Tuesday 1 September 2020


I don't often talk about my own cricket exploits on this page for the reason that this is normally reserved for elite cricketers, and I was anything but. In fact, it would be a great stretch to describe me as average, in reality I was no where near good enough to be described as average.

However, there was one batsman who really couldn't face me. It was like I turned into Shane Warne when I saw him at the other end. His name was John, and he was a reasonable quality batsman. Not the best I ever played with or against, but probably in the top 5-10% of guys that I had been on the field with. And yet I had the wood on him.

We played in a little competition every week where we would select captains every and they would pick their team using school yard rules. We played on a proper field, with proper equipment and every match was scored, but it wasn't part of an official competition. There were guys playing with us who had played top level club cricket, and other who would not have made the 6th grade sides. I was never first picked, but generally I was picked fairly quickly after John, by the opposite captain. 

John would often either open or bat at 3 or 4. I was normally the 4th or 5th bowler used, so he was often batting when I was given the ball. He was seldom batting at the end of that over. I had one tactic to John. I would bowl him a top-spinner on leg stump. He would almost always try and hit it out of the park, and get caught doing so. He would then kick over the stumps, say a lot of words that would get him fined in international cricket and/or throw his bat in anger at getting out to me again.

I managed to pick up a hat trick that season. He was the 3rd wicket. I got him with a top-spinner on leg stump, caught at short fine leg.

He found this very, very frustrating. Everyone else found it hilarious. 

What happened that season was a perfect storm of a flaw in his technique being exposed by one thing that I could do, combined with the psychological effect for both of us based on the experiences that we had had against each other. I felt like every ball was a wicket, and he felt like every ball was a chance for him to prove that I didn't have the wood on him. 

Match-ups have been a popular concept in cricket analytics, particularly for the players in the past few years. They want to know how well they match up against different players. Who have they been dominating, and who has the wood on them.

I was working on looking at something else, and generated a list of head to head match-ups over the past few years, and it made me wonder which match-ups were the most one sided.

These are from T20 matches since the start of 2017. They are taken from most of the matches in internationals, IPL, BBL, PSL, CPL and Natwest Blast (I don't yet have ball-by-ball data for every match played) and only feature match-ups that are more than 20 deliveries.

I found that the middle third of averages in the match-ups were between 25 and 50 (with a lot of infinite values, where a particular bowler had not dismissed that batsman) and the middle third of the strike rates were between 105 and 144. Looking at players where both values were at the respective third gave only 7 results for each.

Here are the 7 for each.

Most dominant batting match ups

There are two names appear three times there. Chris Jordan and Aaron Finch. Ahmed Shezhad vs Samuel Badree only makes the list by one run/one ball, so is probably a dubious addition, but the rest seem to clearly be a case of a batsman having the wood over their rival.

Going the other way, Sunil Narine is clearly able to get on top of some batsmen, and the Shadab Khan vs Kieron Pollard match-up is one that the big West Indian won't be too happy with.

There were 4 match-ups that only just missed out on this list. Babar Azam vs Ish Sodhi: average 25, strike rate 125; Babar Azam vs Carlos Brathwaite: average 22.5 strike rate 112.5, MS Dhoni vs Chris Jordan: average 15, strike rate 120 and Ahmed Shezad vs Imran Tahir: average 22, strike rate 110.

If they had been included, then Jordan, Shezad and Dhoni would have all featured on both lists. 

Babar Azam's slow strike rate comes to the fore here. Of the 12 bowlers that he has faced 20 or more balls from in the past 3 years, he's score at less than 7 rpo (116.67 strike rate) off 6 of them. 

Here's how he compares to others:

His median scoring rate against the bowlers he's faced the most often is below the average for all match-ups, and those that are above the median, are mostly not much above.

There's a risk with looking at match-ups of making big conclusions from very small sets of data. The strike rate and average can both change quite dramatically with one wicket or one six. But just because it can be misleading does not mean that it isn't interesting. For some of these, there will be a real phenomenon behind it, and so it is interesting to look at them and see if those battles are real in future. 

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