By Andy Frombolton
The tactics and strategies deployed by many women’s teams are fairly standard and largely mirror those seen in the men’s game (possibly not surprising given how many of the coaches are men) with seemingly little questioning as to whether these really are actually the best ways to win T20 games.
This article argues that just 2 stats* could drive a number of different approaches in team composition, batting order and bowling attacks. (*Taken from the 2021 WBBL – the best T20 competition in the world and the one with the most match data.)
Stat #1: “15 runs”
What’s the significance of this number? The margin of victory in 40% of games (21/53 completed) was 15 runs or less i.e.,
- Chasing teams fell short by ≤15 runs; or
- Teams batting 1st would have successfully defended a score which was 15 runs higher. This second point is obviously simplistic since it assumes that the chasing team wouldn’t have scored more quickly if they were chasing a higher target.)
But the crux holds true that just a few more runs made (or saved) would change the results of a large number of games.
Stat #2: Over-reliance on the top 4 batters
|Bat||Win/Tie||Runs* scored by Top 4||Lose||Runs* scored by Top 4|
* Runs off the bat only
Basically, teams don’t win unless their top 4 batters deliver the vast majority of the runs.
So, how could these 2 facts influence the way that a team might bat, field and select players?
Some might opine that if batters were capable of scoring more runs then they would. But this assumes, firstly, that these batters are making good decisions regarding how to make runs and, secondly, ignores the fact that top batters understand, and hence are constrained by, the correlation between their personal success and team success.
So how could a team score 15 more runs? The average 2022 Blast score was approximately 171 whilst the average 2021 WBBL 1st innings score was 137; the difference (34) being primarily attributable to approximately 3.4 fewer 6s, 1.1 fewer 4s and 11 fewer singles.
Can 6 hitting be improved? The best women batters can clear any boundary but the vast majority can’t. In the WBBL 50% of 6s were hit by just 10 batters. So, this wouldn’t seem a viable approach.
Can teams score more singles (and twos)? Most objective observers would agree that many teams could take far more singles through ‘drop and run’ or targeting weaker fielders. Rapidly improving batter fitness levels will also help. And boundaries need to be pushed out to avoid what some commentators have dubbed “1s or 4s games”. The recent Cricket World Cup saw big boundaries so it’s disappointing that the organisers of the Commonwealth Games have decided to bring them in so far. Big boundaries open up gaps, reward those batters able to manipulate the ball and allow the best fielders to showcase their skills.
But who is to score these runs given the highlighted reliance of teams on their top batters? More aggressive batting comes with higher risks and there simply isn’t the depth of batting in most teams to recover if several wickets fall early. (This is in marked contrast to the Blast where the SRs of batters #1 through to #8 barely drops.) So how do you reconcile the need to take more risk with the fact that you can’t afford to lose your top batters too early?
The proposal here is the deployment of pinch hitters. Central Sparks alluded to such tactics by using Issy Wong at the top of the order in this year’s CEC but this isn’t about promoting a solitary batter to ‘give it a go’ before the ‘proper’ batters come in – this tactic would see a succession of lower order batters promoted to the top of the order with the clear role of taking advantage of fielding restrictions during the powerplay. Losing 3 wickets in the powerplay is rarely recoverable in men’s T20s, but 30-3 off 3 overs might be fantastic start for a women’s team utilising this strategy. (For comparison, in 2021, the average powerplay in the CEC was 38.4 for 1.6 wickets.) And, if the opposition didn’t change their bowling order, it would also mean your best batters faced fewer balls for the opposition’s best bowlers.
Fielding / Bowling
The strategic ramifications of these 2 stats are just as important for the fielding team (particularly if your opposition also adopt the above batting tactics).
The wicket-keeper becomes even more pivotal. All keepers should be able to stand up, even to the fastest bowlers, and thereby keep batters in their crease. This is not an unreasonable expectation as Amy Jones and Sarah Taylor have demonstrated. They should also look to how the best men keepers cover a wide area behind the stumps rather than, as many women keepers do, hovering by the stumps and expecting third and fine leg to field snicks and edges.
A keeper standing up combined with a ring of athletic fielders would put enormous pressure on batters – the tactic so brilliantly deployed by the men’s Gloucestershire team during their 90’s heyday or the current men’s Hampshire squad.
Teams then need a bowling attack capable of taking out the opposition’s top 4 batters. Economy rates shouldn’t matter and nor should overall Strike Rates (which can be flattered by cheap wickets at the back end of an innings) – just a bowler’s SR against the best batters. This also means teams shouldn’t necessarily copy the men’s tactics of using 4-5 different bowlers in the powerplay – teams need their best bowlers attacking the opposition’s best batters (because if the best bowlers can’t get the best batters out, what chance do the other bowlers have?)
