Playing For Time

Today Ed Clark has some amusing (and also pretty interesting) stats about England’s Test batsmen. Who’s occupying the crease like Boycott? And whose Test innings have all the permanence of a fart in the wind? 

Whether it’s genuine curiosity, or the beginnings of a lockdown-induced breakdown, I recently calculated how long, in minutes, each England Test batsman spent at the crease in 2019.

More specifically, I looked from January 31st 2019. The date when Joe Denly made his debut.

I had in mind that Denly was an ‘occupier’ – someone who spent a lot of time at the crease while making his runs – thus allowing the team build an innings around him. It was, and is, one of the main reason’s he’s in the side.

I wanted to see how accurate that impression was, and also see who would fall into the ‘timely’ or ‘time-waster’ camps of the 20-odd players who have represented England since Denly first appeared on the team sheet.

Here, if you’ve nothing better to do (and let’s face it, this is quite likely right now), are six of the ‘best’ findings:

Since Denly’s Test debut in January 2019, no player except Joe Root has spent more time in the middle for England.

In the year following his debut, Denly batted for 2890 minutes, second only to Root’s 3349. Ben Stokes (2424) and Rory Burns (2634) are the only other two players in touching distance.

In fact, players called Joe are responsible for 30% of all the time spent batting by England players since Denly’s debut.

Joe R and Joe D have 6,239 of England’s 21,108 combined minutes at the crease since January 2019. No player has more than Denly’s 13 innings of 100+ minutes.

Dom Sibley leads the way since Jan’19 in terms of longest AVERAGE innings.

His 140-minute average is just ahead of Ollie Pope (137), followed by Root (128).

Of bowlers who have batted ten times or more since Jan 2019, Jack Leach (avg. 60 minutes per innings) is comfortably ahead of the pack.

Woakes (40), Curran (30), Archer (25), and Broad (19), are others in contention. Personally I’m amazed that Archer and Broad made double figures here.

Leach’s innings tend to last longer than some of England’s specialist batsmen.

England’s bald-headed hero bats longer than both Johnny Bairstow (58 minutes) and Jason Roy (54 minutes).

Joe Root’s 636-minute double century v NZ was the longest innings at over ten hours.

This one should come as no surprise.

Conversely, just one ‘1-minute’ innings was recorded over the time period in question. The unlucky man? Sam Curran.

Other first-ball ducks did occur but took longer.

What does all this tell us? Not much, some of the cynical amongst you will cry, and head for the kettle. For me, there are three things:

Firstly, Denly really is a sticker, someone who brings long-missing grit to the England top order.

Secondly, the ‘new boys’ of the side – Pope, Burns and Sibley – are finally providing some much needed stickability. With these guys in the XI (plus Denly of course) England’s top order are finally capable of occupying the crease.

Lastly, Jack Leach should probably bat a bit higher up the order. Nothing silly of course, I’m not saying he should open …although the last time he did that, he scored 92.

When cricket returns, let’s hope it’s with the same stickability as the bespectacled hero of Headingley.


Ed Clark


  • I fear lockdown is taking its toll. This article reminds me of many of the latest scientific surveys, where people actually get paid for statistical analysis of the blindingly obvious. Sorry James.
    This blog has been full of articles praising the latest recruits into the test set up providing us with a more stable front 5 with fewer dashers. This must per se involve batsmen spending more time at the crease. Though this is a welcome trend it needs to be set against productivity. This is where an extension of your analysis would be useful. How many of these innings laid the foundations for a big score compared with what we’d been achieving recently or how many resulted is us saving games against the odds.
    Something worth a mention are the England v West Indies matches being shown on the Beeb at present. Just watched Greenidge’s double Hundred to win the 1984 2nd test on the way to ‘Blackwash’
    Even by today’s aggressive standards that has to be one of the best 4th innings test knocks ever. For 4 days we’d played really well against Marshall, Garner and Co. only to have Greenidge upset the cart.
    Has to be said though many of those LBW decisions would have been reviewed today, though not Gatting’s padding up aberrations. I guess the then new LBW ‘not playing a shot’ rule played its part, with Ritchie Benaud as its prime advocate repeatedly extolling its virtues. Great to hear my favourite commentator Jim Laker giving his low key but always committed opinions.

    • Also watched the 1984 Beeb match….shame they couldnt have dwelled a little longer on Bothams knock…it was pure aggression against a Malcolm Marshall in his prime…..and as I remember it ( I was at the test)…he was express. We were just so weak in the bowling department..Willis bless his soul could hardly walk, Pringle was a pop gun medium pacer, and Foster had as much fight as a jelly. Miller the same….What the programme showed us was a little more attitude and we might have put up a better fight in the rest of the series….Dilley, Edmonds etc far better picks in my mind. I think what many people also forget is that many of the touring team used to play in county cricket and were so used to English conditions

      • “Foster had as much fight as a jelly”.

