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OPENING VOID

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

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

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

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

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

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

reu_273408

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4700601

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With inputs from Patrick Baatz.

BINARY BELL’S UNTIMELY SLUMP

When Ian Bell struck 143 in his first Test innings of 2015 his exclusion from England’s touring party for South Africa seemed unlikely. But seven months is a long time in cricket, especially for England players, the busiest in the Test arena.

Four half-centuries in 23 innings since – top score 65 not out – has resulted in the removal of a senior player that is difficult to argue against. Bell battled hard with little reward against the turning ball in the UAE, but it was his run of low scores against the high class pace bowling of New Zealand and Australia that was perhaps a bigger factor in his axing.

Dale Steyn and co. were presumably considered too big a challenge for a player who failed to record more than a solitary run in nine of those knocks since his century in the Caribbean. Bell’s age counted against him in the choice between the Warwickshire man and Gary Ballance, when the former’s 33 years – or vast Test experience at least – was a crucial factor in his retention earlier in the year.

Both Ballance and Bell were under huge pressure after the second Ashes Test and it was the Yorkshire player who made way for the in-form Jonny Bairstow. The old hand was not only retained, but promoted in the order, batting at three in six Tests since.

So what has changed?  Giving youth a chance and Ballance’s strong start to his career partly explain the switch, but Bell’s twin half-centuries at Edgbaston justified the selectors’ choice – he was thought to be more likely to produce that Ballance in that pivotal Test, and so it proved.

The selectors now think Ballance and Nick Compton are the more likely run-makers, an eye on the future notwithstanding. This might just reflect a personal preference of Trevor Bayliss, but the characteristics of Bell’s slump must have alarmed the selectors.

Nine of Bell’s 22 dismissals since his North Sound ton have been bowled or LBW. Seven of these have been for 0 or 1. A bad habit of binary returns, made worse by the manner of the dismissals.

The balanced tempo that is the hallmark of Bell’s best innings has also deserted him. He was skittish in his crucial knocks at his home ground, seemingly trying to hit his way back into form – a brave approach that made his first innings aberration against Nathan Lyon forgivable.

However, that positive intent has not been maintained. Bell laboured against Pakistan’s spinners, hitting 158 runs in six innings, at a strike rate of 31.6 – the lowest of England’s top order.

A comparison of Bell and Alastair Cook’s innings in the first innings of the third Test at Sharjah shows just how becalmed England’s number three was in his battle to regain form. Being proactive against good spinners on a tricky pitch is not easy, but Bell’s intent was lacking.

He left alone or played defensive shots at 70% of the 158 balls he received in scoring 40. Cook hit 49 from 119 balls, leaving alone or playing defensively to 45% of his deliveries. Bell didn’t just fail to dominate the barrage of spin – 47 of the 51 balls he faced from Wahab Riaz and Rahat Ali were dots.

All this points to a player ill-equipped to cope with a skilled South African pace attack that can be complimented by the leg-spin of Imran Tahir. Whether those who fill Bell’s shoes can do so remains to be seen – there might yet be a way back for the 118-Test veteran.

1ST PAKISTAN V ENGLAND TEST ANALYSIS

The first Test of the series was largely a story of batting dominance. 16 wickets in four days and two first innings totals of 500+ suggested the final day would be a procession towards a draw. This proved not to be the case, thanks to a last gasp contribution by a leg spinner that ranked alongside the most dramatic of its kind.

That Adil Rashid’s 5-64 could not quite get England over the line did not prevent his spell from being the major contribution of the match. The Yorkshireman made a statement for the rest of the series, showing why he is so dangerous in the second half of matches.

Rashid’s final day burst followed the pattern he has set in county cricket in recent years. Like most leg-spinners, he is more dangerous in the second innings and against the tail – in the last three County Championship seasons he has taken more than twice as many tail-end wickets (7th to 10th to fall) than middle order (3rd to 6th).

Adil Rashid - last 3 County Championship seasons
Wicket to fallInns 1Inns 2Inns 3Inns 4Total
1st213
2nd3227
3rd2316
4th46111
5th14128
6th12227
7th17210
8th47415
9th557320
10th885122
3rd - 6th41012632
7th - 10th182714867

Rashid performed his Yorkshire role at Abu Dhabi and England fans should not expect anything else. His job is not to contain well-set batsmen on days one and two – few leg-spinners can – but to becoming an attacking option when tail-enders are at the crease or when the pitch offers more help.

The balance of England’s attack helps in this regard. The presence of Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali in the top six of the batting order means there are plenty of resources for Alastair Cook to juggle. A flat wicket like Abu Dhabi makes it hard for any bowler to contain batsmen in full flow, but the tourists at least have options to take the pressure off Rashid.

