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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.

ENGLAND’S TOUGH ASSIGNMENT

England know full well the perils of facing Pakistan after a successful home summer. In 2005 they suffered a 2-0 defeat in Pakistan that showed the team that had regained the Ashes had reached its peak. They were whitewashed in a three-match series in 2012, a few months after claiming top spot in the ICC Test Rankings.

Injuries and a lack of preparation were major factors in those defeats, but if a degree of complacency had crept into the tourists’ mind-sets, it will surely not be repeated this time around. Pakistan are unbeaten in their last seven Test series in UAE. Only Australia, in 2002, have won a Test series against Pakistan in the Emirates. This will be the 10th series held there.

New Zealand fought back to draw a series last November, but that came hot on the heels on one of the most one-sided series in recent times. In winning both Tests against Australia, Pakistan recorded their largest run-margin Test win (356 runs at Abi Dhabi) and nine centuries, the most by a team in a two-Test series.

Australia averaged 25.7 with the bat in that series and 80.2 with the ball, a month of toil that hinted at their problems in unfamiliar conditions which persisted this Ashes summer. England’s bowling stood up well on their UAE visit in 2012 – Pakistan’s average of 25.8 runs per wicket was their second lowest in their 10 UAE Test series.

Unfortunately for the visitors their batting was fragile, producing totals of 192, 160, 327, 72, 141 and 252. Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman took 24 and 19 wickets respectively, hauls which create alarm bells for an England batting unit that rarely looked at ease against orthodox spinner Nathan Lyon this summer. Legspinner Yasir Shah – 31 wickets in his last four Tests – will be licking his lips.

1ST ASHES TEST ANALYSIS

FIELDING COMPARISON

With two well-matched sides, each batting and bowling well, to a large degree the deciding factor in the series opener was the quality of their fielding in the first innings. In a game where both sides got a number of half-chances, England were sharp and clung onto theirs, Australia spilt a few and suffered as a result.   The difference between the impact of the two sides’ fielding in the first innings was 113 runs, almost the entire 1st innings lead that gave England control of the match.

Eng Fielding ScoresAus Fielding Scores
1st Innings51-62
2nd Innings3336

At the end of Australia’s first innings WinViz had England at nearly 70% to win the match.

Take away the 113 runs between the teams’ fielding and the situation would have been different. England would still have had a small edge – Australia still had to bat last on a wearing wicket – but it would have been far more evenly poised contest.

1st-Test-CricViz-Analysis-WinViz-2

AUSTRALIA’S AGGRESSION AGAINST SPIN

Australia pursued a policy of aggression against the English spinners, but in doing so lost 7 wickets for 158, including 4 key top order wickets to Moeen Ali. Australia’s record against spin overseas has been poor in recent years, and Ali was the bowler against whom they underperformed most in this match.

Test Avg Overseas – since 2010
SpinPace
Aus30.732.3
Eng35.230.8

From the Hawkeye data, BatViz predicts that an average Test batsman would have attacked 39% of the balls bowled by English spinners in Cardiff. The Australians attacked almost exactly half. On this occasion, the strategy hurt them considerably.   With long periods when there was little assistance for the spinners from the pitch, BatViz estimates that an average Test side should have averaged 45 against spin in this match, but instead Australia lost their wickets at 22.6.

Australians v Spin in Cardiff
BatViz PredictionActual
Batting Avg45.122.6
Attacking %39%50%

DIFFERENT APPROACHES FROM THE TWO SETS OF BOWLERS

CricViz’s analysis of the two pace attacks shows that while both sides bowled well in Cardiff, they did so in slightly different ways. Australia bowled slightly quicker, and swung the ball more in the air.

England in contrast, were able to get more movement off the wicket (often through the use of cutters) and were far more accurate. Australia were able to induce slightly more mistakes from the batsman, England did so in more dangerous areas.

[visualizer id=”3952″]

FLUCTUATIONS IN THE CONDITIONS

With little pace or life in the surface, the pitch became more of a new ball wicket as the match went on.

BatViz Predicted Average by phase of innings
BallsInn 1Inn 2Inn 3Inn 4
5027.522.233.521.7
10027.632.326.734.3
15024.338.639.135.3
20031.545.641.735.0
25033.337.136.040.7
30032.439.734.149.5
35035.649.436.936.8
40037.633.231.838.5
48031.841.825.3
53028.623.5

[visualizer id=”3956″]

On the first day, under cloudy skies, the ball swung for most of the day, and batting although slightly easier after the first two hours, remained difficult all day. As you can see from the graph, England’s new ball spells were more potent, but as the ball stopped swinging they were unable to sustain the threat to the batsman that Australia had in more helpful conditions on Day 1.

PLAYVIZ

This was a high quality encounter. An excellent Australian side buoyed by recent successes, and a good, young England side playing in their home conditions. As we can see from the PlayViz output, the general standard of play was very high.

1st-Test-CricViz-Analysis-PlayViz-1

Over the course of the match, England’s batting was 79 runs better than an average Test side’s under the same conditions, their bowling 81 runs better and the quality of their fielding was worth another 84 runs.

Australia’s bowlers were outstanding, 150 runs better than a typical attack, but they were let down by their fielding, particularly in the first innings. The Australian batting, whilst 17 runs better than a par Test side, was also down on their usual performance levels.