a tough fight from start to finish by Bangladesh can be seen as a benefit for their preparation ahead of their series against India, but that the top order struggled so plainly against spin and that their own spinners could not cause similar discomfort should be cause for concern ahead of six more Tests in Asia this winter.
Admittedly, the combination of a fantastic Bangladesh performance, a dry, turning pitch and playing in searing heat was about as tough an introduction to cricket in Bangladesh as there can be and England deserve credit for winning not ridicule for how close it was. However, India will pose England a far tougher test than Bangladesh and although it is too soon to draw any firm conclusions they will need to improve on this performance if they are to stand any chance in India.
England’s top-order will be a primary area of concern after their first three wickets fell for under 30 in both innings for the first time in a Test match in Asia and thereafter they were 106 for 5 and 62 for 5. 19 of the 20 England wickets to fall did so to spin bowling as their top four batsmen, Joe Root’s first innings 40 aside, struggled to cope against Bangladesh’s three frontline spinners. The balls that took the wickets were, more often than not, excellent deliveries but Ben Duckett and Gary Ballance, both unproven in these conditions, need to find ways to rotate the strike and ensure they don’t allow spinners to settle into a rhythm against them. Duckett’s footwork was particularly stodgy in his second innings with him not committing either back or forward, instead stuck on the crease, to 31% of his 34 deliveries.
The performances of Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow with the bat were instructive. Although this was a match in which batting against spin appeared to get easier as the ball got older both Stokes and Bairstow batted excellently, succeeding where Duckett could not: playing with no or minimal footwork on only 1.98% and 2.38% of the time respectively – well below the match average and demonstrating clear committal to playing forward or back, allowing them to smother the spin or adjust their shot according to it. Moeen Ali’s first innings 68 also bore lessons of patience with him only scoring one run playing against the spin from the 54 deliveries bowled by left arm spinners. He was more clinical against the off spin of Mehedi Hasan, three times hitting brilliant boundaries against the spin. He was judicious in choosing the moments to attack however, recording the lowest attacking shot percentage, 41%, of any innings of more than 25 runs in the match.
England’s batting depth benefitted them notably, allowing them to capitalise on the passages of play when batting got easier against the older ball – Chris Woakes and Adil Rashid contributed 90 valuable runs.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this match was Alastair Cook’s hesitation to entrust his spinners with responsibility, instead turning to Stokes and Stuart Broad when the match reached its climax. Cook has been criticised for this and for his defensive field settings which did allow singles to be taken fairly easily, and while these may be fair claims it is important to remember that they are in part influenced by the inaccuracy of his spinners and Cook’s desire to cut off boundaries.
The trouble with England’s spinners is not that they can’t bowl wicket-taking balls—they took 11 of the 13 wickets of Bangladesh’s top seven batsmen—but rather that they struggle to maintain control – 12.32% of deliveries bowled by England’s spinners were over-pitched (fuller than three meters from the batsman) compared to 6.70% for Bangladesh’s – and against better batsmen the pressure they release will diminish their wicket-taking threat. In this match they still took 12 wickets between them but Moeen and Rashid in particular were expensive. England can perhaps take some comfort from the fact that their inaccuracy is largely a product of over-pitching rather than under-pitching suggesting they are trying to bowl an attacking length.
On the subcontinent pitches tend to give spinners plenty of assistance – the challenge therefore is exploiting that by bowling accurately – England will need to improve this – and at the right pace, which encouragingly England largely appeared to do. Batty could have perhaps bowled a touch quicker but the signs in terms of pace, are positive.
The success of Stokes and Broad in getting the ball to reverse swing was important because like the lower order batting it allowed England to dominate old-ball phases of the match. It does also throw up a tactical proposition that if it can be maintained then England could perhaps look at their seam bowlers as wicket-takers and their spin bowlers as containers. This will require the spinners to offer more control than they did in this Test however and is a high-risk strategy in that reverse swing requires careful management of ball shining and a greater emphasis on seam bowlers will exhaust the attack.
Trent Bridge has been a high scoring venue in limited overs cricket of late—earlier this season the average score across six domestic innings was 380—but even given the ground’s recent history few people could have envisaged the carnage that unfolded in the first innings of this match.
It took just 19 balls of this match, after which Pakistan were 2 for 3, for England to have established a position of dominance from which it was extremely unlikely Pakistan would recover.
The average first innings score in the five most recent ODIs at the Rose Bowl before England v Pakistan on Wednesday was 310 and the average winning first innings score in ODIs at the Rose Bowl is 289.
It’s hard to know right now if England are truly on the cusp of surfing a wave in one-day cricket, but there has certainly been something of a revival since their pitiful displays in the last World Cup 18 months ago.
In all, they have won 13 one-day internationals since then and lost nine. They have won series against New Zealand, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, and lost narrowly to Australia and South Africa.
