January 20, 2012

England's problems in Asia

England have won only one of their last 18 Tests in Asia (excluding Bangladesh). Here's a look at why their results are so poor

England's results over the last 32 months have earned them the right to be called the best team in the world - that's quite indisputable. They've won 20 out of 32 Tests during this period, and lost only five, which gives them a win-loss ratio of four. The fact that no other team has done better than 1.60 says just how good England have been - in terms of this statistic alone, they're 2.5 times as good as the next-best team during this period.

However, going beyond the overall numbers and into specifics, it's clear that there are some boxes that England haven't ticked yet. Fourteen of their 20 wins during this period have come at home, and of their six overseas ones, two were in Bangladesh. (Click here for more details.) The Ashes triumphs, especially the one in Australia, was fantastic, but for any team from outside the subcontinent, the ultimate challenge is to conquer the turning conditions of Sri Lanka, Pakistan and India - just as the reverse is true for the teams from the subcontinent - and that's the challenge England haven't yet won.

England's three-day debacle in Dubai means they've won just one of their last 18 Tests in Asia, excluding their visits to Bangladesh. In the 2000-01 season, they won back-to-back series in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, but since then there hasn't been a whole lot to celebrate. In six series in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka during this period, they've lost twice to India and Sri Lanka, and once to Pakistan. Their only Test win - against India in Mumbai in 2006 - resulted in a drawn series.

Compared to the other top teams, England's subcontinent stats are quite poor. Australia are quite clearly on top, with four wins in six series, including two whitewashes. South Africa aren't as impressive, but they've still managed three wins in the subcontinent, including two by an innings in India.

Overseas teams in Asia (excl B'desh) since April 2001
Team Tests Won Lost Ratio
Australia 19 9 5 1.80
South Africa 17 3 7 0.42
England 18 1 8 0.12
Zimbabwe 5 0 5 0.00
New Zealand 10 0 4 0.00
West Indies 19 0 13 0.00

A batting average of 27.38 and a bowling average of 40.53 explains why England have managed the results they have in the last decade in the subcontinent. Their batting average isn't much worse than Australia's 31.73, but then Australia have compensated by achieving excellent results with the ball, averaging less than 30 per wicket. On the other hand, England's bowlers have similar stats to South Africa's, but the South African batsmen compensated for the bowling average of 40 by averaging 36.55 with the bat, more than nine runs higher than England's average.

One of the problems for England's batsmen has been converting their fifties into hundreds. Of the 61 times that one of their batsmen have topped 50, only 13 have resulted in centuries. That's a much poorer conversion rate than those for Australia (26 hundreds out of 66 fifty-plus scores) and South Africa (22 out of 66), and similar to that for West Indies (12 out of 59). (In Dubai, though, their batsmen didn't do much to worsen that ratio, with only Matt Prior topping 50.)

Overseas teams' batting and bowling stats in Asia (excl B'desh) since April 2001
Team Tests Bat ave 100s/ 50s Wickets Bowl ave 5WI/ 10WM Ave diff
Australia 19 31.73 26/ 40 317 29.95 13/ 4 2.48
South Africa 17 36.55 22/ 44 234 40.47 9/ 1 -3.92
England 18 27.38 13/ 48 234 40.53 3/ 0 -13.15
New Zealand 10 31.89 11/ 25 117 50.65 2/ 0 -18.76
West Indies 19 26.23 12/ 47 229 45.31 3/ 0 -19.08
Zimbabwe 5 19.35 0/ 10 46 59.04 1/ 0 -39.69

One of the challenges for batsmen when touring the subcontinent is the constant barrage of spin they are confronted with. The table below checks out the performances of each team against pace and spin over the last decade on tours to the subcontinent. Again, the numbers for England aren't that impressive: their averages against spin are lower than those for Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, and as much as the average for West Indies. The run-rates column also shows that England's batsmen have a problem in getting the spinners away for runs - they're the only one among the top teams with a scoring rate of less than 2.5 against spin.

Pace bowlers and spinners against each team in Asia (excl B'desh) since April 2001
Team Pace-wkts Average Econ rate Spin-wkts Average Econ rate
Australia 114 35.53 3.28 201 32.20 2.97
South Africa 93 43.59 3.31 168 35.36 2.69
England 136 30.46 3.06 169 27.84 2.44
New Zealand 60 30.03 3.01 101 34.50 2.59
West Indies 144 26.72 3.13 177 27.81 2.71
Zimbabwe 28 32.89 2.81 69 15.53 1.87

Among the bowlers too, England's spinners have been pretty ineffective in the subcontinent, averaging more than 46 runs per wicket. Given that their own batsmen average less than 28 against spinners, it's clear that the gulf between the performance of England's batsmen against opposition spinners, and England's spinners against opposition batsmen, is pretty huge, and that's one of the significant reasons why England's results have been so disappointing.

