T20 bowling - a lateral look
A hectic and harrowing few days have left me longing for an article which will not have over 100 responses daily, quite a few of them calling for my blood. Hence before I do the follow-up article to the Test batsmen one, I decided to do a simple one which will elicit few, but informed, responses and will be of interest to the discerning readers.
It is my pet theory that it does not matter which bowler the captain bowls in T20.
If the batsman sets his mind, any bowler will go for plenty. This has been substantiated by the happenings in the IPL. The bowlers who have gone for plenty (around 20 runs) are the experienced bowlers such as Flintoff (twice), Agarkar, Vettori (19), Sreesanth (thrice), Ishanth Sharma, Vaas (the 23-run last over) et al. The lesser bowlers also did go but not like this. Hence I decided to put this, possibly unsound, theory to test.
This analysis pertains to T20 International matches. Reluctantly I have come to the conclusion that the IPL is not going away and am building my data base. So the IPL analysis will follow later. I may not be a great fan of IPL, but that entity is a treasure-trove for analysis.
Again the selection criteria plays an important part. I have set the criteria as players who have bowled in a minimum of 3 matches. Since the maximum number of matches for a bowler is 17, this represents a sub-20% lower limit. Initially I set 5 matches as the criteria but enough bowlers did not come through. These and the "all bowlers" data is also summarised later. This is the only criteria I have set. The measure used for classification is Balls per (Bowler) match.
The BpM measure ranges from 24.0 for a few bowlers to around 10.0 for some others. 141 bowlers satisfy this criteria (bowled in 3 or more matches) and are available for analysis. Out of these, 65 bowlers have bowled 21.0 balls or more indicating that these are very regular bowlers. 14 bowlers have bowled 15 balls or less. The middle group, between 15 and 21 balls per match can be termed as somewhat regular bowlers. These limits are used only for some form of classification and are not set in stone. Now let us look at how these bowlers, as a group have performed.
Only bowlers who have bowled in minimum of 3 matches
BpM Bow Balls Runs Wkts St/Rt RpOThe averaging has been done within a group. The first group denotes bowlers who have almost always completed their spells barring very few matches. The third group denotes bowlers who have rarely completed their spells. The middle group comprises of bowlers who bowled regularly in a support manner. Quite a few of them might have completed their spells also.
Very regular bowlers >=21 65 9825 11245 535 18.36 6.87 Regular bowlers 15-21 62 6298 7752 331 19.03 7.39 Irregular bowlers <15 14 825 1181 41 20.12 7.14
Total 141 16948 20178 907 18.69 7.14
What is amazing is that the Strike Rate and RpO among the three groups does not vary that much. There is a differential of less than 10% between the values. If anything, the third group has a better RpO than the middle group.
Compare these with the total figures. Again less than 10% variation.
It seems to give substance to my own conclusion that the lesser bowlers do as well or as badly as the better bowlers particularly during the later half of the innings. No captain would like to take the opening overs lightly.
Now we can see two other summaries. The first is the one where the bar is set higher, to a minimum of 5 matches in which the bowler should have bowled. The second is the one including all bowlers who ever delivered a ball. Hence there is an additional classification in the last table.
Only bowlers who have bowled in minimum of 5 matches
BpM Bow Balls Runs Wkts St/Rt RpO
Very regular bowlers >=21 40 7904 9105 427 18.51 6.91 Regular bowlers 18-21 20 2988 3676 167 17.89 7.38 Irregular bowlers <18 14 1754 2394 86 20.40 8.19 Total 74 12646 15175 680 18.60 7.20
All matches - No limit
BpM Bow Balls Runs Wkts St/Rt RpO
Very regular bowlers >=21 105 11146 12960 602 18.51 6.98 Regular bowlers 18-21 62 4910 5960 269 18.25 7.28 Irregular bowlers 12-18 52 2932 3934 143 20.50 8.05 Casual bowlers <12 32 421 623 22 19.14 8.88
Total 251 19409 23477 1036 18.73 7.26
The results are self-explanatory. There is very little difference between the groups, even in the last one.
