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March 26, 2014

Can bowling line-ups collapse?

Jon Hotten
Ireland reeled as Netherlands smashed a world-record 91 runs in six Powerplay overs  © ICC
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When Mike Brearley went to Alderney to interview John Arlott for the BBC soon after the great commentator's retirement, Arlott confided that his favourite part of the game was the batting collapse. He loved the way that it arrived out of nowhere. He relished its suddenness and the overwhelming implications that it brought to the state of the match.

Many fates are caught up in a batting collapse. They are a brutal reminder of the fragility of the game. As a poet, a man who appreciated cadence, Arlott savoured their thrilling rhythm.

Any follower of English cricket is well acquainted with them, of course. They are a brand of collective madness in which uncertainty leaps from one mind to another with a strange kind of psychic connectivity. It's easy to tie the mental state of a batting collapse to something that Daniel Kahneman, in his book Thinking Fast And Slow, called the Availability Heuristic: our perceptions of what is happening are usually guided by the most easily recalled piece of information. If that information is overwhelmingly present - in the faces of the despondent batsmen trooping from the crease, the jubilant opposition, the jittery dressing room - then it becomes almost unignorable, whatever counter-arguments your experience and talent might advance.

T20 cricket is too short for the genuine batting collapse. It lacks the context of the longer game, and the format demands that a batsman place less value on his wicket anyway. But watching Netherlands defeat Ireland in that jaw-dropping spat in Sylhet the other day, we might have seen an early example of the bowling collapse, a phenomenon that the T20 game is uniquely geared to produce.

We have seen individual bowlers get the yips in the longer forms, and it's unnerving in its combination of comedy and tragedy. But there's always the chance for the skipper to hide the poor sap in the field for a while and turn to an experienced man who will steady the ship. There's no equivalent of the collective failure that would echo the batting collapse.

Yet as the Dutch unleashed all hell on Ireland's bowlers, none were able to halt the onslaught. Of the 13.5 overs delivered, eight went for ten runs or more, and three of those went for over 20. Of the other six, four went for nine runs each. Put another way, only two of the 13.5 cost less than 1.5 runs per ball.

This pain was spread. George Dockrell, who began the tournament as one of the format's most economical spin bowlers, sent down three overs for 43. Tim Murtagh, a seamer of great experience, paid for his 3.5 overs with 47. Cusack (pace), Stirling (spin) and McBrine (spin) sent down a combined four overs for 70. The now-infamous first six Powerplay overs, which cost a world-record 91, were delivered by five different bowlers. Every bowler was hit for at least one six; Dockrell was struck for four in a row, while Cusack and McBrine were each dispatched for three consecutive maximums.

In this context, Kevin O'Brien's three overs, which went for 29, were the equivalent of the bewildered non-striking batsman who leans on his bat and watches the wickets go down at the other end.

The nature of a collapse is that it affects everyone involved in it. It is collective, and it seems to be obeying its own internal momentum. It is being inspired by the opposition, but it also leaves the collapsing side unable to arrest the slide. It's somehow contagious. Ireland and Netherlands provided another essential criterion: they were well matched - collapse carries less emotion and less shock value if one team is clearly and historically superior.

Although Netherlands then affected a batting collapse in their first group game, Sri Lanka were certainly superior opposition, and in its way that collapse was quotidian.

The T20 format, with its mindset and its resources tilted in favour of the bat, seems to allow more for the possibility of a bowling attack coming under siege and subsiding to the onslaught; plans destroyed, heads scrambled, unable, as Ireland found, to deliver anything other than the kind of smackable delivery that the batsman is somehow demanding. It will still be rare and remarkable, but the bowling collapse is a phenomenon that may visit us more often.

Jon Hotten blogs here and tweets here

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Posted by shillingsworth on (March 27, 2014, 11:29 GMT)

@Katey - Arlott didn't 'adjust' to 40 over cricket so the evidence that he would have embraced T20 seems rather thin to me.

