September 16, 2018

Did the 4-1 scoreline flatter England?

The England-India series was much closer than the margin suggests, but that's not to say that England were undeserving winners

Mohammed Shami had the batsmen not in control of their shots far more than his 16 wickets in five Tests in England suggest © Getty Images

For about a decade now, ESPNcricinfo has recorded a control measure for each delivery covered in its live ball-by-ball coverage. This is a binary answer to the simple question: "Was the batsman in control of the delivery?" It accounts for uncertainty and thus enhances the record of the contest beyond the standard catalogue of outcomes - balls, runs and wickets.

The control measurement provides an estimate of how much uncertainty a team created. This uncertainty is a measure of the quality of the bowling and the skill of the opposing batting. These are not symmetrically important skills, since the bowler gets to begin every play and the batsman can only face what the bowler delivers. Any delivery on which a batsman is not in control carries some risk of dismissal. This article reviews the recently completed India Test tour of England using the control measurement. Control data from six other series - the previous four series between India and England, and the last two series between South Africa and India is used for comparison.

© Kartikeya Date

These seven series provided data on 1109 individual innings and 59,477 separate deliveries. The chart above shows the likelihood of the average batsman being not-in-control on any given ball of his innings. As can be seen, the longer a batsman survives, the likelihood of him being not in control on any given delivery reduces. This is evidence of the concept of a batsman "getting set" in a Test innings.

Throughout this essay, the not-in-control rate is given in terms of not-in-control deliveries per over (or per six balls). This is arguably easier for readers familiar with cricket to make sense of than a percentage.

With the exception of England's tour to India in 2012-13, all the series considered here have been won by the home team, usually in dominant fashion. The control numbers reflect this dominance. For example, when England toured India in 2016-17, their bowlers were unable to make an impact on the Indian batting. Over the course of the series, they induced uncertainty among Indian batsmen only 0.8 times per over. By contrast, the Indian bowlers induced uncertainty in the English batting 1.1 times per over. This difference manifested itself in the dismissal rates. An India wicket fell once every 87 balls in the series, while an England wicket fell once every 68 balls. It was a similar story in the 2011 and 2014 series in England. The home team created greater uncertainty than the visitors and won comfortably.

In the 2018 series, it has been different. An unusually large amount of seam movement was on offer for the fast men in 2018, and India's three fast bowlers created difficulties for England's batting. In 2011 and 2014, the English bowling created 8% and 10% more uncertainty than the Indian bowling did. In 2018, the Indian bowling created 7% more uncertainty than the English bowling did. However, it took India 12.9 not-in-control deliveries to take one wicket in this year's series, while England took a wicket once every 10.3 not-in-control deliveries. England lost a wicket every 55 balls, while India lost a wicket every 47 balls. Though the results might have been similar across series, the contest was significantly more even in 2018.

© ESPNcricinfo Ltd

Note: wickets in this table include run-outs. India's bowlers took 82 wickets, while England's bowlers took 95 wickets in the 2018 series

The first Test, at Edgbaston, was probably decided on the first day, when the Indian bowling was well below its best. A brilliant run-out by Virat Kohli helped limit the damage, but not sufficiently. There was significant help available in the pitch to ensure that England's first-innings advantage would keep them just out of India's reach.

The second Test, at Lord's, was decided by the toss. Batting was exceptionally difficult in the first innings; it was, in fact, the most difficult batting day of the entire series. England beat the bat twice every over, and it took them only 212 balls to bowl India out. They followed this with an opportunistic batting display.

The Lord's Test is a great example of how being forced to defend runs leads a team to not deploy as many attacking fielders as the conditions might justify, which means that the batting side survives far greater uncertainty than it might otherwise. This raises the question as to whether it is a good idea to set a field according to the scoreboard and not only the bowling conditions. Throughout the series, India found themselves in situations where the scoreboard dictated that they defend runs, while the conditions suggested that they should set attacking fields and chase wickets from both ends, and almost every time, India took the more conservative options and set fields to protect runs.

At Trent Bridge, the tables were turned. India batted first on a good pitch and they made good use of it to get ahead in the game. England never caught up. It was England's turn to be forced into a situation where the scoreboard dictated that they defend runs. India took an England wicket once every 19.4 not-in-control deliveries, even though the ball was beating the bat 1.23 times per over.

© ESPNcricinfo Ltd

In Southampton, Joe Root won the toss for the fourth time and batted first. India had their best bowling game of the series on what was, until then, the best batting pitch of the series. But they lost three wickets within the first ten overs of their fourth-innings chase, which left Moeen Ali with just one specialist batting pair to break through bowling into the fourth-day rough. It took him 17 overs, but once he dismissed Kohli, it was a matter of time. The Test Match Special commentator Daniel Norcross observed that the series "could be 3-1 either way, or 2-2". It was hard to escape the feeling that 3-1 flattered England.

More difficult luck was to come India's way in the form of yet another lost toss, a mid-Test injury to Ishant Sharma, and a special bout of bad luck for their first-change bowler Mohammed Shami, who created uncertainty 107 times for just two wickets in the Test. Over the course of the series Shami troubled the batsmen more than any other bowler on either side. One hundred and nineteen runs were scored against him when the batsman was not in control (from inside and outside edges). He had to beat the middle of the bat 18 times to get a wicket during the series. He beat the bat more often than James Anderson and ended up with 16 wickets in the series.

© ESPNcricinfo Ltd

India's difficulties were not only down to bad luck. England batted deeper than India. Shami, Ishant and Jasprit Bumrah are pure tailenders and gave India an unusually long tail. This meant that England always had a couple of extra batsmen, to go with their greater bowling depth. India basically ran out of players. England's last five wickets cost India 28 runs apiece over the series; India's last five wickets cost England 21.4 runs apiece. In a low-scoring series, that lower order was worth an extra 65 extra runs per Test match for England. Two of the five Tests were decided by a margin smaller than 65 runs.

© ESPNcricinfo Ltd

Kohli was the outstanding run scorer in the series - though his much anticipated battle with James Anderson never really materialised. After Kohli made 655 runs when England last toured India, in 2016-17, Anderson observed that Kohli's technical problems were simply not in play in Indian conditions. They were certainly in play in England in 2018, when the ball moved off the seam significantly more than it has in recent years.

Yet it was not Anderson who troubled Kohli the most. Kohli faced 270 balls from Anderson in the series and was in control of 212. Anderson beat Kohli's bat 1.29 times per over. Stuart Broad managed it 1.47 times per over. He also dismissed Kohli twice. Seen in isolation, Anderson might be considered unlucky against Kohli. But Anderson's luck generally held during the series. He ended up with 24 wickets, and 564 for his career, the most for any fast bowler.

It was a series in which, as Pep Guardiola might say, "the little details" mattered. And the little details invariably went against the visitors. But despite the closeness of the series, it would be wrong to conclude that England were lucky to win it. They had the better bowlers, the deeper attack, and the deeper batting line-up than India. In a series where the bat beat the ball 23% of the time, that extra depth counted relentlessly.

Kartikeya Date writes at A Cricketing View. @cricketingview

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