The evidence suggests the batting is in excellent shape at the moment. In that time, England have posted grand totals of 408, 399, 365, 355 and 350 – five of their seven best totals ever. Even allowing for some flat wickets and the modern trend for a par score to be so much higher than in previous times, this is a remarkable feat. However the bowling has not always been so good.
Against Pakistan, in the five-match series that begins on Wednesday, England are likely to start as fairly strong favourites thanks to their batting might, but this would be a good time for them to have a strong series with the ball.
In South Africa in February, England did not generally excel in the bowling stakes, though they led 2-0 with three to play and at Centurion set a faltering side, who had just lost the Test series, 319 to win.
Let’s examine what happened from that point. David Willey and Reece Topley, both currently injured, failed to strike with the new ball, allowing Quinton de Kock and Hashim Amla to get away with a fast start. But it was what ensued subsequently that really hurt England. Ben Stokes, Chris Jordan and Moeen Ali – all in the squad for the upcoming series – failed to stem the flow or take wickets in the overs that followed. Only Adil Rashid, who returned an exemplary 1-45 from his 10 overs, emerged with credit.
The CricViz database records that Stokes, in returning 0-54 from 8.2 overs, attempted just three slower balls and found no discernible swing or seam. The lack of movement was not his fault – this was a flat wicket and he did not have use of the new ball – but should he have been trying more slower balls? Chris Jordan bowled seven slower balls in his 1-54 from seven overs. South Africa scored just two runs from Jordan’s slower deliveries suggesting it was a tactic worth pursuing, but Jordan bowled only one per over, Stokes less than one every two overs.
As for the spinners, whereas Adil Rashid created a degree of uncertainty by bowling seven googlies in his 10 overs, every single delivery sent down by Moeen Ali was an off-break. Little wonder, perhaps, that he went for 30 more runs than Rashid.
The stats show also that Moeen had a bad shift at the office with his lengths that evening: six short-pitched balls and three full tosses, one at beamer height. As for the seamers, Stokes only got one attempted yorker on the spot, three others ending up as half volleys, two as full tosses. Jordan got two in the spot, but bowled three full tosses and seven half-volleys in all. When Jordan dropped short he was punished, with 27 runs coming off 16 balls.
As for the bowlers’ lines, Jordan bowled the vast majority of his balls outside off or down the leg side. On the 11 occasions he bowled at the stumps, South Africa scored just four runs. Stokes bowled significantly straighter, while Rashid – as you would expect from a decent leg-spinner – bowled all but five balls on a line between middle stump and outside off. Moeen’s default line, outside off stump, was easily milked – 47 runs coming from the 32 balls he bowled there.
Let’s fast forward to the mid-summer home ODI series and the only game England game close to losing against Sri Lanka, which ended in a fascinating tie at Trent Bridge.
On this occasion, Sri Lanka batted first and hit 286-9. It should have been a winning score when England then collapsed to 82-6 – that was until Jos Buttler and Chris Woakes had other ideas. In the Sri Lanka innings, 40 of the 50 overs were sent down by bowlers picked for the series that starts on Wednesday. They produced some varied results. Rashid took no wickets but his 10 overs cost just 36 runs, against batsmen who play spin particularly well. Ali was again much more expensive, taking 1-69. Liam Plunkett returned 2-67 and Woakes 2-56.
Ali again produced barely any variety, with 58/60 off-breaks and 55/60 missing off-stump. His lengths were an improvement on the Centurion ODI – nothing short, no full tosses – but he sent down 11 half-volleys which cost 21 runs.
The most expensive seamer on the day, Plunkett, had a problem with his lengths – a beamer, four full tosses and eight half volleys among his bag. His line was OK, but movement was hard to obtain – the one leg cutter he produced was hit for four in any event.
Woakes produced a little more movement, with five off cutters, and his lengths were better than Plunkett’s. However his economy rate would have surely been even better had he not bowled 20 balls on leg stump or down leg which produced 24 runs in all.
Why was Rashid so hard to score off? His line was excellent; by now he had added the top spinner to his armoury (so was bowling three different deliveries) and 77% of his balls were at that ideal spinner’s length just short of a half-volley.
In terms of overall stats, Rashid now has the foundations of what could become be a very good ODI career. He has played in all 10 of England’s ODIs this calendar year, picking up 11 wickets from 10 matches at an economy of 5.03. Ali’s record over the same period is six wickets from eight matches at an economy rate of 5.75. You would have to worry that having been treated to some pretty rough treatment at the hands of Pakistan’s spinners in the Tests that England might be tempted to overlook Ali at the start of the ODIs.
If they want a second spinner, then Liam Dawson, who enjoyed a fine T20 international debut in July, might be a better option.
