CricViz Analysis: The Beauty of Buttler

Ben Jones analyses another dazzling century from England’s white ball star.

There’s a moment, just after a batsman has hit a ball in the direction of the boundary, where your eyes are dancing. They are trying to assess the trajectory of the ball, to predict whether it will fall short or fly over the rope, whether it will land into the hands of fielders or fans. You are using all of your accumulated knowledge of the game, everything you have seen before, to predict what is possible.

When the ball comes off Jos Buttler’s bat, your eyes are dancing – and they don’t stop. All of that accumulated knowledge is worthless, because Jos Buttler doesn’t do what you’ve seen before. When other batsmen flick their wrists at a 90mph yorker, the ball arcs up, before diving down, safe in the hands of the man at mid-on. When Buttler does it, your eyes dart to find the ball dropping out of the sky, but it’s already over the rope, off on its own trajectory over the heads of the men in maroon, off for another maximum. Your eyes can’t fully take it in. Jos Buttler does things that your mind can’t comprehend.

Today, he hit new heights. The 150 (77) he managed today was his seventh century in ODI cricket, and was arguably his most accomplished. He came to the crease in the 27th over, just after the halfway mark and with a clear job to do – restart the chaos. 105 runs in the first 15 overs had slowed to 58 in the next ten. Hardly sluggish, but representing a clear dip in England’s charging progress. He accompanied his captain over the next 15 overs, ticking over the strike as Eoin Morgan continued his rich form. As the 40th over finished, Buttler had faced 42 balls for his 45 runs. His innings had shown glimpses of the usual Buttler brilliance, but there was little to suggest quite was about to occur, this particular knock destined to be played in the slipstream, following closely behind a more spectacular performance. It was reasonable to question, given how Morgan was going at the other end, whether Buttler would face enough deliveries to reach his hundred.

Then, in a mad flurry of 11 boundaries in 11 balls, Buttler wrestled back star billing from his skipper – and rendered that question ridiculous. His scoring rate shot through the roof, the direct consequence of an increase in attacking intent that you rarely see outside of a long-abandoned run-chase.

Of course, the way that Buttler went through the gears shouldn’t surprise anyone. Since the 2015 World Cup, no man scores more quickly than Buttler in the death overs. The only man to match his ability has retired from the international game, with no worlds left to conquer.

That acceleration left its mark. Of all the innings where Buttler has faced at least 20 deliveries, this was his second most attacking. An astonishing 79.2% of his shots were attempts to hit boundaries, a figure only beaten during the 90* (51) he made as England smashed the world record against Pakistan in Nottingham, back in the summer of 2016. When Buttler hits his stride, so do England.

What’s even more remarkable about today, compared to that innings at Trent Bridge, was the efficacy of those attacking shots. At Nottingham, when Buttler was tasked specifically with seeing England beyond that record total, he played 46.1% false shots – a figure that under normal circumstances would be a cause for concern. Of course, the situation dictated that he go wild, and he dutifully did, but in Grenada today he played just 15.5% false shots. That’s only marginally above the average for Test cricket. Buttler was going berserk, trying to hit almost every ball to the rope and yet, astonishingly, he wasn’t losing control. This was a white-ball gun at the peak of his powers, a boundary-hitting machine operating on a different level to what most of us thought possible.

It was an innings skewed in the direction of the seamers. Despite some moments of beauty against the slower bowlers – a pick-up off Bishoo over midwicket for six was remarkable, given the leg-spinner had dropped all of 20cm short – the real carnage came against the quicks. Carlos Brathwaite in particular took some serious treatment, with Buttler scoring 44 runs from the 15 balls he sent down.

Eoin Morgan got some criticism for his refusal to bowl Adil Rashid to Gayle whilst the left-hander was well-set earlier in the series, and Jason Holder left himself open to similar criticism today. Whilst Bishoo’s economy of 10.75 is knee-tremblingly poor, against Buttler that dropped to just 6.92. For the leggie to bowl only four overs given those returns, was a mis-step.

Especially when you consider that for the seamers there was no obvious plan of action. Hitting a good length was the most economical option, but that was saying very little – on this ground, you were on a hiding to nothing regardless of where you landed it.

As with so many white-ball centuries, the importance of the contest and the result began to fade. As the ball was crashed around in those last ten overs, one’s instinct was not to think of the game situation, but to marvel at the individual brilliance on show and to wonder quite how far it could go.

That is the luxury of a bilateral series. Obviously England wanted to win this series, and their record of steamrollering opponents in these contests is a source of pride and momentum, but ultimately there’s no deeper consequence to this win. This is going to change in a few months time, as the World Cup takes centre stage in the British sporting summer. Tension will mount in every match, every swot across the line a little more nerve-wracking than the last, and fear could well return to all but the most unique batsmen. It’ll change the way England’s batsmen play.

