CricViz analysis of the fourth Test between India and England in Mumbai.
CricViz analysis of the third Test between India and England in Mohali.
CricViz analysis of the second Test between India and England in Vizag.
England escaped defeat in Chittagong thanks largely to a superb all-round performance from Ben Stokes and Bangladesh’s first innings batting collapse; they were not so lucky in Dhaka where their shortcomings playing and bowling spin were exposed again and they crashed to a heavy defeat. There is no shame in losing to this Bangladesh team but there is shame at the manner of the result, in which their batting, bowling and fielding were alarmingly substandard.
It is difficult to ascertain which area of their spin-game, playing it or bowling it is a greater problem and quite frankly it is facile to apportion blame to one or the other; both were poor and both must be improved dramatically if they are to avoid a thrashing at the hands of India.
As bad as England’s batting was though, chasing 273 in the fourth innings was always going to be a very difficult task on a turning pitch against an excellent spin attack, and the size of that run-chase can be traced back to bowling and fielding errors throughout the Test.
After the match Alastair Cook was forthright in admitting that “we didn’t bowl great. And yes, their spinners did out-bowl our spinners. We’re not hiding behind the fact that we haven’t got world-class spinners.”
If the spinners England do have cannot exploit helpful conditions at their disposal then they are always going to struggle to win matches on the subcontinent because they will more often than not be chasing too many runs.
In the first Test England’s spin problem was primarily their inaccuracy and in the second Test the same can be largely said again. England’s inability to land the ball in roughly the same area consistently contributed to Bangladesh’s spinners bowling 15 maidens in the match compared to England’s eight and 50 in the series to England’s 21.
This failure to build pressure prevents spinners finding a rhythm against batsman and lining them up. Balls that turn fractionally more or less than preceding deliveries are far more dangerous if they are bowled at the same batsman rather than a different batsman because the same batsman is more likely to be influenced by the ball before and play down the wrong line.
Cook said that he would be interested to see the stats comparing England’s spin lengths to Bangladesh’s, suggesting that their bowlers maintained a better length. In fact both sets of spinners bowled very similar lengths overall [see below] with Bangladesh over-pitching slightly less, but both teams landing about 60% of deliveries in a two metre range between 3 and 5 metres – categorised as a ‘good’ length for spin bowlers.
England’s lengths, were almost identical to the first Test [see below] while Bangladesh’s actually got slightly worse. The home team were able to maintain more control because they bowled far tighter lines [see above]. Bangladesh’s pitching line groupings are tighter and straighter than England’s which forces the batsman to play and increases the chances of getting a wicket bowled or lbw.
Moeen was the most accurate of England’s three spinners [see below] and improved the percentage of deliveries bowled in the 3-5 metre range from Chittagong from 58% to 61% by cutting down on over-pitched and short deliveries. He also improved his line considerably – recording a far higher percentage of deliveries that would have gone onto hit the stumps. Rashid’s lengths actually got worse from Chittagong, most notably pitching 13% of his deliveries six metres or shorter. Ansari, meanwhile, recorded better lengths than Gareth Batty did but struggled to maintain his line.
Speaking after the match Cook explained the problem inaccurate bowling poses for setting fields. “You always feel you are a fielder short,” he said. “If you are leaking four, five runs an over in a low scoring game you have to put your boundary-riders out. It would be great if you could attack but you have got to hold your line and length better.”
England struggled to play spin just as much as they struggled to bowl it. Their dramatic collapse from 100 for 0 to 164 all out in a single session was the vertex of a problem that had been made all too apparent in the three preceding innings in the series in which they were 106 for 5, 62 for 5 and 114 for 6.
As has already been mentioned, batting in these conditions is not easy and Bangladesh have a very good spin attack, however to lose ten wickets in a single session is indicative of a more deep-rooted problem.
In terms of personnel, five of England’s top seven: Cook, Joe Root, Moeen Ali, Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow, are proven performers at this level and are guaranteed selection, while Ben Duckett’s second innings fifty showed enormous promise. Only Gary Ballance, who could well be dropped for the first Test in India, can be said to be out of his depth. In this sense England’s problem is not who, it is how – it is technique and strategy.
What has characterised the success of Bangladesh’s spinners, like that of Ravi Ashwin, Ravi Jadeja and Rangana Herath too in recent years, has been the lack of ‘mystery’ in their bowling. Rather than doosras and carom balls posing the threat instead it has been orthodox spin bowling. Alongside their accuracy these bowlers’ chief weapon is very slight differences in deviation and the key variation is the one that goes straight on. What makes this particular variation so deadly is that more often than not it is a natural variation, meaning it cannot be consistently read from the hand.
Eight of the fourteen dismissals of England’s top seven batsmen were to deliveries that deviated less than the average for any of the frontline spin bowlers [see below]. Playing against natural variations such as these is understandably difficult because there are no visual cues on which to predicate decision making other than the trajectory of spin after pitching, by which point the reaction time is negligible unless the batsman has gone back deep in his crease and therefore has some time to adjust, or, the spin can be nullified if the batsman is well forward and has smothered the turn. This reemphasises the importance of clearly committing either forward or back.
Given the average height and stride length of a batsman, deciding whether to commit well forward or well back is particularly difficult to balls pitched between 3 and 5 metres from the batsman’s stumps, within which 60% of all Bangladesh’s spinners deliveries landed, and also, as the match progresses and bounce becomes less predictable, balls pitched between 5 and 6 metres from the stumps, within which a further 21% of the spinners’ deliveries landed.
