March 20, 2015

Left-arm fast bowlers on a roll

Mitchell Starc and Trent Boult have led the way, but several other left-arm fast bowlers have also shone, making this a tournament to cherish for them

Mitchell Starc has led the way for left-arm pace in this World Cup, taking 16 wickets at an average of 8.50 © Getty Images

Along with huge totals, big hundreds and batting run-fests, one of the highlights of this World Cup has also been left-arm fast bowling. Mitchell Starc and Trent Boult have the two outstanding bowlers among them, with Wahab Riaz not far behind, but several others like Shapoor Zadran, Corey Anderson, Mitchell Johnson, Mohammad Irfan, Rahat Ali and even Manjula Guruge have all had their moments and made it a World Cup to remember so far for the left-arm fast bowling tribe.

A left-arm fast bowler topping the wicket-takers' list in World Cups isn't so unusual. Zaheer Khan did it in 2011 (jointly with Shahid Afridi), Chaminda Vaas in 2003, Geoff Allott (along with Shane Warne) in 1999, and Wasim Akram in 1992. What's more unusual, though, is for a pack of them to be playing the same tournament, and doing so well all at the same time. With five matches still left in the tournament, left-arm fast bowlers have already taken 102 wickets in the tournament, at an average of 20.46 and an economy rate of 4.94; in no other World Cup have they taken more than 77 wickets. That mark was reached in 2003, when, apart from Vaas taking 23 wickets, there were also healthy contributions from Zaheer Khan (18), Ashish Nehra (15) and Wasim Akram (12). All four of these bowlers took their wickets at less than 21, which meant that despite a few other not-so-impressive performers, the overall average for left-arm pace in that tournament was still 21.61, not far from the average so far this year.

In 1999, Allott didn't have as much support, with only Akram (15) and Allan Mullally (10) taking ten or more wickets, while in 2011, Zaheer was even more of lone flag-bearer for left-arm pace, with only Johnson (10) and Wahab taking more than five wickets among left-arm fast bowlers.

Left-arm fast bowlers in each World Cup
Year Wkts Ave Econ SR
 2015  102  20.46  4.94  24.8
 2003  77  21.61  4.41  29.3
 1999  59  23.64  3.91  36.2
 2007  57  27.57  4.35  38.0
 2011  46  22.54  4.52  29.9
 1992  36  31.66  3.87  48.9
 1975  27  17.00  3.20  31.7
 1987  20  48.15  4.65  62.0
 1996  12  36.66  4.09  53.6
 1979  9  44.66  3.29  81.3
 1983  3  18.00  3.85  28.0

In the ongoing tournament, fast bowlers have done the bulk of the wicket-taking - though spinners like Imran Tahir, R Ashwin and Daniel Vettori have played key roles for their teams - but even among fast bowlers, the left-armers have been more incisive. They have bowled 11.59% of the total deliveries in this World Cup, and taken more than 17% of the wickets. Their average is by far the best among the different bowler types - it's about 38% better than right-arm pace - while they have also been going at less than five an over, in a tournament where batsmen have been making merry. Overall, they have been equally effective against right- and left-hand batsmen: out of 102 dismissals, 66 have been of right-hand batsmen (average 19.69), and 36 of left-handers (average 19.05).

Bowlers in World Cup 2015
Bowling Hand Wickets Ave % balls % wickets Econ
 Right-arm fast  355  33.04  56.24  59.66  5.72
 Left-arm fast  102  20.46  11.59  17.14  4.94
 Right-arm spin  89  49.02  22.26  14.96  5.38
 Left-arm spin  49  39.28  9.91  8.24  5.33
Left-arm fast bowlers in the 2015 World Cup
Against Wickets Average Econ SR
 Right-handers  66  19.69  4.73  24.9
 Left-handers  36  19.05  4.59  24.9

The sudden preponderance of left-arm fast bowlers in this World Cup isn't entirely surprising, given the quality of those bowlers, but they didn't all come into this tournament with great numbers behind them. In 2014, they collectively averaged 36.57 in ODIs, at an economy rate of 5.59. (Click here for their year-wise stats since 2000.) In 2014, the average for right-arm fast bowlers was 31.94.

In 2014, James Faulkner was the leading wicket-taker among left-arm fast bowlers, with 19 at an average of 33.42, while two New Zealanders, neither named Trent Boult, followed - Corey Anderson took 17 at 30.05, and Mitchell McClenaghan had 16 at 40.75. Starc had 12 at 30.41.

In the World Cup, though, Anderson is the only one of the top three who has made an impact. Faulkner has been unlucky with injury, and even in the three matches he played in, he bowled only 16 overs, taking 3 for 71. McClenaghan has been upstaged by Boult, who has been devastating with his ability to swing the new ball, while Starc has been deadly with the new ball and with the swinging yorkers at the end of an innings.

Two out of Starc, Boult and Wahab could have three more matches to go in the World Cup. If that does happen, one of them could go on and break Vaas' record of 23 wickets, the most by a left-arm seamer in a World Cup. In a World Cup dominated by their ilk, that would be quite apt.

Left-arm fast bowlers in the 2015 World Cup
Bowler Wickets Average Econ SR
 Mitchell Starc  16  8.50  3.67  13.8
 Trent Boult  15  15.60  4.17  22.4
 Wahab Riaz  14  22.42  5.49  24.5
 Corey Anderson  10  13.10  4.82  16.3
 Shapoor Zadran  10  26.50  5.19  30.6
 Mitchell Johnson  9  22.66  5.91  23.0
 Mohammad Irfan  8  23.25  4.53  30.7
 Manjula Guruge  7  19.42  4.77  24.4
 Rahat Ali  7  22.14  4.07  32.5

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