THE HUNDRED: Consecutive Sets – When? Why? And do they work?

Perhaps the most unique tweak to the laws of cricket introduced in The Hundred is the change which allows a bowler to deliver two consecutive overs – or “sets” as we are being encouraged to call them, though the playing conditions still say “overs”.

We’ve now had (nearly) two full seasons of The Hundred, so how’s that been working out? We analysed 56 matches across both seasons (all the games for which Ball By Ball data is available thanks to cricsheet.org) to take a look.

How often are consecutive sets used?

Consecutive sets have been bowled 114 times – 69 times in 2021 (including 4 times in the very first innings of the very first game) and 45 times in 2022; so the first point of interest is that it is a tactic which teams have used a fair bit less in the second season – and overall about once per innings in 2022.

Who is bowling them?

Two teams in particular have used consecutive sets dramatically less this year – Invincibles used it 17 times in 2021, and 9 times in 2022; while Brave used it 10 times in 2021, and just once in 2022*.

Trent Rockets were the only team to use them more in 2022, having used the tactic 10 times in 2021 and 11 times in 2022.

In terms of individual bowlers, it has been fairly evenly distributed – 54 different bowlers have bowled consecutive sets, with Amanda Jade Wellington and Dane van Niekerk topping the list, each having bowled 6, with Mady Villiers just behind with 5.

When are they bowling them?

In terms of phases of the game, 34% of consecutive sets are bowled at least partly in the powerplay (30% wholly within it) while just 15% are bowled in the death (last 5) overs.

82% of consecutive sets are bowled at the same end, perhaps unsurprisingly as it is seen as disruptive to a bowler’s concentration to change ends.

Why do consecutive sets get used?

While we can obviously never know exactly what was going through the captain’s mind, we can infer something about why the tactic was used from the data.

83% of second sets follow either a wicket or a strike rate of less than 75 in the first set – 58% following a wicket, and 65% following a strike rate of less than 75. (In 40% it is both!)

How successful are consecutive sets?

Of the 66 occasions when consecutive sets were used following a wicket, only 12 (18%) were followed by another wicket, so it is pretty clear-cut that consecutive sets don’t buy additional wickets.

What about runs? Of the 74 occasions when consecutive sets followed a strike rate of less than 75 in the first set, the strike rate almost always (91%) went up in the second set; while overall across all second sets, the average strike rate of 62 for a first set almost doubled to 116 for the second.

Perhaps even more significantly, in over half of cases (57%) the strike rate in the second set exceeded that of the innings as a whole. So consecutive sets don’t really appear to buy runs (or rather, lack of runs) either.

Does this mean they “don’t work” though? Not necessarily – an over with a wicket is always likely to be followed by one without, regardless of who bowls it; and the same applies to an over with a low strike rate – we can never know what another bowler might have achieved in the same situation.

As to whether they have been a successful innovation for the game as a whole, the jury is still out. Perhaps the most significant objection is that they are simply “not cricket” – flying in the face of the game’s long-standing traditions; but on the other hand, bowling restrictions are pretty arbitrary anyway (who decided a bowler should only be able to bowl 20% of the balls in a one-day match, while a single batter could technically face all of them?) so why not change things up occasionally?

The likelihood remains though that ultimately this tweak to the laws will fall by the wayside, like “supersubs” in ODIs. (Remember them? They weren’t “just” subs, they were supersubs!!) After all, at the end of the day… if bowlers bowling consecutive overs from the same end is what really floats your boat… perhaps you are just watching the wrong bat’n’ball game!

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* The data analysed does not include the 2022 eliminator, where Brave nearly came to grief after a dramatic final over second set was hit for 21 by Nat Sciver.