Moeen Ali sent the stats world into a tizzy last weekend with his magnificent all-round exploits at Lord's.
Among other things, he became the first England player since 1980 to score a half-century and take a ten-for in the same Test, and the first England spinner since 1974 to take a ten-wicket haul in a Lord's Test.
His bowling in both innings was outstanding, but his 87 in the first innings was no less important. Add Ben Stokes' 56, and it once again underscored the tremendous value that these allrounders have added to England's depth with both bat and ball. From 76 for 4, these vital contributions helped Joe Root score a monumental 190, and put together partnerships that eventually proved to be match-winning.
Over the last few years, these allrounders have arguably been England's biggest strength. The presence of Moeen, Stokes, Jonny Bairstow and Chris Woakes has allowed England to play an extra bowler without compromising on the batting depth, thus also reducing the workloads on their strike bowlers. At a time when most other teams are struggling with genuine allrounders, England have been blessed with more than one. While Moeen, Stokes and Woakes have contributed with bat and ball, Bairstow has been stellar with bat and behind the stumps.
Since Moeen's Test debut on June 12, 2014, England's lower middle order (Nos. 6-8) has been a huge force with the bat, and batsmen who have batted in these positions have then gone on to make significant contributions with the ball as well. For England, these three batsmen have scored 6391 runs at an average of nearly 38, which is much higher than the averages for the Nos. 6-8 batsmen from any other team; the only other team averaging more than 30 at these positions is Pakistan (32.33). Moreover, the three batsmen at these slots have contributed 30% of England's runs, which is a higher percentage than any other team's contribution except Zimbabwe.
* Wickets for bowlers who batted (or were slotted to bat at) Nos. 6-8 in either of the two innings in a Test
Similarly, those who batted at Nos. 6-8 have been hugely influential with the ball as well for England: they have taken 38% of the team's wickets, at an average of 35.08. That has largely been the handiwork of Moeen Ali (81 wickets at 37.15), Stokes (64 at 35.33) and Woakes (44 at 23.52). They have ensured that the burden on James Anderson and Stuart Broad isn't as immense as would otherwise have been.
In terms of wickets contribution, only India have had a higher percentage of wickets taken by these allrounders (45.55%), which was largely because of the long home season in 2016-17, when R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja did most of the bowling and took most of the wickets. That percentage is likely to reduce significantly over the next season, when India have plenty of overseas series coming up, when the seamers would be expected to take more wickets.
Most of the other teams have struggled to find quality allrounders recently, though. The wickets percentage is pretty high for Australia (34.21), but their batsmen at Nos. 6-8 have contributed less than 17% of their total runs and have averaged only 22.54, which indicates they haven't found the batting quality they would like to in the lower middle order.
In the three years since Moeen's Test debut, only four allrounders have achieved the double of 1000 runs and 50 wickets, and two of them are from England, which indicates the enviable all-round talent they have at their disposal. Apart from Ashwin, the other allrounder who makes this list is Bangladesh's Shakib Al Hasan. Since he has batted mostly at No. 5 during this period, he hasn't been a part of the Nos. 6-8 lower-middle-order discussion, but Shakib has been in stunning form with both bat and ball over these three years, averaging 48 with the bat and 32 with the ball.
Another stat that demonstrates England's dependence on these allrounders is the number of match awards these players have won. In the last three years, Moeen has won four, next only to Root's five, while Stokes, along with Broad and Anderson, have won three each, while Bairstow has two. The Lord's Test was only the most recent of what has been a recurring theme of lower-order revivals in recent years. As long as they have players of the quality of Stokes and Moeen in these positions, that narrative will continue, and more teams will be at the receiving end.
With inputs from Shiva Jayaraman.