Pace and spin bowlers for each team in the subcontinent (excl B'desh) since April 2001
Team Pace-wkts Average Econ rate Spin-wkts Average Econ rate
Australia 191 29.72 2.79 125 29.29 3.39
South Africa 164 37.25 3.20 70 47.44 3.05
England 153 37.09 2.96 78 46.38 2.99
New Zealand 57 53.01 3.25 60 48.41 3.16
West Indies 159 41.07 3.18 70 54.40 3.22
Zimbabwe 23 68.34 3.27 23 49.73 2.93

A look at England's top run-getters during this period reveals that none of the specialist batsmen average more than 43 in the subcontinent during this period. The biggest disappointments have been Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell: in 23 innings Pietersen averages 31.54, with 13 scores of under 20. Bell is only slightly better, with an average touching 33 in 24 innings. Both these numbers are well below the career averages for these players.

Bell's stats against spin are particularly disappointing. His two dismissals against Saeed Ajmal reduced his average against spin in the subcontinent to 23 - he has scored only 345 runs in 952 deliveries, and been dismissed 15 times by slow bowlers. On the other hand, Alastair Cook averages 39.33 overall in the subcontinent, but against spin his stats are outstanding: 286 runs for three dismissals at an average of 95.33.

Highest run-getters for England in the subcontinent (excl B'desh) since April 2001
Batsman Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Paul Collingwood 12 843 42.15 2/ 3
Ian Bell 12 758 32.95 1/ 6
Marcus Trescothick 9 703 41.35 1/ 4
Kevin Pietersen 12 694 31.54 2/ 2
Andrew Flintoff 14 642 25.68 0/ 7
Michael Vaughan 10 624 34.66 1/ 5
Alastair Cook 8 590 39.33 2/ 5
Andrew Strauss 8 558 37.20 3/ 0
Mark Butcher 6 390 35.45 0/ 4
Matt Prior 6 327 46.71 0/ 4
* All references to subcontinent exclude matches played in Bangladesh.

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on Twitter

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • sowmi on January 22, 2012, 11:40 GMT

    Lets see if England can win even one of their 3 tours this year. Then they can talk about being close to number 1. I dont even rate them good enough to beat this ravaged Pakistan side. Lets face it despite Pakistan's brilliant performance this side is not good as Pakistan sides of past comprising Akram, Waqar, Inzi, Sohail, Raja, Imran, Anwar etc.On the other hand India's youngsters are good enough for the English as we saw in the ODI series. The current Indian team is facing problems that all teams will face one day. That of ageing seniors. Once Laxman, Dravid and eventually Tendulkar retire we will be playing good cricket once again

  • sowmi on January 22, 2012, 11:35 GMT

    India's ascension to their number 1 spot was no mere fluke. We did well all around the world. We won in New Zealand, England, West Indies drew in South Africa in a tight series where the final test could have been won if not for a kallis special, challenged the great Aussie team of past a team leagues ahead of the current team 1-1 in 2003 and 1-2 in 2007 (coulda been 2-1 if not for sydney gate).

  • Tayab on January 22, 2012, 5:43 GMT

    Again let's remind ppl the fact that the pitches in UAE are not subcontinental, as they do not turn as much square as pak, india and sri lankan pitches. England will understand that when they turn up at Galle, a pitch which was reported as being unplayable. If pakistani players had played their domestic cricket in the UAE, then we could say that they are at home, but they play in Pakistan and therefore due to lack of support from crowds I wouldn't say that these are "home conditions" . Have to applaud the fact that they have created their own intensity and style suited for the conditions in UAE. Andrew Miller, George Dobell and others were expecting england to crush pakistan under their boots! and now they are blaming ajmal's action, conditions, been away from test cricket for a while, poor batting etc for their loss in the first test, GROW UP.

  • Kinesh on January 21, 2012, 20:12 GMT

    Why have discussions of India's performance appeared? England at home are formidable however, in the sub-continent, England have been very poor. I must say, after their poor performance in the last test against Pakistan, England won't have any chances winning in the sub-continent (excluding Bangladesh).

  • Al on January 21, 2012, 11:52 GMT

    Personally naming a no 1 team at the moment doesnt make much sense at the moment as everyone wins at home and loses away.

  • Adrian on January 21, 2012, 10:51 GMT

    @George204 - You're probably right, I just thought it might be an idea if they both continue to struggle. I doubt the England management would consider it anyway. Yeah Cook looks like Crazylegs Crane when he bats against spin - very ungainly - but it seems to work for him.

  • Dummy4 on January 21, 2012, 10:46 GMT

    Who will be no. 1 team (of course not just by ranking but by how dominance they play) if England loss here by 2-0 or 3-0 margin and then loss to India by 3-0 if thats a 3 match series and also to Sri Lanka by any margin? I just sense Australia is getting read to be no. 1 again. They usually play spin better than any away teams. So, if they continue to improve the way they are going, they will reach to no. 1 sooner than we thought.

  • Dummy4 on January 21, 2012, 7:54 GMT

    Good article :) most people just blame subcontinent countries not playing well in Australia, England and South Africa, actually speaking the other way round is what many people ignores. and that is our strength. and every team is strong while playing in their home conditions.... so when England & Australia tour India for test matches India will win comprehensively... And India No 1 Ranking was not a fluke... India did play well in that period.

  • Tootu on January 21, 2012, 4:39 GMT

    @BnH1985Fan so what is your point relating to the article England's #1 position is less fluke?

  • Tootu on January 21, 2012, 4:37 GMT

    Well England can compensate their poor stats by including bunch of South African batsmen they have.

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