July 15, 2014

Dull match, lovely stats

So what if Trent Bridge was a snoozefest? We've got all these numbers, haven't we?

They did it for the love of stats © Getty Images

As crushingly dull Test matches go, Trent Bridge was unusually interesting. There were swings in momentum, spells when each team's bowlers sparked mild panic in their opponents, and a brief period on the final day when a miraculous victory for England over (a) India and (b) the pitch, was a lively possibility.

There was some beautifully classical strokeplay by Murali Vijay, and another promising upswing in the still new but constantly undulating career of Joe Root. There was the glorious sight of promising young tearaway Essex paceman Alastair Cook bouncing out the great allrounder Ishant Sharma with some savage leg-theory bowling, appropriately pinged down on the home ground of Bodyline legend Harold Larwood. There were some interesting sub-plots developing in the overall narrative of the summer - Cook's continuing struggles with the bat (more of which below), edgy starts for Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli, uncharacteristic carelessness by the usually iron-minded Cheteshwar Pujara, and a mixture of promise and concern emerging from both sets of bowlers. And, most memorably, there were extraordinary, statistics-melting tenth-wicket partnerships, which, even on a surface that could be used to humanely euthanise a herd of unusually perky rhinoceroses, defied precedent and belief.

Despite all this, the match was inherently tedious. There was insufficient jeopardy for the batsmen, no reward for the bowlers, and the inescapable sense from the first morning onwards that it would take a rare combination of absolute brilliance and total uselessness to force a result. After the Nagpur travesty in December 2012, England and India have now played out two stolid draws on two of the most miserable surfaces prepared for Test cricket in recent years. This type of surface is equivalent to playing baseball underwater, or football in a giant tub of blancmange (if I may exaggerate slightly). It suits neither team, nor the game as a whole.

Even from a dull match, however, a volcano of stats may erupt. Here are some that, hopefully, are of relevance to the remaining four Tests that lie ahead in this stupidly, irresponsibly congested series.

England bowler-workload stats
In the six home summers from 2008, the season that James Anderson and Stuart Broad both became regulars in the Test team, up to and including 2013, Anderson had averaged 39.1 overs per match in the 38 Tests he played (out of England's 40 home five-dayers in that time). Broad averaged 35.1 overs in his 36 home Tests. In three Tests this summer, Anderson has averaged 51.2 overs per match, 31% more than his 2008-2013 match average, and Broad 49.2, up 40% on his normal workload.

Broad has bowled 50 or more overs at both Lord's against Sri Lanka, and at Nottingham - he had only done so twice in his 68 previous Tests (both in 2012, although he was rewarded in those two games with 11 wickets against West Indies at Lord's, and 8 versus South Africa at Leeds).

Anderson's 59 overs at Trent Bridge represented his third-highest workload in a Test. Perhaps ominously, Lord's has been the scene of seven of his 15 hardest-working Tests in terms of overs bowled.

India's first innings was just the 12th time in Test history that four specialist pace bowlers have each bowled 33 or more overs in an innings. It was also the third successive Test in which four England seamers had bowled 25 or more overs in the same innings, which had happened only three times in England's previous 99 Tests.

This would probably not be a significant issue if the Tests were played in alternate weeks, as they were in the old days before cricket's sage authorities realised that some golden geese do, in fact, keep laying eggs if you squeeze them aggressively whilst holding a gun to their heads. Both sides may need to rest key bowlers, which is something that should never be necessary, and can only become necessary due to (a) incompetent or avaricious administration, or (b) the earth's rotation and orbit suddenly speeding up to make days and years significantly shorter. Neither of which concerns should affect Test cricketers.

There was the glorious sight of promising young tearaway Essex paceman Alastair Cook bouncing out the great allrounder Ishant Sharma with some savage leg-theory bowling, appropriately pinged down on the home ground of Bodyline legend Harold Larwood

An Indian-inexperience-in-"English-conditions" stat
None of India's top five at Trent Bridge had ever previously played a Test in England. Excluding visiting nations' first tours to this country, the 2014 Indians thus became only the second-ever touring team in England to field a top five with no Test match experience in English conditions.

The only previous occasion was when the 1965 South Africans, in the first Test at Lord's, managed to field an entire XI that had never played in England before.

For anyone who thinks that the precedent of a different country's cricketers, 49 years ago, playing in a series of a different length, might be of relevance to this summer's action, those 1965 South Africans drew the first Test, and went on to win the series.