Apart, it seems, from Buttler. Because here is a player who has always attacked, always taken the game to new levels, and rarely shown signs of losing his nerve. Buttler is a player to transcend the cricket bubble; he is the sort of player, defined all that by flair and aggression, who appeals to the general sports fan as much as the cricket fanatic. In all senses, he is an easy player to love.

As such, the story of England’s summer is likely to be the story of Jos Buttler. Both him and the ODI side as a whole have been stunningly good for four years now, but the nature of cricket’s position in the national consciousness means that Buttler and co are given brief, sporadic moments to take centre stage. This summer is not the ultimate test of whether they are a great side – the last four years have shown that they are. But it will be the ultimate opportunity for this side, for Buttler, to impress upon the wider public quite how special they are.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz

CricViz Analysis: England’s Slower Ball Strategy

Ben Jones analyses the ever-increasing role of the change-down in England’s ODI bowling plans.

Slow isn’t a word you often see applied to this England ODI side.

Rapid? Sure. Reckless? Often. But slow? Rarely is anything to do with this collection of dashers and chargers labelled as being slow.

Yet in one crucial instance, Eoin Morgan’s boys are attracting this label. In the ODI series taking place in the Caribbean, England’s seam attack have bowled more slower ball variations than they have done since 2009. That’s right. The last time England were reaching for this tactic as often as they are now, Sam Curran was 11 years old, David Cameron was yet to be elected Prime Minister, and Jonathan Trott hadn’t debuted in Tests.

It feels like a sensible move, in the context of this series. On pitches in the West Indies that have welcomed batsmen with open arms, giving bowlers a cold shrug of the shoulders, any innovation is necessary for the men with the balls in hand. Going through the variations makes sense.

But the slower ball is still a bold choice. It doesn’t matter what the format is, you will still be swamped by ex-pros telling you that yorkers are the only acceptable ball to bowl in white ball cricket. “Whatever happened to the yorker?” they cry, as another attempted 91mph yorker that missed by 6cm is thwacked over the rope with a nonchalant flick of the wrist from a batsman trained to perform precisely that move. In opposition, the slower ball is the subtle variation. If it goes wrong, it looks like you have tried to be too clever, the greatest sin one can commit in any sport, in any field of life. Cricket’s had enough of experts.

Over the last few England series, the tactic has been lead by Chris Woakes, the leader of the attack in general. On the face of it, Woakes appears to be the sort of one-dimensional English seamer that defined the pre-2015 team, but he is a far cannier operator than his red-ball reliability suggests. Since the Champions Trophy, he bowls more slower balls at the start of ODI innings’ than almost anyone else in the world. That willingness to move away from traditional upright seam bowling is surprising for a bowler like Woakes, but his is the approach that looks increasingly to be influencing England’s white ball bowling. It is innovation from the top down that appears to be setting the tone.

The modern white ball bowler has more variations than any generation, more aware of the tricks and nuanced specifics of what’s being delivered than those who came before. T20 dictates that this is the case. What England seem to have been focused on bowling more than any other, however, is the cutter. 51% of their deliveries this series have deviated significantly either right or left, the most for any ODI series since the last World Cup.

This trend has undoubtedly been lead by Tom Curran, the Surrey man who has bowled more cutters than almost any other bowler since the 2015 World Cup. Renowned as master of the variation, he dominated the BBL this winter and dragged a mediocre Sydney Sixers squad to the semi-finals. They subsequently went out of the competition when he left Australia for the England camp; few in the world are as good at what Tom Curran does, as Tom Curran.

He is of course only a fringe player in the international set-up, but he represents an interesting trailblazer for the more established players. On the pitches that we’ll see in the World Cup this summer (flat, true surfaces for the majority of the competition in all likelihood), whether bowling sides are able to adapt amidst the mayhem, keep trying alternative tactics, and eventually restrict sides to 325 rather than 350, could be just as important as the ability to bowl sides out for 220. Slower ball bowling, in all its guises, is a massive part of that.

What’s more, England have plenty of these worldly, modern cricketers. If England do select Jofra Archer in their World Cup side, then they will have considerable T20 experience in their line-up. Curran, Liam Plunkett and Archer himself were all in Australia for the BBL this winter, with varying degrees of success, and the opportunity for them to transfer the nous they have learned in the 20 over format into the 50 over game is an intriguing one. They bring so much to a team.

