This article is about the four Tests
that were played earlier this English summer. A lot has been written about these amazing matches and how England took a sledgehammer to the conventional Test framework in them. This article is an analytical overview of these games, using measures that I have built over the years.
Let me first provide an overview of the four Tests in a tabular form. People will not have forgotten the numbers, but it is good to have a recap, to jog the memory.
, New Zealand won the toss, batted first, and regretted that decision 30 minutes later. They slid to 7 for 3 and 45 for 7, and then recovered somewhat to 132. Not that England did any better, starting well to get to 59 without loss, but losing their way a finishing up with a lead of barely nine runs. Two innings were completed before the first drinks break on the second day. New Zealand recovered after an initial wobble in their second innings to post an impressive 285 and a tough target. England stumbled a few times but won by five wickets, with Joe Root anchoring the chase. England secured a TPP (Team Performance Points
, out of 100) margin of 57.2 to New Zealand's 42.8 in the match. The scoring rate was, surprisingly, well above three for the Test.
In the second Test
, England, determined to bat last, asked New Zealand to bat, and after 11 hours of hard grind, were staring at an imposing total of over 550. However, they took this as a challenge to be met, and posted a total of 539 themselves. The scoring rate of around four meant that nearly two days' play was available. Batting consistently well, New Zealand set a tough target of nearly 300 in five hours. England switched modes, imagined that there was a white ball being bowled, and got to it in exactly 50 overs. This time, the TPP margin was 58.1 vs 41.9.
, New Zealand won the toss, batted, and made the par score of 329, batting circumspectly. It was the first time in the series that the scoring rate of three per over had not been not breached. Despite falling to 21 for 4 and 55 for 6, England, through Jonny Bairstow and Jamie Overton, eventually took a lead of 31. New Zealand posted a competitive second-innings total and set yet another tough target. England then switched to white-ball-mode again and made light of the target, winning by seven wickets. England's scoring rate in the Test was an amazing 5.4. The easy win made the TPP comparison a more emphatic 63.9 to New Zealand's 36.1.
Then came a change of opposition, at Edgbaston
, but it was business as usual. India, asked to bat, put up an above-average 400-plus score. For the first time in the summer, there was a substantial first-innings lead, as England trailed by 132. No one really pushed on for a big score in India's second innings, though, and they finished on 245. However, that still meant England were set a huge target of 378. Buoyed by three successful chases of near-300 targets, England got to the mark with hours and wickets to spare, scoring at nearly five runs per over. It was a virtual replica of the previous Test, and England won by a TPP margin of 63.5 vs 36.5.
England scored at above five per over in three innings, went past four in six of the innings, and had an overall scoring rate of an impressive 4.6 in these four matches. Their tactics were clear: Let the other team bat and score whatever they can; we will try and match their first-innings score, and if we end up in deficit, it does not matter. We have the bowlers to dismiss them for a reasonable score. And, somewhere on the fourth or fifth day, we have, what Vithushan Ehantharajah called beautifully, the Number
. And we will chase. It does not matter if we lose early wickets. We will motor on.
The amazing thing is that this strategy has worked, and how. It can be said that England have thrown down the gauntlet to the other teams, with their tactics and batting, daring them to counter them. And the two teams who came visiting earlier this summer failed.
Now we move on to the details. I will look at the first three innings of each match overall, and at the fourth innings in depth. I will be using a measure that I have developed, called WIP (Win-Percentage). This is the chance of a win for the batting team expressed as a percentage. I determine this at the beginning of each of the four innings. In addition, I determine the value at the fall of each wicket in the third and fourth innings. The methodology is explained below.
First Innings: This is calculated at the beginning of the match, and is based on the relative team strengths. For these four matches, since the three teams were matched very closely, I have pegged the WIP at 50%. If, say, Bangladesh had been the visiting team, this would have been different.
Second Innings: This depends on the first-innings score. The par score is the average first innings for the current period (2011-2022), which is 361. A first-innings score of 361 will have the WIP value at 50%. A higher score will make this below 50 and a lower score will move this to above 50. All values are subject to limits between 5% and 95%.
Third Innings: This depends on whether the team batting third has a lead or is behind, and the margin of the deficit. In general, the greater the lead, the higher the WIP value for the team leading, and vice versa. In addition, a team following on will have their WIP pegged at 5%.
Fourth Innings: This depends on the target that the team has been set. I determine a Base-RpW (Runs per Wicket) value using the formula "0.2*RpW-1+0.3*RpW-2+0.5*RpW-3" for a normal no-follow-on sequence. A brief explanation: 20% of the other team's first-innings RpW, 30% of own team's first innings RpW (because this reflects how this team batted first) and 50% of the most recent RpW (since this will be a clear indicator of how the pitch is behaving). The importance of the last-mentioned RpW will be obvious in matches like the first and second Tests in this article: 132 and 141 improving to 285, and 553 and 539 dropping to 284; the two scores in the 280s take on different hues in different contexts.
Then I determine how many wickets will be needed to reach the fourth-innings target. A requirement of below one wicket gets a WIP of 95%, around nine wickets gets a WIP of 50%, and 20-plus wickets gets a WIP of 5%. The rest are extrapolated between 5% and 95%.
WIPs during third and fourth innings at fall of wickets: A similar method is used. At the fall of, say, the first wicket, the runs required to reach the target are evaluated with the Base RpW and the fact that only nine wickets are available. At the fall of the second wicket, eight wickets, and so on.
With this introduction, let us move on to the snapshots of each Test, based on WIP values.
When England dismissed New Zealand for 132, their winning chances hit 81%. Then their own poor batting show got them down to 52%. New Zealand's good second-innings showing and the substantial target they set meant that England's chances stood at 35% at the start of the fourth innings. This was based on a Base-RpW of 21.1; the very low RpWs for the two first innings were partly compensated for by the good third-innings value. Over 13 wickets were needed to reach the target. The fall of the first wicket at 31 did not do much damage and the WIP stayed stable. The fall of the second wicket at 32 knocked the WIP down to 28%. After the third wicket it went down to 23% and at 69 for 4, to 19% - the lowest in the chase. The Root-Stokes stand took the score to 159 for 5 and the WIP improved to 44%, still below 50 - which makes sense since only the late-order batters were left. The stand between Root and Ben Foakes stand took them to the win. The high scoring rate meant that there were still 76 overs left to be played.
The second Test ended similarly but the trajectory of the WIP was strikingly different. The imposing New Zealand total of 553 set England's WIP at 24%. England's brave response got it back up to 48%, almost restoring parity. New Zealand's par response in the third innings led to an above average Base-RpW of 41.4, indicating that the chase was on. The relatively low target (in the context of the scores in the match) meant that England started the fourth innings at a rather comfortable 63%. This did not drop much as a few wickets fell mainly because the pitch was still very good. At 93 for 4, the WIP reached its lowest value in that innings, 58%. Then it went up to 91% and a rather comfortable win ensued. There were 22 overs still left in the game despite the high match aggregate of 1675 runs.
The Headingley Test has scores that were almost in the middle of those in the first two Tests. New Zealand's slightly below-par first-innings total of 329 gave England the edge at 54%. That was only slightly improved when England secured a small lead. The third-innings score in the vicinity of the two first-innings scores kept the England WIP around the 55% mark. The Base-RpW was at a par value of 33.7. One could say that this Test was dominated by par values. The loss of two England wickets at 17 and 51 in the chase only dampened their chances a little, and the loss of the third wicket was only a blip. There were 74 overs left in this match at the end, and it was the most comfortable win England had the whole summer.
India's first-innings total at Edgbaston was well above par and put England on the back foot at 43%. The substantial deficit of 132 pushed England further down to 29% at the halfway stage. England recovered somewhat thanks to their very good bowling show, dismissing India for 245. The Base-RpW was just below 30 and this meant that England started the fourth innings way below the midpoint: a WIP of 35% was a fair reflection of England's chances. The hundred partnership for the first wicket in the chase moved them up to 48%, but it was still anybody's game. The loss of two quick wickets then pushed England down to 34%.Then came the 250-plus stand that took England to the win. Again, like with two of the other three games, there were at least 70 overs left.
Now for a look at the key England partnerships in their chasing innings.
At Lord's, Joe Root and Ben Stokes effected a sedate stabilising partnership of 90, at a run rate of only three. But significantly, this moved England's win percent from 19 to 44. Then Root and Foakes, in a much faster partnership of 120 runs, scored at 4.13 and took England to a win. Root was the dominant batter in this partnership.
