The numbers are in: the 2015 World Cup has a glut of runs like we’ve never seen. Is it even possible to be a bowler anymore?
The stats for this tournament are less numbers and more numbing. Mind-numbing. Brain-numbing. After a while the massive totals stop meaning anything at all.
In 39 games to the end of the pool stage we’ve had 25 scores of more than 300. Wandering out and cracking six an over has become the new norm. Compare that to the last World Cup, when the whole tournament saw it happen 17 times.
One reflex is to blame mismatches between Associate and Full Member nations, but that wasn’t a defining factor. Even if we only look at contests between Full Members, 19 games produced 15 innings of over 300.
Thirteen of them were racked up by the team batting first and 12 times they won. Sri Lanka’s Fonzarelli cool in chasing England’s 309 was the sole exception.
Those totals meant that few of the games were competitive. The average winning margin was 89.8 runs. Six of the 19 games were won chasing mostly lower totals, dealt with by an average of 5.2 wickets.
Only three times did a team defend less than 300. Pakistan did it twice, with 222 against South Africa and 235 against Zimbabwe, while Bangladesh kept England from their 275.
Throw in the Associate versus Full Member games and we have 17 matches won by sides topping 300 first and three games won chasing it. Ireland became the high-score specialists, running down 304 against West Indies before narrowly defending 331 against Zimbabwe.
While a couple of spankings will live in the memory, the Associates weren’t far off the pace with the ball. It sounds dire that the Full Members averaged 344 against them batting first. But outside the anomalies where sides were bowled out, the first-innings average between Test-playing nations was 316.
It was the Associate batting that let them down, averaging 214 first and 211 chasing. Test-nation attacks bowled out Associate teams 14 times out of 20. Test-nation attacks also bowled out Test-nation chasers 13 times out of 19, but only five times batting first.
The Associate batting struggles contribute somewhat to some weirdness with the bowling figures. It’s anti-intuitive that among these slugfest innings, bowlers should prosper.
Rule of thumb: fielding sides would be happy with 280 this World Cup. That means a bowling attack needs to average less than 28 runs per wicket. Of 136 bowlers used for the tournament, 44 of them are doing so.
Disregard the 10 who’ve bowled fewer than 10 overs and it still leaves you with enough people to impersonate England’s support staff. All but four of those 34 bowlers are going at under six runs per over.
The spearheads are those who’ve cracked 10 wickets. Sohail Khan, Tim Southee, Shapoor Zadran, Jerome Taylor, Wahab Riaz, Josh Davey, Mohit Sharma, Morne Morkel, Trent Boult, Corey Anderson, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami and Mitchell Starc. The spinners are Daniel Vettori, Imran Tahir and Ravi Ashwin.
That’s two Pakistanis, two South Africans, four Indians, four New Zealanders, an Afghan, a West Indian, an Aussie and an unlikely Scot. A large cast for a batsman-dominated tournament.
So something else is at play. The presence of four Kiwis mirrors the way they’ve blitzed batsmen on their home pitches. They’ve conceded an average of 187 per match and taken 57 of 60 possible wickets. India have conceded 205 per innings and taken all 60.
Other teams, though, don’t have that spread. So batsmen must be waiting out the best bowlers, as evidenced by some slow and steady starts, then targeting weaker links.
A high bowling average doesn’t always say much: Shahid Afridi might be averaging 126, but he’s sent down 53 miserly overs at 4.75.
But economy rates are the killer. While plenty of them of are very part-time, 59 bowlers at the World Cup have gone for six or more runs per over.
Kevin O’Brien, with a fast-bowler’s heart that can’t always match his ability, has bowled a full ODI innings on his own and gone for 408, the same that South Africa scored when they smashed West Indies.
Frontline purveyors taking tap include Pat Cummins, Steven Finn, Kemar Roach, Nuwan Kulasekara, Iain Wardlaw and Tinashe Panyangara.
Then there are regular all-rounders like Thisara Perera, Sean Williams, Glenn Maxwell, Darren Sammy and JP Duminy.
Perhaps, as Chris Kettlewell suggested in a comment the other day, it’s not so much a bad time to be a bowler as a bad time to be an average bowler. In the days of T20 tactics, four outfielders and two new balls, batsmen will come after you.
All-rounders like Maxwell who bat in the top six might keep their currency, but those who bat low and once bowled tidily are struggling to stay tidy.
Even in this batting age, bowlers can dominate with the skill of Starc or Shami. Unfortunately for your average bowler, most of them can never have it.