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MATCH ANALYSIS: INDIA V ENGLAND, SECOND TEST

CricViz analysis of the second Test between India and England in Vizag.

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MATCH ANALYSIS, INDIA V ENGLAND, FIRST TEST

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Rashid’s finest

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.

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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.

MEHEDI MAGIC: HOW TIGERS’ TALENTED NEW SPINNER UNPICKED ENGLAND

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.

Mehedi removes Woakes

Mehedi removing Woakes on day two and ending a 99-run stand for England’s ninth wicket

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.

MATCH ANALYSIS: INDIA V NEW ZEALAND, SECOND TEST

India 316 (Pujara 87, Rahane 77, Saha 54*, Henry 3-46) and 263 (Rohit 82, Saha 58*, Boult 3-38, Henry 3-59, Santner 3-60) beat New Zealand 204 (Bhuveneshwar 5-48) and 197 (Latham 74, Jadeja, 3-41, Shami 3-46, Ashwin 3-82) by 178 runs

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MATCH ANALYSIS: INDIA V NEW ZEALAND, FIRST TEST

India 318 (Vijay 65, Pujara 62, Boult 3-67, Santner 3-94) and 377 for 5 dec (Pujara 78, Vijay 76, Rohit 68*, Jadeja 50*) beat New Zealand 262 (Williamson 75, Latham 58, Jadeja 5-73, Ashwin 4-93) and 236 (Ronchi 80, Santner 71, Ashwin 6-132) by 197 runs

Unsurprisingly since India’s home Tests have begun being played on big turning pitches, this match was decided by spin: both how it was bowled and played. On both counts India were the better of the two teams. India’s two spinners, R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja took 16 wickets at an economy rate of 2.65; New Zealand’s three spinners, Mark Craig, Michell Santner and Ish Sodhi took eight at 3.58.

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WORLD T20 2016, SUPER 10 PHASE ANALYSIS

A summary of venue and innings-phase statistics from the Super 10 stage of the ICC World Twenty20 2016

The following data is comprised of the 38 innings that were played over 20 scheduled overs in the Super 10 stage of the ICC World Twenty20 2016. Therefore the rain-reduced match between India and Pakistan is not included.

Phase Breakdowns:

  • Powerplay: 1-6
  • Middle Overs: 7-16
  • Death Overs: 17-20

Venue Analysis

VenueAverage RunsAverage WicketsAverage Boundary PercentageAverage Dot Ball Percentage
Bangalore142.166.6614.52%36.69%
Delhi140.506.6613.75%38.79%
Dharamsala1388.5012.50%37.08%
Kolkata1456.6616.00%37.95%
Mohali170.665.3317.09%30.52%
Mumbai200.836.1622.07%28.93%
Nagpur1157.838.64%43.58%

Mumbai clearly emerged as the best venue for batsmen with the highest average runs, highest average boundary percentage and lowest average dot ball percentage of all seven venues. Mohali also proved to be a good batting venue coming second to Mumbai in runs, boundary percentage and dot ball percentage and recording fewer average wickets than any other ground.  Nagpur was the toughest batting venue recording the lowest average score, second highest average wickets, lowest boundary percentage and highest dot ball percentage. Dharamsala only hosted one Super 10 match, while Bangalore, Delhi and Kolkata proved similar venues across all metrics and make up the middle of the table.


Powerplay Analysis: Batting

TeamAverage Runs ScoredAverage Wickets LostAverage Boundary PercentageAverage Dot Ball Percentage
Afghanistan40.252.0014.58%54.86%
Australia53.001.0018.41%47.89%
Bangladesh38.251.7511.80%43.05%
England54.502.2522.91%38.88%
India36.002.3312.03%45.37%
New Zealand46.250.7520.13%50.00%
Pakistan54.001.3325.92%45.37%
South Africa55.501.2527.77%46.52%
Sri Lanka40.752.2515.27%46.52%
West Indies42.661.3319.44%50.00%
Match Winners47.151.3620.61%45.17%
Match Losers44.891.8917.54%47.26%