At Trent Bridge there was only one partnership of note - of 179 runs in 20 overs between Bairstow and Stokes, as good as any that a top T20 team can offer.
At Headingley, Ollie Pope and Root added 134 in quick time at nearly five runs per over, moving the win percent from 54% to 75%. Then Bairstow walked in and, in the company of Root, added 111 runs in less than 15 overs - an RpO of 7.65, slow only by the standards set in Nottingham.
Finally, at Edgbaston, in that huge chase, Alex Lees and Zak Crawley added 107 for the first wicket at nearly five runs per over. After the fall of a few wickets, Root and Bairstow took only 42 overs to hammer the Indian attack for 269 runs. When they came in, England were tottering at 34%.
There were seven important partnerships in these four innings. Most of these were put on at well above 4.5 runs per over. Root was part of five of these match-winning stands, while Bairstow was involved in three. In the first three innings of the season, when Bairstow did not click, it was Root who held firm. Stokes was involved in two. It is relevant that three of these successful chases had two partnerships each, indicating that these were team efforts.
Now let us move on to the numbers of the England players. I have considered the four Tests together as a super series.
Root and Bairstow were the two leading England batters
- by a mile. Root scored over 550 runs at an average exceeding 110, while Bairstow scored over 600 runs at 102. It is not often that two batters have dominated a series like this. In addition, Bairstow scored at a strike rate of just over 100. This combination of 100-plus in both measures is like Halley's Comet - the rarest of rare events. The other batters scored below 300 runs at sub-50 averages. Stokes scored at a good clip. Pope had two good days. But it is clear that these were only supporting actors. Of the eight hundreds
scored by England in these four Tests, Root and Bairstow made seven.
For New Zealand, Daryl Mitchell scored 538 runs at an average of 107.6, and Tom Blundell 383 runs at 76.7. Two noteworthy performances in losing causes. Rishabh Pant scored over 200 runs in the only Test played by India.
Matthew Potts took the most wickets
in his first season in Tests - 18 at 26.7. James Anderson, the wily aging fox, took 17 wickets in three Tests at an excellent 18.3. Stuart Broad was expensive, as were Stokes and Jack Leach. Anderson was incisive, taking a wicket every 40 balls. The others finished close on either side of 60. Leach's competent performance was a surprise, although ten of his 14 wickets came in one Test. Broad had, overall, a not-so-great time. But it was clear that this was a series for the English batters, not bowlers. The bowlers performed competently, nothing more.
The England-South Africa series
It is great that South Africa will be visiting England for a three-Test series. But for what happened in the first half of the English summer, this would have been a series of no interest to the English fans, since their WTC qualification hopes are virtually zero. South Africa still have a fighting chance of qualifying. However, the overwhelming success of England in the four Tests has made the forthcoming series one of the most eagerly awaited in recent times. There are many questions to be answered.
- Will England keep chasing the "Number"?
- At some point, will the Stokes-McCullum brand of cricket become the norm?
- What can South Africa do that New Zealand and India could not?
- What will England's reaction be if the blueprint is changed and they need to set targets rather than chase them? How inventive will they be?
The last question is probably the most important one. Everything fell England's way in June and July. They won the toss twice, inserted the other team, saw 500-plus and 400-plus being scored, but still won. They lost the toss twice, saw the other team bat poorly once and competently once, matched the scores, and still won.
Let us look into a crystal ball a little. Let us say that Dean Elgar wins the toss at Lord's on August 17. When all the world is expecting that South Africa will bat, Elgar tells Ben Stokes that he will bowl. England, bolstered by yet another Root hundred, make 400. South Africa huff and puff their way to 380. England start their second innings on the fourth day.
- How do England tackle this in their new adventurous mode?
- How do they bat in the third innings?
- What target do their team go for? Do they offer something for South Africa?
- How many overs does Stokes leave his bowlers?
- Will England think "second new ball plus 20" or do they think different?
- How do England's bowlers, unused recently to defending a target, manage that challenge?
- If the target is 310, and South Africa are 200 for 3, do England try and shut shop?
Fascinating questions indeed. Interesting times ahead. Most serious cricket enthusiasts will be waiting with bated breath.
Talking Cricket Group
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Anantha Narayanan has written for ESPNcricinfo and CastrolCricket and worked with a number of companies on their cricket performance ratings-related systems