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India, NZ bask in cricket’s capacity to surprise

One of the most enticing qualities that sport possesses is unpredictability. Over time, enough spectacularly improbably outcomes are achievable to keep us in thrall to the nuances of whichever sport(s) we are most drawn to.

Cricket does not necessarily reign supreme against other disciplines in this aspect. There have been enough predictably one-sided outcomes in the past few months alone to keep us grounded. South Africa’s home Test series against Sri Lanka was almost depressingly one-sided, for instance. But the duller days allow uss= to appreciate the more exciting stuff even more.

It is fair to say the past 24 hours have provided a triple whammy of extraordinary events. And the mere fact that the least remarkable of them was Pakistan’s one-day international win at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (their first victory of any kind against Australia in Australia for 12 years) tells it all.

Pakistan, who had been competitive for much of the first ODI, strolled to victory over a disjointed Australia side. It was the discipline of both the spinners and then the top-order batsmen that set up a six-wicket win with 14 balls remaining. According to the official team rankings, this was a case of the eighth best team in the world trumping the no. 1 side. But you may remember Australia were whitewashed by South Africa just three months ago.

The indications are that the ICC Champions Trophy in June – for which hosts England are joint favourites alongside Australia (the two of them narrowly ahead of South Africa in the betting) – will be wide open and with the scope for plenty of surprise.

The two even bigger shocks of Sunday into Monday were India’s recovery from 63-4 to overhaul England’s 350 in the ODI series opener in Pune and New Zealand’s Test win over Bangladesh, who scored 595-8 declared in the first innings.

Let’s begin with India, if only because the match was completed around 12 hours before New Zealand’s dramatic success. It was interesting to note – and indeed this was an aspect that received plenty of traction on Twitter – that India were rated 55% on WinViz at the halfway stage. In other words, we had them narrow but clear favourites. Some pessimistic Indian fans and some optimistic England supporters would have certainly queried with this assessment, and the betting exhanges, in which the odds are set up by bettors rather than bookmakers, also had England favourites.

But look at what lay ahead: a very small batting ground and a flat wicket (even David Willey managed to flick a one-handed six), the presence of the two best chasers the game has in MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli, and perhaps most crucially a notably weak England bowling line-up.

The fast bowlers, with Mark Wood and Reece Topley both injured and unavailable, has a lack of spite and variety to it. Willey and Chris Woakes in particular – and to some extent Ben Stokes too – always seem to struggle to either contain or attack once the game reaches the middle overs. This is something I have blogged on before – but by far the biggest concern was the form of Adil Rashid.

Wellington Test: General view

New Zealand and Bangladesh exchange handshakes after a remarkable Wellington Test was won by the hosts

The Yorkshire leg-spinner began the match rated the fifth best bowler in the world in ODIs, believe it or not. And when the confidence is flowing, he is a force to be reckoned with as he possesses a good googly that he is not afraid to use and usually gets plenty of turn if there is any offer. On Sunday the confidence was not flowing. Rashid sent down five wicketless overs costing 50 runs. The poor fellow’s lengths were all over the place – less than half landing on a good length according to our stats – with a brutal 41 runs being hit off the 16 deliveries that were too full or too short.

Contrast Rashid with Ravindra Jadeja, who landed 88% of his balls on a good length and collected figures of 10-0-50-1, making him the most economical bowler in the match.

But of course the game was not won and lost simply because Jadeja showed so much more control than Rashid. Massive credit has to go the way of two Indian batsmen, and in particular Kedar Jadhav. When Virat Kohli scores 122 off 105 balls in a successful chase and still isn’t man of the match you know there has been one heck of a performance from someone else.

Jadhav provided it with 120 from just 76 balls, and remember he came in when Dhoni had departed. India were down below 13% on WinViz but Jadhav took pressure off Kohli by attacking immediately, with the senior batsman cleverly realising mere singles from him in the middle overs would keep the required rate in check.

The stats on the Jadhav innings are pretty special. He looked to score runs off all but seven balls he received, and on only nine occasions when he attacked did he fail to score at least a single. His driving was clinical and brutal – 28 runs from nine such shots – and he was by far the most effective puller on the day with 26 runs from 13 shots.

And so on to New Zealand’s Test win in Hamilton. This was clouded with misfortune for Bangladesh, who had captain Mushfiqur Rahim injured twice in the match: batting with a suspected broken hand in the second innings he was then struck a blow on the helmet and forced to retire hurt. Nor was he the only top batsman to get injured. Opener Imrul Kayes was also in the wars, re-emerging at the fall of the seventh wicket on the final day in some desperation having hobbled off late on day four.

Before Kayes’s injury, Bangladesh led by 102 with all 10 second-innings wickets in hand and New Zealand were down to 3.7% on WinViz with the draw a massive favourite. But has as been noted recently the draw is an exeptionally rare commodity in Test cricket right now (there has been just one in the last 27 Tests) and when pressure came to bear on Bangladesh they couldn’t deal with it.

Eight balls into the final day, Shakib Al Hasan played a ridiculous chip to mid-on and New Zealand’s vultures scented blood. Bangladesh now led by just 122 with four batsmen dismissed and two more under a massive injury cloud. After Neil Wagner had ousted Mominul Haque, and the unfortunate Mushfiqur was forced out of the fray, Trent Boult quickly took three of the last four wickets needed. That left the hosts needing 217 to win in 57 overs, and they cruised it.

New Zealand’s seam bowlers have fixed roles. Wagner concentrates more than any other international bowler on short stuff. In Bangladesh’s second innings, he bowled 58 deliveries on a short length and 16 back of a length. Just 11 balls were full length with six half-volleys thrown in. The really full ball becomes the surprise weapon, and it was one of those that did for Mominul.

Tim Southee is perhaps the best equipped to profit from any natural movement available while Trent Boult opts for subtle changes of angle, pace and length. Boult removed the dogged Sabbir Rahman with a very wide delivery that perhaps begged to be smashed but was neither the length to drive or cut. And he took out the tail-enders Taskin Ahmed and Subashis Roy with some lovely yorker bowling. He attempted 10 yorkers, a high number by modern standards, and one or two were not quite in the slot, but it mattered not.

We quickly move on, for that is the way with the modern international calendar. England have two more ODIs in India before three T20 internationals, Bangladesh have one more Test in New Zealand and Pakistan three more ODIs in Australia. Follow all the action in our free-to-download app. If the experience of the last few days is anything to go by there could be some absorbing cricket to soak up.


While the result of this series, a Pakistan win, might not have been a total shock given that it was being played in the UAE, the margin of it, three-nil, and of each victory, 111, 59 and 136 runs, was. There was little between the teams in the rankings before the series with West Indies eighth and Pakistan ninth and both teams chasing valuable points for automatic World Cup qualification; on the pitch however, there was an enormous gulf in class.

This was an encouraging result for a Pakistan team in their third series under new coach Mickey Arthur. Particularly impressive was their batting – perennially their weaker suit in limited overs cricket – which registered scores of 284 for 9, 337 for 5 and 308 for 6. Their series run rate of 6.23 is their second best ever against major opposition.

The standout player was of course Babar Azam who scored a century in each match on his way to surpassing Sir Vivian Richards as the leading ODI run-scorer after 18 matches with 886 runs. The top five generally were very impressive with Azhar Ali, Sharjeel Khan, Shoaib Malik, Sarfaraz Ahmed and Azam scoring 806 runs between them at an average of 62 and a strike rate of 99.87.

This series offers an interesting case-study of Pakistan’s approach in ODIs because in none of the three matches did they suffer a significant collapse meaning they were able to apply their strategy largely unaffected. Analying their innings in ten over phases reveals their strategy to be one of attack in the Powerplay, led by Sharjeel, followed by a consolidation and a gradual increase through the middle overs towards the last ten. Their ten over phase run rates were 6.23, 4.73, 6.43, 6.00 and 8.03.

Although Azam was the leading run-scorer for Pakistan it is hard to look beyond Sharjeel as Pakistan’s most important player not only in this series but to Pakistan’s batting strategy more generally.

Sharjeel is Pakistan’s only player with a career strike rate of more than 100 and his aggression in the Powerplay is integral to affording Ali and Azam the time to play themselves in. Across his first ten balls in this series Sharjeel’s strike rate was 130.00, while Ali and Azam’s was 56.86; across his next ten balls Sharjeel’s strike rate was 145.45, while Ali and Azam’s was was 70.00, only after facing 30 balls did Ali and Azam’s strike rate begin to rise towards a run-a-ball and once they had faced around 70 they begun scoring at consistently more than a run-a-ball.

