April 29, 2016

The fizz in Mustafizur

In a little over 12 months, he has firmly established himself as a top-notch bowler, and the captain's go-to man in the toughest situations

Mustafizur is the only bowler to concede less than seven runs per over during the slog overs in T20s in the last 12 months © AFP

Admittedly, these are extremely early days in Mustafizur Rahman's cricket career: it is only two years since he made his first-class debut, and he is one year old in international cricket. (His first international game was a T20I against Pakistan in April 2015.) Even so, he has showcased his extraordinary bowling skills so often on the world stage that he is clearly the real deal. In the IPL, he has only reinforced the belief - which was already in evidence when he played for Bangladesh earlier - that along his whole bagful of tricks, he is also high on self-confidence and relishes the big stages and huge crowds. He is a huge star in the making for Bangladesh.

Mustafizur's bowling numbers in all formats in his short career so far is almost beyond belief. In every format his bowling average is below 20, with his worst average being 18.38, in 15 first-class matches. In the three international formats he averages less than 15 in each (though he has played only two Tests). His economy rates in T20s and T20Is are less than six; in ODIs it is less than 4.3, and he averages nearly three wickets per game. It is obvious that some of these numbers won't remain quite as exceptional over a longer career, but the quality that he possesses and his bowling nous is also equally obvious.

Mustafizur's bowling stats, format-wise
Format Matches Wickets Average Econ rate
 T20s  29  43  15.27  5.92
 T20Is  13  22  13.95  5.98
 List A  14  38  12.15  3.97
 ODIs  9  26  12.34  4.26
 First class  15  44  18.38  2.47
 Tests  2  4  14.50  2.55

Unfortunately for Mustafizur, he came into the international scene just after the 2015 World Cup, which means he missed out on all the attention that comes with a world event. Also, he debuted during a period when the cricket world was recovering from a 45-day World Cup. Even so, Mustafizur did everything he could to focus the attention on himself, taking 11 wickets in his first two ODIs.

The 20-over format is one which could unnerve bowlers, given how batsman oriented it is, but Mustafizur has adapted to it easily as well. His first T20 game was an international, against Pakistan, and he performed splendidly, dismissing Shahid Afridi and Mohammad Hafeez, and returning figures of 2 for 20. In the one year that he has been around, he is among the top three both in terms of averages (which he tops) and economy rates (where he is third), out of 48 bowlers who have bowled at least 75 overs during this period. He is one of only three bowlers to have an economy rate of less than six, and the other two who have achieved this are both spinners - Sunil Narine and R Ashwin. To achieve these numbers in his first year in T20 cricket is truly remarkable.

Top bowling averages in T20s since Apr 24, 2015 (Min 75 overs)
Player Overs Wickets Average Econ Rate
 Mustafizur Rahman  110.5  43  15.27  5.92
 Graeme Cremer  81.0  33  15.48  6.30
 Ravi Bopara  99.1  41  15.58  6.44
 Kevon Cooper  84.4  38  16.13  7.24
 Al-Amin Hossain  98.5  44  17.34  7.72
 Mohammad Sami  123.4  45  17.57  6.39
 Sunil Narine  86.3  28  17.64  5.71
 R Ashwin  105.0  35  17.77  5.92
Top economy rates in T20s since Apr 24, 2015 (Min 75 overs)
Player Overs Wickets Ave Econ rate
 Sunil Narine  86.3  28  17.64  5.71
 R Ashwin  105.0  35  17.77  5.92
 Mustafizur Rahman  110.5  43  15.27  5.92
 Seekkuge Prasanna  84.2  18  29.11  6.21
 Graeme Cremer  81.0  33  15.48  6.30
 Mohammad Sami  123.4  45  17.57  6.39
 Ravi Bopara  99.1  41  15.58  6.44
 Samuel Badree  117.0  34  22.17  6.44

One of the standout aspects of his bowling has been his ability to take wickets and curb the runs in the last five overs. In fact, he is the go-to bowler for all the tough overs, whether it is to break a strong partnership in the middle overs, or to bowl in the death overs when opposition batsmen have plenty of wickets in hand. So far in this IPL he hasn't taken any wicket in the Powerplay overs, but he has been effective there too, conceding only 45 runs in eight overs, and creating pressure on the opposition which has surely helped the bowlers at the other end take wickets. His overall Powerplay numbers are extremely impressive too, with an economy rate of 5.18.

He hasn't gone for too many in the middle overs either, but in the last five his numbers are sensational - an average of 12.24 and conceding fewer than seven per over. In the IPL so far, his death-over numbers are even better - five wickets at 11.20 each, and an economy rate of 6.22.

Mustafizur in different phases of a T20 inngs*
Overs Wickets Average Econ rate BpB
 0.1 to 6.0  8  24.00  5.18  8.54
 6.1 to 15.0  9  16.22  5.84  13.64
 15.1 to 20.0  25  12.24  6.82  9.28
* In matches for which ball-by-ball data is available

Among all the bowlers who have bowled at least 25 overs at the death since Mustafizur's debut in April last year - there are 32 bowlers who make this cut - none part from Mustafizur has an economy rate of less than seven in the last five. In fact, the difference between him and the next best is quite significant: Mitchell Claydon, the right-arm seamer who plays for Kent in England, has conceded 7.56, which is more than 10% poorer than Mustafizur's economy rate.

Due to the many variations in pace, length and angle of delivery - it is remarkable how Mustafizur has mastered these at just 20 - batsmen have so far struggled to pick him, resulting in an excellent balls-per-boundary ratio for him: batsmen hit a four or a six once every nine deliveries in the slog overs, whereas most other good bowlers go for a boundary once every six to seven balls. Dwayne Bravo concedes one every 5.85 balls, while the average is 5.54 for James Faulkner, 6.09 for Jasprit Bumrah, and 5.63 for Bhuvneshwar Kumar.

Top economy rates in last 5 overs in T20s since Apr 24, 2015* (Min 25 overs)
Bowler Wickets Average Econ rate BpB
 Mustafizur Rahman  25  12.24  6.82  9.28
 Mitchell Claydon  15  13.20  7.56  9.24
 Ravi Bopara  15  15.86  7.63  7.48
 Kevon Cooper  24  10.12  7.67  7.04
 David Wiese  18  11.94  7.67  8.00
 Shakib Al Hasan  14  15.42  7.80  7.55
 Lasith Malinga  19  10.78  7.88  6.78
 Mitchell McClenaghan  25  12.44  8.07  7.22
* In matches for which ball-by-ball data is available

In his short cricket career so far, it's clear that most batsmen haven't figured him out. He averages 13.73 against right-handers and 17.58 against left-handers in T20s, and concedes less than 6.5 against each. He has dismissed several top batsmen in this format, including AB de Villiers, Chris Gayle, Rohit Sharma, Steven Smith, Kane Williamson and Shane Watson, and has often got his wickets with skillful deliveries that have defeated batsmen, not just by batsmen making errors while looking to slog.

As he plays more, opposition teams will obviously study his bowling action more closely to try and figure out his slower balls and yorkers. They might partially succeed, but there is nothing to suggest that Mustafizur won't adapt as well. If he keeps his head and doesn't get carried away with the early success and limelight, he could well go on to become one of the leading bowlers in world cricket in the limited-overs format. Many would say he already belongs there.

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on Twitter