England vs Pakistan Preview – August 2020

An impressive batting unit supported by an exciting bowling attack versus an impressive batting unit supported by an exciting bowling attack.

What will decide the series? Here’s my usual pre-series ramble, with stats on the Pakistan squad at the bottom.

  1. All rounders. England are running out fast. Debateable whether England will even have an all rounder for the first Test. Some names to mull: Ben Stokes (is he fit to bowl?), Joe Denly (dropped), Moeen Ali (dropped), Chris Woakes (struggling with the bat), Sam Curran (is he good enough at either discipline)? As for Pakistan, Shadab Khan averages 34 with the bat from five Tests, but only 27 in First Class – more a number seven than a six. Pakistan will be gambling either way: a five man attack lengthens the tail, an inexperienced four man attack has nowhere to hide.
  2. Pitch preparation. England would be stronger if they could confidently not pick a spinner (Bess didn’t contribute a lot with the ball against West Indies). Pakistan are itching to play two spinners. Why would the Old Trafford groundsman produce a deck that turns? Worth noting in the two Manchester Tests this summer, spin averaged 52 while pace was around half that at 27.
  3. Naseem Shah and Kashif Bhatti. Pakistan’s batting is solid, enough talent that they can cover if any one of them goes full Shai Hope. For all the excitement, I’m uncertain about their bowling. Mohammad Abbas is a banker (Test average 21, and the same average in two devastating seasons at Leicestershire). Shaheen Shah Afridi has 30 Test wickets, so has some track record. Yasir Shah has a proven record – it’s just a bit mediocre (averaging 34 in the last four years). One of Naseem Shah or Bhatti thus has to step up. The signs are good – both average 17 in domestic cricket in the last four years (Bhatti has 125 wickets, the younger N. Shah has only 26).
  4. Rest. West Indies clearly don’t read this blog (or The Daily Telegraph), else they wouldn’t have knackered their bowlers playing three back-to-back Tests. A three Test BTB series is more like a tournament than a traditional Test series: you’ve got to manage bowler workload. The easiest way to do that is to pick the best team for the first game, then half the pace bowlers miss the second Test, and the others miss the third. Sohail Khan is good enough to rotate in – but are the other Pakistan squad bowlers Test standard? With England’s squad depth, their edge will get bigger as the series goes on.
  5. England’s Ashes tunnel vision. Picking Crawley and Bess with an eye on December 2021 is silly. When the West Indies series got real, Crawley was dropped and Bess didn’t get a chance to bowl. Pakistan will be only too happy if England’s team sheet has a number three with a First Class average of 31, and an off spinner for Pakistan’s right handed middle order to milk. Bess isn’t a bad player, it’s just that England would have a better chance of winning playing an extra pacer.

England start as favourites. Burns, Sibley, Root, Stokes are a fine core of a batting order, and there’s healthy bowling options. If Stokes can bowl, a balanced England team playing on increasingly familiar territory should be too strong.

Get to know the Pakistan squad: Stats

Batting:
Note through this lens Babar Azam isn’t the standout batsman.
Bowling:
Note the domestic four year averages of Abbas, N.Shah and Bhatti.

Bob Willis Trophy preview: part two

It’s the evening before the county season starts, and the squads have been announced. That means I can tell you which teams have the best chance of success.

Here’s a unique preview – data driven, based on each player’s red ball performances in the last four years. Most previews name a couple of stars, “one to watch”, and throw in some juicy facts and interviews. Redballdata.com sadly has none of this.

So how can I help you? Without the Test and overseas players, we’ll see lots of talent emerge from the 2nd XI. You and I may not know the names, but I’ve rated those players. The database uses the last four years’ data for Test, county, and 2nd XI Cricket, adjusted for difficulty. For each group, I’ve ranked teams in order of strength, and below the commentary you can zoom into each squad to see the individual rankings.