Ultimately, this England side attract a lot of rather peculiar criticisms. People cling to the idea that they ‘wilt under pressure’, or ‘are prone to a collapse’, but that is almost pathetically clinging to the negative. This is the best white ball team England have ever produced. They are the best in the world. Every side is prone to collapses and struggling occasionally, but for England those struggles interrupt strings of flawless defeats, unchecked brilliance, rather than the inconsistency that passes as qualified success for most other teams. The snarky desire from some to measure their performance against perfection, and perfection only, is sad.

However – their bowling is more vulnerable than is ideal, and in the absence of clear personnel improvements, embracing this sort of tactical innovation is the next best option. England have earned the right to be trusted in the last four years, and this seems to be the tactic they are moving towards. If it works, they are dangerously close to becoming the perfect white ball team. Snark all you want – they are slowly treading a path to greatness.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: A Tale of Two Tons

England went 1-0 up in the first of five ODIs against West Indies. Patrick Noone analyses the innings of two of the game’s centurions.

England completed their highest ever successful run chase in ODI cricket, winning the 1st ODI by six wickets in Barbados. It was the story of two hundreds as two openers played contrasting innings on a run-soaked day at Kensington Oval.

Chris Gayle scored his first ODI century against a Full Member nation since the 2015 World Cup. It was an innings full of powerful, thrilling shots that the self-proclaimed Universe Boss has become known for across a 20-year career, but Gayle’s hundred was unusual in terms of its construction.

He’s known for being something of a slow starter, but his strike rate in the early part of today’s innings took him to rare extremes. Only once has he reached the end of the first ten overs with fewer runs and lower strike rate than the 8 (26) he found himself on at the end of the first Powerplay. That match was over 18 years ago, against Bangladesh in Dhaka when Gayle would go on to make 21 from 43 balls having been 2 off 27 after ten overs; a recovery of sorts but nothing like what we saw in Bridgetown today.

Gayle only attacked three balls in the first ten overs – he was dropped off the fourth ball he attacked, when on 9, but after that he began a relentless onslaught that saw him attack exactly half of the balls he faced. He only played a false shot to 16% of those balls he attacked – the global average for attacking false shots is 21%.

Liam Plunkett’s individual record against Gayle in this innings just about summed up how he went about his business: 14 balls, six dots, six singles, four sixes. It was all or nothing from the left-hander who, despite crashing 12 sixes, only recorded a strike rate of 104.65.

55% of the balls Gayle faced were dots, the highest percentage he’s faced in a century innings for nearly six years. That’s despite the fact that, after 20 overs, West Indies had recorded their lowest dot ball percentage at that stage of an innings for over five years. As exhilarating as the latter half of his innings became, perhaps in hindsight the opener had chewed up too many deliveries and prevented West Indies from posting a score in excess of 400.

That feeling of ‘what if?’ only lingers thanks to a century of a different nature from Jason Roy. Unlike Gayle, Roy hit the ground running in England’s response, only defending one of the 85 balls he faced on his way to 123.

It didn’t matter what lengths West Indies seamers bowled to Roy, he was going after everything, striking at 170.58 against short-pitched bowling, 136.36 when they went full and a more than healthy 123.52 to everything in between.

Against spin, he was strong on both front and back foot. His three sixes were all from over-pitched deliveries right in his slot, two of which he drove and one he slog-swept. Meanwhile, four of the six fours he struck against the slower bowlers were from balls shorter than 6.4m that he could cut and pull with characteristic aplomb.

It is a measure of how far this England team has come that chasing a total as high as 361 never looked in doubt. That’s despite this being England’s highest ever successful run chase in ODIs; it didn’t feel like anything groundbreaking was happening, because it was so effortless and so in-keeping with the progression of this team. In conditions such as these, where the pitch is flat and bowlers have a minimal amount to work with, almost no total is too out of reach for this batting lineup.

With Friday’s 2nd ODI set to be played on a similar-looking surface at Kensington Oval, it could be another run-fest. Doubts still remain over the make-up of England’s bowling attack, and playing in conditions such as these gives little opportunity for seamers to shine. We will perhaps learn more about those vying for places in the World Cup squad when the series moves to Grenada but, until then, England’s batting lineup can add another stellar achievement to an ever-growing catalogue of improbably excellent innings.

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.


CricViz Analysis: Buttler & Stokes cash in after Jennings struggles again

Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes batted through the evening session as England had the better of Day 1 of the third Test. Patrick Noone picks out the key moments in St Lucia.

After below-par batting performances in both Barbados and Antigua, there were calls for changes to be made to the playing XI. But the truth was that England’s decision not to pick an extra batsman in the touring squad limited their options severely. As such, the only change to the batting personnel saw Keaton Jennings return with Ben Foakes the unlucky fall-guy.

