March 21, 2014

Spin in T20s, and the top batsmen against it

With the World T20 being held in Bangladesh, spin, and the batsmen who handle it the best, could well be the key for all teams

With Bangladesh hosting the World Twenty20, plenty of focus will be on spinners, and the ability of batsmen to combat them and get them away for runs. When the format first started, it was reckoned that spinners wouldn't have much of a role to play, since batsmen would have plenty of time to set themselves up and tee off against them; the faster the ball comes at the batsman, the lesser time they would have to prepare.

That was the thinking very early in the life of 20-over cricket, but over the years spinners have performed so well in this format that no one thinks that way today. Lack of pace has made it more difficult for batsmen to clear the boundaries - despite their reducing sizes - while the increasing number of variations and slower nature of pitches has also helped their cause.

In the first World T20 tournament in 2007, spinners bowled only 24% of the total overs. In the first six overs of an innings, they bowled just four overs in the entire tournament, which was 1% of the total Powerplay overs. The fact that the tournament was played in South Africa was perhaps a factor in fast bowlers bowling a bulk of the overs - especially in the Powerplays - but clearly it was also a case of captains not trusting the slow bowlers enough. Among the top 11 wicket-takers in the tournament, there were only two spinners - Shahid Afridi and Daniel Vettori. The spinners who bowled in the Powerplays during that competition were Bangladesh's Abdur Razzak (three overs) and New Zealand's Jeetan Patel (one over). Neither bowler took a wicket in these overs.

By the time the next edition of the tournament came along - in England in 2009 - teams had begun to realise the value of spinners. In the entire tournament, spinners contributed 38% of the total overs - up from 24 in the first edition - while they bowled 9% of the Powerplay overs. Among the top ten wicket-takers in the 2009 World T20, there were five spinners. The slow bowlers were beginning to have more of a say in the format.

Since then, spin has contributed even more in the next two editions, the 2010 one in the West Indies, and the 2012 tournament in Sri Lanka. It helped, of course, that those two tournaments were held in countries where pitches are generally slower and more suited for spin bowling. In 2010, spinners bowled 43% of the total overs and 22% in the Powerplays, while the corresponding percentages went up marginally to 46 and 24 in 2012. Along with bowling more, the stats for spinners improved too - especially the economy rates - which justified the decision to bowl them more often in this format.

Pace and spin in the World T20 tournaments
  Spin Pace
  Overs Ave ER Over % Overs Ave ER Over %
2007 - Overall 237.2 23.55 7.84 24 737.0 25.26 7.78 75
2007 - Powerplays 4.0 - 13.00 1 308.2 26.92 7.16 99
2009 - Overall 383.4 20.32 6.62 38 593.0 25.67 7.96 59
2009 - Powerplays 30 31.0 7.23 9 293.0 31.61 7.66 90
2010 - Overall 418.5 25.96 7.19 43 564.4 21.04 7.52 57
2010 - Powerplays 71 28.00 6.30 22 249.4 21.84 6.64 78
2012 - Overall 446.0 24.34 6.87 46 526.2 25.07 7.90 54
2012 - Powerplays 76 19.69 5.96 24 242.0 28.67 6.87 76

With the current edition of the tournament being hosted in Bangladesh, there's a good chance spin will be used extensively again, despite the possibility of dew during the second game in the evening. That in turn means batsmen will need to gear up to the challenge of scoring runs off spin bowling to be successful in the tournament. Here's a look at some of the batsmen who've tended to score briskly against slow bowling in the past in Twenty20 internationals.

The usual suspects are all among the top names in the list below, though some of them have managed the risk better than the others. Shane Watson, Shahid Afridi and Chris Gayle are the three who've scored at nine runs an over or more against spin, but while Gayle has averaged more than 36 while doing so, Afridi has been dismissed 22 times from 215 balls, and averages 14.72, suggesting a far riskier approach.

Fourth in the list is India's Yuvraj Singh with a run rate of 8.59 at an excellent average of 46.42. His overall run rate in T20Is is 9.18, which means he scores even quicker against the faster bowlers. Gayle's overall run rate in this format, though, is 8.41, showing he prefers bashing the spinners, though in his case this is only a relative term.

