In the third article in our series using Smart Stats to analyse various aspects of cricket, we focus on wicket-taking bowlers, but with a difference: we look at not just the sheer number of wickets, but also the quality and impact of those dismissals. Smart Stats is a part of Superstats, a new set of metrics by ESPNcricinfo to tell more enriching and insightful numbers-based stories. To know more about Superstats, click here.
It is common knowledge that all wickets are not the same in cricket and yet conventional stats gives a value of one to each. What if we do away with that convention and value each wicket as per its actual importance in the context of the game? In last week's column, we looked at economy rates in terms of match context; this time, we do the same with wickets.
Since the start of January 2019, across T20 leagues, Dale Steyn has taken the most impactful wickets per game. Although Steyn has taken only 26 wickets from 18 innings in this period, his wickets are worth 31 (this value is the Smart Wickets). Steyn's Smart Wickets per match is 1.73 - the most for any bowler in this period. Four of the top five names in the list are pace bowlers and there are only three spinners in the top 15. One of the reasons for this skew could be the fact that very few spinners bowl the difficult overs to get the early breakthroughs; the primary role for many of them is to provide control rather than take wickets.
Steyn the T20 bowler might have gone under the radar a bit since he does not play as often as he would have liked to but over the last year, he has created an impact for the teams he has represented, taking 73% of his wickets in the Powerplay and death overs. Only once in a four-over spell has he not taken a wicket in a match. Twenty-three out of his 26 wickets were that of the top five batsmen in a line-up, which makes his wickets more valuable.
There are various cases of bowlers dismissing batsmen either after they have scored runs or late in the innings when the game is a lost cause. However, with Steyn over the last year, the story is different. Not only did he get wickets but also dismissed the likes of Chris Gayle, Alex Hales, Suresh Raina and Chris Lynn early in the innings to give his team the edge. Dismissing the opposition's best player in franchise tournaments always adds extra value, which Smart Wickets captures.
An example of Steyn's high-impact, wicket-taking prowess came in the Mzansi Super League last year, when he picked up the all-important wicket of AB De Villiers at a crucial stage when the match was in balance and de Villiers was about to launch his attack. Steyn finished with figures of 3 for 10 from four overs and got the Man-of-the-Match award. Steyn might be in his last phase in his career but his T20 form should make opposition batsmen wary.
Like Steyn, Shaheen Afridi has also had a great year with the ball. His 22 wickets are worth 25. Fifteen of his wickets are that of the top-five batsmen, and 13 came in the Powerplay. Afridi's wickets were key towards the success of his PSL franchise, Lahore Qalandars, as they made the playoffs earlier this year. Although Kagiso Rabada and Mohammad Hasnain took 33 wickets each, their wickets were worth 33 and 30 respectively. Rabada took only eight wickets in the Powerplay and 19 at the death. Fifteen of his wickets were of batsmen batting at six or below. A combination of these factors has reduced the value of his wickets.
The spinners in the top 15 are South Africa's Imran Tahir, Pakistan's Umer Khan and Australia's Adam Zampa. Deepak Chahar is the lone Indian in the top 15.