Not bowling the legspinner on day one does not necessarily denote a lack of confidence and the below BatViz numbers for spinners – statistics based on the quality of each ball rather than its actual outcome – show that in Moeen Ali England have a decent foil for Rashid.

BatViz Bowling Figures 1st Test - Spin
BowlerBallsWktsRunsAvgEcon
Moeen Ali2204.510924.12.98
Shoaib Malik235411529.12.95
Zulfiqar Babar463722932.72.97
Adil Rashid3164.415234.62.89
Joe Root300.41535.92.98
Asad Shafiq420.42053.12.84

Rashid’s own confidence on day five was evident and the below table shows how much more dangerous he became. He turned 77% of his deliveries on day five more than four degrees; this proportion was 63% in Pakistan’s first innings. His average amount of turn increased from 4.8 degrees to 6.1 degrees.

Adil Rashid in 1st Test
InningsAvg speed - mphAvg turn - degrees% turn > 4 degrees
1st48.94.863
2nd48.96.177

Pace bowlers also performed their expected roles. Mark Wood and Wahab Riaz are the strike bowlers in their respective bowling units and both produced the wicket-taking threat their captains desired.

The pace bowling BatViz numbers reveal that they had the best projected averages, based on the quality of the balls they delivered. BatViz evaluates every ball’s quality by comparing it with a database of similar deliveries and averaging the runs and wickets associated with these 1,000 similar deliveries.

BatViz Bowling Figures 1st Test - Pace
BowlerBallsWktsRunsAvgEcon
Mark Wood1763.69927.13.36
Wahab Riaz2474.5139313.37
James Anderson1912.89534.22.97
Ben Stokes1452.38335.63.43
Imran Khan1622.27935.92.91
Stuart Broad1752.38938.73.04
Rahat Ali1681.99449.93.34

Their BatViz economy rates also hint at their priority of taking wickets and England should be wary that Wahab’s strike bowling threat will probably increase should Yasir Shah return for the second Test. The left-arm paceman can be used in even shorter, pacier bursts with the team’s premier spin bowler operating for large parts of the innings.

PAKISTAN V ENGLAND SERIES PREVIEW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what can we learn from the last tour?

Attack the Stumps

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

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

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

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

A Spinner’s Length

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pakistan start as favourites

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

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

LAYING FOUNDATIONS

The United Arab Emirates is an appropriate place to seek the fresh laying of solid foundations. England have not settled on a Test opening partnership in recent years and Alastair Cook will have another new partner as his team seeks to construct some high-rise totals in keeping with the Emirati skyline.

Six players have tried to fill the role Andrew Strauss vacated in 2012. The lack of progress is shown by the fact that the man first given the chance was the most successful. Nick Compton averaged 57.9 in his 17 opening stands with Cook; none of the subsequent five candidates have averaged above 32.3 in unison with the skipper.

Compton was partly dropped for his slow scoring, a trait that has characterised all of these partnerships – the desire to pair Cook with a more fluent scorer led the selectors to Adam Lyth, whose average first wicket run rate of 2.83 with Cook was the highest of the six combinations.

England opening partnerships since August 2012
Cook and..PartnershipsRunsHighestRuns per over100 standsAverage
Compton179272312.69357.9
Robson11355662.76032.3
Lyth134021772.83130.9
Root10266682.25026.6
Trott61541252.44125.7
Carberry10250852.81025.0

Current candidates Alex Hales and Moeen Ali offer various attributes, but both have the range of shot and intent that is seemingly required in the continuing search for top order stability.

After hitting 907 Test runs at an average of 50.4 this year, Cook’s patient approach of accumulation is in good order – will it be Moeen’s elegant left-handed aggression or the powerful belligerence of Hales that provides the impetus?

The Cook – Compton axis was a crucial part of England’s success in India in 2012/13. They piled up 493 runs in their eight opening stands, at an average of 70.4. Their steady scoring rate of 2.69 runs per over was not a problem in the context of such productivity – Cook in particular went on to score heavily against toiling spinners when well-set.

However, a solid base does not guarantee success in spin-friendly environments. David Warner and Chris Rogers largely did a good job at the top of Australia’s order in their humbling 2-0 defeat against Pakistan in the UAE in 2014/15. Australia were comprehensively out-batted overall.

They averaged 53 in their four partnerships, recording their team’s highest stand of a disastrous tour, 128 in the very first Australian stand of the series at Dubai. Pakistan’s average opening partnership was 35.8, but this was the only area that the tourists out-batted the series winners.

