Ben Jones analyses the decisive partnership of the Test.
It’s funny what happens when you’ve got nothing to lose.
Jos Buttler was on the edge of his place in the Test team. Speaking to Sky at the close of play, he basically suggested that had he not made runs, he felt he would have been out of the side. That may or may not be true, but the point remains – he clearly felt he was in that position. And when Jos Buttler gets into that position, he says Fuck It.
Chris Woakes has had to fight for his place, this summer. Despite having the best bowling average of any active English seamer with the body of work to match Woakes, he always exists in the margins. Never front and centre, never the fulcrum of the attack. So when he gets a shot at the limelight, he takes it.
When Ollie Pope was dismissed, England were 117-5, and their WinViz was down at just 8%. When these two men came together in the middle at Manchester, England had about a one in 12 chance of hunting down those 277 runs. You can quibble with the exact number, but England were down and out. Chris Woakes walked to the crease without a hope of turning this game around.
Or more exactly, eight hopes in a hundred.
From there, Woakes and Buttler kicked into gear. They went 50 (49) until the tea break, attacked half the deliveries bowled to them, throwing caution to the wind in an attempt to disrupt the pattern of play that would almost always fall into place. They managed all that aggression but matches it with 12% false shots, a level of control well above the Test average. This was a calculated counter-attack, led by the greatest white ball batsman English cricket has ever produced, and it worked a charm. And with the charm of England’s all-conquering ODI side hanging over it.
These were two World Cup winners, putting on a clinic of ODI-style batting. Hitting the gaps, hitting the sweepers, running hard and often, never letting the opposition settle. Not a single maiden was bowled to Buttler and Woakes in the entire time they were together at the crease. 139 runs, without a single over of respite for Pakistan. Not a single over ticked by without England bothering the scorers, turning over the strike, forcing Pakistan to switch from bowling to arguably the most conventional batsman in England, to the least.
Woakes and Buttler’s partnership had a dot-ball percentage of 59.7%. That’s ODI levels, not Test levels, and while the fields set by Azhar Ali did resemble the former not the latter, England’s 6 and 7 still needed to exploit those gaps, and respond to that tactical choice from Pakistan. That scampering intent was the defining feature of the partnership, more than anything else. The deliveries bowled to Buttler and Woakes in this partnership would, according to our Expected Wickets model, have yielded 102-2. In reality, Woakes and Buttler scored more runs, and lost fewer wickets than this – both were as important as each other. The new ball had mere moments to make an impact, rather than half an hour or more.
Both of these men have Test hundreds. You would be surprised were either of them to say they preferred those knocks to what happened today. Their own little slice of Stokes At Headingley glory, their own pocket of redemption and headline status. Even Woakes’ celebration as he nicked through the slips, was a quieter, subdued version of the iconic image from Leeds last summer – fist aloft, bat raised, but all done with a little less pizzazz.
In the last 12 months, England have chased big scores on two occasions. Each time, the decisive contribution has come from a member of the ODI side, a man with World Cup winning belief behind him.
Buttler had lost England 84 runs with his keeping, by CricViz’s measures the worst keeping performance since January 2017; and yet, with the bat, he was flawless, providing 113 runs across the Test. As written on this site two days ago, the value of wicketkeeping is consistently overvalued, and nothing shows it better than a man delivering an objectively terrible performance as keeper, and yet still being in the mix for Player of the Match.
England’s undervalued duo – underappreciated for entirely different reasons – saw them home today. People who have criticised Buttler’s keeping would do well to acknowledge his batting quality; those who have undermined Woakes away from home would do well to acknowledge his excellence in England and Wales. Today, for differing reasons, was a victory for two members of the England XI who do not get, with any regularity, the credit they deserve.
Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.