An Alastair-Cook-being-bowled-out stat
When Alastair Cook was bowled behind his legs by Mohammed Shami, it was (a) the first time in his 105-Test career that he had been bowled behind his legs, and (b) the fifth time he had been castled in his last 13 Test innings, dating back to his understandable failure to prevent Mitchell Johnson's 0.4-second masterpiece clonking into his off stump at 90-plus miles per hour in Adelaide in December.

Prior to that, he had his timbers shivered just 12 times in 175 innings. If you take out his first ten Test innings, in which he was bowled three times, then, between being cleaned up by Mohammad Sami for 105 at Lord's in 2006, and being stumpically dismantled by Johnson in Adelaide, Cook had been bowled out just nine times in his 165 innings - once every 18.3 innings.

By way of comparison, since Cook's debut in March 2006, all other top-three batsmen collectively have, on average, been bowled out once every 6.5 innings, or once every 468 balls faced (78 overs). Until Adelaide, Cook had been bowled out once every 14.6 innings, or once every 1400 balls (233.2 overs; once every 290 overs since the Sami dismissal).

He was for seven years the Least Bowlable Batsman in Test cricket. Since taking guard in Adelaide - with his team collapsing around him, after Clarke and Haddin had wrestled the game away from England for the second consecutive Test, and minutes after Baggy Green numbers 10 and 11 Harris and Lyon had just deposited Graeme Swann, the strategic lynchpin of Cook's team and England's most successful offspinner of the past 50 years, into the stands for six - England's captain has been bowled out once every 2.6 innings, or once every 97 balls (16.1 overs). So since Adelaide, he has been getting out bowled 18 times as frequently as he had in his previous 92 Tests.

A temporary blip? A technical glitch? Mental fatigue? An irrelevant statistical quirk? A symptom of a deep-rooted batting malaise? All of the above? Or bits of some of the above? Ring up the ECB and ask.

Some India-failing-to-finish-things-off stats
If the Indian bowling attack was a restaurant, it would have made some decent dishes in recent months. However, having made the food, they would have completely failed to serve it. It would have stayed sitting under a heat lamp in the kitchen until it had gone distractingly crispy on top, whilst the diners had all given up and gone home to order a takeaway.

The prospect of India ever again bowling anyone out twice away from home must seem remote to their supporters. And perhaps to their bowlers. In their last four Tests, all away from home, India have conceded:

1. Their record fourth-innings score (450 for 7 against South Africa, the third-highest fourth-innings in Test history

2. The highest-ever third-innings score (New Zealand's 680 for 8), in which they also smashed the record for most runs conceded after the fall of the fifth wicket (586 is the new mark, which will take a heroically persistent display of bowling bluntness to beat)

3. The highest-ever last-wicket stand in Tests - Root and Anderson's 198 - which contributed to a total of 294 runs scored after the fall of the seventh wicket, the sixth-highest such total ever, and the most conceded by India for the last three wickets of a Test innings.

A batting-collapse stat
India's second-best tenth-wicket stand (the 111 added by Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Shami) was immediately preceded by their equal second-worst performance for the fall of wickets numbers six through nine . India subsided from 344 for 5 to 346 for 9, equalling the two runs they added when collapsing from 267 for 5 to 269 for 9 against West Indies in Kolkata in 1948-49. Their worst such performance: three years ago, on the same ground, when Broad's hat-trick, and Tim Bresnan's dismissal of Rahul Dravid, turned 273 for 5 to 273 for 9 in the space of six balls.

Some more tail-end-tonking stats

* Not only did Anderson and Root demolish the record Test tenth-wicket stand set at the same ground last year by Ashton Agar and Phil Hughes, but, with Bhuvneshwar and Shami, they hammered the match record for most runs added by last-wicket partnerships - 313, or 23% of the total runs scored in the match. The average proportion of a Test match's total runs added by tenth-wicket partnerships is 3.4%. There are more important facts in the world than that one. But it is still a fact, and in a world of lies, half-truths and misinformation surely that must count for something. (I am wasting my life.)

* The Trent Bridge Test also broke the record for most runs added after the fall of the seventh wicket - 548 in the three innings played, overhauling the previous best of 498, that had stood since the Adelaide Ashes Test of 1907-08.

* This was the first Test ever in which numbers 8 to 11 collectively made five half-centuries. Only twice had the last four batsmen made four 50-plus scores in a Test (West Indies v Australia, Barbados, 1955; and New Zealand v India, Auckland, 1989-90, when India had the Kiwis reeling at 131 for 7, before letting them off the hook, to end on 391 all out, thanks to Ian Smith's 136-ball 173).

* I think that is probably enough stats. I need to lie down and think of an old-style Oval pitch and bouncers flying over the keeper's head for four byes.

Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on BBC Radio 4, and a writer