KL Rahul and the number 34

Plus notes on New Zealand and England.

Test batters with more than 2000 runs since 2014

In a moment you will see KL Rahul’s batting average, but it is going to take some time to come up. He isn’t last, that’s Ashwin. But the only specialist batters behind him are Jermaine Blackwood and Aiden Markram. So since 2014, of the players with 2000 runs, you could argue that he is the third worst on average.

Nagpur partnerships

KL Rahul’s form is back in the news, and in my comments. And a lot of it was brought about by his failure - I mean he didn’t make runs but actually had a pretty good partnership - the third-best in the game. Considering it was almost more than Australia scored in the last innings was pretty decent.

But it didn’t stop Venkatesh Prasad from sending this tweet. It’s a really interesting thread actually, because it kind of veers from the obvious, Rahul’s record is poor, but it goes on to conspiracies about selections and people not speaking up.

India and KL Tests

But let’s just focus on the fact that Rahul is struggling with the bat, and not look at why.  One phrase Prasad uses is “consistently inconsistent” when talking about Rahul’s form. But the first thing I wanted to check is how often he actually played. It is hard to get into the groove if you barely play. And he’s just over 50% of the Tests in that time. It’s not ideal.

But then you need to see if he had some good runs in the team. And, he has one really good period where he played quite a bit from 2016 until 2019.

KL average by eras

So when you break it down, that was his best period, it was actually two-thirds of his career. And you can see coming in and out has not been as good for him. However, it is worth looking at the fact that regardless of whether he was in our out, or in, he really didn’t make a lot of runs.

KL Home & Away

However, there is some interesting stuff in his record, like the fact that he has really struggled on the road, but been good at home. It’s not enough of a record to make his numbers look good, but mid-40s at home and 30 away should mean you end up with a better record overall.

But part of the reason he hasn’t is that he has barely batted at home. Despite playing 46 Tests, he has only batted in 23 innings at home.

KL Home innings

And before Todd Murphy dismissed him, his last innings at home was in 2018. That means in his peak batting years he never played at home. That is a remarkably weird record. In the two years when he played more than five innings at home, he averaged 50 and 46.

KL first-class matches

But there is another issue in all this he plays more for India than he does for anyone else. This is not a player who has played a lot of first-class cricket for a vice-captain of a national side at the age of 30.

This is crazy, since 2015 he has not played five first-class matches when not representing India in tour games or Tests. He just doesn’t play enough. And I flagged this almost. Decades back, Indian cricketers - and many from around the world now - don’t play consistent matches. And they are dropped into Tests and expected to perform. There will be one-off successes, and for some players, it may work well. But overall players will struggle because it’s hard to be good at something you do infrequently.

KL Home & Away

And one thing I want to raise. His record is poorer because of how he plays at home, even if you can’t really justify averaging 30 away at all. But the question should be why does he average this much away?

KL pace v spin

But while that is an issue, I think he struggles in Test cricket because he’s not playing pace well.  This is a terrible record for an opening batter.

KL pace v spin v average

He averages less than all openers versus pace in that time. Now you can see his spin numbers are incredible, but it doesn’t matter if you’re dismissed before you get to them.  You can’t average under 30 against seam and make it big as an opener. Even in this tough era for opening the batting.

KL Rahul highlights

So, just to recap, we have an opener who barely plays red ball cricket when not in a Test, who has been in and out of the team, who averages incredibly low away from home, where he almost always is and doesn’t play at home where his main skills of hitting spin could come in handy. And we haven’t even mentioned all the thoughts on him as a T20 player that are constantly lingering.

But I want to partly explain why Rahul is integral to the Indian side. He knows international cricket, he’s an experienced player, and the Indian set-up clearly trusts him across all formats. Players and coaches will usually trust someone like Rahul over a new guy.  We as fans tend to look to the upside. We know that Shubman Gill can be anything, look at his record. Everyone wants a shiny new toy.

KL v Gill

But Gill and Rahul average over 50 in first-class cricket when not playing for India. Gill is actually over 60. But when they play for India, they are currently both low 30s. Gill actually averages less than KL against pace in Tests. The toy is not as shiny as people remember. Being that this Test is in Asia, all things actually sign to KL being the better player in Tests against the spinning ball. But if you are making a play for the future, I think this would be a great time to try Gill.

But I want to pose a hypothetical to you. What if Rahul plays this Test, and makes a hundred by dodging too many balls of seam, what next?

Because I already know the answer. People will instantly move to someone else who should be out of the team.

India has entered the generation who’s next of Test cricket. Where ever picking your best XI for a game is no longer good enough. Now you need to pick a side that entertains, is fresh, and wins in the style the fans want. You are either great or next on the chopping block.

Indian batters since 2020

And since the start of 2020, it isn’t just Virat who is struggling, Pujara obviously is too. Gill and Agarwal as well. Rahane is already gone. Prithvi and Vihari didn’t even make this list.

Test batters - last 5 years

The truth is that India have made their wickets friendlier to their bowlers at a time when making runs is pretty tough as it is in cricket. Everyone is suffering. Up often hear people say, KL is averaging less than Jadeja. Yeah, he does. So do Joe Root, Tom Latham, Rishabh Pant, and Dean Elgar. Virat Kohli, Ben Stokes, David Warner Cheteshwar Pujara. And many other people paid to bat. The truth is most players have found this era tough, and Jadeja has not.

