March 15, 2013

England's starting problems overseas

England have lost nine out of 13 first Tests of overseas series (excluding Bangladesh). A look at the batsmen and bowlers who've underperformed

Playing the first Test of an overseas series is often fraught with danger. In today's age of condensed tours, visiting teams generally have little time to get accustomed to the pitches and the conditions before going into a Test series. The challenge for both batsmen and bowlers is thus to adapt quickly and make the adjustments required to conquer the opposition and the conditions. Going by their record over the last eight years or so, it can safely be said that England haven't made those adjustments particularly well.

In their last 13 first Tests in overseas conditions (excluding tours to Bangladesh), and going back all the way to 2005, England have lost nine and drawn four, which means most often they've left themselves with much catching up to do after the first game. During this period, they've lost the opening Tests twice each against Pakistan (in Multan and in Dubai), India (Chennai and Ahmedabad) and Sri Lanka (Kandy and Galle), and once each against West Indies (Kingston), New Zealand (Hamilton) and Australia (Brisbane). They made a pretty good effort to lose the first game of their ongoing series in New Zealand too, before lifting their game in the second innings.

In fact, England and New Zealand have almost identical stats in opening Tests of away series during this period (excluding tours to Bangladesh and Zimbabwe). Both have 0-9 win-loss records, though England have played 13 Tests to New Zealand's 11. Even West Indies have done better, winning a Test: they surprised South Africa in Port Elizabeth in 2007, which remains their only overseas win during this period.

A couple of other teams have much better first-Test records than England: South Africa have won five and lost just one, with victories in India, Pakistan, Australia, England and the West Indies. Their win-loss ratio is much better in first Tests than in other games. Australia, too, have been similarly successful, with a 9-3 record in first Tests, which is much better than their overall ratio.

England, on the other hand, have been a much stronger team on tours once the first Test is out of the way. They're 0-9 in the opening Tests, but 11-11 in other matches. Both their batting and bowling pick up steam once the opening game is done with.

England in overseas Tests since Jan 2005 (excl. B'desh and Zimbabwe)
  Matches Won/lost Ratio Bat ave Bowl ave
1st Tests 13 0/ 9 0.00 30.08 41.26
2nd Tests 12 5/ 3 1.66 39.48 32.48
3rd Tests 11 3/ 5 0.60 28.88 35.37
4th Tests 6 2/ 2 1.00 39.16 39.71
5th Tests 4 1/ 1 1.00 41.01 34.39
Overall 46 11/ 20 0.55 33.62 36.50
How other teams have fared in first Tests of series since Jan 2005 (excl. B'desh and Zim)
Team 1st Tests Won/lost Overall away Tests Won/lost
South Africa 13 5/1 37 15/8
Australia 14 9/3 42 18/13
India 12 3/6 40 9/17
Sri Lanka 12 1/5 31 4/17
Pakistan 18 2/11 51 13/24
West Indies 12 1/8 34 1/22
New Zealand 11 0/9 25 2/19

Even within the first Test, England's batting has generally tended to pick up in the second innings, as was the case in Dunedin as well, when they were bundled out for 167 in the first innings but then picked themselves up to post 421 for 6 in the second. Not so long ago, it was a similar story against India in Ahmedabad, though the second-innings resistance couldn't prevent a Test defeat then. In the Ashes opener at the Gabba too, England had folded for 260 in the first innings, and then responded with a scarcely believable 517 for 1 in the second.

There've been a few instances of the reverse happening too, most notably when they were routed for 51 in the second innings after scoring 318 in the first in Kingston, but their overall batting average in the second innings is about 20% better than the first-innings average. That's a fairly significant difference, given that pitches generally tend to deteriorate later in the game.

A significant difference is also the number of centuries England's batsmen have managed in the second innings, compared to the first. In 13 Tests, England have only three first-innings centuries - one each by Marcus Trescothick (193 against Pakistan in Multan), Paul Collingwood (134 not out in Nagpur), and Andrew Strauss (123 in Chennai). In the second innings, there've been nine centuries, three of them in one match, at the Gabba in 2010. Clearly, the batsmen have flourished once they've got more accustomed to the conditions.

