Analysis: England's Batting Options for the Ashes

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26th September, 2017.

Tomorrow, England announce their Ashes squad, and the majority of speculation surrounding the batsmen being chosen.  Given this, I ran the Sports Analytics Advantage algorithm to calculate the Test expected average and Test expected strike rate for a number of players, which include current Test squad members, players rumoured to be considered for inclusion and some other players who should be worthy of discussion.

Prior to giving the data and analysis, it's worth noting that our algorithm weights for recency, so an innings performed this week will be worth slightly more than one from 2015, and also for opponent quality - very generally, a division two bowler will be of a worse quality than division one, which will be of worse quality than a Test bowler.  However, it's worth noting that the ability gap between divisions one and two is a fair bit smaller than the gap between division one and Tests, and there certainly is a case for arguing that the selectors are ignoring consistent division two run-scorers when they should be picking them.  All county championship and Test matches across the last three years were included in this sample.

Below are the top rated English qualifying batsmen, with their current Test expected average and Test expected strike rate listed:-

Player

Test Expected Average

Test Expected Strike Rate




JE Root

53.35

64.33

AN Cook

46.98

47.54

SA Northeast

39.49

51.55

LS Livingstone

38.29

50.40

MD Stoneman

36.30

56.42

BA Stokes

35.96

65.74

RJ Burns

35.20

43.22

GS Ballance

34.10

47.60

JC Hildreth

32.44

56.91

AD Hales

32.36

51.70

DJ Malan

32.34

47.07

JJ Roy

32.02

68.17

BM Duckett

31.44

60.83

JL Denly

31.33

44.55

NLJ Browne

31.24

40.78

T Westley

31.08

43.70

JM Clarke

31.04

51.49

SD Robson

30.99

47.27

KK Jennings

29.89

43.25

SG Borthwick

29.52

44.80

TT Bresnan

29.41

42.36

PD Trego

29.34

57.74

IJL Trott

29.29

45.50

WL Madsen

28.62

43.04

SR Patel

27.72

51.71

SW Billings

25.57

56.56

A Lyth

25.19

45.89

JM Vince

24.75

51.02


As is evident from the table, Joe Root and Alastair Cook are head and shoulders above any other batsman, as most would expect.  Root's expected average makes him one of the best batsmen in Test cricket, again as most would expect, and Cook's numbers certainly also put him in the world-class bracket.

Of the other batsmen who have featured for England this year, Mark Stoneman is fifth on the list, with Ben Stokes sixth and Gary Ballance eighth.  Dawid Malan (11th), Tom Westley (16th) and Keaton Jennings (19th) are further down the list.

There are strong rumours that James Vince is going to be selected, and with a Test expected average below 25, his selection would almost certainly end in disaster.  As with Malan, the selectors are preferring Vince in the wrong format - both are much better white-ball cricketers.

However, there are some players at the top of the list who are consistently ignored by the selectors.  Sam Northeast of Kent, who boasts strong expected numbers in all formats, and Liam Livingstone of Lancashire look much better options than any of the likes of Malan, Westley, Jennings or Vince, although again, Livingstone's inclusion in the T20 team gives further concern to the muddled brains of the selectors - his red ball data is much stronger than white ball.

Rory Burns is another solid option, with the Surrey batman's case pushed by club coach (and former England legend) Alec Stewart on social media this morning:-


Certainly, Burns' weight of runs gives him a decent expected average and he would be a better option than many of the considered names.

The problem with England currently is this - they have two batsmen with expected Test batting averages above 40, and seven above 35 (three of whom are not even rumoured to be considered).  Given variance is a huge part of any sport, players with expected Test averages below 35 are always going to be likely to have a bad run, which creates inconsistency in team selection - leading to under performance.  

The England selectors need to acknowledge that most of the current batsmen available are not of elite level and adjust their expectations accordingly.  Until this is done, there will be much chopping and changing of the England batting line-up, to little positive effect.  I'll save my criticism of the selector set-up (how can three men cover 18 counties efficiently is beyond me) for another day.

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