The great slow down?

Are run rates slowing down in Tests. It's way too early to speculate, so watch me do it anyway.

This is a weird time. Players can't dribble on the ball, and cricket is played only where there is a ground hotel. But there is a trend I have noticed, and it might be nothing, but the last time I saw something like this, it was on roughly the same amount of Tests, and it turned out I was onto something.

Now it's not averages, but economy rates. Perhaps it was watching West Indies and England, who are both scoring slow. And it makes sense, West Indies are still trying to build a batting line up out of first class cricketers with poor records. England keeps finding a bunch of unique batting talent. But I mean unique as in if you copied these techniques, you'd break your neck or dislocate your pelvis. And the West Indies are a very defensive bowling unit.

They want to stop you scoring, control the game. Jason Holder does this by being horrifyingly tall while moving the ball either way more than anyone else in cricket. Kemar Roach doesn't believe in runs as a concept. And West Indies will bowl dry for days as a collective. So I figured this was all recency bias after a couple of slow Tests.

But it isn't.

Despite some dour batting for England in this series, they're actually not that a slow scoring a team. And even West Indies aren't that turgid when you look at this.

The West Indies are under three an over though, and that's worth thinking about because it's not just them. Half the teams in Tests this year are scoring below three. And three is important because I couldn't remember the last time Test cricket as a whole was scored at less than three an over.

And there was an excellent reason for that. In the last 20 years there has not been a year where Test teams have scored under three.

Until this year, that is. Now, this may not hold up. Like when I saw that trend in 2018, it was hard to know if that was a real slump or not. This time it's even harder to work out, but this is quite a drop. It exists, I can see it, but I don't know whether to believe. In 2018 I made this suggestion from only 18 Tests, now it's 13.

And I'm biased; I've been waiting for a slow down to run rates, and the reason is analytics.

Cricketers have always known other players weaknesses, and usually, that information over time spreads. But while BBMs and WhatsApps made that more accessible, it was still an informal system.

Now through video and pitch map data you can easily discover weaknesses. Here is Faf du Plessis against right-arm pace in the last five years. At the top of the box is his run-rate, underneath is his average.

It doesn't take long to work out where to bowl to get him out or slow him down. (I even colour coded it for you) . In Faf's case, they are both in the same place, which makes it easier to remember.

Bowlers now have this information for everyone who has played over five Tests. Spinners now know if a player is a sweeper or not. We still don't have great fielding data, but we have wagon wheels. They are flawed as they only tell you where the ball was hit, not where the fielder was. You can also work out what average a player has for a type of shot. And with all that, you get a good idea of how to dismiss them, set up your field, and slow them down.

Now, this might be a false trend, just a blip. In 2018 the rate was 3.1, the equal lowest year this millennium at that point. But 2019 was over 3.28, which is on the higher end. And I can see why these seem like minor differences to some, but last year teams were scoring at a rate of 295 runs a day, this year it's 266. None of that helps us understand if it's a blip or not.

But I could see why it could be real. And I think both trends are linked. The bowlers suddenly dominating Test cricket after nearly 20 years was helped by a few things. The pitches got better for bowling, and we had an incredible crop of seamers come through at once. You put that together with an analyst being able to pinpoint your weakness with this level of accuracy, and it becomes tough to bat.

But batsmen wouldn't stay in at the levels of 2018, they would fight, show more patience, and adjust a little. So after 2018 the average of all wickets is 30. It's not high by current standards, but it's not drunk and naked in the gutter like 2018's 27 was.

So somehow we've entered a period where many were talking about how modern players are so influenced by T20 that they attack too much. While possibly entering a slight scoring funk. But these are weird times.

Every day of this Test you can hear me over at the Following On podcast.