Average partnerships 2014/15
WicketPakistanAustralia
135.853.0
255.012.0
3174.016.3
4202.532.0
558.538.5
674.036.3
736.011.5

The first wicket was the only one in the top seven for which Australia had a higher average partnership than Pakistan. Solid starts were wasted by an under-performing engine room: Pakistan averaged 174 for the third wicket, Australia 16.3. The disparity was 170.5 runs for the fourth wicket.

Australia’s batsmen were blown away in the UAE in 2014/15. England will need to have more than a steady opening partnership if they are to prosper against Pakistan’s talented bowling unit.

4TH ASHES TEST ANALYSIS

On the first morning of the Trent Bridge Test match, Australia batted first and at the first drinks break were 38 for 7, their top seven all back in the pavilion. England started batting 50 minutes later and an hour into their innings were 30 for 0. The Ashes were, barring a freak turnaround, already on their way back to England.

What happened? Why did Australia collapse so dramatically? Great bowling? Poor batting? A green-topped, bowlers’ dream that simply handed the match to the captain lucky enough to win the toss?

Why was the first hour of England’s innings so different to that of Australia’s an hour and a half earlier?

Did the conditions get easier?

A little. The ball kept swinging; the average deviation in the air when the Australians bowled was 2.1 degrees, slightly more than the 1.9 degrees when England bowled. Both teams swung roughly 60% of the balls they bowled by more than 1.5 degrees, the amount of swing that starts to have a significant impact on a batsman’s performance.

There was more seam movement when Australia batted. 31% of the balls in the first hour deviated by more than one degree off the pitch, whereas the figure when England batted was 18%. The average seam movement faced was 0.7 degrees for Australia and 0.5 degrees for England.

However, this was part of a pattern in the series. England’s seamers got more lateral movement off the wicket and were more accurate throughout; the Australian pacemen consistently bowled a little quicker on average and got more movement in the air.

Conditions had got a little easier by the time England batted, but not drastically so.

Did England out-bowl Australia?

England, and Stuart Broad in particular, bowled very well. A traditional good length in Test cricket is usually defined as balls pitching six to eight metres from the stumps. These are the balls that have the lowest average (runs per wicket), regardless of pitch, conditions and opposition. When the ball is moving around in the air and off the wicket, the metre or so fuller than that (5-6m from the stumps) becomes equally, if not even more, dangerous. England landed just over 60% of their deliveries in these areas, and these balls accounted for all but one of the wickets in that innings. Australia though, bowled even more balls on these lengths, 67% in their first 11 overs.

The England bowlers also bowled unusually straight. Their average line was middle and off, very straight for Test cricket; 49% of the balls they bowled were within the line of leg stump and six inches outside off stump. It was the balls on these lines that did the bulk of the damage to the Australian top order.

Australia bowled significantly wider. Their average line was six inches outside off stump – they put 52% of their deliveries wide of this mark, compared to 35% of England’s. This allowed England’s batsmen more easy leaves than the Australians got, nearly half as many again.

So, as was the case all summer, better areas and more movement off the pitch from England, albeit at a slightly slower pace. When the pitch offered assistance, England were the more dangerous attack. When it didn’t, Australia’s pace and swing posed the greater threat. Trent Bridge was no minefield, but nor was it the pitch where you wanted your great strength to be taking the pitch out of the equation.

Did Australia go too hard at the ball? Play too many shots? Not leave well enough?

Using the BatViz system we can compare how Australia played the deliveries they faced with how an average Test side would have played them.

Given the balls they faced, we would have expected 25 attacking shots in the first hour. Australia played 22. BatViz projected 14.5 balls to be left; they played no shot on 19 occasions.

For comparison, we would have expected England to play 24.5 attacking shots and they played 21. They got more balls to leave, as Australia bowled wider than England. 17.5 leaves were forecast – they actually left the ball 25 times.

First hour BatViz shot analysis   
AustraliaEngland
Attacking shotsExpected2524.5
Actual2221
LeavesExpected14.517.5
Actual1925

There therefore seems to have been little difference in the overall intent of the two sides and it is worth noting that only three of the seven Australian wickets fell to attacking shots. That might be three too many given the situation and conditions, but it is easy to criticise attacking shots when they don’t come off and applaud them when they do: England showed a very similar level of attacking intent and left the ball marginally better.

Was it therefore poor shot selection and execution?

Given the balls received, BatViz projected 11.9 false shots – edges and misses – from the Australians. There were 19. For comparison, we would have expected eight false shots from England and there were just six (five misses and one edge). On average in 11 overs of Test cricket there would be 4.5 false shots.

England had to play fewer balls and the balls they played at moved a little less. They also played them better than par, whereas the Australians underperformed against the balls they faced.