Jennings probably wasn’t expecting to get another opportunity and he batted as though he wouldn’t get another any time soon. His torturous 43-ball stay at the crease could and should have ended on two occasions, once when he was struck on the pad by Kemar Roach, given not out and West Indies chose not to review, and again two balls later when he was dropped at third slip by Roston Chase.

When he finally departed for 8, it was another loose drive outside his off-stump, the third time he’s been dismissed in such a fashion in this series. In total, Jennings has played 12 drives against seam – with only four of those has he made a clean connection.

A familiar story in every sense, for both Jennings and England, except for the identity of the bowler on this occasion. In Barbados, it was Jason Holder and Alzarri Joseph who dismissed the opener; this time around it was Holder’s replacement, Keemo Paul. It was the very first ball that Paul delivered that Jennings succumbed to; a full ball outside his off-stump that he threw his hands at with minimal footwork.

There is a peculiarity about the fact that in each of his three innings this series, Jennings has seen off the threat of Kemar Roach and Shannon Gabriel, the opening bowlers, only to be dismissed by the first or second change option.

Nearly every Test innings of his – outside Asia at least – looks like a battle; against the bowlers, against his own technique, even against the threat of losing his place. Perhaps, after battling through the opening bowlers’ spells, his concentration drops a fraction against bowlers who should, in theory, present more run-scoring opportunities. For all of Jennings’ technical issues, the suggestion that there is a mental problem as well is far from ideal for a batsman who looks to have a scrambled mind for a multitude of reasons.

Of course, Jennings is not the only batsman in this England side struggling for form. Much has been made about their approach throughout this series; that the ultra-aggressive tactics that brought success in Sri Lanka were ill-suited to Caribbean pitches.

Whether or not England consciously took that criticism on board is obviously unclear, but what was evident is that the visitors reigned in their attacking instincts to a greater extent than in any other innings in this series.

It was ugly at times and none of Jennings, Rory Burns nor Joe Denly looked fluent during their time at the crease – it took until the 41st over before a boundary was scored off the middle of the bat – but England survived. When Burns and Denly departed in successive overs, England fans would have been forgiven for thinking ‘here we go again’, fearing another collapse.

But Joe Root, who never looked anything close to his best, did just enough to keep his side in the game and allow Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes at numbers five and six to come in and build England’s biggest partnership of the series on the way to their longest innings of the tour.

Buttler and Stokes were assured against a tiring West Indies bowling attack and, barring a reprieve for the latter when he was caught and bowled off a no ball from Alzarri Joseph, played the kind of innings that England have been desperate for throughout the series.

Buttler judged the West Indies bowlers’ lengths exceptionally, opting to not attack a single ball pitching between 6.7, and 8.5m – the in-between length that has caused England batsmen so many problems in the series up to now.

Stokes had an even bigger zone of reticence, not attacking anything between 5.7m and 8.8m.

Neither batsman’s innings was chanceless – Buttler was dropped on 0 and Stokes made it all the way to the dressing room before being recalled after Joseph was seen to have overstepped – but it was evident that they had a clear plan and executed it to build on a platform laid by a top order that finally offered some level of resistance.

With this England team, it is unwise to make any kind of predictions. It would still be no surprise to see them bowled out in a hurry tomorrow morning but, until then, they can enjoy the position they find themselves in after a rare good day on this tour.

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.


CricViz Analysis: Alzarri Joseph

West Indies completed a series win over England as they took an unassailable 2-0 lead in Antigua. Patrick Noone looks at how Alzarri Joseph played a pivotal role in the home side’s win.

Alzarri Joseph cannot have had many more difficult days as a cricketer than today. Before play started this morning, it was announced that his mother had died after battling a long illness. At that point, no-one could have blamed Joseph if he had chosen to take no further part in the game. To his eternal credit, and in an act that demonstrated supreme mental strength and courage, Joseph not only took part but played a key role in West Indies’ ten-wicket win.

His first involvement in the day’s proceedings was to hang around with the bat to frustrate England, facing 20 balls and adding seven runs. That might not sound like a lot, but it was an early indication that Joseph was as focused as ever and was not going to let the most personal of tragedies affect his team’s chances of winning the match.

It was not until the 16th over of England’s response that Joseph was thrown the ball by his captain, Jason Holder. It began a thrilling, relentless 7-over spell before tea that accounted for both Joe Denly and Joe Root and helped to swing the game even further towards West Indies. He did not even concede a run until his fourth over.

England were simply unable to get Joseph away; he bowled shorter than a good length 81% of the time during his spell and England did not score a single run off those shorter deliveries. Joseph peppered the visitors with that consistent length, pinning them back and limiting their scoring options.

Tellingly, England were unable to score a run off the back foot against him during that spell. That speaks not just to a persistent length but to an unerring accuracy that tied England’s batsmen down.

When bowling to England’s right-handers, Joseph bowled 45% of his deliveries in the channel outside off-stump. A further 21% were wide outside the off-stump and only eight balls were in line with the stumps at the point they reached the batsman.

Two of those eight balls were the wickets of Denly and Root though. The former was undone by a subtle change of pace and length from Joseph that served to illustrate the fine margins between success and failure in this game.

The delivery before his dismissal, Denly correctly ascertained that the ball would harmlessly pass the stumps and confidently let it go through to Shane Dowrich behind the stumps. The next ball, he attempted to do the same, but Joseph had bowled 2kph quicker and 78cm fuller. Denly could only hold the pose as he heard the death rattle of the ball clipping his off-stump.

In recent years, it has become commonplace to criticise bowlers, particularly opening quicks, for not hitting the stumps enough. Fans and pundits are frequently frustrated by bowlers continually bowling outside batsmen’s off-stump rather than attacking the front pad or firing it in at the base of middle stump. It’s sometimes seen as a case of the bowler wasting deliveries when we intuitively think that attacking the stumps would naturally bring more reward.

But Joseph showed that it is not how often you hit the stumps that counts, rather when you do attack them, make it count. That’s exactly what he did with the wicket of Denly, luring him to leave the one delivery he couldn’t afford to. It looked ugly from the batsman’s point of view, but it was the only ball of Joseph’s spell that would have hit the stumps; as poor a dismissal as it might have been, Denly deserves at least some leeway for that fact alone.

Joseph flew somewhat under the radar in Barbados, not because he bowled poorly, just that it was the other members of the West Indies bowling attack who took centre stage. Shannon Gabriel with his raw pace, Kemar Roach and Jason Holder for the way they skittled England for 77 in the first innings, Roston Chase for his remarkable 8-60 in the second innings.

Even in Antigua, Joseph will perhaps not attract the same headlines as some of his team-mates; Roach picked up another eight wickets, Darren Bravo faced more than 200 balls on an up and down pitch, Holder took key scalps in the second innings on his way to match figures of 5-86.

However, it was Joseph’s spell in the hour before tea that embodied how West Indies have played in these two Tests – spirited, skilful and ruthless. The 22-year-old showed maturity beyond his years just to take part today. To then make the unimaginably difficult appear so easy and so natural speaks volumes about the temperament of the young quick.

Today’s victory completed a famous series win for West Indies; it will be talked about, cherished and lauded for many a year. For Alzarri Joseph, the Antiguan fast bowler who took to the field on his home ground to win a match for his country, it will mean more than any of us can ever know.

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.


CricViz Analysis: The Antigua Pitch

It was another excellent day for West Indies as England were bowled out for 187 in Antigua. Patrick Noone looks at how the North Sound pitch contributed to a compelling day of Test cricket.

Cricket pitches are something on which almost everyone has an opinion but almost no-one is an expert. No Test match passes by without lengthy discussions around the surface before, during and after the match.

What should they do at the toss? Will it suit spinners or seamers? Is it likely to break up?

These are all questions asked by fans and pundits alike yet, as England proved in the first Test of this series, it’s possible to be a team full of experienced professional cricketers from past and present and still read the pitch incorrectly.

Every so often though, a pitch comes along that everyone agrees on. In Antigua, England abandoned the two spinner policy from Bridgetown and brought back Stuart Broad, West Indies captain Jason Holder had no hesitation in choosing to bowl first and Joe Root said he would have done the same.

There appeared to be a thick layer of green grass on the strip at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium and the consensus was that this would be a seamer’s paradise. For the first session at least, it did not disappoint.

West Indies’ seamers found an average of 0.78° of seam movement, the second highest figure they’ve ever extracted from the surface at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, behind the 0.92° they found against Bangladesh last year. England made a somewhat bigger score than the 43 that Shakib Al-Hasan’s side put on in July, but it was a measure of how tricky conditions can be at this venue.

Rory Burns was the first England batsman to depart as Kemar Roach, the tormentor-in-chief from the first innings in Barbados, found just enough movement to find the outside edge of the left-hander’s bat. The previous ball, Burns was able to line up and defend with little discomfort; when Roach was a fraction shorter and found just 0.6° more deviation off the pitch, the England opener felt he had to play and was caught in the slips.

Lateral movement was one thing, variable bounce was quite another and it was balls rising off a length that England found most perilous to play. None more so than Joe Root, who fell to arguably the ball of the day from Alzarri Joseph.

A ball pitching 6.2m from the batsman’s stumps is comfortably in the ‘good length’ region, in fact it’s getting towards being a full delivery. Root went to play it in kind only for it to rear up sharply, deflect off the glove of the England captain and be caught by Shai Hope in the slips after John Campbell had fumbled.