Posted by steve48 on (March 27, 2014, 11:12 GMT)

Like the article, but bowling collapses can happen in longer formats too, just less spectacularly, a phenomenon often accentuated by an accompanying fielding collapse! The need when this occurs is to have either a top bowler or a very strong leadership group on the pitch, to offset the apparent dominance of the batting side. Can't resist mentioning KP in all this, as a batsman able to cause panic in the opposition as the article is describing, even in test cricket. This was his value beyond averages and consistency, spreading negative thinking in the opposition even off the field; I wonder how many declarations have been delayed by his presence, for example? He certainly had Clarke panicking at the Oval last year for daring an aggressive declaration, didn't he? We will miss his ability to bully otherwise untouchable bowlers in every tight test match until we find a replacement. I bet South Africa forgot James Taylor was even on the pitch at Headingly for example!

Posted by Katey on (March 27, 2014, 6:12 GMT)

@shillingworth - "Arlott didn't like 40 over cricket - my guess is he would have hated T20." My guess is he would have adjusted, like we all have. Most (?) of us hate T20, I know I do. We say so often, so it must be so, not so?

After a hard day at work, in the summer heat, irritable traffic, when at long last this T-20-hater gets home and sees that there's a T20 match on the TV, does she drop into a comfy chair and watch it? As Danny Morrison, that arch-T20-commentator, would say, "Yew becha!"

Posted by shillingsworth on (March 26, 2014, 22:05 GMT)

The T20 format already removes much of the fear for the batsman of being dismissed. In addition, Netherlands were chasing a huge total with effectively only 14 overs to bat and nothing to lose as a team. All tactics and strategy went out of the window - the only option was to swing and hope. 99% of the time the result would have been gallant failure, whatever the quality of the bowling. But for a dropped catch, it would have been so this time. If this is a 'bowling collapse', it isn't comparable to the batting variety so relished by Arlott, where the balance between bat and ball is fairer. Arlott didn't like 40 over cricket - my guess is he would have hated T20.

Posted by   on (March 26, 2014, 17:14 GMT)

Lovely insight, Jon Hotten. And I take great note of the suggestion that people's perception of what is happening is usually guided by the most accessible piece of info. That sheds light on England choking in the 2013 Champions' Trophy final - and also on very different phenomena such as panic attacks, and people who never walk on a footpath at night even though it's well lit and no-one's been hurt there.

Posted by   on (March 26, 2014, 16:17 GMT)

Can think of 3 more collapses 2 in odis n 1 in test. Odis first England v Sri Lanka 5th ODI in 2006 when Sri Lanka chased down 320 odd in 40 overs n India chasing 320 in 36 odd overs in Hobart 2012. Test mstches the famous Lords test of 84, where Greenidge's 214 helped chase 340 in less than 70 overs.

Posted by py0alb on (March 26, 2014, 13:59 GMT)

Well in baseball you see pitching collapses, so this is a similar phenomenon

Posted by   on (March 26, 2014, 13:26 GMT)

It appears that the bigger teams did not read the format as clearly demanding as the new smaller teams. Example include South Africa still relying on Amla to open in T20s

Posted by Katey on (March 26, 2014, 10:23 GMT)

How does one distinguish between a bowling collapse and a batting boom? Was it bad bowling by Ireland, transmitted by one bowler to the next, or high-tailed batting confidence by the Netherlands, each batsman spurring the next one on to try to hit more and bigger than the last man?

Seems to me that equation reads the same backwards as forwards. I dunno! Still learning.

Posted by Le_Jeu on (March 26, 2014, 9:38 GMT)

Another fact that supports the writer's theory of it being a bowling collapse is that it wasn't one batsman who was involved in the "onslaught" but almost everyone who came out to bat. Which differentiates it from something like Gayle's 175 in the IPL where although all opposition bowlers were collectively being smacked, hardly anyone other than Gayle did the hitting (barring de Villiers at the end).

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jon Hotten
Jon Hotten is the author of Muscle and The Years Of The Locust, neither of which is about cricket, and writes the blog The Old Batsman, which is. @theoldbatsman

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