July 14, 2017

Moeen and Stokes highlight England's all-round strength

The Lord's Test against South Africa was another fine illustration of how well England have been served by their lower middle order, with both bat and ball
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England have been especially well served by their allrounders, who have contributed significantly with both bat and ball © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

Moeen Ali sent the stats world into a tizzy last weekend with his magnificent all-round exploits at Lord's.

Among other things, he became the first England player since 1980 to score a half-century and take a ten-for in the same Test, and the first England spinner since 1974 to take a ten-wicket haul in a Lord's Test.

His bowling in both innings was outstanding, but his 87 in the first innings was no less important. Add Ben Stokes' 56, and it once again underscored the tremendous value that these allrounders have added to England's depth with both bat and ball. From 76 for 4, these vital contributions helped Joe Root score a monumental 190, and put together partnerships that eventually proved to be match-winning.

Over the last few years, these allrounders have arguably been England's biggest strength. The presence of Moeen, Stokes, Jonny Bairstow and Chris Woakes has allowed England to play an extra bowler without compromising on the batting depth, thus also reducing the workloads on their strike bowlers. At a time when most other teams are struggling with genuine allrounders, England have been blessed with more than one. While Moeen, Stokes and Woakes have contributed with bat and ball, Bairstow has been stellar with bat and behind the stumps.

Since Moeen's Test debut on June 12, 2014, England's lower middle order (Nos. 6-8) has been a huge force with the bat, and batsmen who have batted in these positions have then gone on to make significant contributions with the ball as well. For England, these three batsmen have scored 6391 runs at an average of nearly 38, which is much higher than the averages for the Nos. 6-8 batsmen from any other team; the only other team averaging more than 30 at these positions is Pakistan (32.33). Moreover, the three batsmen at these slots have contributed 30% of England's runs, which is a higher percentage than any other team's contribution except Zimbabwe.

Nos. 6-8 for each team, in Tests since Jun 12, 2014
Team Runs Bat ave Wkts* Bowl ave Ave diff % runs % wkts
 England  6391  37.82  251  35.08  2.74  30.17  38.38
 India  4138  29.77  251  27.29  2.48  23.34  45.55
 South Africa  3189  29.53  109  28.37  1.16  26.45  25.53
 Pakistan  4203  32.33  152  32.74  -0.41  24.87  30.96
 Sri Lanka  4479  26.98  168  30.92  -3.93  28.14  32.94
 Australia  3065  22.54  195  31.25  -8.71  16.65  34.21
 New Zealand  3480  28.52  145  38.30  -9.78  22.21  30.72
 West Indies  3404  27.45  91  38.45  -11.00  28.84  27.33
 Bangladesh  2301  28.76  73  40.15  -11.39  26.87  32.16
 Zimbabwe  1195  25.43  30  55.03  -29.61  31.58  29.13
* Wickets for bowlers who batted (or were slotted to bat at) Nos. 6-8 in either of the two innings in a Test

Similarly, those who batted at Nos. 6-8 have been hugely influential with the ball as well for England: they have taken 38% of the team's wickets, at an average of 35.08. That has largely been the handiwork of Moeen Ali (81 wickets at 37.15), Stokes (64 at 35.33) and Woakes (44 at 23.52). They have ensured that the burden on James Anderson and Stuart Broad isn't as immense as would otherwise have been.

Only four allrounders have achieved the double of 1000 runs and 50 wickets in Tests over the last three years, and two of them are from England © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

In terms of wickets contribution, only India have had a higher percentage of wickets taken by these allrounders (45.55%), which was largely because of the long home season in 2016-17, when R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja did most of the bowling and took most of the wickets. That percentage is likely to reduce significantly over the next season, when India have plenty of overseas series coming up, when the seamers would be expected to take more wickets.

Most of the other teams have struggled to find quality allrounders recently, though. The wickets percentage is pretty high for Australia (34.21), but their batsmen at Nos. 6-8 have contributed less than 17% of their total runs and have averaged only 22.54, which indicates they haven't found the batting quality they would like to in the lower middle order.

In the three years since Moeen's Test debut, only four allrounders have achieved the double of 1000 runs and 50 wickets, and two of them are from England, which indicates the enviable all-round talent they have at their disposal. Apart from Ashwin, the other allrounder who makes this list is Bangladesh's Shakib Al Hasan. Since he has batted mostly at No. 5 during this period, he hasn't been a part of the Nos. 6-8 lower-middle-order discussion, but Shakib has been in stunning form with both bat and ball over these three years, averaging 48 with the bat and 32 with the ball.

Moeen Ali and Ben Stokes have won a healthy number of Man-of-the-Match awards over the last three years © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

Another stat that demonstrates England's dependence on these allrounders is the number of match awards these players have won. In the last three years, Moeen has won four, next only to Root's five, while Stokes, along with Broad and Anderson, have won three each, while Bairstow has two. The Lord's Test was only the most recent of what has been a recurring theme of lower-order revivals in recent years. As long as they have players of the quality of Stokes and Moeen in these positions, that narrative will continue, and more teams will be at the receiving end.

With inputs from Shiva Jayaraman.

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. @rajeshstats

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  • dale on July 18, 2017, 8:12 GMT

    At the time of writing England had suffered 6 defeats in 9 tests. Now their record is 7 defeats in 10 tests. How well does this all round strength serve them? I believe 6 bowlers in a team is 1 bowler too many. Victory in 1 one test means nothing but 7 defeats in 10 tests says a lot. Check the stats and you will find that someone will always be under bowled. In addition to that , England is also short of 1 international class batsman, ideally Stokes should be at #7 and Ali at #8. This line up is a great one for ODI but not test cricket.

  • ramesh3456050 on July 18, 2017, 6:49 GMT

    Lack of good batman in England team make the all rounders life pretty. It is so worst to come crease 130/5 instead 300/4 .

  • Master on July 16, 2017, 10:24 GMT

    The benefits of having 3-4 all rounders evaporate if you play 6 bowlers and only 4 specialist batsmen. @Rob Moeen has a major problem with the short ball. SA havent done their homework. He was getting bounced out all the time in India and will really struggle in Oz. @Deepanjan I agree with every point you make.

  • rob on July 16, 2017, 5:29 GMT

    I wonder if Moeen has an issue withe short ball. Morris spliced him yesterday and that's not the first he's been done that way.

  • Gaurav Sethi on July 16, 2017, 3:01 GMT

    but that didn't work in India. Their lower order averaged mere 5 in last series. Hence England list despite posting 400 batting first on 4 ocassions

  •   Deepanjan Datta on July 15, 2017, 16:31 GMT

    England is indeed blessed to have the quality of Stokes, Mo, and Woakes in their ranks. Stokes is a better batsman capable of explosive, game-turning innings, while his bowling is more Kallis than Flintoff ( as in, willing, capable, and keeps batsmen honest rather than run through line-ups and turn games). Moeen's bowling is ever-improving, though his technique against high-class bowling remains a bit suspect. Woakes is a good bowler, but I'm kinda surprised that his batting hasn't yielded more. His technique and temperament look pretty solid and expect him to come up better with experience. IMO, the real all-rounder is Bairstow, who is a competent keeper, and a rather prolific batsman, very much in Gilchrist mould. ( As an aside, look at those numbers from Shakib!)

  • Master on July 15, 2017, 15:16 GMT

    Four bowlers averaging under 30, plus seven batsmen averaging over 40 would be a better balance. Just have a look at the scores from trent bridge. Broad and Anderson 8-136. The other FOUR bowlers took 2-200

  • cricfan80339929 on July 15, 2017, 7:44 GMT

    England is the best side in cricket at present

  • kieran on July 15, 2017, 2:58 GMT

    England are blessed to have the flexibility that Stokes & Ali afford them, but spare some praise for Bairstow, whose rapidly improved keeping and ability to bat at 5 allows England to play the extra bowler. I'm not sure England have it quite right calling Dawson the lead spinner, it's misleading when he, rather than Moeen will be the one dropped when conditions demand a sole spinner.

    Interesting numbers for Australia; that 22 batting avg. is largely thanks to the continual selection of Mitch Marsh at 6. That timeframe though may also skew the numbers, as for a couple of home seasons (flat pitches and poor opposition) it was a rare sight to see numbers 6,7,8 even get a bat.

  • Anupam on July 14, 2017, 19:31 GMT

    @SreeDev - Pakistan's test records in Australia and NZ - 0-5. You might want to check Yasir's records in those series, he did not infact play all the matches. Yasir did well in England though. I think world's best spinner currently is Herath. Jadeja has the potential to become the world's best, we'll soon see when overseas tour begin, don't think Ashwin will survive when India tours SA, EnGland, Australia, NZ etc..

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