The North Group

Lancashire (Favourites): Have the bowling to force results. Livingstone, Vilas are two of the best batsmen in county cricket.
Yorkshire: Challengers, can they win their first game without the ODI players? Will Olivier come to the party? So far he hasn’t shone in the County game. Excellent top order, but will they miss Bresnan’s batting?
Durham: Raine & Rushworth are an effective pair. Deep batting line up covers the lack of stars. Having four home games helps. I’ve put a couple of pounds on Durham at 33-1 (Ladbrokes), if that sort of thing is of interest to you.
Notts: Best batting in the division: I’m baffled at how that unit struggled so badly last year. Worried about the bowling, especially if Fletcher is out for a while. Ball can’t do it on his own. Mullaney might bowl a lot this year, which is no bad thing.
Derbyshire: Hard to see this very raw attack winning the group. Batting’s not too bad mind (Godleman, Reece, du Plooy).
Leicestershire: On paper the weakest team. Maybe one of the younger bowlers will surprise us, otherwise 20 wickets is a tall order. Competitive top three batsmen (Azad, Slater, Ackermann) but not much after that.

The Central Group

Somerset (Favourites): Best attack of the 18 counties. Should win the weakest division.
Warwickshire: Will the batsmen let down the bowlers? Much depends on the ageing Bell, Bresnan and Patel. Better reserves than most.
Worcestershire: A couple of batsmen light. Moeen Ali and Ed Barnard are fine all rounders which help balance the side out. Banana skin vs Gloucestershire first up as Worcestershire won’t have Ali (England duty).
Northants: About three bowlers light. Can Sanderson repeat the magic of 2019 (60 wkts at 20)? If not, “definitely viewing it as a squad competition” might make for some weak teams by late August.
Gloucestershire: This campaign may be an awkward reminder that overseas talent is needed for Gloucestershire to survive in Division 1 next year. Dent and Higgins are clearly talented, but there are stronger squads out there.
Glamorgan: Cooke will need to deliver for Glamorgan to get enough runs on the board. The injury to Timm van der Gugten is unfortunate – Glamorgan are the weakest attack in the Central Division without him. This year could be valuable experience for the core of a fine future team- Selman (age 24), Carlson (22), Douthwaite (23), Carey (23), Bull (25).

The South Group

Essex (Favourites) are good. The best team in a tough league. Expect Harmer to deliver with the ball, supported by Porter & Cook. Sir A. N. Cook is the best batsman on show in county cricket.
Surrey … Imagine what they could do at full strength. Can hardly blame them if this year is a struggle. Adding Jamie Overton helps, an unexpected development.
Middlesex are my kind of team – enough batting and bowling to compete, maybe slightly under the radar. Lack of spin options may be exposed in their three away matches, if groundsmen play their cards right.
Hampshire: Ditto. No Abbott. No Edwards. Need to get through the games without the ODI players (Vince & Dawson), and see what happens. Mason Crane has an opportunity – there’s lots of right handers out there.
Kent: May do OK against Hampshire and Sussex’s attacks. The other three sides will take some withstanding though. Could do with Denly making an appearance.
Always up against it, Sussex have given a chance to lesser known players this year. A shame. Not sure where Wiese, Wells, Bopara and Beer are. I’ll give anyone sitting this tournament out the benefit of the doubt: I’m not playing cricket in a pandemic, so can’t expect them to.

Anyone can win. Don’t expect it to be the best team – it’s only a five match series. The bookmakers know this – there are 11 teams with more than a five percent chance of winning, yet no team has a greater than fifteen percent chance.

Tomorrow I’ll be following Durham-Yorkshire. A Durham win would make the North group so much more interesting.

Before you go, here are some trends we might see this year:

  • 0fers – there are bowlers that just aren’t ready for this level. They’ll go wicketless, and heap pressure onto captain and opening bowlers. Canny batsmen will get after them.
  • Clusters of wickets – inevitable when the standard is this variable.
  • The league won’t be won by stars – it’ll be won by the deepest batting lineups, and the bowling attacks that never let up. Hence Lancashire, Yorkshire, Somerset, Essex being favoured. Many won’t see it that way – they’ll talk of centuries and five-fors, but it’ll be “Not Collapsing” and “9-2-30-1” wot won it.

Bob Willis Trophy preview: part one

Strange times. This year’s County Championship makes the best of a bad situation by fitting in a five-match group stage across August and September. Here’s what I think will happen, based on the Playing Conditions; disrupted squads; and the weather. Part two of this post will look at which players and teams I expect to do well.

Playing conditions

  • A reduction from a minimum of 96 overs to a minimum of 90 overs in a day’s play.
  • Each county’s first innings of a match can last no longer than 120 overs
  • The follow-on will increase from 150 to 200 runs
  • The new ball will be available after 90 overs rather than 80 overs
  • Eight points for a draw
  • Three regional groups of six. Two group winners with the most points contest the final.

Impacts

Perversely, more draws. Fewer overs per day removes up to 24 overs from a match. Capping an innings at 120 overs limits a team’s ability to go big batting once. Add to that the increased points on offer for a draw, and canny captains (once behind in the match) may change focus to points accumulation. While there is need to win the group and outscore one of the other group winners, a defeat makes qualification very unlikely – so conservative cricket may dominate the first two rounds. The last thing you want to do is give your rivals a 20 point head start.

Mismatches – all 18 counties together for the first time since 1999 gives an opportunity for the stronger players in the second division to prove themselves. However, there is the potential for some mismatches. Gary Ballance against some of the weaker attacks in the North group, for example.

Lopsided groups. The South group is toughest, and thus we are obliged to tag it the “group of death”. Sussex and Middlesex are the second division teams in that group, but are better than that. It will be difficult to win the South group, and the winner may not even qualify for the final if their victories don’t yield sufficient points.

Nothing to play for. After two defeats, a team is almost certainly out of contention. With no relegation, I hope teams do the decent thing and give 100 percent. This will be difficult. “Come on lads, let’s do it for the fans streaming this whilst working from home!” Hopefully something resembling the best possible team is selected, though it would be totally understandable if this weren’t the case: players may have other priorities in a pandemic.

Spinners to the fore. A new ball after 90 overs favours spinners (who will have the ball in their hands more) and lower middle order batsmen (who get easier conditions for longer). Win the toss and bat, surely.

Timing and weather

August / early September matches should slightly favour the bowlers. Last year’s first innings scores were 20 runs lower in August/September than the rest of the season. The Test matches have offered turn, indicating what pitches might do given the dry summer we’ve had.

The long range forecast from the Met Office is understandably vague, though hints at more weather disruption in the north than the south.

Confidence is low, but the second week of August is likely to see a mixture of dry and settled conditions, interspersed with occasional bouts of wetter and windier weather. The majority of the unsettled weather will most likely be in the north and west, though it may spread further south and east from time to time. Temperatures are likely to be around the average for this time of year, with any particularly warm weather being short-lived and generally towards the south or southeast. Looking further ahead into late-August, there are some tentative signs that conditions could become more widely dry and settled, particularly in the southeast.

Availability

These aren’t the county sides you’re used to. No overseas players. No England Test players. Won’t see much of the England white ball crew either. That means ignore the 2019 league positions and look at who will actually be playing. Are Hampshire a credible force without Vince, Dawson, Edwards and Abbott?

This is a great opportunity for the 200-250th best cricketers in England & Wales to get a run of five games. Let’s see how many of them can translate second XI success to First Class.

I’d normally end with a proper conclusion- but without analysing the squads that would be a mistake. Will save that for next time- once the teams announce their squads, I can pull in the ratings from my database to see who is best on paper.

For now- my hunch is that the Central group is the best one to be in. Can’t wait to run the numbers on Gloucestershire, Northamptonshire and Somerset and see who is best placed.

Preview: England vs Ireland Test Match

Hot on the heels of the 10 team World Cup, Ireland get a chance to prove they deserve a place at the table by giving England a scare in a Test Match.

I’ll admit, apart from the bigger names, I’m not all that familiar with the Ireland team. What does the Cricinfo preview say?

Nothing yet. I imagine that feed is automated and thrown by the lack of data.

How to appraise the Irish players who don’t have a Test track record yet? Will try two methods, and clumsily fuse them together to give a sense of how this Test might go. Firstly, there have been plenty of ODIs between Ireland and the World Cup teams. Secondly, most of the Irish players have some County experience. Many players have only played a handful of ODIs against the best teams, or county matches, so will take a weighted average of the two formats.

Now this is not a serious piece of work – it’s a one hour attempt to have some sense of what will happen in a one-off four day Test match. Hopefully it’s good enough for those purposes.

If these two squads competed in Division 1 of the County Championship in 2019, this is how I think they would fare:

Ireland squad for the Test vs England, 24th July 2019. Player descriptions are from Cricinfo.

Ireland have very little batting. This team would surely be the one to go down if they were playing in Division One. Note how Balbirnie and Stirling come out as the strongest batsmen – which wasn’t what I expected. I’d thought Porterfield / O’Brien / Wilson were the best they had. Good to know.

The middle overs should be a good time to bat for England. Beyond Murtagh and Rankin, Ireland will need to find 50 overs from the other bowlers. Might be some tough and wicketless spells, and a tough call for Porterfield about whether he can afford to let England pile the runs on before using his best bowlers when the second new ball is due at 80 overs.

If Ireland would average 220 odd playing in Division One, while conceding 360 when bowling, how would England get on?

Pretty much double the runs. Woakes is a better batsman than any of Ireland’s players. England can also call on seven competitive bowlers.

Roy vs Murtagh / Rankin would be a useful indicator of whether Roy can play Red Ball Test Cricket. It’s only one match, but it’s marginally better than a sample of no matches before the Ashes.

Here’s my conclusions:

  • Ireland are 55-1 on Betfair to win the Test. I’ve not run the above through the model, but a <2% chance sounds about right.
  • Before considering Ireland’s Test fixtures, this kind of analysis should be completed so we know what to expect. My personal view is that every effort should be made to give teams like Ireland more ODI matches against the best teams (they average four games per year against the best nine countries). Ireland might be better served playing the weaker Test nations until they have closed the gap with the top eight teams.

I don’t mean to belittle Ireland or come across as someone that’s against the development of Test Cricket – it’s just hard to expect a good contest based on the data.

Further Reading

Showing what a Phyrric victory gaining Test status was, there’s a piece in the Telegraph. It also has biographies of the Ireland team. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/cricket/2019/07/23/irelands-test-status-has-failed-deliver-celebrations-promised/

Preview: RLODC 2019 Semi Final 1

Nottinghamshire vs Somerset 12th May 2019

redballdata.com modelling: Nottinghamshire 51% – Somerset 49%

At first glance Notts look unstoppable: W6 L1 NR1, NRR +0.6. Two days of rest and home advantage.

Their batting is excellent: Hales and Duckett over their careers averaging high 30s at a run a ball mean more often than not a solid platform with runs on the board and wickets in hand for Mullaney, Moores, Fletcher to work with at the end of the innings. During the group stages scored over 400 twice in seven innings (Somerset’s highest is 358).

However – Somerset’s strength is their bowling – specifically taking wickets.

This makes for a rather unusual range of first innings scores if Notts bat first. Remember that Trent Bridge is a high scoring ground.

Fig 1: Notts projected runs.

Notts are just as likely to score 201-225 as they are 426-450! Such an even distribution is very rare. Nottinghamshire have a roughly 1500-1 chance of breaking the List A world record of 496.

Compare that to the more steady Somerset. Ali, Hildreth, Abell are dependable but not explosive batsmen. Batting deep means they can dig themselves out of trouble and find their way to a total. Thus Somerset have a 66% chance of scoring in the range 276-375.

Fig 2: Somerset projected runs

These are two evenly matched teams.

If you want an even contest that bubbles up over time, hope that Somerset bat first – they will get a reasonable score. Personally, I’d like to see Notts bat first because *cliche* anything could happen. Yes, I appreciate that means a good chance of a low score that Somerset fly past, or a high score that the visitors will get nowhere near.

West Indies vs England: Preview

West Indies can beat England against the odds, but they’ll need their pace bowlers to perform.

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The blueprint – Bridgetown 2015. 1-0 down in the series, with a first innings deficit of 68, the West Indies were about to be batted out of the Test. Hearing a wicket fall, a reveller in the Party Stand asked “Was that Trott or Cook?” and was baffled to learn that it was in fact Root, and England were 28-4. The new ball had done the damage, and by the time 20 overs had been bowled it was 39-5 and the game was back in the balance.

West Indies were eventually set 192. Darren Bravo marshalled the batsmen to the target with five wickets in hand. The hosts had accrued only three scores over 30 in the Test, but somehow pulled off an unlikely victory, and drawn the series 1-1.

****

With that surprise firmly in mind, let’s make some informed predictions for the upcoming series.

1) One spinner is the right choice. This decade the average is 32 for spinners, 26 for pace bowlers. It may be that pitches are turning more than they used to, and it’s true that spinners get 37% of wickets in the Caribbean, but this turn hasn’t delivered cheaper wickets. That said, if a team can reliably judge a pitch as more spin friendly than the average West Indian pitch, then they should go with two spinners – selectors just need to be sure there will be more in the pitch for spinners than quicks before making that decision.

2) West Indies’ best chance will come if their fast bowlers can keep England under 225 in one innings. Turning pitches or not, the West Indies have no elite spinners. If they are going to win this series it will be through devastating fast bowling.

They are unlikely to amass buckets of runs – so Holder’s bowling unit needs to neutralise England’s batting. Specifically, if England score fewer than 225 in one innings, that sets up a target within the range of the West Indian batting.

****

Taking all factors into account, modelling suggests the probabilities for the first test are: 24% WI. 7% Draw. 69% Eng.

That translates to a one-in-three chance of England managing back to back whitewashes away from home. The last time England achieved that? 1889.

West Indies will probably lose: their batting and spin bowling is inferior to England’s. But if we’ve learned anything from the 2015 series, it’s that home advantage is real, and the new ball could do some serious damage, leaving mystified England supporters to ask “was that Burns or Jennings?” as Stokes returns to the pavilion.

England’s current Test batting, in the context of the last 20 years

In this post I consider the evolution of England’s batting – how it steadily improved through the 2000s, peaked in 2010-11 (as England became World Number 1), tailed off from 2013, and is only recently recovering.

The Data

I took the career averages of the top 7 batsmen for each England Test since 2000, and adjusted them for the age of the batsmen (I’ll cover how I do that in a later post). To eliminate artificially low results, Nightwatchmen are excluded. Where someone only played a few Tests, I made a judgement about what their long term average would have been had they played more Tests.

To bring out the trend, the chart above is smoothed with a moving average of the last five Tests.

Evolution: 2000 to 2019

Weakest Team: 29th June 2000, vs West Indies (Home) – Age adjusted Average 218

Atherton, Ramprakash, Vaughan, Hick, Stewart, Knight, White

If you don’t want to remember how bad England used to be, I suggest you skip to the next paragraph. Don’t worry, we’ll be talking about 2005 soon enough.

Let’s reel off why this team was the weakest this century: England had no batsmen in the top 10. Over five tests the highest total England could manage was 303. Only Trescothick and Atherton averaged over 29. Ramprakash and Hick never settled at Test level. By 2000 Hick was 34 and Stewart was 35. The weakest link was White – averaging 25 in 30 Tests is not enough for a number 7. The need for “the next Botham” was real.

That England won that series 3-1 was down to Cork, Gough, Caddick and White dominating with the ball rather than England imposing themselves with the bat.

England vs West Indies in 2000 marked a watershed for West Indies cricket: this was their first series defeat in England since 1969. Their record in Tests in England since is W1 D2 L13. England were on the up.

2005 Ashes Winners – Age adjusted Average 268

Trescothick, Strauss, Vaughan, Bell, Pietersen, Flintoff, Jones.

