Tag Archive | India v England

Batting statistics adjusted for fielding mistakes

As Karun Nair surged to a triple-hundred in his third Test innings, commentators dared the Indian selectors to drop the young batsmen for the next Test, when the three more senior players, whose injuries had opened the way for his debut, will have returned to fitness. That’s a recurring selection dilemma – form versus seniority; promise against proven ability. Nair’s situation raises another dilemma, one that I find even more interesting, but suspect selectors do not.

Measurement of the impact of fielders has become topical. It has found official recognition in Cricket Australia’s publication of a fielding index. To appreciate the broader scope of the subject and its potential there’s no better source than Jarrod Kimber’s ESPNCricinfo post, Why doesn’t cricket have proper metrics for fielding?

Now that fielding performance is being subjected to more intense analytical scrutiny, it follows that its impact on batting and bowling performance also needs to be understood. This post presents some options for adjusting batting statistics to take account of certain aspects of fielding performance, drawing on data collected from the India v England series and reported in the Declaration Game post, A series of missed opportunities.

The end of series batting tables showed the dominance of Virat Kohli, the impact of Nair’s mammoth innings and the continuing prolific run-scoring of Root, Pujara, Bairstow and Vijay. But in a series of 49 dropped catches and missed stumpings, how dependent were the batsmen on the competence of the fielders? I have assessed the impact of missed chances on the output of the 18 players who scored more than 100 runs across the series.

42 missed chances were distributed across these 18 batsmen. No distinction is made between chances of different levels of difficulty. All chances that went to hand (or body), or flew between fielders stationed close together are counted, but not those that looped just out of reach or through areas where one might have expected captains to have placed fielders. Also excluded are missed run outs and missed opportunities relating to umpiring decisions or to the operation of the Decision Review System. 

The bar to the far right of the chart represents Alastair Cook who benefited from the highest number of misses: six; Ben Stokes is one place to his left. 

dropped-catches-page-001

More interesting than a count of drops is how the missed chances impacted on batting performance. A measure of this is the number of runs scored, had each of the innings ended when the batsman gave their first chance. The full height of the column in the graph below shows the total number of runs scored by the player in the series. The filled blue part of the column shows the number of ‘chanceless’ runs accumulated by each batsman; runs scored after a missed chance are depicted by an unfilled (white) area.

chanceless-runs-page-001

On this measure, Root supplants Kohli as the most prolific batsman in the series, with the Indian captain falling to third place behind Pujara. Nair and Jennings have the highest proportion of their runs bitten off by this metric. At the other extreme, Rahul and Patel were unaffected having not benefited from any missed chances.

With four comfortable victories, India’s batsmen had fewer innings than England’s. Standardisation can be achieved by converting the measure into a batting average – the ‘chanceless’ average – by dividing by the number of dismissals.

adjusted-avg-1-page-001

Patel, Kohli and Rahul are the three players who maintain ‘chanceless’ averages (orange columns) above 50. Kohli’s average when only chanceless runs are counted falls 43%. But it is Nair with the steepest drop from a conventional average of 160 to just 17.

By including only the runs scored before giving the first chance of an innings, this measure has the drawback of giving no credit for runs that played a part in the match result. I have calculated a second alternative measure of batting performance: the batting average per chance (orange columns). Total runs scored are divided by dismissals plus missed chances.

adjusted-avg-2-page-001

Kohli, the dominant figure of the series with the bat, returns to the top of the list, followed by Patel. Nair, showing how he made England pay for their errors in the 5th Test, rises to third-place. Cook is near the bottom of the list, having managed just 23 runs per chance.

Adjusting measures of batting performance in this way offers some insights: it shows how certain players’ success relied upon the opposition making fielding errors, while others enjoyed no good fortune of that kind at all, and some failed to capitalise on the good luck that came their way. In this series, there is also a pronounced levelling out of individual batting performance when chances given are taken into account. The range for batting average of the players in this sample fell from a factor of 11 separating top from bottom with conventional batting average, to eight using the chanceless batting average. This type of analysis may, with a far larger sample, start to factor out elements of luck in batting performance measures. 

A single Test match series does provide far too small a sample for drawing statistically robust conclusions. Yet, it is exactly the sample most pressing on the attentions of international team selectors, particularly when assessing the contribution of players new to the Test arena. My contention is that selectors and other observers are better served by a batting measure that attempts to control for the varied dose of luck experienced by players than the conventional and crude batting average. 

