Rob Steen: Why Broad’s absence hurt England so much

You don’t have to know your way around a calculator, a slide rule or a logarithm table to surmise that, in one-day internationals, runs per over, runs per wicket and runs per match are all running at record levels. Seldom can the evidence of one’s own eyes – let alone the impact of regulation changes – have been quite so plain.

Still, just in case you were wondering, here’s the proof of the pudding. In carrying out some tireless number-crunching in relation to the 40-year history of the ODI by Anantha Narayanan, an impressively zealous Indian statistician, has substantiated what we all suspected.

The last four years – from the start of 2008 up to the second chapter of the recent series between Bangladesh and West Indies – have witnessed a massive drop in no-balls, from three per completed innings to 1.1 – call it the Free-Hit Effect. The rate of wickets per match over this period, 14.4, is at its highest this century: call it the Twenty20 Effect. (Table 4 underscores this: seven owners of the top 10 all-time ODI strike-rates have plied their trade over the past half-decade.)

Spinners, moreover, are buying wickets at a cheaper rate than ever, not to mention taking them more frequently; they’re also bowling more maidens than at any time since the 1980s (the quicks have never bowled fewer: call it the Powerplay Effect). Even though the review system has only recently been deployed in ODIs, it would still be apt to call it the DRS Effect – the use of Hawk-Eye in particular has persuaded umpires to realign their perception of what is possible and what is likely, especially when it comes to lbw. That twirlers occupied the top six places in the inaugural ICC T20 rankings rams home the point with some force.

Yet amid all these changes, one song has remained stubbornly and – from a strictly Anglophile perspective – nauseatingly the same: when it comes to 50-over cricket, notwithstanding September’s local heroics, India are vastly England’s superiors. A scoreline of 10-3 from 15 completed fixtures since the start of 2008 is merely the headline. Indeed, the balance of power would have been grossly distorted had England won the two ties: the underlying figures reinforce the overriding sense of men v boys that has prevailed for most of those 40 years.

The overall score – India 43 England 33 – disguises the fact that England won nine of the pair’s first 12 meetings: since Nagpur in late January 1985, they have won 24 and lost 40, 30 of those defeats coming in the last 46 meetings. Consolation, strange as it may seem, comes courtesy of the last eight bilateral series between the countries since the winter of 1992-93: England have won as many as they’ve lost. This, though, merely throws into stark relief that almost unerring failure to win the key moments on the biggest stages – one win, one tie and five losses in seven World Cup and Champions Trophy encounters since Sunny Gavaskar’s go-slow at the inaugural World Cup in 1975.

Against all-comers, England have barely beaten par – won 274 lost 272, which is actually worse than it looks. Take away the 49 wins (to 11 losses) against the lesser lights and their record is mediocre – won 225, lost 261. Against fellow senior nations (see Table 1), the inventors of the form have winning records against just two – their next two as it happens, namely Pakistan and Sri Lanka; and the latter could halve that quota come spring. Only Australia (61.27%) can crow about a better winning percentage against them than India (56.58%).

The most damaging statistic from recent history is the sides’ combined batting averages since January 2008 (see Table 2). Headed by Yuvraj Singh (95.75), no fewer than five Indians have scored at least 100 runs at an average of 50-plus, a mark only one opponent has matched over more than one innings – Owais Shah (59), a would-be prophet with scant honour in his own country. The man with the proudest mean on either side is Andrew Strauss, whose only knock brought him that astonishing 158 in the sides’ World Cup tie earlier this year – but that’s another kettle of cod altogether, not to mention another argument.

Dig a bit deeper and, for British eyes, it gets a great deal worse. Promisingly, if deceptively, India only just have the edge in rapidity over those 15 games – eight batsmen with 100 runs at a strike rate of 90-plus to England’s seven – but they’ve comfortably outmuscled the opposition in terms of substance – five centuries to two and 29 half-centuries to 19. In the latest one-sider, the respective tallies were one and 12 (India), nought and six (England).

This imbalance is duly borne out by the overall figures (see Table 3). Among active players, the leading batting averages feature three Indians (MS Dhoni, Virat Kohli and Sachin Tendulkar) and one Pom (Jonathan Trott). In terms of centurions, India boast eight with upwards of five on their CV to England’s three – and two of those are Paul Collingwood and Marcus Trescothick. Yes, England have missed Eoin Morgan sorely, but India coped more than manfully without Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag.

The bowling doesn’t look much prettier. Let’s set the bar: five wickets, average under 40, economy rate under 6, strike-rate better than 42. On that score, India, with six qualifiers over those 15 matches (the two Ravis, Ashwin and Jadeja, Zaheer Khan, Munaf Patel, Vinay Kumar, Harbhajan Singh), have boasted half as many again as England (Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad, Steven Finn and Graeme Swann); they’ve also fielded two more (Ishant Sharma and Praveen Kumar) who only miss the cut in one category.

For all Finn’s rising mph and penchant for wicket-taking balls, England’s inability to eject batsmen with any regularity has been perhaps the most troubling aspect of the past fortnight. A paltry 26 wickets on the current tour, and only once, at the death, as many as eight in an innings; India (42) achieved almost twice as many breakthroughs. Crucially, of the 18 the tourists managed in the first four games, just three came between the 16th and 30th overs; in that span, India culled 11. In the final game, tellingly, England grabbed four en route to their most productive bowling stint of the series.

It didn’t exactly help, unthinkably, that Alastair Cook’s stumblers and droppers came a distant second-best to India’s Trevor Penney-inspired divers and clutchers (13 catches to 17 – and just two a match for the first four – actually signifies less than the solitary chance pouched behind the stumps in the first four games by Craig Kieswetter, which says unflattering things about England’s wicketkeeper but also about his bowlers’ ability to create opportunities. In fairness, this can surely be attributed in part to what must have felt, to some, like a never-ending season. All the more reason, whichever way you cut it, to rue the absence of Broad.

As Table 4 relates, Broad is one of the most productive bowlers in ODI history: of those who have harvested upwards of 100 wickets, only five boast a more prolific strike-rate than his 31.07: Brett Lee, Shane Bond, Lasith Malinga, Saqlain Mushtaq and Waqar Younis (for the record, the highest-ranked Indian in this chart, Ajit Agarkar, lies 15th). Among England bowlers with at least 50 scalps, only Andrew Flintoff (33.02) and Swann (33.40) come close. Get better soon Stuey.

TABLE 1: 

England’s ODI record against senior nations 1971-date

Country W L Winning %
Australia 42 67 38.73
India 33 43 43.42
New Zealand 29 35 45.45
Pakistan 38 28 57.57
South Africa 19 23 45.34
Sri Lanka 26 24 52.00
West Indies 38 41 48.10

TABLE 2: 

England v India ODI Leading Batting Averages 2008-11 (min. 100 runs)

Player Runs Average 100 50
Andrew Strauss (Eng) 158 158.00 1 0
Yuvraj Singh (Ind) 383 95.75 2 1
MS Dhoni (Ind) 621 77.62 0 6
Sachin Tendulkar (Ind) 181 60.33 1 1
Owais Shah (Eng) 236 59.00 0 3
Virender Sehwag (Ind) 349 58.16 0 4
Virat Kohli (Ind) 472 52.44 2 2
Gautam Gambhir (Ind) 439 48.77 0 5
Kevin Pietersen (Eng) 426 47.33 1 2
Jonathan Trott (Eng) 329 41.12 0 2
Suresh Raina (Ind) 478 39.33 0 4
Ravi Jadeja (Ind) 152 38.00 0 1

TABLE 3: 

Highest ODI Batting Averages (Active players; min. 20 inns)

Player Runs Average
Ryan ten Doeschate (Neth) 1541 67.00
Hashim Amla (SA) 2486 55.24
Jonathan Trott (Eng) 1798 51.37
MS Dhoni (Ind) 6497 51.15
Michael Hussey (Aus) 4817 50.70
Virat Kohli (Ind) 2617 45.91
AB de Villiers (SA) 4523 45.69
Michael Clarke (Aus) 6593 45.47
Jacques Kallis (SA) 11318 45.45
Sachin Tendulkar (Ind) 18111 45.16

TABLE 4: 

Best ODI Bowling Strike-Rates 1971-2011 (min. 100 wkts)

Player W SR
Brett Lee (Aus) 357 29.19
Shane Bond (NZ) 147 29.22
Lasith Malinga (SL) 149 30.44
Saqlain Mushtaq (Pak) 288 30.45
Waqar Younis (Pak) 416 30.52
Stuart Broad (Eng) 137 31.07
Mitchell Johnson (Aus) 166 31.17
Shoaib Akhtar (Pak) 247 31.43
Allan Donald (SA) 272 31.47
Naved-ul-Hasan (Pak) 110 31.51

All figures correct to Wednesday 26 October 2011

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