The most striking set of data from this phase belongs to India who are one of the four Semi-Finalists despite recording the lowest average score, the highest average wickets lost and the second lowest average boundary percentage. Interestingly another Semi-Finalist, West Indies also struggled in the phase, recording the fifth lowest average score and third highest average dot ball percentage. South Africa and Semi-Finalists England both boasted high average runs scored and average boundary percentages largely due to their record-breaking aggregate Powerplay total in their match in Mumbai of 172. England did however record the second highest average wickets lost. Another intriguing set of data belongs to Pakistan, who despite becoming the first ICC Full Member to be unable to qualify for the Semi-Finals recorded the second highest average score, fourth lowest average wickets lost, second highest average boundary percentage and fifth lowest dot ball percentage. Fourth Semi-Finalists New Zealand have batted in all four of their matches and have been chasing modest totals in three of them which accounts for their mid-table average runs scored and high dot ball percentage. Notably they did record the lowest average wickets lost and a healthy boundary percentage. Australia had success in the phase with the fourth highest average score having scored more than 50 in each of their four Powerplays and second lowest average wickets lost.


Powerplay Analysis: Bowling

TeamAverage Runs ConcededAverage Wickets TakenAverage Boundary PercentageAverage Dot Ball Percentage
Afghanistan45.752.0022.91%51.38%
Australia42.251.5016.66%45.14%
Bangladesh46.750.7520.13%42.36%
England50.002.0023.61%49.30%
India45.661.3318.51%48.14%
New Zealand43.752.0017.36%43.05%
Pakistan50.661.3319.44%43.51%
South Africa59.252.2523.61%43.75%
Sri Lanka36.751.0014.58%44.44%
West Indies40.502.0013.88%51.38%
Match Losers47.151.3620.61%45.17%
Match Winners44.891.8917.5447.36%

West Indies emerge as the success-story of this phase, conceding the second lowest average runs, taking the joint highest average wickets, the lowest boundary percentage and the joint highest dot ball percentage. Their bowling statistics are boosted by virtue of being the only team to play two matches in Nagpur – the best bowling venue. Sri Lanka also recorded impressive data in this phase conceding the fewest average runs despite taking the second fewest average wickets. They were the only team who didn’t concede more than 40 in the phase.  Semi-Finalists New Zealand recorded impressive figures: the fourth fewest average runs conceded, joint second highest average wickets taken and the fourth lowest boundary percentage and they did so despite playing at four different venues including the relatively high-scoring Mohali. Australia recorded the third lowest average runs concede. Semi-Finalists England and India recorded high average dot ball percentages, the former’s average runs conceded is dented largely by conceding 83-0 against South Africa, India meanwhile, struggled to take wickets finishing with the joint third fewest average wickets taken alongside PakistanSouth Africa, who played twice at Mumbai where attacking cricket is encouraged by conditions, conceded the highest average runs but took the most average wickets.


Middle Overs Analysis: Batting

TeamAverage Runs ScoredAverage Wickets LostAverage Boundary PercentageAverage Dot Ball Percentage
Afghanistan66.753.2510.00%36.25%
Australia72.003.2510.93%36.67%
Bangladesh60.754.2512.16%43.76%
England77.252.2511.25%27.08%
India62.003.007.22%35.00%
New Zealand63.003.508.75%36.66%
Pakistan86.332.0016.11%25.55%
South Africa71.502.509.58%27.50%
Sri Lanka69.503.0011.25%35.83%
West Indies78.662.3315.00%38.33%
Match Winners74.102.6312.10%31.66%
Match Losers65.843.319.93%35.88%

Fascinatingly it is Pakistan who boast the most impressive middle over batting statistics ranking first in all four metrics. Of course, this data does exclude their match against India in which they scored 118-5 in 18 overs on a difficult pitch, and they did play two matches in the second highest scoring venue Mohali, but even considering these factors their numbers are still impressive enough to suggest the existence of a trend. Semi-Finalists England and West Indies both registered high average runs scored and low average wickets lost, England also had an impressive dot ball percentage. This is the phase where the Bangladesh batting came unstuck. They recorded the lowest average runs scored, highest average wickets lost and highest dot ball percentage. Interestingly unbeaten Semi-Finalists New Zealand also registered some poor figures in this phase: the third lowest average runs scored, second highest average wickets lost, second lowest average boundary percentage and fourth highest dot ball percentage. They were, of course, chasing relatively low totals in three of those four innings. India recorded a high average wickets lost having lost three and four wickets against New Zealand and Bangladesh respectively. India’s boundary percentage is dragged down by hitting none in the phase against New Zealand. Afghanistan and Australia both lost a relatively high number of wickets in this phase.


