Which Test Squad Should England Take to Bangladesh & India?

14th September, 2016.

There's been much debate about the Test Squad that England will be taking to Bangladesh and India this winter, with there being a two Test series in Bangladesh, followed by five in India.

The debate has been fuelled by the security concerns in Bangladesh and it's difficult to comment on these without knowing the full information.  However, what is obvious is that it is a player's personal choice whether to go or not (as stated by the England hierarchy) and also that missing matches gives another player an opportunity (the England hierachy have also made this point).  

Alex Hales and Eoin Morgan have decided not to travel and it's going to be impossible to know whether Hales would have been selected in the Test team, after a run of poor scores of late.  However, him and Morgan (as captain) would almost certainly have been in the white ball teams, although as several of my recent articles have established, Morgan doesn't deserve his place in the side purely on his batting.

It's also worth noting that those who are rumoured to be in the selectors thoughts may not wish to travel themselves, and we are not privy to this information.  However, for the purpose of this assessment, I will assume that all other players bar Hales and Morgan are willing and able to travel to Bangladesh.

Alex Hales has decided against travelling to Bangladesh...

The first area that I'd like to focus on are the conditions England are likely to face.  Most seasoned observers take the line that conditions will be particularly spin-friendly, but there are huge caveats to this, which data exposes, that most media commentators and journalists are completely unaware of - as we will prove later in the article.

In Test matches in Bangladesh from the start of 2013 onwards, the overall runs per wicket was 40.19 and runs per over 3.30, with there being barely any deviation between pace and spin.  Pace data was 40.79 RPW and 3.11 RPO, whilst Spin generated figures of 39.88 RPW and 3.41 RPO.  

Furthermore, at the two venues that England are scheduled to play at, in the same time period, there was no discernible difference between pace and spin.  

Chittagong (1st Test) had slightly better figures for pace (41.85RPW/2.98RPO) than spin (45.72/3.36), whilst Mirpur (2nd Test) was the same (34.49/3.29 compared to 34.62/3.52).  Conditions in Bangladesh look batsman friendly, with there being a higher runs per wicket and runs per over than average.  England will no doubt be strong favourites to win these matches, but considering this data, draws are not out of the question, even if the weather doesn't get hugely involved.

Considering this data, there is clearly no bias towards spin in Bangladesh and England should be very wary of playing substandard spinners thinking that conditions are going to make them more dangerous - a tactic they have adopted in the past, very unsuccessfully, as we will find out later.

There is more of a spin bias in India, however.  Across all tests in India from 2013 onwards, pace wickets cost 35.58 runs compared to 22.80 for spin, and economy was almost identical at 2.88 and 2.85 respectively.  

Rajkot and Visakhapatnam are the first two Test venues, but neither have hosted Test matches previously.  However, the other three venues (Chandigarh, Mumbai and Chennai) all have strong spin bias, with overall data indicating wickets costing just 24.86 runs for spin compared to 41.32 for pace.

The Wankhede stadium in Mumbai has a strong spin bias...

Analysis of this data showed that pace wickets in India come at a cost of 1.36x the worldwide pace average, with spin costing 0.87x the worldwide spin average.  At the three venues with Test data that England will be playing at, figures altered slightly to 1.42x and 0.86x respectively.

From 2015 onwards, the test mean runs per wicket is 32.75, so using the above ratios to achieve this figure, a pace bowler must have a worldwide test expectation average of around 23.5.  A spin bowler can be more generously accommodated, with a worldwide test expectation average of around 37.8 expected to make them an 'average' spin bowler in India.

The table below indicates player worldwide expectation data for England's best bowlers, and those who are rumoured to be in the thoughts of the selectors.  This data (from 1st January 2015+) takes into account domestic 4 day and Test matches, and also factors in opposition difficulty:-

