CricViz analyst Freddie Wilde identifies the three metrics that will define the World Cup.
Before we look at the three measures which will shape the tournament it is essential to understand the challenges posed by playing cricket in Australia.
Welcome to the land of pace, bounce & wrist spin
The table below uses PitchViz—a state of the art model which uses ball-tracking data to analyse and evaluate conditions—to show how Australian pitches are comfortably the fastest pitches in the world, meaning the ball slows down the least after pitching. The model also shows Australian pitches to be the second bounciest in the world.
The nature of these surfaces has a number of clear implications for the type of cricket that is played on them. CricViz’s Match Impact measure is an advanced model that evaluates in detail whether players increase or decrease the expected total of the batting team but in this instance we are going to use it to evaluate the impact of specific types of deliveries and bowling-types in Australian conditions.
What the model shows—perhaps unsurprisingly given what we know about Australian conditions—is that pace bowling, high pace bowling and short pitched bowling all have more impact in Australia than they do globally.
The same model also shows that wrist spin is more effective in Australia than elsewhere and considerably more effective than finger spin. The fact that wrist spinners impart more revs and therefore can extract more spin from more placid surfaces and the fact that the extra bounce means most balls bounce over the stumps and that accuracy is less valuable might explain this trend.
1) Bowling & facing high pace
The importance of high pace means that the World Cup will be heavily influenced by those teams that can bowl a lot of it and face it well.
The chart below shows the percentage of balls bowled above 140 kph and average speeds since 2018 by players in the squads of the 16 teams competing in the World Cup. Note: the sample sizes of matches with ball-tracking data for some of the teams in Round One are very small but can still be considered to be fairly reflective of their pace bowling arsenal (speeds is a dataset that generally requires lower samples to be reflective).
Pakistan’s pace factory leads the way with an astonishing 48% of balls from pace bowlers in their squads above 140 kph. South Africa’s pace prowess is also on display, while England, Australia and New Zealand all perform fairly well. The big surprise is Sri Lanka who rank third overall thanks to the high pace of Dushmantha Chameera, Lahiru Kumara and Dilshan Madushanka. The absence of Jasprit Bumrah from India’s squad is a big blow to their ability to give teams the hurry up.
A player wise breakdown of pace bowlers in World Cup squads plotting their average speeds against their percentage of balls above 140 kph is below.
The next visualisation looks at how individual batters fare against balls above 140 kph since 2018. The chart only displays those batters in World Cup squads who have faced at least 50 balls from high pace bowlers since the start of 2018.
One of the first clear takeaways is how strong England are from a strike rate perspective with Liam Livingstone, Harry Brook, Jos Buttler, Phil Salt, Alex Hales and Ben Stokes all among the fastest scorers. There is plenty of cause for encouragement for India as well with many of their players boasting elite records and no one at all can be described as being worse than average. Australia’s spread of players is very wide with Mattew Wade, Tim David and Mitchell Marsh at one end of the spectrum but Ashton Agar, Marcus Stoinis and Glenn Maxwell at the other. South Africa also look impressive with solid performers headlined by David Miller boasting the second best average of all players and Rilee Rossouw the fourth best strike rate.
Pakistan have an interesting distribution of players with Khushdil Shah surprisingly coming out as their best player against high pace. Asif Ali and Haider Ali score very quickly but get out often. Concerningly Shadab Khan, Shan Masood, Babar Azam, Mohammad Nawaz and Iftikhar Ahmed are among the weaker players on the graphic.
The following graphic uses the same parameters but looks at teams overall records in the same period. The graphic shows the eight teams already qualified for the Super 12 stage and West Indies and Sri Lanka because they have significant team sample sizes.
India’s strength against high pace is significant and they return the highest average and second highest strike rate of all teams. With some rapid individual scorers it is little surprise that England’s overall strike rate of 147 is a long way clear of the next best. New Zealand’s numbers in this area are also very encouraging. Australia and South Africa – teams whose players are brought up on a diet of high pace come out well. Bangladesh’s record is appalling and bodes very badly for the tournament ahead. West Indies return a high strike rate but poor average, indicating that high pace is a good wicket-taking option against them.
2) Bowling & facing short balls
As with pace bowling the nature of pitches encourage short pitched bowling and the ability to bowl and play the short ball will likely be a big factor in the tournament.
Notably there’s not much to choose between the teams when looking at the proportion of short balls bowled. There is slightly more variation among the proportion of bouncers – with those teams with more high pace generally bowling shorter – but on the whole it seems as if bowling short balls is a tactical choice more than it is a skill; although clearly some bowlers are better at it than others.
As with high pace, India come out really well in this area with Suryakumar, Rohit, KL Rahul and, from a small sample size Deepak Hooda, boasting elite records. Kohli and Rishabh Pant’s records are solid; only Shreyas Iyer struggles. Australia do brilliantly also. Mitchell Marsh’s record is absurdly good and the rest of them except Ashton Agar are all very strong against the short ball.
Perhaps surprisingly the West Indies do really well. Kyle Mayers has arguably the best record on the graphic and all their players score quickly. As an opening pair Lewis and Charles are formidable against pace and bounce. Aside from Temba Bavuma, South Africa shape up well; Aidan Markram and Rossouw in particular are impressive.
New Zealand’s four players are solid; England are a mixed bag. Buttler’s record is incredible, Brook has made a superb start to his career and Malan is very solid but while Salt and Hales are destructive England have a large cluster of players who all average around 20 against the short ball, suggesting it could be a decent attacking weapon.
As is often the case for Pakistan Mohammad Rizwan and Babar Azam (particularly the former) are carrying the batting, although Fakhar Zaman and Asif have encouraging strike rates. The records of Haider Ali, Mohammad Nawaz, Iftikhar Ahmed and Shadab Khan should provide considerable cause for concern for the much-criticised middle order.
Bangladesh’s numbers are poor again, particularly for Soumya Sarkar, Afif Hossain, Sabbir Rahman and Mehedi Hasan. The team graphic below clearly shows Bangladesh to be the worst team overall. Both Afghanistan and Sri Lanka have a few players with decent records, elevating them clear of Bangladesh but still adrift of the leading pack.
3) Finger spin overs bowled
The importance of pace and wrist spin and the struggles of finger spinners mean that teams who rely on finger spin may struggle more than those who don’t.
All major teams have wrist spinners but notably some teams rely on finger spinners, particularly finger spin all rounders, for overs. For example, Pakistan might select a team that has left-arm spinner Mohammad Nawaz as their fifth bowler and off spinner Iftikhar Ahmed as the sixth bowler providing cover. This kind of bowling balance could be exposed in Australian conditions where finger spinners are notably less effective.
The chart below shows the average number of finger spin deliveries bowled by the 16 teams in the World Cup across the last few years. The chart shows how Bangladesh are the team most reliant on finger spin, averaging 49 balls per match, while England are the least, averaging only 10 balls per match.
The struggles for finger spinners should generally should benefit teams with pace bowling all rounders such as Australia, England and India who can use the likes of Stoinis or Marsh, Stokes or Sam Curran and Hardik to cover finger spin overs of Maxwell, Axar Patel and Ali if required. Indeed, pace bowling all rounders might be the most important role from a team construction standpoint in this World Cup. Those without them may find life hard.
From the batting side, finger spin overs should be treated as opportunities to attack. Ideally this would see teams not pair same-handed batters, thereby giving them the opportunity to always have someone at the crease who has a favourable match-up but given the reduced effectiveness of finger spin in these conditions taking on negative match-ups should still largely be encouraged even if teams do have same-handed batters at the crease.
Freddie Wilde is a senior CricViz analyst.