September 28, 2007

The new spin on Twenty20 cricket

Are spinners a bad option in Twenty20 cricket?

Daniel Vettori: a class act in the Twenty20 version as well © Getty Images

When the Twenty20 format first came into existence there were fears all around about what it would do to the spinners. "They'll get clouted out of the ground" and "There's no room for spinners in a version in which there is no premium on wickets" were some of the common opinions among the pundits. As it turns out those fears have proved largely unfounded. The World Twenty20, which concluded in Johannesburg earlier this week, showed that not only could spinners hold their own, they could also outdo the fast bowlers in a format where taking pace off the ball is the smartest thing to do.

Daniel Vettori, the master of change of pace, finished with 11 wickets - an impressive haul - but even more astoundingly, he had an economy-rate of 5.33, the best among all bowlers in the tournament. Add a strike-rate of 11.63 and you have a bowler whose average figures during the tournament were 2 for 21 from four overs - even in one-day cricket they're excellent numbers; in Twenty20 they're quite unbelievable.

Overall, the spinners had a good time in the tournament. Their wickets tally only amounted to a little over a third of what the fast bowlers took, but there was hardly anything to choose in terms of the average and the economy-rates between both.

Fast bowlers v spinners in World Twenty 20
Wickets Average Econ rate
Fast bowlers 226 25.26 7.78
Spinners 81 24.70 7.90

The lack of pace on the track at Johannesburg - which was especially prominent during the final - was perfect for the slow bowlers, and they did very well there, taking 35% of the total wickets taken by all bowlers, and at an average that was much better than what the pace bowlers managed. The spinners didn't bowl as much as Durban, taking less than 20% of the total wickets, but they didn't do a bad job there either, with their wickets costing them 21 apiece at an economy-rate of 7.82. At Cape Town they picked up 24% of all wickets to fall to bowlers, but it cost them more - almost 30 runs per wicket.

Fast bowlers v spinners at each venue
Venue Fast - wickets Average Econ rate Spin - wickets Average Econ rate
Johannesburg 69 30.21 8.51 37 23.11 8.26
Durban 79 24.62 7.70 19 21.00 7.82
Cape Town 78 21.53 7.13 25 29.88 7.57

This tournament was supposed to be tailormade for Shahid Afridi the batsman; instead it was Afridi the legspinner who shone. As a batsman he scored at a phenomenal strike-rate of 198 - the highest for any batsman who faced at least 25 balls - but he only managed 91 runs in the seven innings in which he batted, at a poor average of 15.16.

With the ball, though, Afridi was outstanding, taking 12 wickets at an economy-rate of less than seven runs per over, figures which were enough to win him the Man-of-the-Series award. Daniel Vettori finished with the second-highest haul of wickets, though his average and economy-rate were both better than Afridi's.

Best spinners in the tournament
Bowler Wickets Average Econ rate Strike rate
Shahid Afridi 12 15.66 6.71 14.00
Daniel Vettori 11 11.63 5.33 13.00
Abdur Razzak 7 17.28 6.36 16.2
Harbhajan Singh 7 26.00 7.91 19.7
Shakib Al Hasan 6 19.33 6.82 17.0
Mohammad Hafeez 5 32.60 8.57 22.8

You'd have thought the spinners would have struggled to keep the runs in check during the slog, but they haven't done badly on this count either: in the 223 balls they have bowled in the last five overs of an innings, the slow bowlers have gone at 9.04 an over, compared to 8.51 for pace, but spin has succeeded in getting batsmen out regularly - the average for spinners is marginally less than for fast bowlers.

Pace and spin in the last five overs in the World Twenty20
Type of bowler Wkts Average Economy rate Strike rate
Pace 72 16.06 8.51 11.32
Spin 23 14.61 9.04 9.70

A couple of other interesting bits about pace and spin from the World Twenty20:

  • 47% of the deliveries bowled by the fast bowlers were dot balls. The corresponding number for spin was only 27%, but that is explained by the fact that spinners usually bowled when the field was more spread out, while usually only pace was used during the first six overs, when the fielding restrictions were in place.

  • You'd think that spin bowlers would have been far easier to clout for sixes, but that wasn't the case. They went for 82 sixes in the tournament, that is, 5% of the total balls they bowled were hit for sixes. The fast bowlers were only marginally better - they went for 183 sixes in 4440 deliveries, which converts to 4% of all balls bowled.

    S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo.