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How Kemar Roach set-up Ben Stokes

CricViz analyst Freddie Wilde examines how Kemar Roach set-up England’s lynchpin Ben Stokes. 

The afternoon session of day one of the Third Test in Manchester provided a fascinating battle between England’s best batsman and the hero of the second Test Ben Stokes and the West Indies attack leader Kemar Roach.

Roach was approaching the end of his seven over post-lunch spell when a superb sequence of deliveries culminated in an outstanding delivery and earned him the prized wicket of Stokes. 

To understand how Roach set-up Stokes it is essential to understand Roach’s method against left-handers. 

Much has been made of Roach’s supreme effectiveness against left-handers in recent years. Since the start of 2018 he only averages 16.57 against them – no bowler in the world to have taken at least 25 left-handed wickets in this period has a lower average than the Bajan quick.

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Roach’s effectiveness against lefties has been predicated on his remarkable success bowling round the wicket against them. This is a major tactical trend that has taken Test cricket by storm across the last decade and Roach has been at the forefront of it: since 2015 no bowler has bowled more often from the angle. 

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For Roach one of the major reasons for his success from round the wicket has been the fact that the angle has led to a significant improvement in Roach’s wrist position which has seen him produce 1.09° swing from round the wicket compared to 0.72° from over the wicket.

Roach’s extreme front-on action means his natural swing movement is from left-to-right – or away from the left-hander. The angle round the wicket has accentuated the usefulness of this delivery because the angle into the batsmen encourages batsmen to play at deliveries that then swing away. Since 2015 50% of Roach’s deliveries to left-hander have swung away – this is the fifth most in the world among right-arm quicks to left-handers from round the wicket since 2015. 

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This lavish swing away from the left-hander means Roach’s primary mode of dismissal from this angle is getting catches by the wicket-keeper and in the cordon because while the round the wicket angle encourages batsmen to play more than the over the wicket angle only 9% of Roach’s deliveries from round the wicket are projected to hit the stumps and as a result he very rarely gets wickets lbw or bowled from the angle. 

The key to playing Roach from that angle therefore is leaving him well and throughout the series so far Stokes has done that – leaving around one in three deliveries. 

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Something else Stokes has done well in this series – and in fact for a while now – is use his feet to advance down the track to the quicks. Mid-way through the first hour after lunch Stokes was doing exactly this: leaving well and advancing at Roach by using his feet to nullify the lateral movement. 

It was then, with the game drifting towards drinks that Roach decided to turn to his short ball, not just once but with the opening three deliveries of his fifth over.

At the start of Roach’s career he was a tearaway quick – the bowler who terrorised Ricky Ponting at the WACA. However, injuries forced him to adjust his approach and since 2015 he has returned a more refined bowler who has bowled notably slower and as a result bowls far fewer short balls. However, while Roach has lost more than a yard of pace—his average speed before 2015 was 88 mph but since it is just 81 mph—he has a slippery bowling action that means he can cause trouble with the short ball occasionally. 

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The second of Roach’s short balls struck Stokes on the helmet and the trio of them had the desired effect. By the fourth ball of the over Stokes had been pushed back into his crease, only fractionally, but it was enough to keep Stokes hanging back, as illustrated above. 

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Having pushed Stokes back, the fourth and fifth balls of the over were Roach’s stock delivery: out-swingers in the channel. Across the series Stokes has faced 88 balls from Roach swinging in that direction.

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Then came the sucker punch. Having pushed Stokes back with the bouncers before continuing to hammer away with the out-swinger Roach turned to his in-swinger for only the eleventh time to Stokes in this series. That’s 88 out-swingers and just 11 in-swingers. The ball was a beauty. 133 kph, it swung in by 1.06°, pitched 6 metres from the stumps—on a classical good length—before seaming in by another 1.42°. 

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Perhaps because of the 88 out-swingers Stokes’ had faced through the series his bat way away from his body. Stokes, eager feel bat on ball, had been dragged towards the off side by the relentless shape towards the slips and couldn’t help but follow the ball with his bat. Having been pushed back by the bouncers Stokes was more vulnerable to the swing and seam movement. It was the perfect setup. The ball surged through the gap between bat and pad and into the stumps. The fact that this was only the third time Roach had dismissed a left-hander bowled since 2015 underlined the rarity of his method of attack. 

According to CricViz’s Expected Wickets model which evaluates the quality of every ball using ball tracking data, Roach’s wicket-ball to Stokes had a wicket probability of 23% – making it the second best ball of the entire day. After three weeks of out-swingers and an over of setting him up Roach produced his finest ball of the day to complete the job. 

Skilful fast bowling, intelligently applied. A mini-masterclass from one of the game’s modern greats. 

Freddie Wilde is a CricViz analyst @fwildecricket

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