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England’s Takeaways from the Pakistan T20 Series

CricViz analyst Freddie Wilde examines England’s takeaways from the T20 series. 

England’s Powerplay issues continue

Ahead of the series we identified Powerplay wicket-taking as a clear area for concern for England, with them having taken just one Powerplay wicket in their previous four bowling Powerplays – spanning 21 overs (including England’s three over Powerplay v New Zealand in Auckland). This series saw the streak extended by a further 7.1 overs with England registering their fourth wicket-less Powerplay in five matches in the second match of the series. England’s Powerplay strike rate this year of 60 balls per wicket is the worst in T20 International history for a team who have played at least five matches in the year. This figure may regress in England’s remaining T20s against Australia but it stands as a totem of their clear issues in the period.

In our series preview we identified David Willey as the most obvious solution to England’s troubles in the phase but this series—and the squad named for the series with Australia—underlined that Willey remains well down the pecking order of new ball bowlers with Saqib Mahmood preferred in the starting XI and Sam Curran replacing Willey in the squad for the Australia series. 

@BerbaSpinCric made an excellent point on Twitter that England’s preference for S Curran over Willey may not represent moving on from Willey but rather that they ideally want Curran to step into the role but if he fails to they know they can go back to Willey as an experienced and proven performer. This may be a mistake but, as Kieran acknowledges, it’s an aggressive move motivated by higher long-term upside of Curran fulfilling the role.

England’s tactics in the Powerplay were curious. In the second match of the series Mahmood only bowled one over in the phase while death specialists Tom Curran and Chris Jordan were afforded two overs, in the third match Mahmood was given two but Jordan was once again afforded two. The defensive skill-sets of Curran and Jordan were plainly evident in both matches with both bowlers using slower balls with around one third of their deliveries. 

It was also notable—and concerning—that Mahmood did not bowl a single full delivery in any of his three Powerplay overs. Bowling full with the new ball is the most proven way to take Powerplay wickets and Mahmood’s 61% short balls in the phase speak to a bowler adopting a markedly different method. If there’s any new ball swing on offer it seems England don’t have a single Powerplay bowler who is looking to exploit it.

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Moeen’s changing bowling role & how it rebalances the attack

This year England have been increasingly keen to use Moeen Ali as a match-up bowler against left-handers in the Powerplay: they did it against Quinton de Kock in South Africa and they did it here against Fakhar Zaman. However, England’s willingness to use him in this manner in the first six appears to have come at the cost of them using him elsewhere. This year he has bowled 10 overs for England in T20s and all but one of them have been in the first six overs. The upshot of this is that Moeen has rapidly slid from a frontline bowler to a part-timer. This year he bowled all four of his overs in the first T20 of the year but has since bowled three overs once and just one over on three occasions. Until this year Moeen averaged 15 balls bowled per match; this year he is averaging just 10 balls per match and that is diminishing fast. 

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This has clear consequences for the rest of the bowling attack because it requires England to use more of their ‘other’ fifth bowler: in South Africa that was Ben Stokes and in this series against Pakistan it was Lewis Gregory – both of whom are questionable options as fifth bowlers. 

In both series England appear to have been spooked out of bowling Moeen by South Africa and Pakistan’s right-hander heavy middle orders. There is an argument that this represents England being overly precious about match-ups. However, that sort of depends what data-set you look at. Analysis of Moeen’s record at international level against right-handers does show how he has clearly struggled against them but at domestic level he has fared better. In fact, this is a trend across his bowling. At domestic level Moeen has a better impact than Stokes and Gregory but a worse record at international level. 

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Banton takes his chance

The absence of Jason Roy and Jos Buttler meant this series represented an opportunity for England to test their bench strength at the top of the order. On raw numbers alone both Tom Banton – who opened, and Dawid Malan – who batted three, will be pleased with their returns: 137 and 84 runs respectively. However, CricViz batting impact suggests there was one clear winner in the jostling for position with Banton recording an impact of +23.1 across the series – second only to Eoin Morgan, while Malan contributed -2.2 in his three innings. That’s not to say Malan will or necessarily should fall out of favour – his fifty in the first T20 helped England recover from a position of strife but, by our measures at least, Banton was clearly the more impressive player. 