Does it mean the bowlers are irrelevant in T20 matches and that the team can field 11 batsmen, a few of them bowling their part-time spin/pace. No way. The team might score 250 quite frequently but almost always the opposing team would knock off these runs in 18 overs.
It is also true that in places like South Africa, where the current IPL is a revelation, quite a few totals of around 150 have been defended successfully. In these places I would advocate a 4 full time bowlers + 7 batsmen (incl keeper). Flintoff/IrfanPathan//Kallis would be considered full-time bowlers. The fifth bowler quota could be met from amongst the batsmen who could bowl. One cannot take any chances in these types of pitches where low totals might have to be defended more often than not.
However the situation is different on the very good batting pitches like the subcontinent where the regular bowler is as likely to go for as many runs as the part-timer. Here it makes sense to play only 3 full-time bowlers and meet the fourth and fifth bowler quotas from amongst the 3/4 batsmen/all-rounders. This would leave enough batting fire-power to chase any total. The adage of "6 batsmen should do the job" might hold good in Tests and, to a lesser extent, ODIs but not in T20 because of the high risks needed to be undertaken by the batsmen. However one should not compromise on the three bowlers. That should comprise of a very good opening pair and a top-flight spinner.
Let me sum this in a different way. I think the captain should be able to say, in a subcontinent match, that his strengthened batting lineup would chase whatever total the other team puts up and of course, up his own team's target score, batting first, by about 20%. On the other hand, the captain in a match in South Africa, should be able to say that his better set of bowlers would defend even a lower total and of course, be able to lower his own team's target score, batting first, by about 20%. These ideas go against the normal thinking that in subcontinent one should strengthen the bowling and on bowler-friendly pitches strengthen the batting.
Let me illustrate my idea with two team selections.
IndiaThe only difference is at no.8 where in the sub-continent a batsman Abhishek Nayar/Badrinath plays while at South Africa, the bowler Ojha plays. These may not be the exact players to consider, but the reader should get the drift. The underlying assumption is that Ojha might go for as many runs as a combination of Nayar/Sharma but Nayar or Badrinath would give the batting edge. A similar exercise for Australia.
In the sub-continent In South Africa et al
Gambhir Gambhir Sehwag Sehwag Raina Raina Yuvraj Singh Yuvraj Singh R.Sharma R.Sharma Dhoni Dhoni Y Pathan Y Pathan A Nayar / Badrinath P Ojha Harbhajan Harbhajan Zaheer Khan Zaheer Khan R.P.Singh R.P.Singh
AustraliaHere the choice could be between D.Hussey/Warner who are primarily batsmen and Hilfenhaus, a bowler. D Hussey could as well bowl a few overs in India as Hilfenhaus.
In the sub-continent In South Africa et al
Haddin Haddin Clarke Clarke Ponting Ponting M Hussey M Hussey Symonds Symonds Watson Watson Hopes Hopes D Hussey / Warner Hilfenhaus Johnson Johnson Lee Lee Bracken Bracken
The choice for Sri Lanka could be between Kandamby/Silva (batsman) and Thushara (bowler). For England it could be between Mascarenhas and Anderson. For Pakistan the choice could be between Fawad Alam and Shoaib Akhtar. And so on.
Umar Gul, Vettori, Afridi, Stuart Clark, Abdur Razzak, RP Singh, Shoaib Malik et al are representative of very good T20 bowlers and bowlers like these and others cannot easily be replaced by the casual bowlers.
To all the readers:
I have mentioned in my replies to your comments that all my analysis is based on the scorecard data since I do not have access to the proprietary ball-by-ball data. However I have seen that there is quite a lot of over-based data available in public domain.
I also realize that to do a proper analysis of the bowlers and their deployment, it is necessary for me to use what is available in the public domain and develop my own over-based data.
I have started work on this and once that work is over, expected to take about a week, I should be able to do much more in-depth analysis of T20 and IPL matches and then we can look at this particular analysis segment, amongst others, with lot more clarity. The middle overs, for that matter, the early and end overs, will cease to be a mystery.
Anantha Narayanan has written for ESPNcricinfo and CastrolCricket and worked with a number of companies on their cricket performance ratings-related systems