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Australia's best pace attack is all in the numbers

James Faulkner returns to Australia's one-day team for the first ODI against India. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)
Roar Guru
15th January, 2015
35

With the cricket season well under way I have been primarily looking at our batsmen, their results and how the challengers are performing.

When looking at James Faulkner’s claims as an all-rounder I stumbled across his first class bowling average of 24.06 and it got me contemplating where he stood in the pecking order on his bowling alone.

So I’ve gone through Australia’s top bowlers and compiled a list. I have filtered my list based on their strike rate as I consider the frequency of wickets to be most crucial. I have also compared players on their first class statistics as not all players have played Test matches.

Also, I have removed players like Pat Cummins (whose career I consider overinflated by a single good Test performance in an otherwise decent early career) and Sean Abbott on the basis that they have not taken more than 50 first class wickets and that any selection is purely speculative.

Based on strike rate, Australia’s top 20 fast bowlers are as follows:
1. Bird – 42.3
2. Pattinson – 45.7
3. Behrendorff – 47.4
4. Faulkner – 48.5
5. Cutting – 48.8
6. Johnson – 51.1
7. Bollinger – 52
8. Coulter-Nile – 53.3
9. Feldman – 53.3
10. Harris – 54.2
11. Hazlewood – 54.8
12. Hastings – 54.9
13. Mennie – 55
14. Marsh – 55.4
15. Rimmington – 55.6
16. Starc – 55.8
17. Sayers – 56.3
18. Siddle – 56.4
19. Hilfenhaus – 58.2
20. Hopes – 64.5

So what does that tell us?

I think it explains why players like Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus are out of the side and while players like Nathan Rimmington, Chadd Sayers and James Hopes, despite good career performances and excellent form, haven’t been considered as bowling options. They simply do not take wickets frequently enough.

Looking at this, I think it’s fair to say that Mitchell Starc has been somewhat fortunate to receive his opportunities. He has a career average over 30, the 15th best strike rate of active Australian bowlers and still goes for 3.37 an over, which is the equal highest on this list.

Statistically, he just doesn’t match up. But he hasn’t been selected based on statistics. He’s been selected based on his physical attributes. He’s a left-armer, at 197 centimetres he has great height and he bowls at more than 140 kilometres per hour. If they can harness these attributes, he has the potential to be as good as Johnson.

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Looking at this list it seems that Jackson Bird, Ben Cutting and Doug Bollinger are a little unlucky not to be in contention. Their current form this season shows why. In the first half of the Sheffield Shield season, Bird is taking wickets at 39, Cutting at 51.66 and Bollinger at 43.83.

Bollinger and Bird appear to be out of form, after picking up 31 wickets at 24.09 (Bollinger) and six wickets at 15.33 (Bird) during the 2013-2014 season. Cutting’s bowling average though appears to grow by the season. He was taking wickets at 38.8 in 2013-2014 after two seasons of taking wickets at 18. It’s a case of these three statistically good bowlers being out of form currently.

This also tells us that James Faulkner actually takes wickets very frequently and what we already knew, how effective a bowler James Pattinson is.

Next I have looked at the player purely by average (first class). This is the most quoted statistic for any player so it’s important to consider heavily.

In order these are:
1. Bird – 20.95
2. Faulkner – 24.06
3. Pattinson – 24.19
4. Sayers – 24.69
5. Behrendorff – 25.57
6. Hastings – 25.58
7. Harris – 26.53
8. Hazlewood – 26.55
9. Rimmington – 26.86
10. Hopes – 26.94
11. Feldman – 27.48
12. Cutting – 27.49
13. Mennie – 27.92
14. Bollinger – 28
15. Siddle – 28.41
16. Coulter-Nile – 28.52
17. Johnson – 28.6
18. Hilfenhaus – 28.65
19. Marsh – 29.33
20. Starc – 31.44

Now as we have discussed Bird the next question becomes why aren’t Sayers, Behrendorff and John Hastings in contention? It seems likely that the lower frequency of wickets for Hastings and Sayers is something which is held against them and they lack the physical potential of Starc. This further shows that Behrendorff should be looked at though. Reviewing his returns, it appears likely that he is suffering from bowling at an inferior average this season to at least seven other options.

Mitchell Johnson looks fortunate to be in the team. But that’s where statistics can be deceiving. Firstly, they do not show the fear he puts into batsmen. They also do not consider in this case that he does have a superior Test average, which is common among the best batsmen and bowlers.

While Siddle is taking wickets in the Sheffield Shield at an average of 12 this season, his career average of 28.41 puts him well down on the list and makes him susceptible to younger bowlers who are coming through with a higher ceiling such as James Pattinson with his average of 24.19 or James Faulkner with an average of 24.06. Both take wickets at less runs and more frequently.

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The economy rates of the bowlers is well within the range of the Test options, with this varying from 2.5 to 3.37. For note Johnson is 3.35. I haven’t discussed this because I feel it is only relevant in the context of discussing similar players. For example James Hopes has the lower economy rate of 2.5 runs per over, but considering he takes the second least wickets per match, has a middling average and is well behind on strike rate, it doesn’t offer a great deal of value.

The last statistic I have reviewed is the wickets per match statistic as I feel that this helps separate the most effective bowlers from the part-timers who look good statistically but would not be capable of being effective bowling regularly.

The players ranked as follows:
1. Bird – 4.5
2. Pattinson – 4.1
3. Johnson – 4.0
4. Behrendorrff – 3.9
5. Hilfenhaus – 3.8
6. Sayers – 3.8
7. Harris – 3.7
8. Feldman – 3.7
9. Mennie – 3.5
10. Coulter-Nile – 3.5
11. Cutting – 3.5
12. Siddle – 3.5
13. Bollinger – 3.4
14. Hazlewood – 3.4
15. Hastings – 3.3
16. Faulkner – 3.3
17. Starc – 3.0
18. Rimmington – 2.9
19. Hopes – 2.7
20. Marsh – 1.3

Now it’s unsurprising that most of the leaders on this list have played a number of Tests. Bird’s effectiveness shows that if he can regain some form, he offers a lot of value as a bowler. He takes wickets cheaply, he takes them regularly, he takes them economically and he takes a lot per match.

Likewise, the value of Pattinson when fit is seen. He’s in the top three for strike rate, average and wickets per match. His economy rate of 3.24 is getting a little high, but due to his effectiveness it would not have a large impact on games.

This also shows where bowlers like Rimmington, Hopes and Hastings struggle to match the competition. They just do not take enough wickets. You can also see where a statistically middle of the pack Peter Siddle will have difficulty showing his value among Australia’s best bowlers.

While I have discussed why Sayers is potentially not considered, this shows the value of Behrendorff further. With his effectiveness at first class level, with a patch of good form he would surely be looking like a potential candidate in the line-up.

This is also an area where my original subject point, James Faulkner, is inferior to others. At 3.3 wickets per match, it’s not exactly low, however it’s well down the list. This to me shows that he needs to be bowling more, as when he does bowling, he’s economical and effective but lacks the bulk of wickets due to a lack of overs bowled.

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Beyond these statistics though, there’s other key considerations. One is pace. Darren Lehmann has said that the team’s preference is for bowlers who maintain a pace of about 140 kilometres. He feels that it’s necessary to be effective in Test cricket. This could be an area where statistically good players like Faulkner, Behrendorff and Sayers do not match up. This is another reason why Peter Siddle will find it difficult to make his way back into the Test team also.

The other consideration is the remaining physical characteristics. As I noted, they are a piece of logic that could explain the Starc selection of the last few seasons. It may also explain why selectors are reluctant to consider Faulkner, Behrendorff and Sayers. With Faulkner and Behrendorff both left-arm bowlers, it will be difficult breaking into a rotation including Mitchell Johnson and Mitchell Starc.

In addition, their heights of 186 and 193 centimetres may count against them as selectors may consider them lacking the height to get effective bounce, and lacking the pace to make up for it. Further to this, with Sayers only being 180 centimetres and lacking express pace, this likely counts against him also.

So where does this leave us? Mitchell Johnson and Ryan Harris have Test returns which cannot be questioned and are always going to be the first two names on the list when fit. But who should be the third name? Statistics say James Pattinson and every game I’ve watched, I’d agree with that. With injuries always likely though, evidenced by Pattinson’s recent unavailability, there have to be other options that are Test ready also.

I’d consider Jackson Bird the most promising option. He is still 28 and has excellent career statistics and excellent Test statistics. He’s extremely effective and my only concern would be his current form in Sheffield Shield this season. I wouldn’t be looking to pick him until I saw improvement.

James Faulkner is one player who I think should focus more on his bowling. On that alone he’s good enough to be considered, and is better than most other options. The quantity of it is the only drawback, not the quality. Hopefully this would improve his average bowling returns in recent Sheffield Shield games because the ability is there. Coupled with his excellent batting, he could be a match changing number eight for Australia.

I also think that in addition to these three Jason Behrendorff has enormous potential and the statistics to support it. At only 24 he is certainly a player with plenty of cricket ahead of him and also more improvement. A strong second half of the Sheffield Shield season would surely be a good start to getting his name on the map. Personally I think there’s more chance of Behrendorff adapting and being successful over a long period than the preferred Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Coulter-Nile and Starc.

The positive sign is in addition to these players, young effective wicket-takers like Simon Mackin, Andrew Fekete, Sam Rainbird, Gurinder Sandhu and Sean Abbott and are beginning to make their mark on first class cricket also.

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