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BLOG Root and Smith: the key men evaluated

England and Australia are familiar foes, but both teams have new key men for the latest Ashes battle. Joe Root was dropped at the end of the last Ashes series and Steve Smith was still securing his spot, but since then both have been in supreme form and become the focal points of their respective teams.

Since the start of 2014 Smith has gathered 1,617 Test runs at an average of 89.8, whilst Root has plundered 1,318 at an average of 82.4. They are now clearly the wicket the other team most values – how will the respective bowling units approach the difficult task of finding a weakness?

Unsurprisingly both have fared well against the most common bowling style of right-arm seam. Since the start of last year both batsmen average over 70, setting the tone with impressive strike rates around the 61 mark.

Against right-arm seam since 1/1/2014

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Left-arm pace is likely to play a major role in this series. England are fully aware of the dangers posed by Mitchell Johnson, with Mitchell Starc a similarly fearsome prospect after his outstanding performance at this year’s World Cup.

The different challenges of facing left-armers might prompt England to hand 2014’s leading county wicket-taker Mark Footitt a debut, with Smith largely untested against this style during his purple patch. Root largely avoided the dangerous Trent Boult in the recent New Zealand series, but Johnson and Starc will provide just as stern an examination.

Against left-arm seam since 1/1/2014

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Relying on orthodox spin to trouble the key men could be a fruitless task. In the period in question Smith has milked 541 runs combined from the 925 balls of off-spin and slow left-arm he has faced, being dismissed just three times (a combined average of 180.3 against orthodox spin).

Root has scored more quickly, acquiring 418 runs at a strike rate of 61.3 and an average of 83.6, with his 174 runs (one dismissal) against off-spin coming from just 199 balls, suggesting the Yorkshireman will not fear Nathan Lyon this summer.

Against off-spin since 1/1/2014

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Against slow left-arm since 1/1/2014

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It has been suggested Moeen Ali will struggle against the highest quality players of spin and Smith certainly fits into this category. Smith’s relative troubles against leg-spin further recommend the selection of Adil Rashid, who the home team must seriously be considering for this series.

Whilst Root has the sort of recent record against leg-spin that one might expect of an in-form player, hitting 83 runs from 93 balls without being dismissed, Smith has struggled. He averages 36.8 against leg-spin since the start of last year, by far his worst output against a bowling type.

Against leg-spin since 1/1/2014

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It should be noted he has faced the frontline leg-spin of Pakistan’s Yasir Shah, who dismissed Smith three times in a two-Test series last October. Nonetheless, there is enough to suggest the Australian vice-captain has an issue against leg-spin and that England might be wise to target this area; there is very little else to consider a weakness in the game of the world’s top-ranked Test batsman.

Opta is the Official Data Partner of the ECB, and will be collecting and providing detailed data and statistical editorial services for the entire 2015 Investec Ashes series.  

Posted by Opta at 11:37