Middle Overs Analysis: Bowling

TeamAverage Runs ConcededAverage Wickets TakenAverage Boundary PercentageAverage Dot Ball Percentage
Afghanistan64.502.759.58%35.41%
Australia73.752.7512.08%31.25%
Bangladesh81.003.0015.00%29.16%
England90.503.0015.41%28.33%
India65.003.338.33%37.22%
New Zealand47.754.505.91%42.51%
Pakistan74.332.6614.44%33.88%
South Africa73.753.0011.25%27.08%
Sri Lanka68.252.0011.25%36.66%
West Indies60.752.757.08%37.08%
Match Winners65.843.319.93%35.88%
Match Losers74.102.6312.10%31.66%

It is in this phase that New Zealand clearly set themselves apart from the other nine teams in the competition. They are not only ranked first in all four metrics but are so by large margins, particularly in terms of average runs conceded and average wickets taken. Astoundingly in the four combined six over periods between overs seven and thirteen New Zealand conceded only two boundaries and took 12 wickets for just 89 runs. That is a boundary percentage of 1.38% across 24 overs. India were also impressive in this phase, recording the second highest average wickets taken, third lowest average boundary percentage and second highest dot ball percentage. Although they did not take a high number of wickets West Indies conceded very few runs in this phase and had low boundary and high dot ball percentages. Interestingly the fourth Semi-Finalist England conceded more runs on average in this phase than any other team. They did at least take the joint fourth average number of wickets in the phase. Sri Lanka had the lowest average wickets taken while Pakistan were second from bottom in terms of wickets and also had a high boundary percentage.


Death Overs Analysis: Batting

TeamAverage Runs ScoredAverage Wickets LostAverage Boundary PercentageAverage Dot Ball Percentage
Afghanistan36.753.0021.87%35.41%
Australia36.002.0519.85%27.65%
Bangladesh36.002.2521.66%27.70%
England49.501.7532.00%21.49%
India30.661.6626.47%38.06%
Match Losers34.502.6618.28%30.53%
Match Winners38.521.5725.15%24.67%
New Zealand39.002.7515.62%20.83%
Pakistan36.662.6615.27%16.66%
South Africa33.002.0011.17%25.04%
Sri Lanka29.252.5018.49%35.34%
West Indies23.501.5012.63%36.49%

Semi-Finalists England dominated this phase scoring the highest average runs and highest average boundary percentage and doing so by considerable margins. They also registered the fourth lowest average wickets lost and third lowest dot ball percentage. Despite completing their run-chases in this phase with relative ease in all four of their innings New Zealand recorded impressive results in all four metrics, particularly average dot ball percentage where they ranked second and did so despite not once facing the full four overs. They did have a high average wickets lost but of all four metrics in this phase wickets lost can be said to be the least important. Although the other Semi-Finalists India and West Indies recorded poor figures in this phase their data is to an extent excusable because India’s numbers are dragged down by being bowled out by New Zealand in the phase after scoring just 13 while West Indies didn’t once face a full four overs having completed their run-chases on three occasions and being bowled out on the other. Having recorded strong numbers for the other two batting phases it is here that Pakistan drop off. They set a mid-table average runs scored and had the lowest dot ball percentage but had the second highest average wickets lost and crucially the third lowest boundary percentage. Sri Lanka struggled in this phase with the second lowest average runs scored, the second highest average wickets lost and the fourth highest dot ball percentage.


