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Cricket World Cup: England's batting concerns

By Jon Barbuti

Michael Yardy
Swing and a miss for Yardy as England disappoint against Ireland

When your top strike bowler James Anderson has conceded 212 runs from 28 overs and your fielders have put down five catches in one match, focussing on batting concerns might seem churlish.

After all England have scored 961 runs across their first three innings of the World Cup, hitting 338 to tie with India in the process and going into Sunday's match against South Africa they have three of the top 10 run-scorers in this year's tournament.

However even that stat can be misleading, especially as England's two latest matches took place on the batting paradise of Bangalore - and when we dig a bit deeper at England's recent batting a worrying pattern emerges.

Take that leading run scorer chart. Yes Andrew Strauss, Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott have got big runs but in the latter pair's case at no great speed. Half the top 10 scorers in the tournament have a strike rate of better than the run-a-ball rate of 100 and considerably so in some cases - but Trott and Bell sit in the mid-90s.

What a strike rate in the 90s will do is chase down totals approaching 300 and set challenging targets on tricky wickets. What it won't do is bat teams out the game on flat wickets. The defeat to Ireland was a prime example of how sub-100 strike rates for an extended period can do untold damage.

Conventional wisdom is that the game started escaping England from about the 32nd over of Ireland's innings when, with the required run rate at 8.5 an over, Kevin O'Brien hit Michael Yardy for 16 runs to start swinging the game in his favour. A closer look at the stats suggests the game had started going the way of the Irish much earlier.

England reached their first 50 from 47 balls and by ball 86 were up to 100, in contrast Ireland took 54 balls to reach 50 and a further 62 to reach 100. Both sides reached 100-2 but England 30 balls sooner. Ireland then lost three quick wickets yet took only 53 and 35 balls for their next two fifties.

England, who did not lose another wicket for 178 runs, took 67 balls for their third 50 and 48 for the fourth. Their advantage was all but wiped out by Trott and Bell's caution.

Only two teams lose wickets more regularly than England in batting powerplays

Against India a similar pattern emerged. The hosts reached 100-1 from 106 balls, England hit 100-1 from 83 but then took 57 balls for their third 50 as opposed to India's 49. Worse still, England took 57 balls to go from 250 to 300, India 29.

In short, however serene England's progress at any given moment they are a side liable to quickly lose momentum. Far from accelerating towards the end of an innings they either scratch around or lose wickets - or sometimes both.

The batting powerplay, usually taken late in the innings, offers evidence of a confused approach. Some sides tend to conserve wickets and play with minimum risk, others take a more aggressive approach and hit out but England do neither well.

Of the eight sides tipped pre-tournament to reach the quarter-finals and based on figures for the 12 months prior to 1 March they have both the third worst strike rate and the third worst record for losing wickets.

England's strike-rate of 112.7 is better only than India and West Indies and while the latter are simply poor at powerplays India can point to being the best at conserving wickets. They lose a wicket once per 21.5 batting powerplay balls, England every 14.7 fitting perfectly with the common feeling that they lose two per batting powerplay.

Digging a bit deeper it is hard to escape the feeling that of the eight nations listed few have less of a plan to approach the powerplays and the second half of a one-day innings in general.

During the year they hit 12 sixes but three of those came from the discarded Craig Kieswetter and the injured Eoin Morgan. Ravi Bopara, who barely got a look in during the second batting powerplays, has hit unbeaten scores of 45, 35 and 30 in three of his last five ODI innings, hitting eight sixes in the process.

By way of comparison, Michael Yardy, although impressive in the series against Australia averaging over eight in the powerplay, has only hit one six from 455 ODI balls faced and has a strike rate barely above 70 - yet is a regular feature in the overs when aggressive hitting can have devastating effect.

It is hardly a secret that in the absence of Eoin Morgan, and with Dimitri Mascarenhas long-since discarded, England lack regular six hitters down the order but there are other ways to milk runs - just ask Australia. The reigning champions hit a six only once every 61 balls and a four once per 10.2, both well behind England's rate yet they manage to score more quickly and lose fewer wickets.

England also have a poor strike-rate in batting powerplays

They did this simply by manoeuvring the ball better in a manner their great finisher Michael Bevan would be proud of. England, shorn of Morgan - arguably their only true finisher since Neil Fairbrother - are seemingly unsure of just how aggressive to be. They have tended to alternate between big shots and nothing, while Australia work far more singles.

While almost 43% of powerplay balls to England were dot balls Australia only failed to score from 29.1% of deliveries, this disparity coming despite both sides playing very similar percentages of attacking shots (Australia 91.1% against England's 89.4%).

Perhaps counterintuitively, and you'll have to forget O'Brien's heroics for a minute, Australia's statistics show that often the side going for and even connecting with the big shots is not the winner: it is actually more effective simply to score off as many balls as possible.

And that brings me back to Bell and Trott, who are at least accumulators. Rarely does either clear the boundary rope, Trott in fact racing to 1,000 ODI runs in record time without the aid of a single maximum but are their approaches partly governed by what follows down the order?

From Matt Prior at six down no-one in the side averages above 25 while Paul Collingwood, so long a stalwart, comes in at five with an average of 19 from his last 10 ODI innings.

Statistics can always be read in a number of ways. The positive line is that England's top four are firing, Strauss is the leading run scorer and in every World Cup innings they have passed 200 for the loss of only two wickets.

The other way to read them is with horror, wondering what happens if and when the top order fails.

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see also
Flintoff urges England fightback
03 Mar 11 |  England
Brilliant Ireland shock England
02 Mar 11 |  Cricket
Hero O'Brien hails 'best innings'
02 Mar 11 |  Ireland
Agnew at the World Cup
02 Mar 11 |  Cricket
England v Ireland photos
02 Mar 11 |  Cricket
Short, back and wides for Ireland
01 Mar 11 |  Ireland
Bell wary of threat from Ireland
01 Mar 11 |  England
England & India in thrilling tie
27 Feb 11 |  England
Ragged England sneak past Dutch
22 Feb 11 |  England
Cricket World Cup 2011
09 Mar 11 |  Cricket

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