Player

Adjusted Test Expected Average

Adjusted Test Expected Economy

Average Mean Deviation

Economy Mean Deviation

Combined Mean Deviation

JM Anderson

22.86

2.65

1.43

1.21

1.32

CR Woakes

22.35

3.24

1.47

0.99

1.23

RJ Sidebottom

23.18

3.32

1.41

0.96

1.19

SCJ Broad

26.19

3.00

1.25

1.07

1.16

MJ Leach

30.56

3.11

1.07

1.03

1.05

OP Rayner

30.78

3.10

1.06

1.03

1.05

SA Patterson

32.76

3.01

1.00

1.06

1.03

C Rushworth

29.44

3.41

1.11

0.94

1.02

KHD Barker

32.26

3.24

1.02

0.99

1.00

MA Wood

30.41

3.48

1.08

0.92

1.00

JA Brooks

30.13

4.03

1.09

0.79

0.94

ST Finn

34.54

3.52

0.95

0.91

0.93

JT Ball

33.08

3.89

0.99

0.82

0.91

BA Stokes

39.47

3.50

0.83

0.91

0.87

GJ Batty

40.66

3.47

0.81

0.92

0.86

MHA Footitt

34.64

4.18

0.95

0.76

0.86

SR Patel

43.56

3.51

0.75

0.91

0.83

ZS Ansari

43.74

3.70

0.75

0.86

0.81

AU Rashid

38.85

4.31

0.84

0.74

0.79

LA Dawson

51.20

3.43

0.64

0.93

0.79

MM Ali

54.97

3.98

0.60

0.80

0.70

SG Borthwick

62.99

4.63

0.52

0.69

0.61


It's not a huge surprise to see Jimmy Anderson top the list of bowlers, although it's worth mentioning that his adjusted test average (and that of Chris Woakes) are likely to mean that they are barely above the average bowler in India, given the lack of assistance to pace bowlers.  The veteran, Ryan Sidebottom, quite incredibly still has superb domestic figures and also featured well, as did Stuart Broad.  However, given the problems that pace bowlers face in India, Broad is still slightly below the expectation for the average bowler there.

Jack Leach is the first spinner in the table and given the assistance that spinners have in India, definitely merits consideration, as does Ollie Rayner.  We then have to go near the bottom of the table to find the next spinner, in Gareth Batty.  Most of the players below Batty are spinners, with Moeen Ali and Scott Borthwick in particular producing very poor numbers indeed.

On the subject of Moeen Ali, his test data in the last two years is horrific - he's averaging 47.62 runs per wicket at an economy of 3.90.  He will certainly travel, but it would take his most optimistic supporter to suggest that he will have a major impact with the ball in India.

Moeen Ali's batting keeps his place in the squad, but relying on his bowling would be dangerous...

The likes of Liam Dawson and Borthwick definitely should be filed under 'batting all-rounder' in this format, and neither have decent enough batting numbers to be considered purely on their batting either.

As mentioned earlier, England need to guard against including bits and pieces cricketers who can't justify a place in the team with bat nor ball, and in particular, mediocre spinners.  For example, for England in Tests in Asia from 2010+, the trio of James Tredwell, Samit Patel and Adil Rashid delivered 345 overs costing 1158 runs, and getting only 21 wickets (average of 55.14, economy 3.36).  However, spinner Graeme Swann was one of only four players (Monty Panesar also managed this) who averaged below 30 with the ball in Tests for England in Asia in this time period.  

Swann's career average of 25.97 in Asia marks him out as a truly world class bowler, but it's also worth further examining the subcontinent selection of spinners who wouldn't usually warrant selection by England at home for a longer period of time - from 2000 onwards.

Robert Croft, Richard Dawson, James Tredwell, Shaun Udal, Samit Patel, Adil Rashid, Gareth Batty, Ian Salisbury and Ian Blackwell all fitted into the bracket and they had the following combined data:-

Player

Overs

Runs

Wickets

Average

Economy







Batty

165.2

504

8

63.00

3.04

Blackwell

19.0

71

0

N/A

3.73

Croft

111.0

258

9

28.66

2.32

Dawson

90.0

279

6

46.50

3.10

Patel

143.0

421

7

60.14

2.94

Rashid

136.5

556

8

69.50

4.06

Salisbury

69.0

193

1

193.00

2.79

Tredwell

65.0

181

6

30.16

2.78

Udal

99.2

344

8

43.00

3.46







Overall

897.9

2807

53

52.96

3.13


Only Croft and Tredwell of this list can be considered a success, and I cannot stress highly enough that picking a mediocre spinner does not produce magical results in the subcontinent.  Considering all this information, all spinners from Batty below (Patel, Ansari, Rashid, Dawson and Borthwick) in the current bowler's table should be considered a liability rather than an asset and selection of them would be a huge error.  Possibly, this would be a bit harsh on Rashid, who looks more of a wicket taking threat than the rest, but he will almost certainly be very expensive.  

England also have plenty to consider with the bat.  Hales will not be travelling, and given his poor run of late, has fallen down the table of expectation averages.  As seen below, James Vince's numbers are awful and he illustrates superbly the dangers of using subjective judgement to select a player.  He's been described many times as being pleasing to watch, and this excellent article by Omar Chaudhri gives further insight into his flaws, and why many observers were misled into thinking he was much better than he actually was. 

