After winning all four of the previous Tests in the summer, England suffered an innings defeat against South Africa. The Lord’s Test lasted just 171.5 overs, which is less than two full days of cricket. The match started off in a different template to what England got accustomed to this summer – they were batting first for the first time. This loss might not be a “wakeup call”, instead, it could be a blessing in disguise as England’s new approach and the form of a couple of their players have blinded them from certain glaring weaknesses. In this piece, we look at the stats of the players who have been lifting the team as well as players who are pulling the team down.
The non-existent opening pair
Since January 2021, England’s average opening partnership in Tests is 23.48 in 49 innings. Theirs is the worst record across the world, excluding Afghanistan’s 4.75 due to a small sample size of four innings.
In this period, England have used six opening pairs; four of them include Zak Crawley as one of the partners. The current opening pair of Crawley and Alex Lees averages just 25.37 runs across 16 innings. Ironically, this is England’s third-best opening pair in terms of average.
With each Test, Crawley’s inclusion raises more eyebrows than England’s performances this summer. To say Crawley is having a lean patch would be a massive understatement. In his last 10 innings, Crawley averages a paltry 16.40, with his highest score being 46. Of these 10 innings, he failed to reach double digits in six of them. At this point (end of 1st Test vs SA), 21.34% of Crawley’s career runs have come from his career-best innings of 267 against Pakistan, which incidentally, came at number three. With such an underperforming opening pair, the middle order is bound to feel more pressure.
Over-reliance on Root and Bairstow
England’s four wins in the summer of 2022 have mainly come on the backs of brilliant innings from two batters – Jonny Bairstow and Joe Root. Bairstow is amidst his career-defining phase, whereas Root’s patch of form cannot get any more purple.
However, there is a case of over-reliance on these two in-form batters. England have scored 2,705 runs this summer. 1,215 of these runs have come from the bats of Root and Bairstow, which is 44.92% of the team’s runs. Against South Africa, the two batters failed in both innings, as they accumulated just 32 runs between them. The result was a heavy innings defeat.
One dimensional bowling attack
England’s current bowling attack might have two of their most prolific bowlers in James Anderson and Stuart Broad, but they lack an enforcer. The veteran bowlers are medium pacers who rarely exceed 140 kmph. Their average pace might be conducive for early swing with the new ball, a thing that they’re masters of, but as the ball gets older, their lack of pace usually goes against them.
England have Jofra Archer and Mark Wood as their enforcers, bowlers who could trouble the batters with sheer pace. Their lengthy absence due to injuries have hurt England, especially in cleaning up the tail. In the 5th Test against India, they conceded 93 runs for the last three wickets. South Africa added 116 runs after losing their first six wickets for 210. England’s inability to clean up the tail also cost them two matches against India in the previous summer.
Matthew Potts has started his career strongly, and so did Ollie Robinson last year. But they’re more in the moulds of Anderson and Broad than Archer and Woods, in terms of their pace. England do not have enough backups for pace. If the scarcity of the resources wasn’t bad enough, these ‘fast’ bowlers, when selected, have been over-bowled, and that has resulted in their frequent injuries.
England have won four of their five Test matches this summer. It is a result of changing their approach to batting, advocated by their new captain Ben Stokes, and new coach Brendon McCullum. Whether it is sustainable in the long run or not, that is going to depend on the team that England fields. Their new approach could go south if only 2-3 players do the heavy lifting for the entire team. With non-performing players and a one-dimensional bowling unit, England are likely to fumble against better teams.