        I dislike having to defend an Essex player, but that’s ridiculous. Foster hated Lord’s but the England selectors kept picking him on that ground and then immediately dropping him when he struggled with the slope. Foster took 11 wickets to win the Madras Test and the series in 1984/85 (a performance by an English seamer in Asia I think only surpassed by Botham). That’s hardly something someone lacking fight could do!

        Foster is one of the players genuinley badly treated by the selectors, unlike certain cases that are always trotted out. He was also unlucky with injuries. I’d rate him as good as Caddick or Hoggard and with better handling he’d also have had 200+ Test wickets. As it was, he helped Essex win the CC several times instead with 100+ wickets in the season, at that time an unusual and difficult feat.

    • This article is supposed to be a bit of lighthearted fun after the more serious topics covered last week.

      • It doesn’t read like light hearted fun, especially as you seem to have taken some trouble to identify the stats. Stats don’t lend themselves to humour. They’re a rather dry fish and taken out of context do tend to inspire a negative reaction.
        If you do light hearted again it would pay to indicate it more clearly at the start. It’s a shame as ideally articles should provoke responses in similar tone.
        Sorry to appear didactic but this isn’t the first time this sort of thing has happened and it must be frustrating for you when we get the wrong end of the stick.

        • It’s supposed to inspire some debate with fun facts in a self deprecating way: “What does all this tell us? Not much, some of the cynical amongst you will cry, and head for the kettle.” References to lockdown induced madness also made the tone pretty obvious imho.

          Sorry Marc but I’m going to stick up for Ed here. He’s made some observations that I found quite entertaining. He’s not lecturing anyone. He’s just made a pretty indisputable point – that England have finally found some players who are happy to graft rather than throw their wickets away recklessly – in a modest way that made me smile. Therefore I published it.

          I was hoping that others might reveal a few more nerdy stats in the comments. I certainly didn’t expect anyone to slag the article off. Never mind.

          • As I said before James, in the present circumstances you need to signal lighthearted clearly, as you have so many annoyed and frustrated people on this blog at the moment, missing their game like crazy and not really in the mood.
            The fact that many have responded the way they have is testament to this.
            As I said earlier carry on with your analysis to find out how many of these welcome minutes spent at the crease resulted in decent scores being amassed. I feel that would inspire a more productive debate for nerdy stats.

            • “Today Ed Clark has some amusing (and also pretty interesting) stats about England’s Test batsmen. Who’s occupying the crease like Boycott? And whose Test innings have all the permanence of a fart in the wind? ”

              Is that not signalling a light hearted article? I’m genuinely confused.

              TFT cannot publish detailed, forensic, well researched articles every day. They take bloody ages. We try but it’s almost impossible. I have a job. Ed (the author of this article) also has a job. We do this for free and for the love of cricket.

              Sometimes we try to inform. Other times we just seek to entertain. Sometimes we just like to make people think. And sometimes we just write articles hoping to start a discussion – a model plenty of sites use.

              In fact, I rather hope that people read TFT as a forum where they can read the views of other fans and contribute themselves. Therefore I find it really disappointing when (extremely occasionally) the response below the line is a bit of a moan. This is not a professional site where people pay a subscription. We do our best!

  • I think this article proves that stats are of no value without context. Just staying in can reflect your inability to actually hit the ball off the square faced with a searching bowling attack. Or that your stroke play is so limited that the bowlers have learnt to tie you up. Or it may reflect a crucial passage on the fifth day which saves a game. Certain passages of play demand a test player to see out bad conditions. On the other hand quick runs might be needed for a declaration or to win a game. Really good Test players adapt their game to the conditions. They don’t just play one way. It’s a five day game which will swing from one situation to another. The highest calibre of skill is required.

  • The best batsmen score runs when they are needed and the best bowlers take wickets similarly. They are the only stats. that matter.

  • Good points made above ^ with more time I’d like to do a deeper analysis of how valuable time spent in the middle has been – not possible for now with a day job but perhaps one for the future. Ed.

    • You’ve underestimated the time at the crease occupied by England’s collective Josephs for a start!!–unless you’re being totally strict in confining it to Joes. I know his batting hasn’t been up to much in the last year, but Jos Buttler must add a few more minutes on…

  • Trouble is now unless you can diversify your interests a bit under the restrictions, some articles are really just giving the impression of ” filling time” with recently not a lot of responses on many pieces. Not just this blog but others as well. The Surrey one for example hasn’t had a comment since last Friday. As Marc says above lockdown is taking it’s toll.

    • With the exception of the stay at home cricket article (which was a guest placement that wasn’t there to get discussion going) I’ve been delighted with engagement on TFT during the lockdown. The articles during this last week, for example, all produced some really good debate. The last two (before this one) produced 42 comments and 20 comments respectively. The one on club cricket was viewed almost 5,000 times and received a lot of attention on both Facebook and Twitter.


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