Gary Ballance was not much better, as can be witnessed in the table below, which shows test expected averages and strike rates (again, domestic and international matches from 1st January 2015 onwards are included, with innings difficulty factored in):-

Player

Adjusted Test Expected Average

Adjusted Test Expected Strike Rate

Average Mean Deviation

Strike Rate  Mean Deviation

Combined Mean Deviation







JM Bairstow

62.25

65.41

1.90

1.23

1.56

JE Root

55.94

65.08

1.71

1.22

1.46

AN Cook

53.24

47.08

1.63

0.88

1.25

BA Stokes

33.48

76.15

1.02

1.43

1.23

JC Hildreth

39.42

56.56

1.20

1.06

1.13

BM Duckett 

36.61

60.68

1.12

1.14

1.13

JJ Roy

30.20

69.78

0.92

1.31

1.12

MM Ali

35.60

58.20

1.09

1.09

1.09

PD Trego

33.71

59.99

1.03

1.12

1.08

ME Trescothick

38.75

49.37

1.18

0.93

1.05

SA Northeast

37.70

48.59

1.15

0.91

1.03

KK Jennings 

38.71

45.68

1.18

0.86

1.02

LJ Wright

32.63

54.48

1.00

1.02

1.01

CMW Read

34.02

50.41

1.04

0.95

0.99

NRT Gubbins

37.46

43.91

1.14

0.82

0.98

SG Borthwick

33.67

49.82

1.03

0.93

0.98

TT Bresnan

36.54

44.86

1.12

0.84

0.98

DJ Malan

33.87

49.09

1.03

0.92

0.98

AD Hales

33.36

48.60

1.02

0.91

0.96

SM Davies

32.06

50.10

0.98

0.94

0.96

BT Foakes

34.51

42.13

1.05

0.79

0.92

RJ Burns

33.02

44.04

1.01

0.83

0.92

T Westley

32.25

44.63

0.98

0.84

0.91

EC Joyce 

31.95

44.57

0.98

0.84

0.91

WL Madsen

33.49

41.83

1.02

0.78

0.90

SD Robson

30.68

46.08

0.94

0.86

0.90

H Hameed

38.35

33.26

1.17

0.62

0.90

CD Nash

30.99

45.11

0.95

0.85

0.90

GS Ballance

30.12

43.01

0.92

0.81

0.86

AZ Lees

30.43

42.24

0.93

0.79

0.86

NLJ Browne

30.19

42.13

0.92

0.79

0.86

JM Vince

22.47

49.63

0.69

0.93

0.81


Based on this, England boast three batsmen who are world-class - Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root and Alastair Cook, with Ben Stokes' strong strike rate propelling him up the table.  James Hildreth has been described as the 'best batsman never to have played for England' and the data backs that claim up, whilst Somerset team mate and former England opener Marcus Trescothick still posts strong numbers, but is in international retirement.

Other names not particularly mentioned by journalists as being in the thoughts of selectors are Peter Trego, whose batting is far from poor across various formats, and Sam Northeast, who look to have been criminally under-rated by the national team selectors in Tests and T20.

Of the young guns rumoured to be strongly considered, Ben Duckett leads the way, with Keaton Jennings next up.  19 year old opener Haseeb Hameed is low in the table but this is solely due to his awful expected strike rate - his expected average numbers are superb for a player of his age, and it looks like he fits the Geoffrey Boycott style dynamic.  It seems the selectors are hell-bent on taking Hameed, and the expected average numbers indicate that's fine, although I'd have a huge worry about his expected strike rate, particularly in India where runs tend to come slowly.  He may well turn out to be a batsman who makes a draw more likely than a victory.  

What is clear from the data is that the likes of Vince and Ballance have had their chance, and definitely do not deserve another one, so this new blood is urgently required.  Considering he can bowl, Moeen Ali's batting (above test mean average and strike rate) indicate he deserves a spot in the squad, although as mentioned previously, don't expect miracles with his bowling.

The wicket-keeping slots look to be between Jonny Bairstow (guaranteed) and either Jos Buttler (who has barely played the long format recently) or Ben Foakes.  I'd expect Buttler to get the nod, which is fine, as his test numbers are far from a disaster, although probably a little disappointing, but Foakes red-ball numbers are strong, and at an age where he'd only get better.  I am sure he will get his chance in the not too distant future.

All-rounders are a little more problematic.  Ben Stokes' numbers show he's nothing special with bat nor ball, but better with the bat (and has a superb strike rate)  If England play a second spinner, it is likely to come between him and Chris Woakes for a position, and Stokes somehow appears to be undroppable in any format of cricket.  Moeen Ali's numbers, as mentioned previously, are hugely batting orientated and there are no other strong spinning all-rounders worthy of selection.

Ben Stokes appears to be undroppable by England in any format...

Data selected & relatively realistic (given speculation) 16 man squad:-

Alastair Cook (c), Jonny Bairstow (wk) Joe Root, Keaton Jennings, Haseeb Hameed, Ben Duckett, James Hildreth/Jason Roy, Jos Buttler/Ben Foakes (wk), Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali, Chris Woakes, James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Jack Leach, Ollie Rayner, Mark Wood.



 
Comments