Red and White Ducks

How does “getting your eye in” differ between Cricket’s formats? One way to measure it is through the proportion of ducks: more ducks implies it’s harder to get started.

An academic paper was brought to my attention recently. The article focused on ranking Test batsmen across eras, though what I got out of it were the ideas stimulated by reading through the full methodology. I added three entries to the “Blog Ideas” note on my phone. The first of these follows.

The academics needed to adjust for the disproportionate number of ducks in Test Cricket relative to a Geometric progression. How disproportionate? Ducks are roughly two-and-a-half times more frequent than theory would suggest. It’s hard to get one’s eye in.

What about the difference between red and white ball duck frequencies?

Fig 1 – Proportion of Ducks in Test Cricket vs Average (Top six batsmen only). Note how much more frequent Test ducks are relative to ODIs.
Fig 2 – Proportion of Ducks in the 2019 County Championship vs One Day Cup.

There’s an apparent contradiction here: in limited overs Cricket there is pressure to score from ball one, which should carry more risk – yet it’s easier to get off the mark in ODIs than in Tests. For batsmen averaging 35-40, in ODIs 6.8% of innings are ducks, while for Tests 7.5% of innings are ducks – a 10% greater frequency.

The only explanation I can offer is the defensive mindset of fielding captains in ODIs.

Conclusion: Bring the field in and have more catchers when a batsman is on nought in ODIs. I know it then looks weak to change the field after a couple of balls – but there is a clear opportunity.

Post Script: Opening the batting is easy

It should be harder to get off the mark in difficult conditions.

It should be that openers get out on nought more often than middle order batsman (if they have a similar average). Yet the opposite is true.

Here’s the chart:

Fig 3 – Proportion of Ducks in Test Cricket vs Average by batting position. To avoid cluttering the chart, I’ve not shown the lines for batsmen four or five. These are broadly in line with the ratio for openers (yes, that makes for a slightly less interesting chart).

I think this is because openers face very attacking fields, with lots of slips, so any bat on ball should find a gap (as long as you aren’t out caught!)

Comparing this to ODIs gives a sense of how openers stand out in Tests

Fig 4 – Proportion of Ducks in ODI Cricket vs Average by batting position.

Could Woakes open the batting in Tests?

My thinking was akin to some shambolic calling when running between the wickets: No. Yes. Wait – No!

No – Jonathan Agnew suggested that Chris Woakes was a potential opener a few years ago. To paraphrase, Woakes was someone that could do a job, perhaps on tour if an opener got injured.

This sounded ridiculous- fast bowling all rounders don’t open the batting, especially when they normally bat at six or lower. Presumably this was just a case of a commentator getting carried away during a long stint at the microphone.

Yes – And yet, as time went on, with Cook appearing to struggle and Strauss’ shoes unfilled, maybe there was some sense to it. With Root refusing to move up from number four, England had two top three places to fill (soon to be three once Cook retired).

Wait – Hang on. Easy to have wild ideas from the sidelines, would anyone really pick an untested all rounder to open the batting when they could pick from an assortment of county openers? One would have to be pretty desperate. Best to give Ali, Burns, Buttler, Compton, Denly, Duckett, Hales, Hameed, Jennings, Root, Roy, Stoneman a go before doing anything rash!

And maybe England do see something in Woakes’ batting – he batted at three against West Indies in the World Cup. Time to look at this properly.

No – While I can’t see any record of Woakes opening the batting, we can see performances against the second new ball. Not a bad proxy for performance at the top of the innings. Soon I’ll build a County Championship ball by ball database, for now his Test record will have to suffice:

Chris Woakes’ overall batting average is 29 in Tests, 35 in First Class. While he has only been dismissed nine times when batting during overs 80-100, averaging 26 in that period says that if anything Woakes would average less than his career average if he opened the batting.

Also, moving a weaker batsman up to open moves everyone else down one place. That increases the chance a batsman runs out of partners. Not ideal.

Not an especially interesting conclusion: Woakes could but shouldn’t open the batting for England.