No Space In A Four-Man Attack, Broadly Speaking
July 19, 2011 | Nichael Bluth | Scorer's Notes
While the dust has long since settled on England’s Test series against Sri Lanka, the debate about Stuart Broad’s place in England’s four-man bowling attack continues to rumble on. While England were generally below par with the ball throughout that series, there was a clear distinction between the ‘in-form’ seamers, Anderson and Tremlett, and the ‘out of form’ pair of Broad and Finn.
When Anderson had recovered from his minor side strain it was inevitable that he would return to the side for the final Test. However, this left the selectors with a decision to make regarding which of Broad and Finn to keep. They chose the former, despite the latter picking up more wickets at Lord’s.
The reasons for this decision have been widely discussed. Was it because Broad is now T20 captain? Because he can score runs from number eight in the order? Or because England have invested so much time in him since his debut at the end of 2007 that they simply aren’t prepared to leave him out?
We at 51allout have touched on this before but we wanted to look purely at the numbers behind it, to see if we could find some justification one way or another.
To start with, we want to look only at the Test matches that Broad has played in, 36 of them. This means that there are no issues with players picking up cheap wickets against the lower ranked sides as everyone is playing the same matches against the same opposition in the same conditions. During those 36 matches England have used ten other ‘significant’ bowlers, so let’s compare their performances:
A few things to note here, but perhaps the most remarkable is that in terms of wicket-taking Broad has been massively overshadowed by Jimmy Anderson and Graeme Swann, with both of them taking at least 17 more wickets, despite only playing 31 and 26 games respectively.
Even more concerning is that Broad’s average of 36.25 is higher than every other bowler bar Monty Panesar and Andrew Flintoff. Ditto his strike rate of one wicket every 69 deliveries. His economy rate of 3.15 is higher than everyone bar Steve Finn and (more surprisingly) Graham Onions. Finally, his record of just under three wickets per match is substantially below those of Anderson, Swann, Sidebottom, Finn, Onions and Tremlett.
Another area to look at is the numbers of wickets taken in each innings. This is a lot easier to explain with a chart:
Here we have the breakdown by innings and the number of wickets taken. So for Broad’s 66 innings he’s taken no wickets on 12 occasions, 18% of the time. This is actually a very similar percentage to Anderson, Swann, Panesar and Finn.
The key difference is when we look at the percentage of innings with two or less wickets (i.e. the blue and the red bits together). This is 82% for Broad, compared to 65% for Anderson and just 40% for Swann. Broad’s is a greater percentage than that for Finn (78%), Onions (73%) or even Flintoff (80%).
So far we’ve looked at the total performance for Broad’s Test career as a whole. In order to look at his significance to England over time we’ll use a new metric.
In a previous post we looked at using a rolling ten innings batting average to show short term form for a batsman. We’ll use a similar idea here and look at the rolling five match number of wickets taken (again, just for the matches in which Broad has played). We can then rank these results to see England’s most important bowlers.
Again, an example makes this much clearer:
In Broad’s first five matches he took 12 wickets. Over the same five games Ryan Sidebottom took 27, Anderson and Panesar 18 and Harmison and Collingwood three each. If we rank these we get Sidebottom as England’s number one bowler, Anderson and Panesar joint second and Broad fourth.
Now all we do is plot these rankings over time:
Apropos of nothing, Wassily Kandinsky is a firm favourite in the 51allout gallery.
This chart looks a bit complicated but it’s actually quite simple: we’re just plotting the rankings over time, again only focusing on Broad’s matches. We’ve excluded some occasional visitors to the top four ranking (such as Bresnan), purely for clarity. The key thing to focus on is the dashed green line, Stuart Broad. There’s a pretty clear trend from game 18 onwards (which falls during England’s 2009/10 tour of South Africa) of Broad becoming less and less important for England.
Since then he’s been overtaken by Swann (the red line), Anderson (blue), Finn (orange) and crucially, following the last match against Sri Lanka, Tremlett (yellow).
This isn’t the sort of metric that you can necessarily pick a team on – barring injury, nobody would ever force their way into the side at all – but it does show that England’s good results have been more due to the bowlers around Broad, rather than the man himself.
The England squad for the first test was always going to contain the XI from the previous match plus one extra bowler. The fact that the extra bowler is Tim Bresnan, rather than Steven Finn, is very significant, as Bresnan is more than capable of filling the ‘Broad role’ (keeping it tight, making runs at number eight), whereas Finn is a different option. It’s worth remembering that Bresnan was the man in possession at the end of the Ashes series – his injury merely gave the selectors a convenient excuse to go back to Broad. Now we will see whether his middling performances since then have done enough to keep his place, regardless of the evidence suggesting that he has not.