Interestingly there was only a very subtle difference in intent from Pakistan’s batsmen in this series compared to the series against England that they lost 4-1, playing at 3.05% more deliveries and attacking 2.17% more. It seems that the critical difference, beyond the opposition and conditions, was that Sharjeel played three quick fire cameos at the start of the innings, with strike rates of 125.58, 200.00 and 92.68. Sharjeel’s aggression alleviated the pressure on Ali and Azam, who were able to play themselves in without feeling forced to play more positively, and as a result Pakistan did not lose as many early wickets as they did against England and were able to stay in control of their run rate, attacking balls they wanted to attack rather than those they felt compelled to after rebuilding.

There is a fragility to Pakistan’s batting success in this series. Ali and Azam are capable of scoring at strike rates of around 90 and may well get better at doing so earlier in their innings but currently they take their time to do so. While Shoaib and Sarfraz are in a bracket above in terms of scoring rate Shoaib has only played eight innings of more than 20 balls at a strike rate of above 110 since 2010 and Sarfraz has only played three ever. With little lower-order firepower below Shoaib and Sarfraz to speak of this batting order places enormous importance on the contribution of Sharjeel to get Pakistan off to a quick start to allow Ali and Azam to play themselves in which subsequently doesn’t leave Shoaib and Sarfraz too much to do when they come to the crease.


Pakistan would go a long way to solving this problem by unearthing more lower-order firepower, thereby lifting pressure on the squeezed middle order from below as well as above. Pakistan’s run rate of 8.03 in the final ten overs in the series may not seem too bad but in this era most teams are scoring at nearer 10 in that phase. Pakistan have failed to score more than 75 in their final ten overs seven times in their last ten ODIs batting first (HT: Hassan Cheema).

Although Ali scored a hundred in the third match of the series, doubts about his ability to score fast enough in limited overs cricket remain, and it is an inconvenient possibility that Pakistan’s ODI team would be better off without their captain. While most teams now have two power players in their top three, Pakistan have just the one and the effects of that are felt throughout the batting order.

The lingering uncertainty surrounding Pakistan’s ODI batting should not tarnish the acceleration of the emergence of Azam in this series who appears a to be a fantastic player. He scored runs off all types of bowling, on both sides of the ground, off front and back foot and coming down the pitch and did so at a healthy strike rate. It is possible to see him filling a Joe Root-style role at number three for Pakistan for a long time to come.

For the West Indies this was a bitterly disappointing series. With the ball they were unable to expose the holes in Pakistan’s batting and when chasing they got off to slow starts, struggling to time the ball despite positive intent, missing or edging 18.81% of their shots and they found it hard to rotate the strike, recording a dot ball percentage of 54.12% compared to Pakistan’s 38.30%. Ultimately they fell too far behind the rate too early to make their way back against Pakistan’s spin bowlers on slow pitches.

Freddie Wilde is an analyst at CricViz.


Pakistan’s 3-0 whitewash of the T20 world champions West Indies was a stunning result and one that uncovered the shortcomings of West Indies’ power-hitting strategy on slow pitches with big boundaries and also suggested the capability of Pakistan’s bowling attack to become one of the world’s best.

Before the start of this series the West Indies had won six of their seven completed T20 matches in 2016 and had utilised a deep and powerful batting order but in this series it was largely their batting that lost them each of the three matches.

In the first match, batting first, they were reduced to 22 for 5 before being bowled out for 115; in the second match, chasing 161, they were reduced to 19 for 3 and then 45 for 4 before finishing 144 for 9 and in the third match, batting first, they were reduced to 31 off 4 before scrapping their way to 103 for 5.

The first two matches of the series were played in Dubai while the third was played in Abu Dhabi. Pitches in the UAE are slower and lower than elsewhere and the boundaries are bigger; such conditions, where the ball does not come onto the bat as well and the bounce is less predictable, are not conducive to power-hitting which is largely dependent on the ability to swing hard and fast through the expected line of the ball and being rewarded for this is understandably made harder as the size of the boundary increases. The conditions therefore required the West Indies to adapt their method but they didn’t.

Prior to this series the slog made up 10% of the shots played by the West Indies in 2016, in this series that number fell slightly to 7% but tellingly the strike rate of those shots fell from 242 to 51, the average from 31 to five and the shots per dismissal from 13 to nine. Similarly, prior to this series the pull shot made up 8% of shots played by the West Indies in 2016, in this series that number actually increased fractionally but again the strike rate of those shots fell from 261 to 151, the average from 68 to 15 and the shots per dismissal from 26 to ten. Similar falls were experienced for the cut shot as well. Revealingly, the shot-types that failed the West Indies were cross-batted shots – ill-advised on slower, lower pitches. Unsurprisingly the larger boundaries in the UAE correlate with a rise in the strike rates for working, pushing, flicking and steering the ball.

The conditions in the UAE mean boundaries are harder to come by and running between the wickets assumes greater importance but it is clear from the shot-type analysis that the West Indies either failed or refused to recognise this.

Speaking after the first match West Indies captain Carlos Brathwaite appeared to suggest that it was not the shot selection but shot execution that cost his team. “We didn’t execute it the way we wanted to,” he said. “On some other day those same shots could have gone for boundaries and sixes.” Brathwaite did admit however that his players needed to be more “situation aware” for the following two matches. There was some improvement in this regard with West Indies scoring 144 in the second match and Marlon Samuels and Kieron Pollard restraining their aggressive instincts in the third match but they failed to find a gear in between attack and defence and both scored at well under a run-a-ball. Samuels’ innings was the third slowest of all innings to have lasted at least 50 balls in T20i history.

Interestingly this is not the first time that West Indies’ approach has been exposed on such pitches. Earlier this year on the low, slow Nagpur pitch during the World T20 West Indies narrowly beat South Africa and lost to Afghanistan.


The West Indies’ task in this series was undoubtedly made more difficult by the brilliance of Pakistan’s bowling attack which, in four consecutive T20s including their win against England, has been superb.

Pakistan’s attack is made up of an eclectic mix of bowlers of varying styles, paces, angles and trajectories. Their unpredictability and variation combined with the low, slow UAE pitches makes them hard to dominate.

Pakistan played the same team in the first two matches before making two changes for the last match but in all three, and the match against England earlier in the month, their bowling order and changes followed a similar structure demonstrating the existence of a clear plan of who would bowl when and it was stuck to.

Left arm spinner Imad Wasim, who took nine wickets, the joint-second highest wicket-haul in a series of three matches or fewer, bowled the first and third over in each of the three matches and took three, one and two wickets in his three opening spells, setting the West Indies back early on and from there they could not recover.

Imad generally bowls an accurate line and length, largely full and very straight, relying on subtle changes in length, line, pace, angle and trajectory to avoid batsmen lining him up and waits for the batsman to miss, something the West Indies, attacking hard, did regularly on two-paced pitches with unpredictable bounce. Six of his nine wickets were bowled or LBW.

Imad largely bowled two different lengths: a traditional good length pitching between four and seven metres from the stumps and a fuller change-up length between one and four metres. In the match against England it was the fuller length that took him two wickets, here in this series, all his wickets came from the more regular length deliveries.

The damage done by Imad was reinforced and built on by the rest of the attack. Left arm seamer Sohail Tanvir bowled from over the wicket, angling the ball across right handers and into left handers, largely from back of a length, between seven and ten metres from the batsmen with the yorker and changes in pace, dropping to as low as 55mph, as variation.

Right arm seamer Hasan Ali bowled over the wicket and varied his length and pace with almost every delivery, rarely bowling similar balls consecutively with his speeds ranging between mid-80s to high-60s.

Left armers Wahab Riaz, entirely from over the wicket, and Mohammad Amir from over and round, were employed as impact bowlers, relying on significant changes of pace from around 90 mph to mid-60s and regular short deliveries. Left armer Rumman Raees bowled a slightly fuller average length than Wahab and Amir and dropped his pace from mid-80s to mid-60s almost every other ball.

The attack was completed by left arm spinner Mohammad Nawaz and off spinner Shoaib Malik who varied their line and length subtly and within a small range, never trying anything notably unusual but changing things just enough to ensure the batsmen could not settle.

The variation in style and strategy offered by Pakistan’s bowling attack is well-suited to T20 where being unpredictable is key. It will be fascinating to see them on flatter pitches with smaller boundaries to see if they can maintain their impressive form in more difficult conditions for bowling. Make no mistake though, this was a hugely impressive series victory for Pakistan and an equally, if not more unimpressive, series defeat for the West Indies.

Freddie Wilde is an analyst at CricViz. 


Trent Bridge has been a high scoring venue in limited overs cricket of late—earlier this season the average score across six domestic innings was 380—but even given the ground’s recent history few people could have envisaged the carnage that unfolded in the first innings of this match.

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