Regarding the composition of the bowling attack, teams need to focus on what works versus what’s ostensibly exciting. The simple fact is that slow bowlers are hard to score off – in the 2022 Blast the 26 most economical bowlers were slow – so a team should have at least 3 spinners (ideally a wrist spinner, a left armer and a conventional off spinner). But why not 4?
Is this anti-fast bowler? No, but coaches should acknowledge the realities of what fast bowlers bring to a team versus the hype. It might sound exciting if someone is bowling at 70-75mph, but in itself that just means more speed off the bat and no decent batter should be fazed by such speeds since they’ll regularly face bowling machines set at this speed or, for the diminishing number who play men’s cricket, in club matches. Speed of this magnitude is only penetrative when it’s combined with something else. (The 27th most economical bowler in the Blast is the 6’7” Irfan.). So, your fast bowler needs to be tall (e.g., Bell, Arlott or Filer) or left arm (e.g., Kemp, Farrant or George) or someone who can take the ball away from the righthander (since the majority of women bowlers bowl inswing).
What therefore might a team look like built on these insights?
4 bowlers: selected for their SR against the best batters, not against the middle order and tail. (Once you’ve dismissed the top 4 opposition batters, further wickets become unimportant since the SRs of number 5 to 9 are pretty similar.) Hence a SR of 10 / ER of 9 is far more desirable a SR of 20 / ER of 6. But they need to be matched up against the best batters – your all-rounders and batters-who-bowl should be capable of getting the other batters out.
4 batters: capable of batting the bulk of 15 overs (although not the first few) with a SR of 120+. (A team could perhaps afford to have 1 ‘anchor’ but even then their SR should be at least 110.) Your keeper doesn’t have to be one of these 4 if they form part of the expendable opening batting line up, but their keeping and wider athleticism has to be exceptional. If any of these batters can offer the occasional over of bowling, all the better.
3 all-rounders: collectively capable of delivering 4-8 overs once the top 4 batters are out (or early in the innings if the opposition also cards their best batters lower) combined with role as pinch-hitters capable of scoring e.g., 10 off 4 balls and ‘gun’ fielding.
Fielding athleticism: the ability to squeeze teams in the field is core to this strategy. As we start to get better fielding stats, we can better assign value to this aspect of the game.
The most valuable player in such a squad might not be the batter with an average of 25/SR 120 or a bowler with an ER of 5, but instead someone who bats at 3 with an average of 12 / SR 150, often bowls 2 overs for 16 and typically saves 5 runs in the field compared to the ‘average’ fielder.
Einstein famously said that “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”. It could similarly be contended that any team hoping to beat Southern Vipers by simply repeating the same tactics which haven’t worked to date is destined to the same fate. Is any team ready to re-think the way domestic T20 is played? If so, perhaps some of the answers lie herein?
“someone who bats at 3 with an average of 12 / SR 150, often bowls 2 overs for 16 and typically saves 5 runs in the field compared to the ‘average’ fielder.”
Sounds like Marie Kelly, with the way she (now) bowls! The fact she can bowl three different ways also really helps with the match-ups, and makes her potentially useful against the top-four as well as the middle-order though: variety in types of bowling is just as important as quality of it at times.
“The proposal here is the deployment of pinch hitters… this tactic would see a succession of lower order batters promoted to the top of the order with the clear role of taking advantage of fielding restrictions during the powerplay”. It’s an interesting idea, and one that could maybe work IF you got a team to totally believe in it.
My central issues are, you’re sort of blurring the lines now between how you define who your “best batters” are. In the traditional set-up it’s obvious, but in the approach you describe – are the pinch hitters in fact the “best batters” since they are giving the flying start, and the former “best batters” are now forced to become anchors since the score is 60/4 after 6 overs? My head spins to contemplate it, but there’s a chance that such meddling would just force players into their shells in the middle order and you’d lose out on runs that way. The challenge would be trying to make the middle order players not care so much about loss of wickets I suppose. I know this was supposed to focus on domestic T20 but continuing to play aggressively despite being a large number of wickets down is something England seem to have largely mastered in T20 over the course of several years, more than most other teams. In my opinion, there’s a balance to be struck.
Your take on fast bowling in domestic T20 doesn’t seem to really comport to reality to me. In the men’s game, what you say is more true as the difference in pace between spinners and fast bowlers is huge. Any nick on a 90+ mph ball and it’s going a long way. In women’s cricket, fast bowlers are often as little as 10-15 mph faster than spinners. And despite the talk of bowling machines, we’ve seen the empirical evidence of how female batters, even very good ones, are quite often really unsettled by aggressive, well-directed pace bowling of only about 68 mph let alone 75. We’ve seen it lead to dismissals that otherwise wouldn’t have happened. If you use the facilities, as they say, a little chin music can go a long way. There is a risk in it in terms of runs but it’s an option you’re better off with than without in my opinion.
In summary, player buy-in would be paramount in your set-up, but that’s something I suppose we could say about any good manager or coach of a sports team – their players believe in them and play at their best for them, almost irrespective of what tactics are being used.