Part 2 of 3 in a series reflecting on WBBL08 by guest writer Andy Frombolton
Teams posting 140 or less lose 3/4 of their games. Hence any bowling attack which can regularly restrict the opposition to this figure will win the vast majority of games. Chasing down 140 requires a collective SR of just over 110 (well within the capability of even the most pedestrian batting line up) whereas restricting teams to such a low total is much harder.
Hence this article posits that when assembling a team the priority should be securing the best bowling unit.
This is the total opposite of what happens today, with teams competing for the best domestic and international batting talent and generally being far less interested in ‘pure’ bowlers (especially overseas bowlers). The other noticeable theme is how many uncapped players feature in each year’s Top 25 wicket takers list (or conversely how often ‘marquee’ names disappoint).
|YEAR||NUMBER OF FORMER AND CURRENT* INTERNATIONAL PLAYERS IN TOP 25 WICKET TAKERS|
* as of the relevant season
So, who were this year’s highest wicket takers?
What then constitutes a good bowling unit?
The first point is that, as noted above and unlike batting, international bowlers often don’t deliver the sort of performances expected. The stats are damning – in the past 5 seasons only 4 international bowlers (as opposed to all-rounders) have made it into the table of ‘Top 25 wicket takers’ (Tahuhu 2018, Glenn and Ismail 2020, Ecclestone 2022) (And Ecclestone should be an all-rounder!). So unless a team can secure the services of one of the top 3-4 overseas bowlers in the world the evidence suggests they’d be better off saving their money.
Equally interesting are the Economy Rates (ERs). Shouldn’t the ‘best’ bowlers have better ERs than the other bowlers? In fact, the ERs of the top 20 wicket takers, the next 20, and of all other bowlers are virtually the same and converging. In the past 3 years, the best bowlers are going for slightly more runs, the ‘change’ bowlers are holding steady and the bits’n’pieces bowlers are bowling less but becoming more economical.
Running counter to the men’s T20 game (where slow bowlers dominate the best ER tables and faster bowlers the best SR tables) the 2 best* (*rationale follows) bowling attacks in this year’s tournament (Adelaide Strikers and Brisbane Heat) employed very different approaches.
Adelaide Strikers: Schutt (fast), Wellington (slow), Barsby (slow), D Brown (fast) and Dottin (fast medium).
Of these, the hitherto-unspectacular Barsby was a revelation and is additionally interesting for being one of the new breed of ambidextrous slow bowlers (her occasional left arm accounting for Alice Capsey in one game).
Brisbane Heat: Jonassen (slow), Hancock (medium), A Kerr (slow) and Sippel (medium).
More important seemingly than the composition of the attack is that bowlers know their role and learn to bowl as a unit, which is what makes Adelaide Strikers truly unique – their 5 main bowlers bowled 92.6% of their overs i.e., the same 5 players bowled their full complement of overs in virtually every game. The closest analogy I can think of is the all-conquering Gloucestershire men’s side of the early 1990s. Similarly Heat had 4 bowlers who delivered 72.1% of their overs. Contrast this to Sixers whose core 3 bowlers always bowled their full allotment (59.4% of overs) but the bulk of the balance was shared between 4 bowlers. Sixers might counter that their approach demonstrated flexibility and greater depth in their bowling attack.
This is another area where performances in the women and men’s game diverge and hence so should tactics. In the men’s game, the best way to slow down the run rate is to get the top batters out (such is the difference in the SR of the top 4 batters compared to the next 4) which means teams need strike bowlers to perform this role (their ER being of less concern), but in women’s cricket (as discussed in the previous article) overall batting SRs are lower and hence dismissing a top batter has less impact (quantum) on a team’s eventual score.
Thus if bowling SR was the key determinant of an opposition’s score then Sixers might have a claim to have the most penetrative bowling unit. Sixers have 5 of the 23 bowlers (≥5 wickets) with a SR<20 with all the other teams having 3 (except Renegades which had 0, which perhaps explains why they conceded the 1st, 2nd and 4th highest scores in this year’s tournament).
But if instead keeping the run rate down is the priority, then a team needs a bowling attack able to do this consistently in all scenarios. Strikers’ top 4 bowlers had a combined ER of 6.4; far better than any other team and only once did a team batting first get on top of them (Stars’ 186, 3rd highest score of this season), otherwise they conceded 4 scores in the range 151-154 and 4 in the range (101-114). And when defending Strikers never got hit for more than 139.
Based on consistency and dependability, Strikers were the best bowling team and thus deserved champions.
The silver bowling award goes to Heat who bowled well in the first innings (only once conceding more than 140) but conceded more than 156 four times bowling second. It was their potential to wilt under pressure (not helped by some poor fielding at key moments) which cost them games.
Sixers also got hit for above par scores five times (three times bowling first and twice bowling second, although they went on to win 4 of these games so could contend this was ultimately irrelevant. The counter argument is that no team, however good their batting line-up, can afford to concede these sort of scores.) Equally telling was the three times they got taken apart in the death overs and only clinched victory each time courtesy of some equally-brutal hitting in their final overs. (Game 1, Heat hit the last 2 overs for 18. Sixers hit 19 off 11 balls; Game 42, Scorchers hit 22 off the last 2 overs, Sixers hit 23 off 12 balls; and Game 49, Heat hit 37 off the last 2 overs (and 47 off the last 3) and Sixers hit 28 (and 41). Hence their honourable bronze position in these bowling awards.
In concluding, what therefore would be the perfect bowling attack look like?
Look again at the list of top wicket takers. The stats say it all. Slow bowlers dominate the wicket-taking tables – 8 of the top 10 (with a collective ER of 6.7 and a SR of 15).
So team selection should start with a fielding set up capable of supporting your bowlers – a superb keeper and a minimum of three fielders who are great in the deep (trading a degree of run scoring ability for fielding prowess if necessary).
You need a fast bowler? Schutt, D Brown, Sippel or Strano. No other fast bowler has appeared in the Top 25 for 2 years in a row so you’re just taking a gamble on any other selection having a good year.
Add 1 all-rounder (more on that subject in the third article)
And finally 3 slow bowlers (or even 4 so you don’t even need to play your fast bowler when conditions don’t suit).
And then pick some batters!