Asian openers in England

But now you have seen him at his worst, let me show you him at his best. Of all the high-usage Asian openers in the UK since 2000, he has the second-best average. Asian openers have not had a good time in England, and, he has.

Chances are there is plenty in this for someone people to bin him forever, and for others to keep him around.

KL vs openers

What you cannot argue is that over a long period of time, he has barely been a replacement-level opener. When you compared him to the average of all openers during his career, he is just below them.

There is a lot more to his average than just being 34, but even so, that is ultimately the only number people quote.

New Zealand England notes day one

Zak Crawley’s bizarre innings

If I recorded this right Zak Crawley’s innings went left, drop, left, miss, drive, flick, hack, clip, drive, clip, left, left, miss and out. He could have been out three times; maybe the worst shot was the hack.

He was in control of 50% of the shots he played. And he came down the wicket almost 50% of the time. It was just a bizarre bit of Test cricket.

According to Cricviz, the balls he received had an expected average of 11. So he was unfortunate being they certainly weren’t bowling that well to anyone else out there.

But there was a war going on out there. Crawley exists as a Test cricketer because of his ability to drive on the up from his massive frame. He takes length away from bowlers. But seamers have overcome that by just dropping a little shorter to him.

So you have this battle between Crawley and the bowlers over what a good length is. That means that bowlers go a little shorter to him at times, and between the 7-8 metre mark, comfortably back of a length to most batters, Cricviz say he is averring 15.45.

Wagner’s waywardness

His first ball was about as perfect from the hand as you will see from a left-arm swing bowler. Crawley was bowled, but he missed the ball by what seemed to be ten centimetres. But it was a no ball.

Wagner bowled a lot of them. In fact, he bowled a lot of everything except line and length. He was smashed early on. His pitch map looked like a connect the dots that painted a sad clown.

The problem would appear to have been the footmarks and run in. And it seemed like it was only bothering him. Perhaps something due to the rain around. When Tickner replaced him, he bowled around the wicket to start with, but quickly moved to over.

So it would seem that the problem was on Wagner’s side of the wicket, and he eventually went around the wicket (and changed ends).

It may have even dried out during the day. But it’s not really what you expect to bother only you as a bowler. He spent more time on the ground than a professional hill roller.

I did think later on he improved, and he got a little bit more rhythm, but he still didn’t look ideal. Yet he ended up with wickets, though with plenty of help from England’s intent.

However, the bigger issue is how slow he was again. That might have been because of the footing. But it’s becoming a pattern that Wagner isn’t the pace he once was. Cricviz say five of his seventh slowest spells have been since the start of 2022.

Also, Kuggeleijn seems to have taken his job as bowling fast-medium bouncers.

Duckett’s luck

I want to be very clear; I thought Ben Duckett played very well. I worried about him with seam bowling, and he looked clear in his footwork and decision-making.

But New Zealand bowled absolute trash to him. Over a quarter of the balls he faced were overpitched. At his end, it looked like friendly throw-downs, and then at the other Crawley and Pope were getting excellent deliveries.

I don’t know what the issue is, I would have thought the best length to Duckett was back of a length outside off. He looked terrible in that against the South African quicks. So why were the Kiwis floating the ball up so much?

Although it did eventually work. Because Duckett hit another full ball  straight to cover. According to Cricviz, the expected average of that ball was over 80. I suppose his luck had to run out eventually.

Three balls of Bazballing

Neil Wagner bowled a wobble ball at off stump, and before it had arrived he has reversed himself to scoop over the slips. It was the third ball after lunch.

He played it because Wagner was trying to slant the ball across with a packed offside field. So he knew that there weren’t many catchers behind the wicket. But what was interesting is he was doing it against Wagner, who - as discussed - had been spraying it everywhere. So taking the kind of plunge seemed weird.

Next ball, as if to prove my point, Wagner bowled a short ball down leg side. Root actually left it, because you can’t ramp that.

It is interesting that Root attacked the ball he didn’t need to, and then didn’t the one he could have helped on its way.

The next over Wagner delivered a ball that Cricviz suggested had an expected average of 62. A length ball really wide outside off. Root tried to reverse scoop again. But because it was away from him, he had to reach for it, and he didn’t make much contact and clothed it to slip and was gone.

On a normal day would you suggest that Wagner saw it happening and delivered a wide ball. But based on how much he was struggling, maybe was going for a legstump Yorker and got it wrong.

For Root it was weird that he was being given so much width and he’s so good behind point. He could have just milked some balls for soft hands twos until they changed. But that isn’t the England way.

It’s why they scored fast, but also gave New Zealand plenty of chances.

I do declare

England obviously declared early, and that was fun.

The only time we’ve had a declaration earlier is when Pakistan went to Lord’s in ‘74. They declared their first innings on day one because of rain.  Meaning Asif Mahmood didn’t get a bat.

1st innings

The match was still a draw. But weirdly in the second innings Pakistan scrapped their way over 200, but that included a huge collapse at the end.

2nd innings

Underwood ran through the lower half, their started scoring binary until Asif Mahmood was finally allowed to bat, and he made 17.