That’s more like it. Five of the fifteen England batsmen in the modern era to average over 40. This was a good batting side (rather than a great one), with room for improvement at 6 and 7. Flintoff was a proper all-rounder – a luxury England had not had for a long time. He was an all-rounder with a career batting average of 32 however. Geriant Jones was carried that summer, averaging 25 (in line with his career average of 24).

Strongest Team: 26th December 2010, vs Australia (Away) – Total Average 305

Strauss, Cook, Trott, Pietersen, Collingwood, Bell, Prior

It’s too soon for many to realise just how good this team was: World no.1 from August 2011 to August 2012, with a strong enough four man bowling attack to confidently play six specialist batsmen.

In the 2010-11 Ashes series six of the top 7 averaged over 40; they accrued nine hundreds in only five tests.

But the side was aging: Collingwood 34, Strauss 33, Pietersen 30. The eldest (Strauss & the retiring Collingwood) needed to be replaced in 2011. As it was, Strauss stayed on for 18 tests, but would pass 100 only twice more, averaging 31 after the 2010/11 Ashes.

After a decade of continuous improvement the team had peaked. They remarkably managed to have a top 7 who all had career averages over 40. These are hard to replace: a Test team are doing well if they can unearth someone every other year who can average 40.

What happened next?

As players retired they were, predictably, hard to replace. England were also unlucky in that Pietersen and Trott didn’t go on to play full careers with England.

By March 2014 England’s ICC Test Rating had slumped to 100: they went from best in the world to average in 38 months. In May 2014 they lost a home series against Sri Lanka. Some stars (Cook and Root), some young players being played too early to succeed (Ali and Buttler) and Bell had gone on a bit too long.

Current Team: 23rd Jan 2019, vs West Indies (Away) – Expected Average 268

Jennings, Burns, Bairstow, Root, Stokes, Buttler, Foakes

Not bad, probably the best selections that could have made, and should be too strong for the West Indies.

It’s important to see this side for what it is: lacking in stars, yet well balanced with three all-rounders. With Ali bolstering the batting at 8, this team are likely to continue the trend of winning at home but losing away against the top 6.

Verifying the Data

To check this model (age adjusted batting average) against reality, I compared this to the ICC rankings. The correlation is clear. Worth noting that since the Age adjusted Batting Average is smoothed using a 5 point moving average, there is a time lag in the orange curve. This correlation is surprising as the ability of the top 7 batsmen makes up less than half of the strength of a team (the remainder being bowling ability and tail batting strength).

Conclusion: England 2019 are at about the level of the 2005 Ashes side, by having no weak links rather than being packed with world-beating batsmen.

Using CricViz False Shot % as an alternative to Averages

CricViz now use False Shot Percentages as a metric for assessing batsmen. Most recently they have done this as one factor when considering Australia’s options for the Sri Lanka tour.

A key point is that False Shots and averages are not equivalents – if a two batsman both have a 10% False Shot rate, the more attacking batsman will average more because they will score more runs for each error they make. One has to combine False Shot Rate and Strike Rate to get a useful metric.

As such, I’ve used the data CricViz published, and overlaid that with First Class Strike Rates to give an expected average derived from False Shot %

The chart shows that Maxwell leads the options (due to his Strike Rate of >70 runs per hundred balls, combined with a healthy 10.4% False Shot rate. This is interesting because his 3 year Sheffield Shield average was only 43. Worth bearing in mind he isn’t a Red Ball regular, with only 962 runs in the last 3 years.

Handscomb (real world average 50, False Shot average 57) can feel hard-done-by to have missed out on selection. He averages 38 in Tests, it looks an odd choice.

There is evidence that Pucovski is as good as the hype – CricViz’s data suggesting that not only has he performed well (FC Average 49 after 8 games), but that it isn’t a fluke (v.low False Shots implying he may have been unlucky to average only 49 in those 8 matches). Still, it’s a small sample size.

Conclusions: False Shots combined with Strike Rate are a potentially useful tool in predicting player averages when limited data is available (such as young players). However, more evidence is required of long term correlations before False Shot % and Strike Rate replaces averages.