As for the seamers, they are also a unit in flux. Mark Wood has not played an ODI in almost a year but his raw speed, seen to fine effect on Twenty20 finals day last Saturday, will surely be called upon. England’s lack of variety elsewhere – made all the more acute by the absence of the left-armer Topley alongside Willey who can swing a white ball – is a potential weakness. It has been demonstrated in this piece that Stokes, Woakes, Plunkett and Jordan – as right-arm seamers who don’t move the ball a huge amount and who all bowl speeds in the mid 80s – can struggle to be an effective unit. And that problem only exacerbates itself when they miss their yorkers, bowl too short or slide the ball down the leg side.
It sure has been fun to watch England bat of late in white ball cricket – when Jos Buttler and Jason Roy are in full cry few teams can live with them – but sometimes the pyrotechnics of the batsmen have masked the imperfections of the bowlers. Against a Pakistan side invigorated by squaring the Test series in the final match of that rubber, England might need all 11 players to pull their weight.
Chris Woakes is having a summer to remember in the England Test side. Since returning to the team for the second Test against Sri Lanka at Chester-le-Street, the Warwickshire all-rounder has scored 221 runs at an average of 55.25 and taken a remarkable 26 wickets at just 13.84.
His previous Test appearance before his renaissance was a chastening experience in Centurion. Posting match figures of 1-144 and making little impact with the bat as England went down to a 280-run defeat against South Africa, Woakes appeared to be running out of chances to convert his undoubted talent into significant contributions at the highest level.
So what has changed? His pace, for one. Often seen in the early part of his international career as something of a military medium pacer that batsmen found relatively easy to deal with, a couple of extra clicks on the speed gun appear to have been crucial in increasing the threat that Woakes poses with the ball.
During the second innings of that Centurion Test, Woakes was bowling at an average speed of 81.93mph with his quickest delivery clocking in at 86.9mph. Since his return to the side in Durham, that has been upped to 83.48mph and he has even broken the 90mph barrier on two occasions this summer. He has consistently been the quickest of England’s seamers and has also picked up that happy knack of taking a wicket in the first over of a new spell.
On six separate occasions, Woakes has struck immediately after being brought into the attack this summer; and it would have been seven had it not been for Jonny Bairstow dropping Sri Lanka’s Dimuth Karunaratne at Lord’s. For a captain, it is such a key weapon to have a bowler in your ranks whom you know to have this uncanny ability. Andrew Strauss had it with Graeme Swann and now Alastair Cook has it with Woakes.
Woakes has also made subtle adjustments on the crease to alter his angle of delivery. Blessed with a natural bowling action – Shaun Pollock even went so far in the winter as to describe it as “too good, perhaps too predictable, so that the batsman knows what is coming” – Woakes needed to find a way to add variety to his bowling. He has achieved that by moving wide of the crease on occasion and it has brought him reward, most notably at Lord’s with the dismissal of Asad Shafiq in Pakistan’s second innings. The wider angle of delivery cramped the right-hander for room so that he could only divert the ball onto the stumps via the inside edge.
It is testament to Woakes’ improvement as an all-rounder that England have been able to deal with Ben Stokes’ injury problems with minimal fuss. A little over a year ago, during the 2015 series against New Zealand, Stokes was smashing the fastest hundred at Lord’s before taking the key wickets of Kane Williamson and Brendon McCullum in successive balls during the visitors’ run chase.
At that stage, at what felt like the start of England’s brave new era that Stokes is such a key part of, an injury to him would have been deemed catastrophic to the balance of the side with both bat and ball. That is not to say that Stokes is not still seen as a talented and integral part of this England side, merely that his absence was not so keenly felt as once might have been feared; and that is all down to Woakes seizing his opportunity with both hands when it came along.
While Woakes’ bowling feats have been more eye catching, his steady improvement with the bat has been equally impressive. A well compiled 66 at number 8 against Sri Lanka at Lord’s hinted that he was getting the hang of batting in Test cricket before his 58 at Old Trafford formed part of a 103-run partnership with Joe Root and helped England to their highest total for five years.
That innings against Pakistan might one day be looked upon as a breakthrough knock for Woakes – batting at 6, nominally as a nightwatchman, his strike rate of 55.76 meant that the visiting bowlers were unable to attack his end as they might have been tempted to with Root batting so serenely at the other end. Pakistan bowled shorter to him than to any other batsman who faced 20 balls or more, but Woakes was particularly strong square of the wicket, with 19 of his 28 scoring shots coming through cover and midwicket including four of his eight boundaries.
With Stokes once again ruled out for the third Test at Edgbaston, Woakes might get another opportunity to bat higher up the order, depending on who the selectors decide to bring into the side. It is perhaps too early to say exactly where his future lies in this flexible, multi-faceted England side, but it is certainly a nice problem to have at this stage.
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