First hour BatViz false shot analysis  
AustraliaEngland
False shots - predicted11.98
False shots - actual196
Missed105
Edged91
Wickets from edge60

Even so, 19 false shots to six can’t be the difference between seven down and no wickets very often.

So were Australia just unlucky?

They certainly were to an extent. Of their 19 false shots, nine were edges (47%). Generally only about 37% of false shots are edges, so they were unlucky to nick almost as many as they missed. England played and missed five times for their solitary edge.

About 15% of edges result in a wicket. Australia’s nine edges produced six wickets, so the picture of a perfect storm is forming. The pitch had good carry, so there was little chance of edges with the new ball falling short of the slip cordon. The England bowlers’ areas were good, so the edges produced were more likely to find catchers than fly to safety. Two wickets in the first over meant that for the remainder of the innings Alastair Cook employed five or six catchers, so any edge was likely to find a catcher rather than a gap.

And what about the catching?

The first hour brought five slip catches, the innings as a whole comprised eight. Every single one of the chances offered were held, including Ben Stokes’ stunning one-handed grab.

On average in Test cricket roughly 70% of slip catches are caught. PlayViz goes deeper by rating chances according to where they come and the reaction time the fielder has. In doing so we can estimate that the five chances presented in the first hour would normally have resulted in two or three wickets (2.65 to be exact): the English cordon hugely over-performed.

A bit of everything?

The Australians were hit by a perfect storm of several factors, each multiplying the effect of the others that together created a manic 11 overs that devastated their Ashes dreams.

The ball swung and seamed enough to trouble the batsmen. The bowlers – Broad in particular – used the conditions very skilfully, and allowed the batsmen little respite. The Aussies didn’t cope with the moving ball particularly well and didn’t have a lot of luck when it came to playing and missing. A pitch with good pace and bounce ensured the edges carried and early wickets meant a packed slip cordon. The chances went to hand and the fielders caught exceptionally well. 38 for 7. Ashes gone.

3RD ASHES TEST ANALYSIS

After ending the Lord’s Test with a batting collapse, England inflicted one of their own on the opening day of the third Test. Conditions were rather different at a damp Edgbaston to those which Australia prospered in at Lord’s and James Anderson duly delivered a seam bowling masterclass.

The Lancastrian’s 6/47 helped bowl out Australia for 136 inside 37 overs, a collapse which saw the tourists’ starting win probability of 31.9% reduce to 11.7% at the change of innings. Anderson’s lateral movement proved too difficult for Australia to deal with, but their shot selection played a major part in their slump.

The analysis of Hawkeye data for each delivery reveals how the Australian top order got caught in two minds when dealing with Anderson’s movement. As well as producing the average wicket probability and run total for each ball based on similar deliveries in the CricViz database, BatViz can analyse the type of shots played (see below table).

Anderson delivered 88 balls in Australia’s first innings. Of these, 10 had an attacking shot percentage between 40% and 49% – based on the similar delivery evaluation, these type of balls are typically attacked somewhere between 40% to 49% of the time.

All four of Anderson’s top order wickets – David Warner, Adam Voges, Mitchell Marsh and Peter Nevill – fell in this range. Warner (playing defensively too late), Voges (withdrawing his bat to leave too late) and Nevill (no shot) paid the price for tentativeness; Marsh (flat-footed drive away from body) ill-advisedly took the attacking option.

BatsmanShot typeDismissalLeave %Attacking %
WarnerDefensiveLBW3.745.3
VogesNo shotCaught31.344.9
MarshDriveCaught38.748.9
NevillNo shotBowled3.441.1

The type of deliveries Warner and Nevill received were clearly ones to play at. BatViz takes into account the speed, line, length and deviation when picking out similar deliveries and these two balls that were on the stumps were left alone just 3.7% and 3.4% of the time respectively.

This highlights the seeds of doubts that Anderson can plant in a batsman’s mind, despite the lack of extreme pace. Warner’s wicket was 82mph, Nevill’s 83.6mph. His day one wicket burst against a confused batting line-up was the crucial factor in England’s victory, a template that was followed emphatically at Trent Bridge by Stuart Broad’s opening salvo.

2ND ASHES TEST ANALYSIS

England maintained their pattern of following a win with a defeat due to a below par performance in all three disciplines at Lord’s. After winning the first Test with positive PlayViz scores in batting, bowling and fielding, they slumped well below what was expected at headquarters.

In being dismissed for 312 and 103 on a flat wicket, the hosts recorded a batting score of -267 in PlayViz – they scored 267 runs below what an average Test team was projected to score in those conditions and against that bowling attack.