There was not a long wrong with how Root played the delivery – the previous one he’d faced from Joseph had been 18cm fuller but had bounced just 0.7m, compared to the fearsome 1.6m that the wicket-ball reached.

Root’s dismissal, as well as other balls that behaved similarly, prompted the occasional comment on social media that the unpredictability of the pitch made it unfit for Test cricket. But it is that unpredictability that can make cricket such a thrilling spectacle in conditions such as those in Antigua. The feeling that anything can happen with each delivery draws the spectator in; it keeps you glued to proceedings when the behaviour of each ball is a mystery to batsman and viewer alike.

Jonny Bairstow’s approach to counter the demons in the pitch was to play his shots and attempt to force the issue. England’s number three played with the attitude of ‘if there’s a ball with my name on it, I might as well make as many runs as possible before it comes’, and it worked as he raced to a 59-ball half century.

On a pitch as difficult as this, Bairstow’s was a quite remarkable innings. It was not just a case of taking the necessary risk to counter-attack but to have the ability to execute those shots as well. To put into context how effective Bairstow’s strategy was, his 20 attacking shots yielded 41 runs; that’s a run rate of 12.30 runs per over. Bairstow has never recorded a higher attacking shot run rate in an innings where he’s played 15 or more attacking shots.

Despite the obvious aggression from Bairstow, he was far from reckless and played each ball on its merits. He wisely chose to not attack balls that pitched on a good length, and instead waited for the balls that were either too short or too full.

Additionally, Bairstow was careful to keep out the deliveries that were in the danger area around the top of his off-stump.

Without his enterprising knock, backed up by Moeen Ali’s first half century in ten Test innings, England could have been staring down the barrel of another sub-100 innings. As it was, they made 187 which could yet turn out to be a competitive score if conditions continue to be difficult for batting.

The pitch was still showing signs of life at the end of the day, despite West Indies’ openers making it through 21 overs unscathed. It has already provided plenty of talking points on a thrilling opening day in Antigua; you sense that plenty more will be said about this surface as the match progresses.

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.


CricViz Analysis: Chase leaves England in a spin

Roston Chase picked up 8-60 as England were thrashed by 381 runs. Patrick Noone looks at how West Indies’ off-spinner delivered an historic performance in Bridgetown.

The run chase? That was always going to be impossible. Facing Roston Chase? Well, that turned out to be similarly beyond England.

In a way, this defeat was inevitable. This England team have shown themselves capable of remarkable things over the last 18 months, both good and bad. No achievement is too high and no ignominy too low for this eccentric collection of all-rounders, wicket-keepers and batsmen battling to keep their place in the side.

It should therefore be no surprise that, after succumbing to West Indies’ pace attack on their way to getting bowled out for 77 in the first innings, they should then be rolled over by the part-time spin of Roston Chase in the second innings. Think of it as a kind of bingo card of Ways to Get Beaten in Test Cricket; England must be close to a full house.

There is of course an irony that, in a match that England wrongly picked two spinners in their playing XI, it would be a spinner – and not even a frontline one, at that –  who would take career-best figures of 8-60 to give West Indies a 1-0 lead in the three-match series.

Chase comes across as one of the more unassuming cricketers. He is a world away from the flamboyance and the swagger that is so often associated with players from the Caribbean. With the bat, he doesn’t play outrageous shots; with the ball, there is little mystery to his off-spin; he’s only played five T20 matches in his entire career.

But what Chase has become is a reliable, consistent performer who has been an increasingly safe pair of hands for Jason Holder to turn to. Holder has predominantly used Chase as a fifth or sixth bowling option and, since Chase’s debut, only five bowlers used in that role have taken more wickets than him.

Today though, Chase was given a more senior role, and how he relished it. An injury to Shannon Gabriel possibly increased his workload, but he was nonetheless thrown the ball before Alzarri Joseph on a pitch that was still showing little sign of deterioration.

Indeed, Chase did not require a crumbling pitch to aid his gentle off-spinners. Only ten balls he bowled turned a ‘large’ amount (more than 4.5°) and three of his eight wickets came from balls that turned less than 2.5°.

Rather than finding prodigious turn, Chase relied upon his ability to land the ball repeatedly on an in-between length that England’s batsmen had no answer to. To the right-handers, Chase landed 21 balls in between 4m and 4.8m from the batsman’s stumps. From those deliveries, England didn’t score a single run while Joe Root, Jos Buttler and Adil Rashid each lost their wickets to balls in that region.

Against England’s left-handers, it was a similar story, except that Chase’s zone of confusion was even larger. The 38 balls he bowled between 2.7m and 5m that pitched on middle stump or wider – illustrated by the green box in the below graphic – cost him just twelve runs and he picked up the wickets of Rory Burns and Ben Stokes.