Death Overs Analysis: Bowling

TeamAverage Runs ConcededAverage Wickets TakenAverage Boundary Percentage Average Dot Ball Percentage
Afghanistan 45.501.2528.61%20.46%
Australia41.752.0027.46%15.40%
Bangladesh34.503.0021.66%29.79%
England34.501.2518.75%34.45%
India33.002.6616.66%25.00%
New Zealand25.002.6618.28%30.53%
Pakistan48.001.0025.00%18.05%
South Africa 28.253.5019.04%42.43%
Sri Lanka38.251.0029.22%19.73%
West Indies36.002.7518.75%31.25%
Match Winners34.502.6618.28%30.53%
Match Losers38.521.5725.15%24.67%

After their sensational middle-over phase it is unsurprising that New Zealand dominated the following death over phase recording the lowest average runs conceded, joint third highest average wickets taken and second lowest average boundary percentage – and they did this despite bowling first in their four matches. India also fared well in this phase, registering the third lowest average runs conceded, joint third average wickets taken and the lowest average boundary percentage. Semi-Finalists England were relatively frugal, notably bowling a large number of dot balls. So too were West Indies who recorded the third lowest average runs conceded and third highest dot ball percentage. They were also potent too collecting the third highest average wickets taken. Pakistan, having struggled in the corresponding phase with the bat, did so also with the ball, recording the highest average runs conceded, joint lowest average wickets taken  and second lowest dot ball percentage. Sri Lanka struggled to collect wickets and had high boundary and low dot ball percentages. Afghanistan had a high average runs conceded.


Innings Analysis: Batting

TeamAverage Runs ScoredAverage Wickets LostAverage Boundary PercentageAverage Dot Ball Percentage
Afghanistan143.758.2513.75%41.66%
Australia161.006.5016.81%32.03%
Bangladesh142.166.6614.52%36.69%
England181.256.2518.85%29.43%
India128.667.0011.68%36.88%
New Zealand148.257.0013.54%37.50%
Pakistan177.006.0018.88%29.72%
South Africa146.007.5011.75%36.96%
Sri Lanka139.507.7513.40%38.60%
West Indies137.505.5013.76%41.31%
Match Winners159.785.5716.88%31.13%
Match Losers143.427.7313.70%38.13%

Having performances well across all three phases England top the batting rankings in terms of average runs scored and average dot ball percentage. Strong showings in the Powerplay and middle over phase from Pakistan as well as two matches in Mohali see them end up with the second highest average runs scored, third lowest average wickets lost, highest boundary percentage and second lowest average dot ball percentage. The runs scored data for New Zealand is somewhat skewed by them having batted second in all four innings but they still managed to be ranked fifth. New Zealand’s high average wickets lost is their weakest performance across phase metrics; they also struggled to hit boundaries – but this can in part be explained by comfortably chasing totals. The West Indies fared poorly in terms of average runs scored but batted second on all four occasions, chasing two out of three low totals. India had the lowest average runs scored and lowest average boundary percentage, two statistics which are largely shaped by being bowled out for 79 against New Zealand. Australia were ranked in the top five across all four metrics. Afghanistan and Sri Lanka had the highest average wickets lost.


Innings Analysis: Bowling

TeamAverage Runs ConcededAverage Wickets TakenAverage Boundary Percentage Average Dot Ball Percentage
Afghanistan155.756.0016.87%36.87%
Australia157.756.2516.26%32.45%
Bangladesh162.256.7517.85%33.07%
England175.006.2518.54%34.79%
India143.667.3313.05%38.05%
New Zealand110.258.509.62%40.89%
Pakistan173.005.0018.05%33.61%
South Africa161.258.7516.46%35.09%
Sri Lanka143.254.0014.90%36.14%
West Indies137.257.5011.45%40.20%
Match Winners143.427.7313.70%38.13%
Match Losers159.785.5716.88%34.13%

England and Pakistan, who had the highest average runs scored also register the highest average runs conceded, low numbers for average wickets taken and the highest two average boundary percentages. Bangladesh had similarly high average runs conceded and average boundary percentage and also bowled relatively few dot balls. Interestingly Australia, who performed mid-table in terms of average runs scored, average wickets taken and average boundary percentage had the worst dot ball percentage. Semi-Finalists New Zealand and West Indies, who batted second in all four of their matches registered the best two average runs conceded figures, second and fourth highest average wickets taken respectively and the two lowest boundary percentages. India recorded mid-table average runs-conceded and took a relatively high number of wickets. South Africa were the most potent bowling team, collecting the highest average wickets taken and Sri Lanka were the least potent bowling team.


Super 10: Aggregate Trends

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Freddie Wilde is a freelance journalist, @fwildecricket. 

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.

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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.

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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.