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In Numbers: The Dramatic Decline of England’s Test Batting

Nikhil Narain |Cricketnext |February 5, 2019, 7:58 AM IST
In Numbers: The Dramatic Decline of England’s Test Batting

England’s capitulation in the West Indies, after heavy defeats in the first two Tests in Barbados and Antigua meant they have lost the Wisden Trophy for the first time in 10 years. While England have completely revolutionized their ODI game and are the dominant side in the format today after an early exit from the World Cup Down Under in 2015, their numbers in Test cricket have dwindled thereafter.

England won 7 of the 13 series in the period between the World Cups (3rd April 2011 – 29th March 2015). They lost 4 and drew 2. Out of the 17 series thereafter, they have won 7, lost 5 and drawn 5. More recently, though they have tasted some success beating South Africa and India at home but have more often than not been at the receiving end – they were annihilated 4-0 in both India and the Ashes in Australia.

England's fall in Test cricket 1

In terms of Test matches, England won 18 and lost 14 of the 44 Tests it played between the World Cups. This meant a win-loss ratio of 1.285 and win+draw percentage of 68.18%.

They have won 25 of the 57 Tests post the 2015 World Cup but have lost an equal number in this period. England have only been able to draw 7 Tests in this period which suggests that they have lost more than they have been able to save post the 2015 World Cup. They have a win-loss ratio of 1 and a win+draw percentage of 56.14%.

While England’s win-loss ratio placed them at Number 3 (behind South Africa and Australia) between the World Cups, they have fallen to Number 5 behind India, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand in the period after.

The main reason for this decline has been the woeful form of their top-order batting.

The Failure of the Top-Order

England’s top-middle order (Number 1-5) had a combined batting average of 41.40 between the World Cups. They scored 41 hundreds and 70 fifties in the 44 Tests they played in this period.

The combined batting average of the Top 5 has dropped to 33.64 in the period after – this is a dramatic fall of 18.74%! England languish behind India (45.15), Australia (44.88), New Zealand (42.73), Pakistan (37.66) and South Africa (36.35) and are barely ahead of Bangladesh (32.31) and Sri Lanka (32.02) – that is how poor England’s top-middle order has been in this time-frame.

Occupation of the crease has been a problem for the English top-middle order. On an average, they have faced 66.17 deliveries per innings in the period after the 2015 World Cup. Just for perspective, the Indian top-5 have faced 79.85 balls per innings, Pakistan (74.49), Australia (74.20), New Zealand (71.63) and South Africa (69.03).

Not Enough Big Runs

Not spending enough time in the middle has meant not enough big runs and partnerships. Not surprising then that the frequency of 100s by England’s top-5 has been the seventh-slowest – 27 hundreds in 530 innings – which translates to a hundred every 19.63 innings.

England's fall in Test cricket 2

What is interesting is the fact that the frequency of 50s for England’s top-5 places them at Number 2 only behind New Zealand. This suggests that while their top-middle order is getting starts it is failing to convert them into significant big scores.

This is evident from the conversion-rate (of 50s to 100s) of England’s top-5. It is the worst amongst all Test playing nations (joint-lowest with Bangladesh).

England's fall in Test cricket 3

Amongst individual batsmen, only one from England – Joe Root – finds a place amongst the top 15 in batting averages (for batting positions 1-5) since World Cup 2015.

Only two – Root and Cook – have an average of above 35 in this period. The average of other English batsmen (in the top 5 positions; minimum 10 Tests) are: Bairstow (31.29), Stokes (29.14), Malan (27.84), Stoneman (27.68), Ballance (27.46), Hales (27.28), Ali (26.62), Jennings (25.86), Bell (25.72) and Vince (24.90).

England are amongst the bottom three in terms of number of players in top-5 averaging below 35 in this period. They are matched by Zimbabwe (2) and are better than only the West Indies (0).

England's fall in Test cricket 4

In terms of frequency of 100-plus partnerships involving the top-5, England, with one such stand every 15.24 innings, ranks at Number 6 behind Australia, India, New Zealand, Pakistan and South Africa.

Lower-Middle Order to the rescue

England’s silver lining in this period has been their lower-middle order. Time and again it has rescued England from precarious positions when their top-order has collapsed.

Now here is a stunning fact. England’s 6-8 have an average of 35.36 – not only is this the maximum amongst all Test teams post World Cup 2015, but it is also higher than the average of England’s top 5 (33.64) in this period! This is how poor England’s top-order has been and how good their lower-order has fared in this period.

England has lost five wickets for less than 150 runs in 48 innings in this time-frame – the maximum for any team. They are followed by West Indies (47 such innings), Sri Lanka (44 innings), South Africa (34), Pakistan (32), India (28), Australia (27) and New Zealand (22).

A classic example of England’s top-order collapse and lower-order rescue was the home series against India in 2018. Although, England beat India 4-1 in the series, their top 5 had a batting average of 28.55 in comparison to 32.95 of India. It was England’s lower-order (6-8) who with an average of 35.57 not only out-performed their Indian counterparts (23.33) but also their own top-order.

In fact England’s 6-8 have had a higher batting average then their 1-5 in 12 of the 17 series England has played since World Cup, 2015 – this is a startling statistic to say the least.

There hasn’t been much change in England’s bowling numbers in this period as compared to the period between the World Cups. However, whereas the bowling average and strike rate of most of the teams has significantly improved in this period (post March 2015) suggesting favourable bowling conditions and deteriorating batting in Test cricket, England has fallen way behind of the standard and norm of the times.

South Africa’s bowling average and strike rate improved from (28.31, 54.7) to (24.72, 47.3), India from (37.19, 69.7) to (24.93, 52.6), New Zealand from (34.09, 65.6) to (32.67, 64.3) and Australia from (30.69, 61.2) to (29.06, 56.8).

England’s numbers remained fairly constant – from (31.20, 61.8) to (32, 61.6).

England need to sort their top-order before the World Test Championship commences in July. They enter the World Cup at home as the favourites and may well go on to win the tournament. However, that tournament is followed immediately after by the Ashes, a Test England will not want to fail.

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