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Sri Lanka’s implosion & Root’s footwork

CricViz examines a day of contrasting batting performances in Galle. 

You do not need analytics to tell you that Sri Lanka batted terribly on day one in Galle. Having won the toss and chosen to bat the hosts were all out for 135 just over half way through the day’s play. Aside from the first two wickets to fall: a neat leg side trap snaring Lahiru Thirrimane and a clever piece of bowling from Stuart Broad consigning Kusal Mendis to his fourth consecutive duck, the remaining eight Sri Lankan wickets were all gifted to England. 

On Sky Sports Nasser Hussain described it as some of the worst Test match batting he had ever seen. 

While you may not need analytics to tell you Sri Lanka batted badly they can help us understand exactly how badly they batted. Our Expected Wickets model uses ball-tracking data to produce an expected outcome in terms of runs and wickets for every ball bowled by comparing the outcomes of balls with similar characteristics in our database of over 900,000 deliveries in Test cricket since 2006. 

The model shows that the balls England bowled to Sri Lanka on day one would typically bring just 3.66 wickets. Sri Lanka losing nine wickets to dismissals to the bowlers (ignoring the one run out) therefore represented an under-performance of 5.34 wickets. Only 4% (90) of the 2304 Test innings where we have ball tracking data have seen a larger difference between the expected and actual wicket tallies. This may not be quite as bad as Hussain’s assertion that it as some of the worst Test match batting he had ever seen but it still makes for nasty reading. 

Hussain’s statement was probably based more on the fact that the deliveries Sri Lanka got out to were so innocuous, rather than England’s bowling performance as a whole which was largely fine. A wicket-by-wicket breakdown of the nine non-run out wickets shows how none of the wickets fell to a ball with a wicket probability that was even close to the average wicket probability for wicket-taking balls in Test cricket – underlining the extent to which Sri Lanka threw their wickets away. 

vjPOK wicket probability of wicket balls in sri lanka s innings

The way Sri Lanka played Dom Bess, who finished with figures of 5 for 30 from his 10.1 overs, was particularly notable. The Expected Wickets Model shows that Bess accrued an expected wickets tally of just 0.57 – the only England bowler to record a lower figure was Sam Curran who bowled just four overs and no bowler recorded a lower average wicket probability. Bess’ individual expected wickets over-performance of 4.43 was the largest ever recorded by an England spinner, the 52nd largest (out of more than 12,000 bowling performances) and the second largest for a bowler who took exactly five wickets in the CricViz database. 

jEZnK england s bowlers on day one

The way Sri Lanka batted was contrasted by the excellent partnership between Jonny Bairstow and Joe Root, who both finished not out at the end of the day, leaving England trailing by just eight runs and their win probability at 90%. 

One of the key aspects of playing spin—particularly in Asia—is footwork to get either well forward (and smother the spin) or well back (enabling the batsman to adjust). The table below shows how batting averages against spin range according to the interception point of the batsman.

nAAJT batting v spin in test cricket since 2006 1

On day one in Galle Root put on a clinic in getting well forward or well back. The England captain played just eight of his 114 deliveries v spin from the ‘danger zone’ – the fourth lowest percentage ever by an England batsman to have faced at least 100 balls of spin in an innings. As a team England played 11.5% of balls from the danger zone, exactly half the proportion played by Sri Lanka. 


Root’s near-impeccable footwork translated into supreme control. He only edged or missed six of his total balls faced – a false shot percentage of 5.2% – his lowest ever in any of his 67 Test scores of more than 50. 


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