Australia’s seam unit was as expected quicker than their counterparts, averaging more than 3mph faster, but crucially their accuracy and movement in their air was also superior. England seamed the ball more, but the tourists attacked the stumps with greater frequency (13% in line with stumps, England 11%) and found a way to swing the ball more as the Test developed.

10% of England’s pace deliveries swung more than 1.5 degrees in Australia’s second innings, compared with 29% of Australia’s as they stormed to victory. This was a higher proportion than they recorded in England’s first innings (26%).

England’s lack of incisiveness – the tourists declared twice – contributed to a bowling score of -135, vastly inferior to Australia’s 452. Mitchell Johnson led an attack that showed its suitability to the Lord’s conditions, assisted by a fielding effort that out-performed England; Australia dropped five chances, England eight.

ENGLAND V NEW ZEALAND 2ND TEST ANALYSIS

England started the second Test against New Zealand ideally placed. A thrilling win at Lord’s and first use of an inviting Headingley pitch in overcast conditions suggested the hosts’ seamers would make a decisive contribution on day one.

James Anderson reduced the Black Caps to 2-2, but a buccaneering counter attack from the Kiwi middle order took the initiative away from England that they never regained. The key factor in New Zealand’s 199-run win was the bowling of Tim Southee and Trent Boult.

They out-performed Anderson and Stuart Broad to ensure England could only match New Zealand’s first innings 350, despite reaching 177 for no wicket. The Black Caps opening attack ‘only’ took nine wickets between them, a return that does not represent the difficulty they caused England’s batsmen.

BatViz measures the likelihood of a wicket for every delivery, using a database of similar deliveries according to speed, line, length and deviation. This allows bowler performance to be interpreted beyond what is shown in the scorecard. The below table shows this BatViz data by bowler for the second Test.

BowlerBallsWeighted runsWeighted wicketsWeighted averageWeighted economy
Trent Boult3201517.520.22.8
James Anderson217954.023.92.6
Tim Southee2911525.328.43.1
Stuart Broad2001003.429.23.0
ALL BOWLERS2190110237.329.53.0
Mark Wood1981123.730.53.4
Ben Stokes174983.032.73.4
Moeen Ali162752.135.02.8
Mark Craig3471674.537.12.9
Matt Henry1971072.739.63.3

So as neatly as Mark Craig bowled at Leeds in taking five wickets, the role played by Boult in claiming four scalps was more instrumental in the tourists’ series-levelling win. The 320 balls delivered by the left-armer had a weighted wicket value of 7.5 and an average of 20.2. England were facing a bowler testing them far more than his match figures of 4-159 suggest.

From 231-2 England scored 31 runs for the loss of six wickets in the next 14 overs, all of which were bowled by Boult and Southee. They took two and four wickets respectively in this spell, but it was a prime example of a bowling partnership – Boult’s wicket-taking threat certainly contributed to Southee’s haul.

ENGLAND V NEW ZEALAND 1ST TEST ANALYSIS

The first Test of the 2015 English summer was a rollercoaster affair that showed the format in its best possible light. Both teams held dominant positions in a high quality contest that gave the CricViz tools full opportunity to show their uses.

England started the Test with a win probability of 53% in WinViz, which they lifted to 60% at stumps on day one. At drinks on day three this had fallen to 6% as New Zealand made early inroads after piling up a first innings total of 523; England needed something special, and they got it from Ben Stokes.

The Durham left-hander smashed the fastest Lord’s century, a game-changing innings that showed how individual brilliance can turn WinViz on its head. When Stokes arrived at the crease England had a win probability of 17% – when he was dismissed 109 minutes later for 101, it was New Zealand’s win probability that stood at 17%.

Stokes’ knock was the ultimate counter-attacking innings. He thrived under the pressure of England’s perilous position, playing with his trademark aggression despite the quality of the Black Caps bowling attack and the fact he did not score from his first nine deliveries.

An interesting feature of his innings was that New Zealand bowled better to him as the belligerent knock developed. Rather than wilting in the face of the barrage, the wicket-taking threat actually increased: Stokes first 46 deliveries had an average of 1.18% chance of taking his wicket, his second 46 a 1.88% chance.

The BatViz calculation that measures projected average runs and wickets from each delivery produces a more expected pattern in Alastair Cook’s anchoring innings of 162. The first half of his stay at the crease had an average 1.82% chance of taking his wicket, the second half a 1.60% chance.

Stokes solidified his position as England’s talisman in this Test, producing two innings of huge importance that were notable not just for their impact but for their quality. He showed his team-mates that an aggressive mode of batting could thrive against good attacks in tricky conditions.