Monday 20 February 2012

Penny-pinching Misers

I've recently watched the movie Moneyball. The idea of a killer stat is interesting, and it is interesting if such a thing exists in cricket.

In baseball getting on base is the primary objective when batting. There are times that other things are ideal, but getting on base is always a good thing. Compare this with batting in limited overs cricket. If the team needs 8 of the last 2 balls, and you hit a single, you are making it extremely unlikely for your team to win the game. (Unless you have Andre Adams at the other end, and Graeme Aldridge is bowling). However if you need 2 runs off 7 balls, and Bruce Reid at the other end, a single is a great thing.

Likewise if you are chasing 324, scoring 110 off 155 deliveries is really making it difficult for your team to win. But scoring 101 off 143 when your team is chasing 197 on a tricky pitch is an outstanding effort.

However it is rarely true in recent times that a bowler can bowl 9 or more overs and concede less than 50 runs and it be a bad effort. If a bowler stops batsmen from scoring runs, they are doing their job. Over the past 5 years when teams restrict their opponents to 250 or less they win roughly 2/3 of the matches. To put that in perspective South Africa has the 2nd best winning record in that time, winning about 2/3 of their matches. To put it another way, If Bangladesh managed to keep their opponents to 250 or less every match they would be likely to have the best winning record in Asia.

As a result, bowlers who can regularly keep their runs conceded under 50 are very valuable for a team. Which leads to the question: who are the best at doing it?

PlayerBowled 9 or more oversConceded 50 or lessPercentage
Mohammad Hafeez (Pak) 242291.7%
GP Swann (Eng) 383386.8%
DL Vettori (NZ) 534584.9%
J Botha (Afr/SA) 413482.9%
RW Price (Zim) 544481.5%
Shakib Al Hasan (Ban) 685276.5%
KMDN Kulasekara (SL) 372875.7%
M Muralitharan (SL) 413175.6%
B Lee (Aus) 282175.0%
BAW Mendis (SL) 312374.2%
Saeed Ajmal (Pak) 372773.0%
NW Bracken (Aus) 332472.7%
P Utseya (Zim) 543972.2%
DJG Sammy (WI) 282071.4%
Shahid Afridi (Pak) 785469.2%

In that list of 14, there are 10 finger spinners. Some of them don't often bowl that many overs, and only get to bowl that many if things are going well for them, such as Mohammed Hafeez, Nuwan Kulasekera or Darren Sammy, however the other 9 finger spinners are in the 13 most likely bowlers to bowl 9 or more overs.

If we give in to conventional wisdom that we need pace bowlers in a team to give the bowling line up balance, we need to know who are the most reliable pace bowlers. Here are the equivalent numbers for the quick(er) bowlers.

PlayerBowled 9 or more oversConceded 50 or lessPercentage
KMDN Kulasekara (SL) 372875.7%
B Lee (Aus) 282175.0%
NW Bracken (Aus) 332472.7%
DJG Sammy (WI) 282071.4%
Z Khan (India) 523465.4%
MG Johnson (Aus) 543463.0%
Mashrafe Mortaza (Ban) 372362.2%
KD Mills (NZ) 352160.0%
SL Malinga (SL) 442454.5%
JM Anderson (Eng) 563053.6%
SCJ Broad (Eng) 532750.9%

An equivalent table for wrist-spin bowlers is rather redundant, as it would only contain Shahid Afridi, as the only wrist spinner to have 20 or more innings where he has bowled 9 or more and conceded 50 or less in the past 5 years.

Perhaps this would suggest that if we were going to pick a stats-based world team for an ODI, our bowlers might be best to have Kulasekara and Lee opening the bowling, Hafeez and Sammy as our all-rounders and Vettori and Swann as our pure spinners. It would be a very difficult line-up to score off indeed.


  1. I'm really surprised at the range in %s achieved by those top performers. I would have expected there to be much tighter bunching. What's your view on the timing of when bowlers bowl in an innings? Does being your team's 'death' bowler, or being trusted with powerplay overs deflate the performance on this measure of some of the best?

  2. Yes - there are a number of factors.

    There are not many South African players here, and this is in part due to the nature of the pitches.

    There are also not many bowlers who bowl in the powerplay overs, although Hafeez tends to bowl most of his overs with the field in, which is an extra credit to him.

    Also it's good to be a good bowler in a poor bowling side (Price, Sammy, Shakib) as the batsmen sometimes tend to see them out and attack at the other end.

    However I think that despite these factors, the numbers are still very interesting.