September 28, 2012

Who to pick at No. 7?

How many balls does he bat per match in Twenty20 internationals? In which team is the No. 7 batsman least needed?

All stats updated till September 26, 2012

The No. 7 slot has been one of the more intensely debated topics in the World Twenty20 so far, especially for those following the Indian team. The teams blessed with quality allrounders have usually slotted one of those at that position - Albie Morkel for South Africa, for example - followed by four specialist bowlers (or players who are more bowlers than batsmen). MS Dhoni, though, has steadfastly maintained that he feels more comfortable going in with seven batsmen (including himself).

This can be argued either way. Those advocating five bowlers - including Sourav Ganguly and several other experts - reckon, with some reason, that six batsmen are plenty to tackle 120 deliveries, and that a seventh is usually wasted. Those in favour of four bowlers reckon part-timers can fill in with four overs, since even the specialists get hammered anyway; plus, the cushion of seven batsmen allows the top order to bat with more freedom, knowing that there's an extra batsman in case things go wrong. Dhoni has the explanation for his seven-batsman policy no matter what the conditions: on overseas pitches, he feels India need the seventh batsman to feel comfortable; in slower conditions, he's confident that India's slew of part-time spinners will collectively perform the fifth bowler's job.

It's difficult to estimate how much a seventh batsman contributes to the line-up by his mere presence and the cushion he offers to the top order, but it's certainly possible to check how much he actually contributes in T20 matches and how much opportunity he gets to make a mark.

In the 274 T20 international matches played so far (before the start of the Super Eights in the ongoing World Twenty20), No. 7 batsmen came out to bat 415 times, and faced 3915 deliveries, which works out to an average of 9.43 balls per innings. However, this doesn't take into account the instances when the No. 7 wasn't required to bat at all. Given that 274 matches have been played so far, that's an average of 14.29 balls per match, for the No. 7 batsmen of both teams (or 7.15 balls per team, assuming both teams batted in every match).

The table below compares these numbers to other batting positions. It's obvious that the top order will have much higher numbers for balls faced, but it's interesting that positions five, six and seven each face around six fewer deliveries than the previous slot. (The numbers for openers are much higher because there are two of them per team.)

Stats by batting position in 274 T20 internationals
Position Innings Runs Balls Average Strike rate Balls/match Balls/inngs
Openers 1086 25,043 20,428 24.52 122.59 74.55 18.81
No.3 532 11,016 9571 22.62 115.09 34.93 17.99
No.4 519 10,398 8937 23.36 116.34 32.62 17.22
No.5 498 8115 7198 19.93 112.73 26.27 14.45
No.6 461 6317 5505 17.89 114.75 20.09 11.94
No.7 415 4595 3915 16.29 117.36 14.29 9.43
No.8 338 2652 2505 11.73 105.86 9.14 7.41

The team-wise stats for No. 7 batsmen in T20 internationals show that the balls faced per match for these players is lowest for the Indians - this stat will please experts like Ganguly, who have forever been saying that a specialist batsman in that position is a waste, since he hardly gets any deliveries to play. The Indian No. 7 batsmen have faced all of 181 deliveries in the 38 matches played by the team, which works out to an average of less than five balls per innings. (One of those matches, against Scotland in the 2007 World Twenty20, was washed out, but the average doesn't change much if that game is left out.) In those 38 games, India's No. 7s only got to bat 23 times, which means in the innings in which they did bat, they faced an average of eight deliveries every time they came out to bat.

India's No. 7 average is significantly below that of other sides, which suggests their top order has been doing pretty well - at least in terms facing the bulk of the overs. Australia's average, on the other hand, is almost eight per match, and more than 11 per innings. Their average and strike rate are much better than those of the other teams, though, thanks largely to the contributions of Michael Hussey at that position.

Team-wise stats for No. 7 batsmen in T20Is
Team Matches Innings Runs/ balls Average Strike rate Balls/match Balls/ inngs
India 38 23 223/ 181 15.92 123.20 4.76 7.87
Sri Lanka 43 32 322/ 278 16.10 115.82 6.47 8.69
South Africa 49 33 383/ 323 20.15 118.57 6.59 9.79
England 50 38 410/ 332 17.08 123.49 6.64 8.74
Ireland 30 22 204/ 204 15.69 100.00 6.80 9.27
New Zealand 55 41 504/ 397 17.37 126.95 7.22 9.68
West Indies 40 32 372/ 290 19.57 128.27 7.25 9.06
Pakistan 60 46 522/ 452 15.81 115.48 7.53 9.83
Australia 54 37 602/ 422 26.17 142.65 7.81 11.41
Bangladesh 26 24 223/ 228 12.38 97.80 8.77 9.50
Zimbabwe 22 19 250/ 195 17.85 128.2 8.86 10.26

A break-up of the number of balls faced by No. 7 batsmen shows that in a huge majority of innings, they face less than 12 deliveries - and that's when they come out to bat in the first place. In 292 out of 415 innings (70%), they play fewer than two overs; in 147 innings (35%), they face fewer than six balls.

Only 58 times in T20 internationals have the No. 7 batsmen faced at least three overs, with nine of those facing 30 or more balls. The highest for a No. 7 batsman is 41 balls, by Scotland's Gordon Drummond against Ireland in 2010. Drummond got to play as many deliveries as he did because Scotland slipped to 12 for 5 in the fourth over, and ended up losing by 37 runs despite some late resistance.

In fact, the top six No. 7 innings in terms of balls faced have all been in defeats. They've been games in which the top orders have flopped and left the No. 7 with too much to do. (scored 39 runs and helped Pakistan beat England by eight runs earlier this year.

Spread of balls faced by No. 7 batsmen in T20Is
  30 and above 24-29 18-23 12-17 6-11 0-5
No. of innings 9 17 32 65 145 147
No. of not outs 3 6 6 26 45 47

In terms of runs, the two highest scores by No. 7 batsmen - 66 not out and 61, by Jacob Oram - have both been in defeats, against Australia and England. The highest in a win is Michael Hussey's outstanding unbeaten 60 against Pakistan in the semi-final of the 2010 World Twenty20. Hussey is also in second place, for his unbeaten 47 against Bangladesh in the same tournament, and features three times in the top eight.

Hussey is clearly the standout batsman at this slot in T20 internationals, for his ability to score quickly and yet not get dismissed. Four of his eight innings have yielded more than 30 runs, at strike rates of 150 or more, and all of them have been unbeaten efforts.

Abdul Razzaq had that stunning knock of 46 not out off 16 balls against England, and 34 not out off 11 against New Zealand, but his overall strike rate at this position is less than 120. Oram and Hussey are the only batsmen to score fifties from No. 7 in T20 internationals.

For India, the highest aggregate belongs to Yusuf Pathan, who has scored 86 in 48 balls, a strike rate of almost 180. The rest, though, haven't done much in their limited opportunities, which is also an indicator that India's top six have done pretty well. Going into the Super Eights, Dhoni will want this trend to continue.

Batsmen with highest aggregates at No. 7 in T20Is
Batsman Matches/ Inngs Runs Balls Average Strike rate 50s
Abdul Razzaq 19/ 18 284 239 21.84 118.82 0
Jacob Oram 15/ 12 265 150 29.44 176.66 2
Michael Hussey 9/ 8 248 138 124.00 179.71 1
Albie Morkel 14/ 9 181 135 25.85 134.07 0
Jehan Mubarak 5/ 4 105 62 52.50 169.35 0
Yusuf Pathan 8/ 6 86 48 21.50 179.16 0

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