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England v Australia T20 Series – Tactical Preview

CricViz analyst Freddie Wilde identifies some key tactics ahead of the series. 

Where do England bowl Moeen and could this see them adjust their balance?

The fact that Moeen Ali’s bowling is an increasing concern for England is illustrated by the fact that this year he has only once bowled his full allocation of four overs—in England’s first match of the year—and in his most recent three matches he has only bowled a solitary over. 

Nine of Moeen’s ten overs have been bowled in the Powerplay, with England using him to target left-handers Quinton de Kock & Fakhar Zaman. However, against this Australian team the match-up with the openers is far less favourable because Aaron Finch, and to a lesser extent David Warner, dominate off spin. Moeen’s deployment is further complicated by Glenn Maxwell’s excellent record against off spin as well. 

The two Australians who Moeen is a favourable match-up with are Steve Smith and Alex Carey. So England may try and use Moeen if and when these two are at the crease. 

However, the reality of the situation is that Moeen’s overs are going to be difficult to hide against Australia and that suddenly creates issues around England’s team selection and balance. In South Africa and against Pakistan Moeen’s unbowled overs were absorbed by Ben Stokes and Lewis Gregory but with Stokes absent, Gregory dropped and none of England’s frontline batsmen except Joe Denly capable of contributing with the ball,  England have lost their insurance bowler. So unless they pick Denly and use him to cover Moeen this could create an opportunity for Sam or Tom Curran in the top seven which would likely see one of Dawid Malan, Tom Banton or Sam Billings miss out. 

Will England pick Sam Curran to target David Warner?

The argument for England selecting S Curran in the team is made stronger by Warner’s record against left-arm quicks in recent years. Since the 2016 T20 World Cup Warner—who is the world’s best T20 opening batsman—averages 29 against left-arm quicks – easily his lowest average against any bowler-type, while he averages 60 against right-arm quicks in the same time period. Sam Curran is the only left-arm quick in England’s squad. 

Looking more closely at Warner’s record against left-arm quicks in that time shows that he has had particular trouble against left-arm quicks with a low-arm release – returning a strike rate of 112 and an average of just 21. Curran – a short and skiddy bowler – delivers 90% of his balls from what we categorise as a ‘low arm release’. 

How can England stop Maxwell? 

While Warner, Finch and Smith attract most of the headlines, Australia’s most destructive batsman is Maxwell. It is the hallmark of great players that they have very few weaknesses and Maxwell is no different. His record against the five primary bowler-types is excellent; it’s only when you dig a little deeper that hints of weakness begin to show. 

Maxwell has such enormous power and range that the best way to stop him is to get him out early. In the first ten balls of his innings he is vulnerable to very full or very short lengths – returning a dismissal rate of 18 against these deliveries compared to just 55 v classical good lengths. This trend is further exacerbated by the line: early on the quicks can’t give him any room to free his arms, they’ve got to maintain tight lines. This is made easier by bowlers with tight release positions on the crease and against right-arm quicks with a tight release Maxwell only averages 14 balls per dismissal. Bowl full or short and bowl straight. These are attacking lengths but you need to fight fire with fire. It is no surprise that Jofra Archer who embodies these traits has dismissed Maxwell twice in 12 balls in T20s. It’ll be interesting to see how England use Archer: they’ve been in need of Powerplay wickets lately but will be aware of the threat he poses Maxwell and may save at least two overs for him.

The other potential way in is offered by leg spin. Maxwell scores rapidly against leg spin and has a great head-to-head record against Adil Rashid – having scored 68 off 37 balls from him. However, faster, straighter leg spin slows his scoring from a strike rate of around 170 to nearer 140. These faster, flatter, straighter balls combined with slower, wider tempters could work – Maxwell has been dismissed seven times by balls wide outside off stump from leg spinners at a dismissal rate of only six balls per wicket. 

How do Australia use Agar?

We’ve just seen Pakistan use Imad Wasim to target England’s right-handed openers and we may see a similar thing happen in this series. Like Imad and like most left-arm spinners Ashton Agar enjoys bowling to right-handed batsmen so is a good match-up to England’s opening pair of Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler. This is reinforced by Agar’s head-to-head record against Buttler with Agar maintaining an economy rate of 6.50 across 36 balls. The only bowler to bowl as many balls to Buttler as Agar has and maintain a lower economy rate is Sunil Narine. 

The drawback to using Agar in the Powerplay is that it is a role he has rarely performed for Australia – bowling just six of his 79 T20I overs in the phase – and one that he hasn’t done particularly well – conceding runs at 9.16 runs per over, without taking a wicket. 

However, Australia will be further motivated to use Agar against England’s right-handed openers because England’s middle order could have as many as three left-handers in it who match-up well with Agar: Dawid Malan, Eoin Morgan and Moeen. 

Agar’s suitability against the right-handers make it easier for Australia to deploy his overs and the need for a sixth bowler slightly less pressing than England’s situation with Moeen. However, England’s three lurking lefties may also nudge Australia towards picking an insurance sixth bowler in the form of Mitchell Marsh or Daniel Sams. 

Will Australia target Morgan with the short ball? 

Morgan has been in supreme T20 form since October last year but his recent record against the short ball represents a weakness for Australia to exploit and in Pat Cummins they have a bowler well-equipped to do so. 

Since the start of last year Morgan has been dismissed eight times by the short ball in ODIs at an average of just 24. Across his career Morgan has preferred fuller lengths but that trend has been exacerbated in recent years. Morgan is yet to be dismissed by a short ball this year but, like with Maxwell, the slightest hint of a weakness should be attacked. 

With Agar, Mitchell Starc and Australia’s third seamer – probably Kane Richardson – likely to bowl in the Powerplay, this frees up Cummins to be used in the enforcer role and target Morgan with aggressive short lengths. It’s a trick that Pakistan missed in the recent series; it will be interesting to see whether Australia make the same mistake. 

Freddie Wilde is a CricViz analyst, @fwildecricket.

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