Balls Faced1st T202nd T203rd T20
0-99 (10) | +1.716 (10) | +7.614 (10) | +6.80
10-1917 (10) | +7.04-1 (6) | -16.221 (10) | +12.0
20-2922 (10) } +9.711 (10) | +2.2
30-3922 (10) | +13.00-1 (1) | -14.7
40-491-2 (1) | -6.0
Tom Banton runs (balls faced) | impact by ten ball blocks by match

What was particularly impressive about Banton’s batting was the way he constructed his innings. We all know about his power and extraordinary range – both of which were on full display across the three matches – but he combined that with maturity and intelligence, particularly in the first and third matches when he had to deal with losing his partner early. This is nicely illustrated by his impact progression across his three innings – except when he was dismissed – Banton did not have a single ten ball block where he contributed negative impact, reflecting his ability to play the situation.

Bairstow out of position and England’s rightie opening pair

Before the series we noted that it would be interesting where Jonny Bairstow was going to bat – whether he’d bat in his ‘normal’ position at number three or whether he’d be promoted to open in the absence of Roy and Buttler. England opted for the latter and paired him with Banton which meant England had a rightie opening partnership. This was exploited by Pakistan who opened with Imad Wasim in every match: Imad massively prefers bowling to right-handers compared to left-handers and returned a positive bowling impact in the opening over of two of the three matches.  

Moeen’s spin hitting

At CricViz we have long advocated the use of Moeen in England’s middle order to best utilise his supreme skill-set against spin. This series and the absence of a number of England’s first choice players provided Moeen with a berth at number five and although he failed in his first two innings the third was—according to our match impact model—his best innings for England in T20 cricket and he was particularly severe against spin, hitting 31 off just 14 deliveries. Moeen’s spin prowess has long been evident on the domestic circuit but this was the first time he demonstrated it in England colours. While it appears England are unlikely to deploy Moeen in the role permanently, innings such as these may make them more likely to promote him into the role for certain match-ups.  

Eoin Morgan’s supreme form

After England’s triumphant ODI World Cup last year some suspected Morgan’s international career may slowly wind down. His T20 form had been patchy at best and at 33 years of age there was a sense that his career had peaked. However, since then Morgan has reinvented his T20 game and is now in a golden run of form in the T20 format that has seen him dominate three consecutive series since England’s World Cup win last year. Morgan is starting faster, playing spin better and clearing the ropes more often than he was previously. His 66 off 33 balls in the second match of this series was his second best innings for England according to match impact and, as Tim Wigmore noted in his excellent analysis for The Telegraph, “Just like Kieron Pollard, the West Indies’s captain, Morgan is at the very apex of his game, a cricketer brimming with T20 knowledge who marries wonderful ball-striking with shrewdness.”

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The evolutions to Morgan’s game in the last 10 months are skills that make him well suited to the troublesome finisher role that England have really struggled to fill lately. Admittedly, England will be loath to move Morgan from a position where he is having such success but the option remains to swap Moeen and Morgan in a move that might represent a net gain given Moeen’s spin prowess and Morgan’s rapid starts. 

Billings and Gregory don’t take their chance

The option to move Morgan to finisher still lingers in-part because this series represented another where England did not see any evidence that they had found a finisher among the fringe players. Neither Sam Billings or Lewis Gregory took their chance with both players recording negative impacts across the series. Indeed, it seems the selectors have moved on from Gregory—at least in the short-term—with the all rounder left out of the squad for the Australia series and Liam Livingstone remaining as the back-up finisher. 

Freddie Wilde is a CricViz analyst, @fwildecricket

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