While these batsmen have scored at well over eight per over, the others at the bottom of the list have run rates of marginally over seven. AB de Villiers, Virat Kohli, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene are all fine 20-over players, but they've probably played spin more often during the middle overs, and have preferred to go relatively quiet against them. Kohli, though, averages more than 77 against them, which shows how secure he is against spin even when scoring at over a run a ball.

Highest run rates for batsmen v spin in T20Is (Qual: 150 balls faced)
Batsman Runs Balls Dismissals Average Run rate
Shane Watson 475 300 16 29.68 9.50
Shahid Afridi 324 215 22 14.72 9.04
Chris Gayle 327 218 9 36.33 9.00
Yuvraj Singh 325 227 7 46.42 8.59
Keiron Pollard 230 162 13 17.69 8.51
David Warner 435 321 15 29.00 8.13
Kamran Akmal 241 183 8 30.12 7.90
Luke Wright 233 177 5 46.60 7.89
James Franklin 209 159 8 26.12 7.88
Kevin Pietersen 400 305 18 22.22 7.86
Michael Swart 215 164 6 35.83 7.86
Graeme Smith 231 177 14 16.50 7.83
Suresh Raina 255 202 8 31.87 7.57
Mohammad Hafeez 423 336 11 38.45 7.55
Michael Hussey 321 255 6 53.50 7.55
Brendon McCullum 619 493 19 32.57 7.53
Paul Stirling 249 200 6 41.50 7.47
Paul Collingwood 186 150 8 23.25 7.44
Lendl Simmons 304 248 9 33.77 7.35
Shakib Al Hasan 241 197 15 16.06 7.34
Eoin Morgan 428 353 14 30.57 7.27
Cameron White 397 328 11 36.09 7.26
Mahela Jayawardene 474 392 14 33.85 7.25
Virat Kohli 233 193 3 77.66 7.24
Kumar Sangakkara 569 477 17 33.47 7.15
AB de Villiers 413 353 13 31.76 7.01

The table above lists batting stats against all spinners, but then there are some spinners who're more potent that the others. In the T20 format, Samuel Badree, Sunil Narine, Ajantha Mendis, Saeed Ajmal and Daniel Vettori have been five of the best in terms of economy rates. Here's a list of batsmen who've scored the quickest against these five spinners.

It isn't a surprise that a couple of Indians head the list, both of whom are in the current squad for the World Twenty20. Yuvraj and Kohli have both scored very quickly against bowlers who've generally tied up other batsmen, and they've done so without getting out to them often. Only four batsmen have scored at eight an over or more against these five (with a cut-off of 30 balls faced). Sangakkara has been dismissed seven times by them - three times each by Ajmal and Vettori - and averages only 16 against them.

David Warner and Brendon McCullum are a couple of other batsmen who've flourished against other bowlers in this format but struggled against them. Warner has been dismissed by them four times in 40 balls, at an average of 10.50 and a run rate of barely over a run a ball; against spinners in general he has done much better. McCullum averages 11.25 against these five spinners - 45 runs in 47 balls, and four dismissals.

Clearly, high-quality spin bowling has effectively stifled even top-class batsmen. In helpful conditions in Bangladesh (though the dew could be a debilitating factor) spin will probably play a big role in the tournament, and how batsmen cope with it could well decide which team goes the farthest.

Best scoring rates against Badree, Narine, Mendis, Vettori and Ajmal in T20Is (Qual: 30 balls)
Batsman Runs Balls Dismissals Average Run rate
Yuvraj Singh 59 36 1 59.00 9.83
Virat Kohli 50 32 0 - 9.37
Rob Nicol 42 31 1 42.00 8.12
Cameron White 80 60 2 40.00 8.00
JP Duminy 121 92 3 40.33 7.89
Nasir Hossain 50 39 1 50.00 7.69
Mohammad Hafeez 49 39 3 16.33 7.53
Michael Hussey 88 71 2 44.00 7.43
Kumar Sangakkara 112 93 7 16.00 7.22
Shakib Al Hasan 38 32 0 - 7.12
George Bailey 56 48 3 18.67 7.00
Michael Lumb 37 33 3 12.33 6.72
Mahela Jayawardene 89 80 2 44.50 6.67
David Warner 42 40 4 10.50 6.30
Eoin Morgan 74 71 3 24.67 6.25

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

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