All the deliveries to dismiss England’s top seven batsmen excluding Ballance’s second innings leading edge pitched within this three metre range. This illustrates how difficult it must have been for England to commit either forward or back to those balls that they got out to because they were landing within a length range in which making the appropriate footwork is extremely difficult and even then once having committed either back or forward they then have to play the ball successfully. The less committed they are to going forward or back the less spin they will have smothered or the less time they will have to adjust.
The foundational aspect to succeeding against spin bowling therefore is reading the length well, something that England are going to have to work on ahead of the India series where the opposition is even stiffer.
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.
England’s stand-out bowler in the first two matches of the five match ODI series against Sri Lanka has arguably been Adil Rashid. In both games, bowling ten consecutive overs, he has recorded his best economy rate in ODI cricket, first 3.60 and then 3.40. He did not take any wickets at Trent Bridge, although he did build the pressure for Moeen Ali to dismiss Dinesh Chandimal, but took two at Edgbaston in a pivotal spell which ensured Sri Lanka set an under-par target that was subsequently chased with ease. While Jason Roy and Alex Hales’ record-breaking partnership stole the headlines, Rashid’s 2 for 34 was possibly the more important performance.
The defining feature of Rashid’s bowling has been his accuracy. Leg-spin is a delicate art in which the slightest error in action or release can cause dramatic misdirection but in the first two ODIs Rashid has displayed ability and skills that suggests he may have taken his game to the next level.
Over the 120 deliveries Rashid has bowled his average pitching length has been 4.88 metres from the stumps and he has bowled 100 of his deliveries in a three metre range between three and six metres. From this length-range he has conceded 52 runs and taken two wickets. He has over-pitched from this range on five occasions and has dropped it shorter on 16, although 12 of those are in the six to seven metre range from which only eight runs have been scored.
Interestingly, analysing his lengths by match clearly shows how he bowled fuller in the second ODI. Having gone wicketless in the first match perhaps Rashid, striving for wickets, pitched the ball further up in an effort to tempt the batsmen to drive. Having bowled ten deliveries in the three to four metre range in the first match he bowled 17 in the second and bowled a more consistently full length delivering 51 of his 60 deliveries in the three to six metre range, compared to 48 of his 60 in the first. The charts below illustrate this.
Rashid has also displayed excellent control of his line in the series bowling 85 of his 120 deliveries on or outside off stump from which he has conceded just 51 runs and taken one of his two wickets. As well as bowling fuller in the second ODI Rashid also bowled straighter, as the charts below show.
After delivering 34 of his 60 balls outside off stump at Trent Bridge he delivered none there at Edgbaston; the result of this was that it forced the batsmen to play at more deliveries and to hit more against the spin through the leg-side. This proved to be the case as Sri Lanka scored 52% of their runs off Rashid through the leg-side in the second match compared to 27% in the first.
Rashid’s average speed across the two matches has been 49.11 mph which, although slightly faster than his average speed in his last ODI series against South Africa of 48.55, is still relatively slow for a leg-spin bowler. By sake of comparison Piyush Chawla, Amit Mishra and Imran Tahir all normally average in the mid-50s.
Terry Jenner, the leg-spin coach who mentored Shane Warne during his career, advised that “the right pace to bowl at is the pace where you gain your maximum spin.” Our data shows that if Rashid is seeking more turn he should in fact bowl slightly slower still. This is illustrated by the chart below which shows degrees of deviation on the Y axis in relation to the speed of delivery on the X axis. The yellow line represents Rashid’s average speed.
Sacrificing pace for turn is a risky strategy however. The slower the pace the longer a batsman has to adjust his footwork, shot selection and shape. Anyhow, Rashid’s bowling figures suggests there is no need for anything to change. It is useful to know at least, that a slower speed may produce some additional turn.
Variation and Strategy
The large majority of Rashid’s deliveries are leg-breaks. However, he is not afraid to use his googly and bowled seven in the first ODI and five in the second (deviation to the leg-side displayed in the chart below does not necessarily represent a googly due to deviation caused by natural variation off the pitch and angle of delivery).
The value of the googly to a leg-spinner is pervasive: once a batsman knows a bowler has one and is willing to use it new dimensions are added to the contest. Firstly a batsman is worried about reading the spin and secondly he has to adjust how he plays each delivery. Even if the ball is a leg-spinner the batsman has to be wary of the one that turns back in. The danger of a googly does not end with the delivery itself.
The chart below maps out Rashid’s two spells ball-by-ball and gives clues as to the pattern of his strategy.
It is noticeable how Rashid does not employ the googly early. This could be because he wants to find his rhythm with his leg-break before moving onto variations. Trying and failing to land an accurate googly releases pressure and for Rashid, bowling in the middle overs, maintaining pressure is imperative. In both matches Rashid spins his early leg-breaks hard and far.
Examining patterns of deliveries is interesting. Googlies are generally followed by big-turning leg-breaks, except in the case of his 45th delivery in the first match, which seems to be a top-spinner or slider. In the second ODI, his first wicket came from the 41st delivery which was immediately preceded by a delivery which went straight on. His second wicket came from the 43rd delivery, which this time was preceded by a googly. Only once has he bowled consecutive googlies but in both matches he ended his spell with one.
The limits of analysis such as this is that while our data allows us to look inside the mind of a bowler, only by actually talking to Rashid can we truly understand what his thought processes and strategies are.
This analysis has been based on a small sample size but it has demonstrated Rashid’s growing mastery of his art. If he can maintain this form deeper into the series then we may be able to say with confidence that his game has indeed reached a new level.
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