Tuesday, July 17, 2012

England v South Africa - The Series Everyone is Looking Forward to But isn't Talking About

So we're just over a day away from the start of the most anticipated cricketing clash of the year. Well, for neutrals anyway. We have a couple of very similar looking teams playing in conditions their bowlers will really enjoy, especially with the kind of weather predicted for the next month.

England are the number one side in the world & have won 7 consecutive series at home. South Africa are number three but can get to number one with a series win (Click here to play around with the ICC Rankings Predictor). They are also unbeaten in 9 away/neutral series spanning almost 6 years, and are the last side to beat England in England. England, ofcourse, are a much improved side from that series in 2008. South Africa, meanwhile, haven't kicked on from their historic series in wins in England and Australia and seem to stumble at the sight of the number one spot.

There are plenty of series previews out there talking of the head-to-head matchups and who the key players will be. The general consensus seems to be that England have the better opening combination, lower middle order and spinner while South Africa have the edge in terms of their middle order and pace attack.

Being the stats geek that I am, I decided to look at how the two sides have performed over the last three years. I broke the teams down into 4 groups - Openers, middle order, lower middle order, and tailenders. I then looked at averages for these four groups - for and against these two sides. I don't see much sense in comparing the averages of their batting order & bowling attack to each other as they wouldn't have batted and bowled on the same pitches (Apart from the 4-test series in 2009-10). I think it makes more sense to see the difference in average runs scored and conceded for each team & then comparing them to each other.

Okay, I said that in my head and it sounds really confusing. Hopefully this will make it more clear.

P = Runs/dismissal for England openers
Q = Runs/dismissal for openers batting against England
X = Runs/dismissal for South African openers
Y = Runs/dismissal for openers batting against South Africa

Final Difference = (P-Q)-(X-Y). This difference gives the advantage/disadvantage England have over South Africa in the openers' slot. Similarly, we'll have numbers for the middle order, lower middler order & tailenders.

Below are the numbers for both teams in all conditions over the last three years:


Batting Position
England
South Africa
Final Difference
For
Against
Difference
For
Against
Difference
1-2
44.81
30.7
14.11
38.96
28.29
10.67
3.44
3-5
45.65
33.09
12.56
62.26
43.05
19.21
-6.65
6-9
31.44
25.38
6.06
27.16
22.66
4.5
1.56
10-11
11.33
11.1
0.23
15.2
9.58
5.62
-5.39

Predictably, England have the edge in the openers & lower middle order while South Africa are far superior when it comes to the middle order. They also seem to be better at wrapping up the tail. On the whole, South Africa do seem to be the better side although it remains to be seen how they will cope with Boucher's retirement.

Since the series is being played in England, I thought it worthwhile to compare England's numbers in home tests to South Africa's overall record. I would have liked to compare their numbers in conditions similar to England. Unfortunately, South Africa haven't played much cricket in such conditions since 2009. I guess you can call this an excercise in trying to see how much of a home advantage England have.


Batting Position
England (Home)
South Africa
Final Difference
For
Against
Difference
For
Against
Difference
1-2
40.96
30.91
10.05
38.96
28.29
10.67
-0.62
3-5
52.27
28.32
23.95
62.26
43.05
19.21
4.74
6-9
35.11
24.45
10.66
27.16
22.66
4.5
6.16
10-11
10.5
9.65
0.85
15.2
9.58
5.62
-4.77

It's interesting that while England's openers average less at home than away, their bowlers don't seem to bowl out the opposition openers cheaper than they do abroad. Their middle and lower middle order has a very good record at home, especially when you consider how cheaply their bowlers seem to dismiss the opposition's 3-9. At home, they have a better differential through positions 3-11 compared to when they play abroad. This is what the South Africans will have to overcome if they are going to win the series.

I think they have positions 3-5 covered. Amla, Kallis (His record in England notwithstanding) and de Villiers should average more than Trott, Pietersen and Bell. But it's positions 6-9 that will be a major problem for them, especially with Boucher not playing like I mentioned before. They can either play the specialist keeper and weaken a lineup that doesn't bat deep, or they can give the gloves to de Villiers and play both Duminy & Rudolph.

By all accounts, Tsolekile is a better keeper than de Villiers who is also a crucial fielder for South Africa. I think they are better served to go with the regular keeper and allow de Villiers to focus on his batting. It will mean they get less runs at 7, but I'd rather get 20 less in that position than see batsmen scoring big hundreds after they were dropped early in their innings. If they do indeed pick Tsolekile, they will hope their bowlers don't allow Prior, Bresnan, Broad and Swann to have a combined average of more than 25. I think they will win the series if they're able to manage that.

My Prediction: It's hard to predict anything with the rain being such a major factor, but I'm going with 1-0 South Africa. It's about time they stopped making me look silly for saying they're the best side in the world.

1 comment:

  1. well, I expected the first match to be a draw.
    Now, England should win at Headingley. the final test? a draw. So I say 1-1.

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Guile-and-Spin-ebook/dp/B008FBZPHE/

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