February 13, 2009

Dissecting England's batting woes

What the stats have to say about the Test form of Bell, Cook, Collingwood and Co over the last 18 months


Seventeen of Ian Bell's last 35 Test innings have ended before he has gone past 20 © AFP
 

England's abject capitulation in the first Test of a series that was supposed to be, according to some experts, only a gentle warm-up for tougher assignments later in the year, has expectedly brought plenty of brickbats for the team. Their Ashes chances have suddenly been downgraded amid plenty of doom-and-gloom predictions. Justified criticism or over-the-top reactions? Let's check what the numbers have to say about England's Test form over the last 18 months.

The analysis starts from India's tour of England in July 2007, and compares performances of teams against all sides except Bangladesh, whose Test record still doesn't stand up to scrutiny.

England have had two series wins out of six during this period, and they'd beaten West Indies just before the India series, making it three out of seven series victories, which isn't a terrible record. The problem is, two series wins have come against New Zealand, easily the weakest team of this lot. Against other teams, England have only won a solitary Test out of 13.

After the 51, the focus over the last few days has obviously been on the batting, and quite justifiably so. As the table below indicates, England's batting has clearly been their weaker suit over this period: they average 29.89 runs per wicket, almost 10 fewer than South Africa and Australia, and better only than West Indies and New Zealand. The bowlers, on the other hand, have a respectable average of 35.44, only five more than the leaders, South Africa, who have the best batting and bowling averages during this period.

Team-wise Test performances against top eight sides since July 18, 2007
Team Played Won/ lost W/ L ratio Runs per wkt - bat* Runs per wkt - bowl*
South Africa 17 10/ 4 2.50 39.78 30.36
Australia 18 9/ 5 1.80 39.09 34.38
Sri Lanka 10 4/ 4 1.00 36.29 35.43
India 22 8/ 5 1.60 36.00 36.33
Pakistan 5 0/ 2 0.00 31.75 50.33
England 19 5/ 7 0.71 29.89 35.44
West Indies 11 3/ 5 0.60 28.90 37.08
New Zealand 12 1/ 8 0.12 24.11 34.58
* Batting average excludes all extras, and bowling average only includes runs conceded by bowler

The batting is a worry, but it would have been even worse had the lower order not pulled its weight and propped up the totals. If you compare the combined averages for only the top seven batsmen of each team, England slide one place further down to seventh position out of eight, with only the hapless New Zealand worse off. West Indies sneak ahead, with their top seven averaging 36.20 per wicket, compared to England's 35.70. The lower order, by comparison, is much better, ranking fifth among the top eight teams.

The other concern has been the lack of hundreds, but here England are bunched together with Pakistan, West Indies and India, with only South Africa, Australia and Sri Lanka having much better conversion ratios. Also, check out New Zealand's conversion-rate: in 165 innings by the top order, only four have resulted in hundreds. As damning indictments go, it can't get much worse than that.

Top seven of each team in Tests since July 18, 2007
Team Innings Runs Average 100s/ 50s Innings per century
South Africa 199 8472 48.41 25/ 37 7.96
Australia 220 9238 45.73 26/ 45 8.46
Sri Lanka 116 4744 43.12 14/ 22 8.29
India 289 11,156 42.74 20/ 64 14.45
Pakistan 68 2437 39.95 6/ 10 11.33
West Indies 139 4670 36.20 10/ 25 13.90
England 237 7999 35.70 19/ 40 12.47
New Zealand 165 4383 28.46 4/ 25 41.25

In England's second-innings debacle in Kingston, only one batsman - Andrew Flintoff - managed to make a double-digit score, as the entire top order fell in a heap. In the last 18 months, the failure-rate (defined as dismissals for 20 or less) has been pretty high for England's top order: almost 47% of their innings have ended before going past 20. That's almost 10 percentage points poorer than South Africa, who again lead the way, with a failure-rate of only 37%.

And while batsmen from South Africa, Australia, Sri Lanka and India have converted around 30% or more of their innings into 50-plus scores, for England the conversion-rate is marginally less than 25%.

High and low scores by the top seven
Team Total innings Dismissed <= 20 % of innings Scores of 50 or more % of innings
South Africa 199 74 37.19 62 31.16
Australia 220 85 38.64 71 32.27
Sri Lanka 116 55 47.41 36 31.03
India 289 122 42.21 84 29.07
Pakistan 68 26 38.24 16 23.53
West Indies 139 68 48.92 35 25.18
England 237 111 46.84 59 24.89
New Zealand 165 89 53.94 29 17.58

So which England batsman has been more guilty than the others during this period? The two most recent captains are the only ones with 40-plus averages, but Ian Bell, who has come under the heaviest fire recently, is third in the averages list, ahead of Alastair Cook and Paul Collingwood. The worry for Bell, though, is his failure-rate. Critics often accuse him of making pretty 20s and 30s, but in almost half his innings he hasn't even done that, falling for single-digit scores 11 times and for 20 or fewer runs 17 times in 35 innings. Cook's problem has been his inability to convert fifties (11 of them) into centuries (just one). And the man who might have been a middle-order option but isn't in the Caribbean, Michael Vaughan, doesn't have great numbers either: an average of 32.33 and a failure-rate as high as Bell's.

England's batsmen in Tests over the last year and a half
Batsman Innings Runs Average 100s/ 50s Scores <=20 Failure %
Kevin Pietersen 34 1584 48.00 7/ 2 14 41.18
Andrew Strauss 29 1199 42.82 4/ 5 12 41.38
Ian Bell 35 1159 36.21 2/ 7 17 48.57
Alastair Cook 35 1263 36.08 1/ 11 14 40.00
Paul Collingwood 32 1015 35.00 2/ 7 14 43.75
Michael Vaughan 27 873 32.33 2/ 4 13 48.15
Matt Prior 16 390 30.00 0/ 4 8 50.00
Andrew Flintoff 11 264 29.33 0/ 1 5 45.45
Tim Ambrose 15 371 24.73 1/ 2 9 60.00

England's openers didn't have a good game in Jamaica, with both openers dismissed for single-digit scores in each innings, but over the last 18 months the opening partnership has been one of the more reliable aspects of England's cricket. In 35 innings they've managed six century stands and seven half-century partnerships. The biggest problem has been the third-wicket stand, which averages 31.50, with only one century partnership in 34 tries. Click here for a wicket-wise summary of England's partnerships.

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo