In the first Women’s Ashes T20 this week in Adelaide, England were sent in and put 169 on the board – a big total on a ground with long boundaries square of the wicket, and one which Tammy Beaumont said afterwards she’d have “bitten your hand off” for going into the game.
But it wasn’t a winning total – Australia cruised to victory with a massive 18 balls to spare, for the loss of just 1 wicket, with Meg Lanning finishing 64 not out off 44 balls, and Tahlia McGrath 91 not out off 49.
It’s often said that wickets don’t matter in short-form cricket, and there is an element of truth in that – a bowler that takes a couple of wickets but concedes an absolute hatful of runs is probably on balance doing more harm than good. But for England, it is the mantra that seems to now exclusively govern their bowling selections – you can’t pick Kirstie Gordon or Lauren Bell because ‘they’ll be expensive’. (And to be fair, it isn’t just England – Australia made similar arguments picking Alana King over Amanda-Jade Wellington.)
But the problem is that this is focussing too much on individual bowlers and not enough on the team, because overall wickets do actually matter… and the numbers prove it, especially when you are defending a total, however big.
Looking at data from a sample of over 100 T20s* between the ‘Top 5’ teams (Australia, England, India, New Zealand, and South Africa) there is a clear trend to the graph**.
Long story short: it is virtually impossible to win a T20 international defending a total unless you can take at least 5 wickets, and you need 7 wickets before the odds really tip in your favour. Taking just 1 wicket, as England did in that 1st T20, is never, ever, ever going to win you the game.
This is why England need to be picking a couple of proven attacking bowlers – the likes of Kirstie Gordon and Lauren Bell, who might be a tad more expensive, but will actually take wickets. This doesn’t mean they need to pick every bowler on this basis – all-out attack is just as bad as all-out defence (just ask the Light Brigade!) but there’s a balance, and England don’t have it right now.
* The matches for which ball-by-ball data is available from https://cricsheet.org
** Graph smoothed to show the trend, rather than the exact percentages