Dissecting England's batting woes
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||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|
|Sri Lanka||10||4/ 4||1.00||36.29||35.43|
|West Indies||11||3/ 5||0.60||28.90||37.08|
|New Zealand||12||1/ 8||0.12||24.11||34.58|
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.
|Team||Innings||Runs||Average||100s/ 50s||Innings per century|
|South Africa||199||8472||48.41||25/ 37||7.96|
|Sri Lanka||116||4744||43.12||14/ 22||8.29|
|West Indies||139||4670||36.20||10/ 25||13.90|
|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%.
|Team||Total innings||Dismissed <= 20||% of innings||Scores of 50 or more||% of innings|
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.
|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