 

 

A series of missed opportunities: India v England 2016

Rashid drops Kohli in the 2nd Test

Rashid drops Kohli in the 2nd Test

In the Test match in Mumbai, there was a lot said about the fact we played four seamers and two spinners… [but] if we’d caught our catches, we wouldn’t have been talking about our combination; we’d have been talking about how we probably had a chance of winning a game of Test cricket. But consistently, we’ve missed chances – and you can’t afford to do that against the best teams in their home conditions.”

Paul Farbrace – Assistant Coach (speaking after 5th Test at Chennai)

The focus on England’s dropped catches in the series in India is understandable given that, in four of the five Tests, one or more of India’s first innings century makers was dropped early in their innings. Vijay, Kohli (twice), Jayant Yadav, Karun Nair accumulated a combined 649 runs from five innings after an initial escape. England committed seven drops in those five innings and a further eleven across the whole series. Understandable but, in the round, is it justified?

Using ESPNcricinfo’s ball-by-ball commentary, I have recorded each chance of a catch given during the series. I have included any chances that went to hand (or body) and those described as passing between two adjacent fielders. Excluded are balls that looped out of reach, or fell short of, fielders making reasonable attempts, as well as those that passed where one might have expected there to be a fielder, but there was not.

The raw results are shown in the table below. India committed 26 drops compared to England’s 18 and converted a lower proportion of chances into catches.

Chances Catches Catch %
Ind 76 50 66%
Eng 65 47 72%

In October 2016, Charles Davis published in The Cricket Monthly a summary of the results of his analysis of almost 15 years of fielding errors in Tests – Tracking the Misses. Courtesy of Davis, it is possible to put into context the numbers from the India v England series (NB Davis included stumpings in his data, which I have not).

Davis found around 25% of opportunities were missed in the field – an average of seven per Test match. In this series, 31% were missed – 8.8 per Test. Both sides under-performed their recent record: England 24.8%; India 27.2%. This comparison does support the view that fielding errors were a feature of the series. But is it simply losers’ regret that has the England team pointing at missed opportunities? They did, after all out-perform India in terms of the proportion of catches taken.

England, as hinted at above with the roll call of India’s century makers who were dropped, bore a higher average cost for the chances they missed. The mean number of runs scored by an Indian batsman after a drop was 44 (median 22). The equivalent figure for England was 28 (median 21) [footnote 1].

The contrast is most acute when looking at the two captains. Cook was dropped six times (the most of any player) but only added 134 runs. Kohli made 282 runs after the three misses he benefited from.

The two captains were also the most frequent offenders. Cook shelled four of his seven chances; Kohli could not hang onto five of his ten catches.

This analysis supports the conclusion that England, had they taken their opportunities, would have shifted somewhat the balance of the series. However, I believe there are associated conclusions that are probably more profound about the cricket England and India played.

India’s ability to limit the damage of their fielding errors was a great strength: their bowlers were able to continue to create opportunities. England’s bowlers, on the other hand, lacked the penetration to keep their opponents under the kind of pressure that would, sooner rather than later, lead to another wicket-taking opportunity. Moreover, England were significantly more reliant on their fielders for taking wickets. 72% of the wickets taken by England in the series were catches. India’s equivalent figure was almost twenty percentage points lower (53%). Ashwin and Jadeja, in particular, threatened the England batsmen’s stumps to an extent unmatched by the England attack.

The argument that England’s fortunes were hampered by their inability to take the catching chances that came their way obscures the greater insight that England were over-reliant on snatching any opportunities falling to their fielders because they were unable to trouble India’s batsmen often enough and in a sufficient variety of ways.

————

Footnote 1 – in calculating the number of runs scored by a batsman after a drop, I have subtracted the score when dropped from either their innings end score, or in the case of batsmen dropped more than once in a single innings, from the their score when they were dropped again.

 

Impregnable India

Image: India Meteorological Dept

Image: India Meteorological Dept

Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell wore down the Indian bowling in a partnership lasting nearly 80 overs on days four and five of the final Test at Nagpur in December 2012. The Warwickshire pair’s efforts were instrumental in defending England’s 2-1 series lead, recognised at the time as a great achievement and one that has not diminished since. Not only was it the last time India have lost a home series, but the Nagpur Test was the last time India have failed to win a home Test (other than a match reduced to less than two days play).

Since England’s visit, India have won 12 of the 13 Tests they have hosted. During this time, India have:

  • never conceded a first innings deficit. India’s average first innings lead has been 157.
  • won five games in less than three days play. Matches have lasted an average of 316 overs.
  • won four matches while losing ten or fewer wickets. On average India have lost 14 wickets per victory.
  • dismissed the opposition for under 200 thirteen times. They have conceded 300 or more only twice.
  • recorded 14 individual hundreds and conceded just one (Michael Clarke).
  • taken 19 individual innings hauls of five or more wickets and been on the other end of seven.

Home advantage has rarely been as telling in Test cricket as in the 2010s. But none of the other highly ranked Test nations have a home record as compelling as India’s since 2013:

  • Australia: won 12, drawn 4, lost 0
  • England: won 16, drawn 5, lost 7
  • South Africa: won 11, drawn 4, lost 4
  • Pakistan (in UAE): won 9, drawn 3, lost 4
  • Sri Lanka: won 10, drawn 2, lost 5

India’s record as a host is even stronger than those of the West Indies in the 1980s and Australia in the 2000s – albeit over a shorter period than the peaks of these two dominant sides of recent years.

The source of that supremacy is rapidly apparent from a tabulation of aggregate bowling figures. India’s spin bowlers have taken almost twice the wickets at less than half the average and more than one run per over more economically than their opposition. The home team’s pace bowlers are also more effective.

Bowling Wickets Average Economy Strike rate
Spin India 191 18.20 2.46 44.3
opposition 97 37.79 3.56 63.6
Pace India 51 29.00 2.81 61.9
opposition 68 40.37 3.02 80.2

Five spinners have played for India in these series, but two players dominate: Ravi Ashwin (99 wickets at 16.56) and Ravindra Jadeja (61 wickets at 16.47).

Looked at from the perspective of the batting (top 7 in the order) this picture, of course, persists: almost twice the batting average at a scoring rate faster by 25%. Che Pujara (1124 at 62.44), Murali Vijay (895 at 42.61) and Virat Kohli (853 at 44.89) are the heaviest scorers. Ashwin and Jadeja have each contributed over 300 runs as well.

Batting (top 7) Runs Average Strike rate 100s 50s
India 5632 45.41 55.6 14 21
Opposition 4053 23.70 43.0 1 20

To understand the causes of this run of home dominance it needs first to be acknowledged that it has come at the expense of four countries for whom the sub-continent conditions are particularly challenging: West Indies, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. It is seven years since India hosted any of its neighbouring Asian nations for a Test series – Sri Lanka in 2009/10. Pakistan last visited nine years ago and Bangladesh, of course, have not yet had the honour.

Yet, India is no longer an exotic final frontier for the cricketers of non-Asian countries. There is now an annual migration in April. The format (T20) is different, but the climate, the pitches and the players are all made familiar. It has not, though, carried through into Test performances in the country. AB de Villiers (258 at 36.85), David Warner (195 at 24.37), Kane Williamson (135 at 33.75), Shane Watson (99 at 16) and Chris Gayle (100 at 25) are some of the highest profile IPL contract-holders who have under-achieved at batsmen in Tests in India since 2012.

India’s method of success, more often than not in this period, has been to choke their visitors on dry, dusty pitches favourable to spin bowlers. Slow bowling, the country’s traditional strength, has brought it unprecedented home success recently. To appreciate the change that has occurred, it is helpful to revisit where this post began – at Nagpur in December 2012. There, on a slow, dead pitch that grew gradually more worn over the five days, England secured a draw and the series victory. Three years later, South Africa played on the same ground. The match was over on the third day; 33 of the 40 wickets to fall were to spinners. India bowled only 17 overs of pace, without picking up a wicket.

The majority of pitches prepared for Tests in the period under review have been amenable to spin from the first day. In the case of Nagpur, a hot and dry location, this has produced far more compelling Test cricket than the alternative, were the pitch allowed to develop its flat, unyielding and slow character that England batted on for longer than the 2015 South Africa Test lasted. (Note 1)

Looking ahead to the England series, the local climate can be expected to deliver arid conditions for the first, third and fourth Tests (although October was wetter than normal in Gujarat, the state hosting the first Test). The visitors may prefer the option of a dead pitch on which they can dig in and force a draw, particularly for the first Test. It would be understandable and preferable from the neutral’s standpoint if the pitch preparation led to Ashwin taking the new ball and igniting puffs of dust early in the game. Rajkot, Mohali and Mumbai all appear to have the dry and hot weather that readily creates pitches on which this Indian team has been impregnable.

Average monthly rainfall
Test City Date Oct rain Oct days of rain Nov rain Nov days of rain Dec rain Dec days of rain
1 Rajkot 9-13 Nov 19 mm 1 6 mm 1
2 Visak’nam 17-21 Nov 258 mm 8 115 mm 3
3 Mohali 26-30 Nov n/k 0 n/k 1
4 Mumbai 8-12 Dec 56 mm 3 17 mm 1 5 mm 1
5 Chennai 16-20 Dec 279 mm 11 407 mm 12 191 mm 6
Source: http://www.imd.gov.in/

But the Indian sub-continent encompasses a wide range of climatic types. Average monthly rainfall in Visakhapatnam (2nd Test) and Chennai (5th Test) in the build-up to, and during their matches, is significantly greater than the summer rainfall in the damp north-west of England. The pitches, barring sustained and significant effort from the ground staff, will inevitably be moister and more friendly to seam bowling at those grounds (assuming the weather is in line with norms). We will get a feel for the extent to which the groundsmen in the country are willing, or required, to bend nature to the demands of India’s continued impregnability when the series reaches these two centres.

Test cricket benefits from a strong and interested Indian Test team. The sport also gains from fast-moving, exciting matches. I hope, though, that the pitches played on in this and future series reflect the diversity of India’s environment. And, even if England cannot breach India’s impregnability, stiffer challenges may come in the next 15 months with planned visits from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Note 1: Thank you to Nakul Pande for this observation, via Twitter, about Nagpur 2012 v Nagpur 2015.

 

Quick single: Early lead

There’s much to be commended in going out and celebrating your team’s victory. Soak up the success; prolong the elevated mood by reconstructing the achievement, bouncing favourite moments off fellow fans.

At home, not quite alone, I am looking forward, as much as backwards. Like the anxious, partisan football fan, who sees his side take an early lead, I think, “No. Too soon. So much time for that other team to mount a come back.” There’s basic psychology at work: a lead means there is something to be lost. Being defeated, without ever being ahead, doesn’t have the discomfort of dashed hopes, the humiliation of squandering an advantage – particularly when, before the contest began, as is the case with England in this Ashes series, I held very slender hopes.

I wanted England to compete, to push the Australians. I hoped this summer that a new bowler of international class would emerge, and two of England’s fresh batsmen would solidify their places. I wanted Cook’s captaincy to be resolved (by which I mean, ended).

Now, though, a vista of opportunity has opened up. But the broader the vista, the deeper the holes into which we can fall. All because of this early lead.

What really complicates things for me is England’s new positive approach to, in particular, batting. Clinging to a one-nil lead throughout a five Test series is not feasible. It used to be. India achieved it in 1982/83 over a six match series: wrangling a first Test victory on a poor pitch and holding out for draws for the rest of the series on pitches where “conditions were so heavily weighted in favour of the bat” (Wisden, 1983). This series will have at least two more results.

I would like England to bat conscious of their lead. I want to see consolidation and conservation applied to their innings. I want context to be recognised and respected.

At the moment, the England middle-order (and one of the openers) seems to believe that attack is the answer to each and every challenge. It worked at Lord’s against New Zealand, and again in both innings at Cardiff.

And it did a thrilling job in the ODI series with New Zealand. But playing without fear isn’t a tactical choice, but a necessity, when it becomes obvious that scoring at seven runs per over is what’s needed to win the game. That’s not the case in Test cricket. While England have found success from playing audaciously on a few occasions, on others they will not.

So far, they have benefited from surprise. If it becomes the default response to the loss of a few early wickets, the Australians will be ready for it and England will show all the calculation of the gambler who doubles his stakes after every loss. England have also been lucky, notably at Cardiff. Root played and missed, edged and squirted the ball past the close catchers. Bell, excluded from the ODI jamboree, appeared determined to show he belonged. His innings featured his classy off-drives – none of which we would have appreciated had any one of his early shots that looped past fielders fallen to hand.

To win a five Test series, a team needs to master a variety of tempos. As a batting line-up, England seem enthralled by a pacey approach, that will soon speed them to defeat, if not used selectively. That’s what I believe – just as I believed in 2005 that Vaughan was reckless and should consolidate gains in that famous Ashes series. My approach to Test cricket was stuck in the past then and maybe similarly out of date now. There’s only one thing for it: can someone take me out to celebrate?

Falling short of 200, again and again

two hundred178 152 161 148 94

If Indian cricket fans needed a 24 hour telephone help-line, this could be the number. It’s the sequence of five innings scores that saw the optimism of leading the series after Lord’s get swung and spun into humiliating defeat.

Five consecutive sub-200 run completed innings in Test cricket is a rarity. It’s 55 years since India’s only ever previous sequence of this kind – also in an away series against England. In 1959, they faced Trueman and Statham. But just as in 2014 it wasn’t always Anderson and Broad who took the wickets, so Tommy Greenhough (a Lancashire leg-spinner), Harold Rhodes and Brian Close prospered in that earlier series.

Scoring fewer than 200 runs in a completed innings is itself not unusual. There have been 1,478 instances in the 2,137 Test matches played to date. 28% of all completed innings fail to top 200. What is rare, in Test history, is the run of these run-shy innings.

The longest sequence suffered by a Test team stretches over 11 Test matches and four years. From July 1886 to August 1890, Australia were dismissed by England 21 times in succession for scores as low as 42, but never higher than 176. Every match, but one, was lost. In July 1888, scores of 116 and 60 by Australia were sufficient for a victory at Lord’s with the comfortable margin of 60 runs.

The late 1880s were a period of exceptional low scoring in Test cricket. In four of the Tests that feature in Australia’s skid, England set their own record of eight consecutive innings without making 200, while winning three of the matches.

South Africa own the equal second longest streak of this kind, which began in the late 1880s and continued until the second half of the next decade. These were the African colony’s first six Test matches, all played at home against England and lost.

Bangladesh have also endured a run of 12 innings of sub-200 scores. It started 13 months after their Test debut, when they had not only topped 200 but reached 400. Dizzy heights. Across seven Tests, in four countries on three continents, Bangladesh went from December 2001 until October 2002 making 12 scores between 108 and 184.

The West Indies were another side to find 200 too steep for a period of their early days in Test match cricket. In their first series away in Australia in 1931, the West Indies had six consecutive sub-200 scores. They broke that sequence at Sydney in February 1931 with their first victory away from home, losing only 11 wickets in the match.

Two other Test teams have had runs of six completed innings below 200. New Zealand in England in 1958 didn’t even make it to three figures four times out of the six innings. Australia in 1979, rebuilding without most of their established stars who were playing World Series Cricket, finished the Ashes with five scores below 200 and started a series away in Pakistan with a sixth.

Then one notch down comes the India team of 2014. Not a nation at the outset of its Test career; not battling in tense encounters on uncovered nineteenth century pitches; not deprived of its finest players by defection or selection.

India’s streak is alive, although its prognosis is poor. Their next Test match starts on 31 October at the Hyderabad (Deccan) ground [note 1], where India’s lowest completed innings score in three Tests is 438. The opponents are the West Indies who conceded 453 and 495 in India’s two innings in Tendulkar’s farewell series last autumn. It will take something truly wretched for the India team of 2014 to go one step further and become holders of the joint fourth longest streak of sub-200 Test match innings scores.

Note 1: India did not play their next Test in October, because of the abandonment of the West Indies series owing to the tourists’ dispute with their Board. The start of India’s next series, in Australia, was delayed for compassionate reasons. Their opportunity to end this streak will take place at Adelaide, where India have only once been dismissed for less than 200. Their most recent innings at Adelaide (January 2012), however, only amounted to 201.

(updated 7 December 2014)

The best is the enemy of the very good Bell

One of my favourite sights in cricket is Ian Bell rising to his toes, even airborne, as he glides a lifting delivery outside his off-stump through point for four. The shot appears to be no more than a push; its outcome is a ball racing past a cover point who has barely begun to adjust his position. It’s not one of the classic canon of off-side strokes – front, back foot drive, square or late cut – but a fusion that in foot movement, head and hand position remains splendidly orthodox. It’s a sharp riposte to the bowler who had delivered a potentially wicket-taking, lifting delivery outside off-stump with slips and gulley primed. Above all it’s a kinetic burst from simple, easeful movement.

At Manchester in 2006, I was in the crowd that saw Pietersen edge to slip in the first over of the second day. Collingwood and Cook ground away until afternoon when Bell brought the entertainment with a thrilling display of the shot that is even more commonly associated with him: the off drive. The bell drivePakistani pace bowlers, seeking movement, bowled full. Bell stepped forward and with a crisp, truncated swing drilled half-volleys wide of mid-off. As he became more comfortable, he moved into good length balls with an intent that gave the bowlers hope of misjudgement, but as their hands raised he met the ball with a bat pitched perfectly to redirect the ball down and fast out and through the covers or straight.

At Lord’s in 2008 I had plenty of time to appreciate Bell’s batsmanship, watching him build a lengthy innings against South Africa. His partner in a stand of nearly 300, Pietersen, was taken aback by the range of his stroke-play from the start of his innings, from a point when England had lost three quick wickets. Into the evening session of day two, after eight hours, Bell lost his fluency. I left for an appointment while he was struggling to make headway through the 190s and heard the groan of the crowd from the St John’s Wood Road when he made a dash for his double-ton and fell caught and bowled. That evening, I walked into the pub where Bell, red-faced and proud, relaxed with a group of friends and team-mates.

Failing to convert a double-ton isn’t the strongest basis for criticism of a batsman. But Bell’s sudden impotence near the end of that day seems all of a piece with other petrifications and panics in his career. He suffered a pair at the Oval in 2005, when the proud efforts of the England team that summer were on the line. While Bell prodded from his crease and edged to slip in the second innings, Pietersen counter-attacked and led England to the draw they sought. Most recently, Bell’s charge at his first ball of the series in India to be caught at mid-off cemented doubts about his ability on turning pitches and more importantly provided evidence that he was conscious of this critique.

Nine of Bell’s 13 test hundreds have come in innings where a teammate has made a ton. Of his four stand-alone centuries, two were against Bangladesh and one in an innings with four half-centuries. The slight against Bell, implied in these numbers and stated outright by many, is that he is not the player for a tight situation – he doesn’t perform ‘in the clutch’.

Cape Town in January 2010 was supposed to be the occasion when Bell showed he could tough it out. For the second time in the series, England had to bat out more than a day to draw. Bell came in fifth down around half-way to England’s destination. He hung on for 68 overs and England clung on nine wickets down. But unlike other celebrated rear-guards – Collingwood at Centurion a month earlier and Atherton at Johannesburg in 1994 – Bell wasn’t there at the end. He fell three overs from the close, giving the tenth wicket pair, Swann and Onions, the task of seeing England to safety.

Bell’s international future was foretold in his teens. Indeed, he was still a teenager when called up as a replacement for England’s 2001/02 tour of New Zealand, although his debut waited another two years. His well anticipated excellence and pristine technique provide a template that has never quite coincided with his batting achievement. And then there’s the chap at number four (or in the 2005 Ashes, five, a place behind Bell). Pietersen the warrior batsman, taking on the world, including his own dressing room, scoring runs when they most matter, in the most eye-catching fashion. The enemy of our appreciation of Ian Bell, is the batsman we think he might have been and a batsman who is so different to him.

Questioning of Bell’s place in the Test team waxed again during England’s recent tour of India. Before the first test there were, quite reasonably, queries whether a player scheduled to miss the second test for paternity leave should be picked for the opening match. Either side of that return home, Bell had three cheap dismissals, including the self-inflected first baller at Ahmedabad. He coaxed England home to a small target in Kolkata before the lamest of dismissals pushing at Chawla the leg-spinner at Nagpur. But in the second innings, his partnership with Trott took England from a vulnerable 90-3 with one day and several hours left in the game to 302-4 with less than half a day to go. Bell remained not out with six hours 42 minutes of careful batting.

Bell’s century at Nagpur was crucial for the match and England’s series victory, but I do not believe it was a turning point for the player. I have reconciled myself to Bell as a very good international (Test and ODI) batsman. I believe he has peaked, or reached the plateau of his level of accomplishment. He’s a pleasure to watch and regularly capitalises on favourable situations from the late middle-order. I don’t expect him to dominate a major series or change the flow of too many contests and I know from time-to-time he’ll be flakey when what the team needs is grit. He would get a place at number five in almost all of the England teams I have watched in the last three decades. Bell is really very good, and that’s good enough.

There is an intriguing possibility that could, however, demand a thorough re-evaluation of Bell’s contribution. My recall of the situation is poor, but a few years ago Bell was captain of either Warwickshire or the England Lions, or possibly both. A cricket correspondent (not sure who) reported that Bell had led his team in the field and throughout the match in the most imaginative way – and successfully – quite at odds with England’s drilled approach. I am not sure where Bell currently is in the England captaincy succession. Alastair Cook, Bell’s junior, has begun his captaincy with notable success. Joe Root has been given princely duties as Lions Captain. But Andrew Strauss was never England’s first choice captain. It was events that had him elevated. Allying Bell’s batting record with a leadership role, however unlikely the latter, would make him bullet proof.

So I am comfortable with the Ian Bell of now having a continuing role in the England side. I think that’s the trick to enjoying his contribution and not being seduced by notions of what he might, but never really could, be. But in settling dean jonesfor this, we open up the possibility that the arrival of a steely middle-order finisher could force the selectors to decide whether the very good Bell is better for the team than a quite different alternative. The Australian selectors made just that kind of decision in 1992 when they stood down a player aged 31 with eleven test centuries and an average of 46. Dean Jones didn’t play Test cricket again.

Barren tours: India v England

A measure of the task facing Alastair Cook in his first major tour as captain is that it is nearly 28 years since England last won a test series in India. That come-from-behind, two-one victory happened five tours ago.

The chart below shows England’s longest sequences of Test tours to particular destinations without victory. A defeat for Cook, or a tied series, would push the current Indian sequence up to equal second place.

Thirty-six years and six tours elapsed between series victories in the West Indies. Spanning the cycle of West Indian ascendancy, dominance and decline, five England captains left without mission accomplished: Denness, Botham, Gower, Gooch and Atherton (twice).

There has been one even longer period between English series victories: 38 years and five tours of Pakistan. That record is put into perspective by a review of the match results – depicted below.

The series in Pakistan and India were relatively short and the hosts did not defeat England with the frequency achieved by West Indies and Australia. Nonetheless, India have dominated England during this recent barren tour period, which is shown by the aggregate batting and bowling data.


England’s most successful batsman in that period was Andrew Strauss (489 runs at 54). Tendulkar, who has played every one of the eleven tests, has 848 runs, averaging 60.

The surprise of the bowling figures – shown below, split by fast and spin bowling – is that India’s seam and swing bowlers have a better average than England’s and are on a par with their own team’s slow bowlers. England’s spin bowlers’ aggregate bowling average and economy rate are respectively 50% and 25% higher than India’s slow bowlers. Anil Kumble is by some margin the most successful bowler in this period, with 56 wickets at 23.6. For England, Andrew Flintoff has the most appearances (8) and wickets (24 ar 30.4).

The series that preceded the barren tours, in 1984/85, was tightly fought. For Mike Gatting, it was the highwater mark of his career as an England batsman, scoring over 500 runs. The teams traded victories in the opening two tests, with the third drawn in damp weather in Calcutta. The fourth test in Chennai was the decisive match. Another England player to experience a personal best was Neil Foster who took twelve wickets in that match. Looking back at the scorecard, with the hindsight of nearly three decades of disappointing results for England in Asia, what surprises is the size of that victory and control England had over the game.

The template for England victories, if two victorious series (Pakistan and Sri Lanka 2000/01) in the intervening years can provide a template, has been dogged batting allied to a bowling attack that seizes rare opportunities created by conditions favourable to swing bowling or incautious batting.

England of 2012 seem capable of that sort of approach in the field, with Anderson and co able to extract any advantage from the new ball. The batting, despite Cook and Trott’s plodding presence, is less reassuring, so poor was the response to very similar challenges in the Pakistan series earlier in the year.

So, after 600 words and four graphics (reputedly worth another 4,000 words) of pessimism for England, I should explain why I am very excited about the series. The lowered expectations, the vacancies in high-profile positions, create opportunities for players to do just as Gatting and Foster did 28 years ago and make a break through. That’s not a purely partisan view either, as those same openings exist in the Indian team as well. Whether or not England manage to end their streak of series without victories over India, I am hopeful this series could be a defining contest for players of the post-Strauss/Tendulkar/Dravid era.