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/

Automatically declaring the third innings when the lead is 300 – Analysis

One of the benefits of twitter is hearing new ideas. Jonas (@cric_analytics) has suggested the third innings should pause when the lead reaches 300, then the fourth innings takes place.

That way, a team that’s winning doesn’t have to pointlessly bat until the lead is over 500, before crushing an inferior opponent. Here’s how Jonas puts it:

I’ve modelled how this would work in practice, with the aim of answering two questions:

  • Does this make the strong team more likely to win? (Probably)
  • Is the game over sooner? (Generally)

Here’s the summary from the single scenario I looked at:

Scenario: West Indies vs England, Bridgetown.

England have batted first and scored 360. West Indies slipped up and were bowled out for 210. We join the action at the lunch on day three. England lead by 150. Two versions of this were modelled: under the existing laws, and temporarily declaring the third innings if they score 150 more.

Let’s see what happens:

  • In 92% of cases England made it to 150 without being bowled out – and so, with a lead of 300, temporarily declared
  • West Indies scored under 300 83% of the time – so the third innings did not need to re-commence
  • When the West Indies scored more than 300, sometimes the game meandered to a bore draw because the West Indies couldn’t confidently declare

Here’s the distribution of match end times depending on which rules apply:

We can see that there’s a big shift towards Day 4 finishes under compulsory declaration at 300 – mainly from the team batting fourth being bowled out for less than 300.

Worth noting the result wasn’t significantly affected by the rules being used. This would be different in other scenarios – such as if there was less time in the game.

Conclusion – This could be very useful in county cricket (where matches are only 4 days long). Suggest more modelling is required (especially scenarios where the odds are shifted from the draw being favourite to a result being favourite). A trial in County Championship Division 2 would be fascinating.

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.

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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.

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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.

Test vs County Cricket Averages

“Coach woulda put me in fourth quarter, we would’ve been state champions. No doubt. No doubt in my mind.”

Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

It’s often assumed that we cannot compare Test and first class batting performances – the old comparing ‘apples to oranges’ conundrum. But if we can quantify the relative values of the different formats, we can compare like with like.

Looking at batting performance of players who’ve played across multiple formats in English* domestic cricket (2016-2018), one can assess the relative difficulty of each tier. My analysis found that it’s 19% harder to bat in Test Cricket than it is in Division 1.

If a player averages 40 in Division 1 – the data says you could expect him to average 31 in Test cricket, 44 in Division 2, and 54 in the 2nd XI.

That tells us that you’d need to consistently average over 55 in Division 2 to average 40 in test cricket – hence so few England players being pulled from those ranks in recent years.

It also means that Hildreth (who I’ve previously thought of as an England option as he averages 41 in Division 1) would be expected to average 32 in Tests, and therefore isn’t the batsman we are looking for.

A few examples of 2016-2018 Division 1 and Test averages:

Note that only Root and Buttler underperformed in Division 1 relative to Test Cricket.

At this point its worth going into the assumptions – professionally I’m always keen to show where the data ends and the judgement begins. The data can tell us performances for each player who crosses tiers. Judgement needs to be applied to appraise that data and turn it into a single factor.

Some options:

  • Jonas (@cric_analytics) has looked at minimum 10 innings in both competitors – the downside of this is that it excludes valid data points. For instance, Ben Stokes scored 226 @ 28.3 in D1 in the last 3 years – 10 runs below his test average. That should count to the total, even if it’s a small sample. Jonas reckoned a 20% gap between Test and County cricket – slightly wider than my data suggests.
  • Include all overlap – the risk is that this is skewed by a few high/low scores from one-test wonders against weak/strong opponents. This gives a mere 2% difference between Test and D1.
  • Overseas players included: this gave an 8% gap between D1 and Test – but playing away from home knocks 10% off batting average, so this is not a fair comparison. To put it another way, Pujara playing for Yorkshire averaged 14, because every game was an away game.
  • I have used relative performance for English players with >4 completed innings in each format, and weighted the overall result according to the lower of the completed innings in each format. For instance, Ben Stokes has played 8 completed D1 innings, but 46 Test innings – so the overall result is weighted with a factor of 8 because of Stokes’ performances, while Dawid Malan played 36 D1, 26 Test innings, so is more useful for this exercise and receives a weighting of 26.

Adjusting for the level individuals are playing at, allows comparison of players in different tiers. In future posts I’ll look at some implications of this data:

  1. 2nd XI players with the potential to be First Class batsmen
  2. England’s best available batsmen
  3. Overseas players: who has & hasn’t succeeded – will look at any trends in the data.
  4. It’ll take more number crunching, but I’m interested in linking First Class / List A performance- to see how well correlated they are, and use that to gauge quality of players for which limited data is available (there are a lot of players with a handful of FC games behind them – too few completed innings to fairly appraise them

*I know it’s English and Welsh. Sorry Glamorgan. There isn’t an easy word for English and Welsh, so I’ll use English as shorthand for English and Welsh.