CricViz analyst Rufus Bullough examines what makes Mohammad Abbas special.
Mohammad Abbas is absolutely deadly in typical English conditions with a Dukes ball. Since the start of 2010, Test matches played in England have the highest average swing distance, and second highest average seam movement out of all the countries to host a test match in that period of time
These numbers reflect what many people already know about cricket in England of all levels – the ball seams and swings around a great deal. It heavily influences the types of cricketers bred here, and which players from overseas are most successful.
On the above list, Pakistan falls ninth on average swing and sixth on average seam deviation. The point must also be made that due to Pakistan’s recent domestic issues and their subsequent re-integration into hosting test cricket, this table only includes data from three test matches played there in 2019. Those three matches did however provide ball tracking data from 2970 deliveries from seam bowlers, so still a reasonable sample size.
But the pitches at the different levels of cricket in Pakistan are generally considered to be pretty flat. Since 2000 in domestic First Class cricket, in the first and second innings of matches, batters have averaged 30.96 runs per dismissal. This is the fourth highest average of all the main test playing nations in that time frame.
Pakistan has a rich history in producing out of the ordinary pace bowlers. Whether that is the 100mph of Shohib Akhtar or the average release point of 2.33 metres of 7ft1 giant Mohammed Irfan, successful Pakistani seamers often have an extreme trait in their armoury. This often develops as a product of their environment in which they have been raised. On flatter pitches you need to have extreme pace or a high release point and subsequent steep bounce to take wickets and stand out. These bowlers are highly treasured and celebrated, whereas the classical line and length merchants are not as effective, and therefore not as common.
Why therefore has Abbas been so successful? And how did he manage to flourish in a domestic system surrounded by ‘x-factor’ bowlers and played on predominantly flatter pitches?
Abbas has relentless control of his line and length, hitting a good line and length 49.2% of the time he bowls – 2.6% higher than his next competitor in Tests.
This gives his captain great control from one end when playing on flat pitches. Enabling him to send in the heavy hitting tall and/or quick seamers from the other end, whilst still maintaining control of the pace of the game. Since his debut in 2017 he has the second highest dot ball percentage of 81.6% and has a career economy of 2.42 – the fourth lowest in that time period among seam bowlers who have bowled over 1000 deliveries.
So Abbas can do the job of holding up an end on flat pitches, but when the ball moves off the pitch, Abbas becomes a completely different bowler. He goes from almost a relief to face, to a metronomic nightmare.
He has an uncanny ability to extract just enough seam movement to trouble both the batsman’s outside and inside edge. In England, where the ball moves most off the straight, Abbas has taken 15 wickets at an average of 15.93. This is the lowest bowling average of any seamer to bowl over 100 deliveries in England, since SF Barnes retired in 1912. Of the deliveries he has bowled in England, 40.3% of them have deviated a large amount (over 0.75°), and they account for 10 of his 15 wickets taken there.
In the current series against England, after the second test match Abbas has hit a good line and length 58.9% of the time, over 10% more than second place. He also has comfortably the best economy rate of any of the quicks on show in the series and will be vital if Pakistan are to draw the series in a rain soaked Southampton, likely to be the pitch with the most lateral movement of the entire English summer.
So the question still remains – how did Abbas buck the trend of his environment? By being patient, disciplined and hardworking. At 30 years old he understandably knows his game inside out – hitting line and length, and extracting just enough movement. There is nobody in the world better at what he does.
Rufus Bullough is analyst for CricViz