England in each innings of 1st Tests of an overseas series, since 2005 (Excl B'desh and Zim)
  Runs Wickets Average 100s
1st innings 3590 130 27.62 3
2nd innings 3571 108 33.06 9

The next table breaks down the stats for each batsman who's played more than 2o away Tests during this period. The averages in the first and second innings of the first Tests are listed separately, as also the batsman's overall first-Test average, his average in Tests other than the opening one on tours, and his overall away average during this period. (All these stats exclude tours to Bangladesh, and include matches played in neutral venues.)

The batsmen who've struggled the most in the series opener are Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell. Both have been ordinary in each innings of the Test, and have been guilty of not converting their starts: between them they've scored 11 fifties but no centuries. In 25 innings Pietersen has only four half-centuries and an average of 26.56 in first Tests, while Bell isn't much better, averaging 29.47. Both batsmen do much better in other Tests of overseas tours: Pietersen averages almost 50 after the first Test, while Bell averages 41.15.

On the other hand, Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott have been batsmen who've performances in the second innings of first Tests are significantly better than in the first innings of series openers. Cook averages 49.60 in the first Tests, but most of his runs have come in the second innings. In first innings he has three half-centuries, and a highest of 67; in the second, he has four 50-plus scores, and they're all centuries, including 235 not out at the Gabba, 176 in Ahmedabad and 116 in Dunedin.

Similarly, Trott has pretty ordinary numbers in the first innings of first Tests - his highest in six innings is 45, but in the second innings he has two hundreds, two fifties, plus a 49 in six innings. His overall first-Test average is thus an impressive 51.36. The other three batsmen have somewhat middling numbers, with Collingwood being the most consistent across all Tests of a series.

England batsmen in each innings of 1st Test
Batsman 1st inngs-Runs Average 100s/ 50s 2nd inngs-Runs Average 100s/ 50s 1st Test ave Other Tests* Overall^
Jonathan Trott 131 21.83 0/ 0 434 86.80 2/ 2 51.36 40.75 44.51
Alastair Cook 301 25.08 0/ 3 731 73.10 4/ 0 46.90 54.69 52.13
Paul Collingwood 339 42.37 1/ 2 288 48.00 1/ 1 44.78 46.14 45.76
Matt Prior 269 38.43 0/ 3 255 36.43 0/ 2 37.43 45.81 42.45
Andrew Strauss 313 31.30 1/ 0 343 34.30 2/ 0 32.80 41.60 38.97
Ian Bell 440 33.85 0/ 5 238 23.80 0/ 2 29.47 41.15 36.95
Kevin Pietersen 315 24.31 0/ 1 349 29.08 0/ 3 26.56 49.23 41.46
List includes batsmen who've played 20 or more overseas Tests (excluding Bangladesh) during this period.
* Average in other Tests of those series
^ Overall average in those overseas series

However, it wouldn't be fair to blame the batsmen alone for England's first-Test debacles. The bowlers have gone missing too, none more than James Anderson, who has averaged a generous 47.08 runs per wicket, with 24 wickets in nine matches. His stats improve considerably once the first Test is out of the way: in other games in those series he averages 30.64, bringing his overall average down to 34.22. Similarly, Stuart Broad and Monty Panesar average more than 40 runs per wicket in first Tests, but then improve to the mid-30s in the remaining matches. Graeme Swann has been the best bowling bet for England in first Tests (as indeed in other matches as well). His first-Test average is 36.22, with 27 wickets in six matches, though he improves significantly on that as well as the series goes on.

England's bowlers, in 1st Tests and other Tests overseas since Jan 2005 (Excl B'desh)
Bowler 1st Tests-wkts Average Strike rate Others*-wkts Average Strike rate Overall ave^
Graeme Swann 27 36.22 67.3 85 26.20 58.52 28.61
Stuart Broad 17 42.23 82.4 39 35.10 76.13 37.26
Monty Panesar 20 46.80 99.6 59 34.02 72.69 37.25
James Anderson 24 47.08 80.8 86 30.64 59.38 34.22
List includes bowlers who've played 20 or more overseas Tests (excluding Bangladesh) during this period.
* Stats in other Tests of those series
^ Overall average in those overseas series

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