Chase bowled twelve overs on the trot once Holder threw him the ball on day four. He was then only brought off to change ends and he bowled a further seven overs in succession. For a part-timer to be able to hold up an end to that extent is a damning indictment on the way England performed against the off-spinner.

Only when Stokes struck him for a six and a four in the 62nd over were England successful in putting pressure on Chase. That is not to say they didn’t try; the visitors attacked 29% of the balls he bowled, a higher percentage than any other bowler in the innings. The problem lay with when England tried to manoeuvre the ball into the field – four of Chase’s eight wickets came from rotating shots and England were only able to score 11 runs from the 36 balls they tried to work the ball around.

To further condemn the way England played Chase, using CricViz’s Wicket Probability Model, Chase’s Expected Wicket tally in the fourth innings was just 1.38. That means that on average, based on the quality of the deliveries he was bowling, he would be expected to pick up 1.38 wickets. The difference between the expected value and the actual number of wickets he took (6.62) is the second largest in the CricViz database.

England have been no stranger to chastening defeats in recent years, particularly away from home. Where this one ranks in terms of its effect on this side that seems to be in perpetual transition remains to be seen, but there cannot have been many matches where so many mis-steps have been taken. From the poor team selection to the first innings batting, followed by a wicketless third day, Chase’s exploits were the icing on a particularly shambolically-crafted cake.

Chase himself will care little for any of that though. Kensington Oval, his home ground, has seen plenty of fine bowling performances down the years – the ends are named after the greats of Joel Garner and Malcolm Marshall. Chase is unlikely to be ranked anywhere near that calibre of bowler by the time his career is done, but he has nonetheless carved out a little slice of history of his own on this famous ground.

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.


CricViz Analysis: Roach & Holder blow England away

18 wickets fell on Day 2 in Bridgetown as West Indies took giant strides towards going 1-0 up in the series. Patrick Noone looks at how the bowling of two local talents propelled the hosts into pole position.

In 1994 it was Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose, in 2009 it was Jerome Taylor and Sulieman Benn, today it was Kemar Roach and Jason Holder. England have been no strangers to Caribbean collapses down the years; the venues have been different, the tormentors-in-chief have been varied in terms of their methods of attack, but the underlying story has been a similar one of ignominy and missed opportunity on all three occasions.

46 all out in Trinidad, 51 all out in Jamaica and now 77 all out in Barbados after England were humbled by a breathtaking spell of bowling from West Indies’ quicks. In the first hour after lunch, the tourists lost 6-19 in 10.1 overs, having reached 30-1 at the break, with little to hint at the carnage there was to come.

Kemar Roach bowled three overs before lunch. Two of them were maidens, 50% of his deliveries were on a good length and it was a solid, if unspectacular start with the new ball. A criticism of Roach during that first spell would be that he did not make the batsman play enough; Rory Burns and Keaton Jennings were able to leave exactly half of the balls Roach bowled, the two left-handers able to watch the ball go past their off-stump without danger.

After the lunch interval, Roach switched ends and began an eight-over onslaught that left England on their knees. His length was shorter than in his first spell – 7.9m on average, compared to 6.1m before lunch, and 39.5% of the balls he bowled were shorter than 8m from the stumps, compared to 0% in his first spell.

Only two balls he bowled in the entire innings would have gone on to hit the stumps. A fact such as that is one that is often used as a stick to beat an opening bowler with; that they should be attacking the stumps more, pitching it up, making the batsman play. Roach’s second spell was testament to the fact that hitting the stumps is not necessary if you can bowl with the accuracy, hostility and penetration that the 30-year-old showed today.

It was, in fact, when Roach pulled his length back that he was at his most effective. He pitched 20 balls on a good length (6m-8m) during his second spell and picked up three wickets for six runs. When he dragged his length back further, as he did on 19 occasions, England were unable to score a single run and both Moeen Ali and Jos Buttler were dismissed.

At the other end, Jason Holder was causing havoc of his own. The West Indies captain bowled himself for an eight over spell either side of lunch, during which he conceded just 15 runs and picked up the wickets of Jennings and Joe Root.

At 6ft7in, Holder is often mistaken for a ‘hit the deck’ bowler who should be banging away short of a length. However, he has shown himself to be skilful enough to bowl traditionally good lengths and cause batsmen problems with his accuracy and lateral movement both through the air and off the pitch. His height can still be an attribute, such as today when he found more bounce than any other seamer from balls pitching on a good length.

But Holder also found 1.9° of swing on average and bowled 73% of his deliveries on a good length, so far he’s outperformed all other seamers in the match on both metrics. It was those good length deliveries that caused England the most problems; they were only able to score off two of them and the extra bounce he found meant that none of those deliveries were going on to hit the stumps.

That has the effect of hurrying the batsman as the ball repeatedly hits the splice and for each of Holder’s two wickets, it was a case of the batsman being pinned down by the good length deliveries before ultimately being dismissed by the fuller ball. As though both Jennings and Root were waiting for the opportunity to score having seen their scoring options dried up by Holder’s accuracy.

Before the Test began, much was made of the conditions and which team had read them correctly. At the midway point of the match, England’s decision to pick two spinners looked ill-advised, West Indies appeared to have read the pitch perfectly and the home side’s seamers had exploited the pitch expertly to put them in control.

Both Holder and Roach are Barbados natives. In the playing XI, senior players such as Shai Hope, Roston Chase and Kraigg Brathwaite also hail from the island that plays host to the current match. That’s a substantial pool of local knowledge to make a judgment from and it’s unlikely to be a coincidence that the hosts look to have got their selection spot on.

Roach and Holder knew the conditions, worked out the best way to bowl on this pitch and added their names to an ever-growing list of West Indian bowlers who have blown England away in the Caribbean.

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.


CricViz Analysis: Battling Brathwaite lays platform

On a day that saw the initiative swing back and forth between the two sides, Patrick Noone looks at how West Indies’ rock shaped the innings for the hosts on Day 1 in Barbados.

Cricket is often guilty of misty-eyed nostalgia, of harking back to bygone eras that may or not have actually existed in reality. No team is subject to such wistful reminiscence more than West Indies. Rarely are the current team able to get through a series without lengthy discussions about former greats and past glories, solemn reflections where we all wonder where it all went wrong.

We are constantly reminded of how far short the modern team are falling in relation to some of the greatest sides ever assembled and, until West Indies hit those heights again, the current side is burdened by their predecessors’ success, haunted by the black and white images of those that have gone before them.

Batting technique is another area that is subject to a similar kind of treatment. It has become fashionable in some quarters to decry the influence of T20 batting and to suggest that batsmen no longer have the defensive technique required to prosper in Test cricket. As though there is a ‘proper’ way to bat and that nobody currently playing the game has the patience or the knowhow to execute a ‘traditional’ Test match innings.

It is therefore ironic that, for all the pearl-clutching about the lack of both talented West Indian players and batsmen capable of slowly accumulating runs in a Test innings, Kraigg Brathwaite has shown himself to be both. The right-handed opener is not one you could ever accuse of flamboyancy; of openers to have batted ten innings or more during 2018, only Murali Vijay and Dean Elgar attacked the ball less frequently than Brathwaite.

Today, Brathwaite took that reticence to attack to new heights. In the first hour, he scored just five runs from the 48 balls he’d faced and had not attacked a single delivery. At the other end, the debutant John Campbell was teeing off, relatively speaking, and had moved to 29 from 42 balls, attacking 19% of the time.

Brathwaite remained resolute though, happy to let Campbell take all the risks, and played his first attacking shot to the first ball he faced from Moeen Ali, the 48th of his innings overall. It was telling that Brathwaite immediately went after England’s spinner; across his career, he attacks the slower bowlers significantly more than the quicks but, perhaps more pertinently, he faces eleven more balls per dismissal when facing seam.

Today, Brathwaite dealt in extremes. By the time he was finally dismissed for 40 from 130 balls, he had still not attacked a single delivery from either of England’s opening bowlers, but had scored 19 runs off the 23 balls he faced from Moeen. When facing 20 balls or more against a spinner, Brathwaite has only twice attacked more than the 43% he did today against the off-spinner.

Everything outside his off-stump from the new ball pair, Brathwaite either defended or let go. Against Moeen, the wider the ball was, the more likely it was to be attacked. Furthermore, Brathwaite was light on feet, stepping out of his crease on three occasions to score two fours and a six as he began to go through the gears.

Brathwaite is not an opener in the mould of someone like David Warner or Virender Sehwag. He will never blast bowling attacks away but he has his method and it largely does the job of seeing off the new ball for the strokemakers down the order. His innings was a throwback to ‘giving the bowlers the first hour’ and laying a platform that allowed Shai Hope, Roston Chase and Shimron Hetmyer to kick on when conditions were more benign and the shine had been taken off the ball.

The half-centuries of Hope and Chase might have been more eye-catching, Hetmyer’s might have been more explosive, but none of those innings would have been possible without Brathwaite’s defiance that went before them. Nevertheless, each of them showed a level of application and skill that suggested that Caribbean cricket is perhaps not as deep in the mire as is often perceived. And, without question, the ability to bat a long period and play out a traditional Test innings is anything but a lost art.

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.