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Stats Analysis

The numbers behind Bazball: How England cracked the risk-reward equation in Hyderabad

The visitors made up for a lower batting control percentage by maximising their returns off the deliveries they middled

S Rajesh
S Rajesh
30-Jan-2024
England's Hyderabad Test win had the Bazball stamp all over it. After falling behind by 190 runs in the first innings, they put up a fearless batting display in the second despite losing half their side for 163. They attempted 54 reverse-sweeps or reverse-scoops over the course of their two innings - 25 of those by Ollie Pope - scored 84 runs off those shots, and lost only one wicket.
After the match, Rahul Dravid, India's coach, called it a high-risk approach, but as this piece written after the 2023 Ashes explains, the Bazball approach to batting has redefined the definition of risk for the team, and that was evident in Hyderabad, too.
Traditionally in Test cricket, batters look to maximise control and minimise risk. On the control metric alone, according to ESPNcricinfo's ball-by-ball data, India finished ahead in the Hyderabad Test - their false-shot percentage was only 18.2, compared with 23.9 for England. That means England's batters played a false shot (beaten, edged, rapped on the pads, mistimed) nearly once every four balls, compared to one in five for India.
Usually, the team which has a lower percentage of errors wins Tests: since August 2018, almost 72% of the decisive Tests have been won by the team with the lower false-shot percentage. Over the last year and a half, though, England have turned that theory around on its head, with a 9-4 win-loss record in matches when they've ended up with a lower control percentage than the opposition. For all other teams in this Bazball period (since June 2022), the ratio is a dismal 6-36 when they've returned a lower control percentage. England's win-loss ratio of 2.25 is more than 13 times that of other teams (0.167) in such matches. Clearly, it's a template that no other team has been able to replicate.
For England, the absolute value of the control percentage doesn't matter as much because of the runs they score off deliveries that they are in control of. Over the course of the two innings, England scored at a strike rate of 75.6 off the deliveries that they middled (576 runs off 762 balls). India, on the other hand, played more in control deliveries but scored at only 59.7 off those balls (557 runs off 933 balls). There is obviously a trade-off between the risks taken in attempting scoring shots and the control percentage achieved, but England seem to have found a balance that works in their favour: the runs they score when on top makes up for the risk they take in adopting that aggressive approach.
In Hyderabad, for instance, England had a control percent of 77.7 in the first innings, but scored at 4.42 off those in-control deliveries; in the second innings, the control percent dropped to 75.1, but the scoring rate improved to 4.6. Their control percent when playing the reverse-sweep was only 64.8, but their strike rate when in control of that shot was more than 200 (76 runs off 35 balls). And when they tried to defend, their control percentage actually dropped marginally compared to the overall number in the match.
Pope's control percentage over his entire innings was only 74, but off those deliveries, he scored at a strike rate of 84. (For comparison, KL Rahul's first-innings 86 came at a control percent of 84, and a strike rate of 74 off the in-control balls.) The reverse-sweep was even riskier for Pope - he was in control of only 13 out of 25 - but when he did connect as he wanted to, he scored 27 off those 13 balls. And of course, apart from these hard numbers, England's aggressive and unconventional tactics threw the Indian spinners off their rhythm, forcing them out of their comfort zone, and forcing Rohit Sharma to employ more defensive fields.
However, there is one key stat here that is an outlier and suggests that the level of risk was high, even for this England team. Over the course of the entire Test, England only scored 2.77 runs per false shot, about 10% lower than India's 3.08. (This includes total runs scored, off all deliveries.) It was only the second time in 19 Tests under McCullum-Stokes that England won a Test despite a lower runs-per-false-shot than the opposition; the only other instance was the Karachi Test against Pakistan in 2022. In all other wins, even when England's control percent was lower, they scored more runs per false shot than the opposition, thereby justifying the level of risk inherent in their aggressive approach.
The Hyderabad win has shown that England's unorthodox batting approach can work even in India. It'll be fascinating to see how India respond to this challenge through the rest of the series.
With inputs from Shiva Jayaraman

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. @rajeshstats