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How to beat England

A data-driven strategic guide on how to beat England.

Defend to attack against Buttler

Jos Buttler is the second best T20 batsman in the world after Suryakumar Yadav. This year in particular Buttler has been in sensational form and stopping him is critical to stopping England. Notably Buttler has adopted two extremely different methods this year: for Rajasthan Royals who had a very shallow batting order he was very cautious at the start of his innings, striking at 104 in his first ten balls before kicking on but for England he’s been far more attacking, striking at 159 in his first ten balls. 

Given Buttler’s inclination towards going hard early for England, asking him to attack good defensive balls early on could prove effective. When attacking balls on a classical good length in the Powerplay, Buttler gets out every 15 balls, considerably lower than when they go to more aggressive full and short lengths. If teams do want to attack him then inwards movement has brought teams success.

Afghanistan must be tempted to break with their typical backloading of Rashid Khan and use him early against England’s trump card – the leg spinner has taken 4 for 31 off 49 balls against Buttler. 

Move the ball in the Powerplay

Although England typically boast very explosive opening partnerships they have had issues against the moving ball. This year England’s Powerplay batting average of 22.33 against swing is the fifth worst in the world, with only Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Ireland averaging less. Buttler in particular has had some issues with inwards movement of late, with his hard hands sometimes causing him difficulties against balls that swing or nip back in. Going wide on the crease can accentuate the effectiveness of these balls for right-arm quicks. 

Be wary of the middle-order lefties

England’s middle order is packed with lefties. They could line up with as many as four left-handers from three to seven (Dawid Malan, Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali & Sam Curran). Since 2018 no team’s balls faced by numbers three to seven have been more skewed towards left-handers than England’s 59%. Liam Livingstone, and potentially Harry Brook if selected, provide England with right-handers to break up the lefties but teams planning for England have to bear in mind the implications of this middle order on their bowling deployment. 

Most obviously it means relying on left-arm spin—particularly through the middle—is a risk. Since the start of 2018 no team scores faster against left-arm spin than England. Teams who rely on left-arm spin may want to get through as much of it as they can during the Powerplay against England’s right-hander opening pair; although it should be said that their numbers against left-arm spin are still healthy with Buttler and Hales both showing significant improvement in recent years. 

Generally teams should look to avoid too much left-arm spin against England; it’ll be interesting to see whether New Zealand leave Mitchell Santner out of their Group 1 encounter (in last year’s semi final he only bowled one over). That match is being played at the Gabba where short straight boundaries can make life difficult for the spinners. 

The other implication of the lefties is that it brings off spinners into the game through the middle to turn the ball away from the bat. Recently we saw Iftikhar Ahmed enjoy bowling to England in this phase. New Zealand and Australia will look to Michael Bracewell and Glenn Maxwell respectively. 

Across the last few years England have sought to counter spin by liberally employing sweeps: no team plays them more often than England’s 14% nor does any team play reverse sweeps more often than England’s 4%. However, conditions in Australia are likely to make this a riskier shot with the bounce bringing top edges more into play. Indeed, England sweep less often in Australia (8%) than in any other country.

When pace bowlers return at the death, off cutters taking the ball out of the arc of left-handers can also be valuable. India enjoyed particular success with this tactic in the five match series in Ahmedabad in 2021. Pat Cummins’ record against left-handers is considerably better than against right-handers thanks in-part to the effectiveness of his off cutter. 

Aim for above par with the bat

England are one of the most powerful and well-constructed batting orders in the world. Since the start of 2018 their run rate of 8.95 runs per over makes them the world’s fastest scoring team. Their batting line-up possesses a healthy mix of pace-hitters and spin-hitters, fast starters and steady starters and right and left-handers and excellent depth. Teams playing against England would be advised to recognise their batting strength and look to aim above par when setting totals – par is unlikely to be enough. 

England’s bowling is front-loaded; win the Powerplay

The balance of bowlers in England’s squad is notable for the fact that there are three bowlers who are largely considered as new ball options: Chris Woakes, David Willey and Sam Curran – (although Curran has evolved to become effective outside the Powerplay). 

Before Reece Topley was replaced by Tymal Mills, Chris Jordan was the squad’s only death bowler. This imbalance is largely a response to the challenge of finding effective defensive bowlers at the back-end of the innings, something Buttler explained to Matt Roller earlier this year. “Death bowling for us is an area that we naturally want to improve. I think it’s a pretty thankless task at the moment in white-ball cricket, it proves incredibly difficult. It’s how do you manage that – do you try and actually be more aggressive at the start to try and take more wickets so you’re not bowling at set batsmen at the death?”

This front-loaded nature of England’s bowling places great importance on winning the Powerplay phase with the bat. If teams can emerge from the first six overs in relatively decent shape then they should be well-placed to kick on in the following two phases where England’s returns are poorer across the last few years, particularly now with Adil Rashid struggling for form. Indeed, the difference between England’s bowling average in the Powerplay since the start of 2021 of 17 when they win and 59 when they lose is the largest of any Full Member nation. In matches England win they take 2.2 Powerplay wickets while in those they lose they take 0.8 – only Afghanistan rely more on early incisions for their wins. 

Attack Rashid

Getting on top of Rashid is a critical component of beating England in T20. For years he has played a pivotal role in tying teams down through the middle overs but the combination of England’s frontloaded bowling attack and shortage of death options means he is something of a key to unlocking them. With Rashid struggling England rely entirely on Mark Wood for post-Powerplay wicket-taking threat and it compounds the structural issues with the attack. 

Sweeping Rashid is one of the most effective tactics for taking him on: no wrist spinner in this World Cup averages more when swept than Rashid. Rashid has struggled in particular against right-handers this year with his wider lines robbing him of wicket-taking threat.  

Cash in at the death

England’s issues at the death have been clear for some time: in simple terms their decisive defeats in the last two World Cups were attributable largely to death bowling and the numbers confirm their woes in the phase: since the start of 2018 no Full Member nation has a higher economy rate than England’s 10.24. Teams should look at this period as an opportunity to cash in, particularly when England may leave Jordan out of the starting XI and therefore would head into the tournament with no recognised death bowler.

Freddie Wilde is head of Performance Analysis at CricViz.

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