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Australia's death bowling being tested by Kiwis

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27th February, 2021
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Daniel Sams is cannon fodder at the death, while Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Kane Richardson remain Australia’s best options in these dying overs in T20s.

That’s what was revealed when I painstakingly calculated using ball-by-ball data the performance of every Australian who’s bowled at least four times at the death in international T20s over the past two years.

An inability to close out innings with the ball has hurt Australia badly in three of their past four T20s. In their most recent match Australia bled 56 runs from the final five overs as New Zealand charged to a giant total.

The series opener in New Zealand saw the Kiwis hammer 66 from the last five overs. And two matches previous to that, in Sydney, Australia were powerless to halt the charge of India, who thrashed 54 from the final 4.4 overs as they completed a difficult chase.

The Aussies have experimented greatly with their death bowling in the past six months using no fewer than 13 bowlers in that period of the innings across just eight matches in that time.

Clearly they’ve been trying to determine their best death options ahead of the T20 World Cup in October. One bowler who has been badly exposed in this role is Sams.


The left-arm quick has been mauled at the death in all four of his international T20s. Sams has sent down 5.4 overs at the death and been thrashed for an extraordinary 93 runs. That equates to a scarcely believable economy rate of 16.4 runs per over.

Granted, Sams is early in his T20 career. He’s also handy with the bat, as we witnessed in the second T20 against New Zealand, when Sams pumped 41 from 15 balls. But he is in the side as a bowler, and with so many superior death options available to Australia, it’s very hard to see where Sams fits into Australia’s planning for the World Cup.

He is categorically not one of Australia’s six best T20 bowlers. Starc, Cummins, Kane Richardson, Jhye Richardson, Adam Zampa and Ashton Agar are streets ahead of Sams with the ball.

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And his batting is not potent enough to push him into the top six. The problem for Sams also is that he doesn’t have a clear role with the ball. Quite obviously he is not an international-standard death bowler, and he’s also not a particularly dangerous new-ball bowler, certainly not at the level of Starc, Cummins or Richardson.

That’s why it’s so hard to locate a spot for Sams in the Australian side beyond this series once the likes of Starc and Cummins return.

Here are Australia’s T20 bowling records at the death (overs 15 to 20) in the past two years:

  • Kane Richardson: eight wickets at 16 (economy rate 8.5)
  • Mitchell Starc: six wickets at 16 (economy rate 8.2)
  • Adam Zampa: six wickets at 17 (economy rate 7.9)
  • Pat Cummins: four wickets at 17 (economy rate 6.9)
  • Daniel Sams: two wickets at 46 (economy rate 16.4)
  • Jhye Richardson: two wickets at 19 (economy rate 7.8)
  • Ashton Agar: two wickets at 16 (economy rate 6.6)

What that data underlines is that Australia doesn’t need to search for new death bowlers. Their old crew was getting the job done.

Australia’s first-choice T20 attack of the past two years has been Starc, Cummins, Kane Richardson, Zampa and Agar.

Mitchell Starc celebrates taking a wicket

(Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

The key to that five-man unit is its variety and versatility. Zampa and Agar complement each other beautifully, and both are ranked in the top six T20 bowlers in the world.


The three quicks, meanwhile, each offers something different. Starc provides a left-arm angle, extreme pace and new ball incisiveness. Cummins offers composure, experience, extreme accuracy and improving changeups.

Kane Richardson on the surface is innocuous compared to Starc and Cummins but his bowling style is tailored to the middle to late overs of T20s, when he’s proven consistently effective. His ability to bowl into the pitch and fool batsmen with slower balls and cutters has provided a valuable contrast to the attacking approaches of Starc and Cummins these past two years.

As the above stats show, no Aussie has taken more death wickets in that period than Richardson. Crucially all five of Richardson, Starc, Cummins, Zampa and Agar have done well at the death in the past two years. That has offered Australia great flexibility. They have used all five of those bowlers in the death in the same game at times, with each sending down just a single over.

Jhye Richardson of Australia bowls

Jhye Richardson. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

Australia also aren’t afraid of going spin-heavy at the death. In the second T20 against England six months ago Agar and Zampa bowled the 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th overs. That pair did a fine job, taking 2-37 from those four death overs, having been set a hugely difficult task, with England cruising at 2-121 before that.

Australia also have another appealing death option in BBL superstar Jhye Richardson. The young West Australian looks set to push hard for a starting spot at this year’s World Cup. If Australia are to win that tournament, they’ll need to nail their death bowling.

Fortunately, in spite of recent matches, they have plenty of good death options.