Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Mythbusting the Australian First Class season

Bowlers win matches
It's been often said that batsmen put you into a position to win matches, but bowlers do the actual winning. After combing through the stats from this year's Australian First Class season, we can confirm (for 2011-12 at least) that this is, in fact, true. It's also easily proven.

A quick glance at the following three charts best displays how crucial both the major aspects of bowling are (ie. Taking wickets and restricting runs). Each of Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania finished the Sheffield Shield season with 36 points; Western Australia finished fourth with 34. When comparing bowling attacks, the four teams were difficult to separate, particularly the leading three states. Only bowlers who delivered more than 30 overs for the season were considered.
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When batsmanship is added, you can see that Victoria and New South Wales trended above average, while eventual champions Queensland finished significantly below average. New South Wales – with their core of batting including Usman Khawaja, Phil Hughes, Phil Jacques, Peter Nevill and Simon Katich et al – suggest that batting doesn't have the same impact on acquiring points. Of course, this is a tenuous assumption based upon one point on one chart, but worthy of further consideration.

Logically, in a four-day competition where wickets are at a premium, it makes sense that bowlers command the amount of points available – if you can't dismiss a team twice, you can't acquire a full six points.

Economy Rate matters

True, but not as much as you'd think. Referencing the above three charts, we can see there isn't nearly the variation between states in Economy Rate (E/R), with all states varying between 2.8 and 3.2 runs per over conceded. The same basic, unfiltered regression is present (the cheaper your overs, the more points you won) but occurs at a significantly more gradual incline.

Over the course of the season, E/R didn't prove to have as much of an effect; as we all realise a miserly E/R can be invaluable.

Average and Strike Rate are more important figures. Logically, this also stands to reason – the fewer deliveries per innings, the fewer deliveries are available to score from.

Australia has fast bowling depth

Now we're talking. While the success of James Pattinson, Patrick Cummins and Ryan Harris upon their national call-ups is anecdotal evidence, the numbers back this up. In the Sheffield Shield last season, Australia boasted eight bowlers who took wickets at under 20 (Steve Magoffin, Mitch Marsh, Nathan Rimmington, Peter Siddle, Jackson Bird, Harris, Alister McDermott and Ben Cutting). If the cutoff average is raised to 22, suddenly we add Simon Katich, Chris Swan, Gary “The Iceman” Putland, James Pattinson and Will Sheridan. Of these players, eight are under 27; only Katich is a spinner.

Australia lacks spinners

A depth of pace talent is contrasted by Australia's dearth of quality tweakers. The list of “intriguing” spin practitioners for John Inverarity and co. to select from is pathetically thin. Nathan Lyon debuted to acclaim but has rather fizzled; Jon Holland is callow; Cameron Boyce is the great unknown; Steve O'Keefe paradoxically toils unnoticed for New South Wales and Michael Beer, more famous for what he hasn't done than what he has.

Australian Sheffield Shield sides employed 47 fast or medium-pace bowlers last season, which was balanced by fifteen spinners; this sounds like an appropriate ratio – except when considering that both Western Australia and Queensland utlised only one tweaker each for the entire season (Beer & Boyce, respectively). Of those fifteen, seven were primarily chosen for their state sides as batsmen.
Comparing spin bowlers to our fast men is an exercise in humilation, which sounds like fun.

Avg. matches/player
Avg overs/game

Beer was the nation's best spin bowler, taking 26 wickets in eight games at 26.4; the worst was Australia's leg-spinner descendent, Cullen Bailey, who averaged 133 and took a wicket every 35 overs.

Steve Magoffin is rubbish.

Patently false. The West Australia discard bowled 200 overs for his native Queensland, conceding only 382 runs and takng 23 wickets in an attack which featured Ryan Harris, Ben Cutting, Boyce and Bright Young (Red) Thing Alister McDermott. In fact, his economy rate was so superior to every other player that he was the only bowler in the nation to break the 2.00 barrier. He was the twentieth most frequent taker of wickets (S/R – 51.95) and this form recently earned him a contract with Sussex for the first half of the English season.

Bowler E/R (rpo)
Steve Magoffin (QLD) 1.92
Andrew McDonald (VIC) 2.09
James Hopes (QLD) 2.16
Steve O'Keefe (NSW) 2.18
Ryan Harris (QLD) 2.33
Luke Butterworth (TAS) 2.37
Peter Siddle (VIC) 2.47
Michael Beer (WA) 2.48
Xavier Doherty (TAS) 2.48
Trent Copeland (NSW) 2.55

It's here where our examination of E/R becomes slightly more interesting. We can see that Queensland boasted three of the five most economic bowlers in the country. This tightwad nature shows the crucial nature of consistent run-restriction in taking wickets – four of their bowlers took wickets at less than 19 runs per dismissal.

Dan Christian is the all-rounder of the future.
The precept of having a truly world-class all-rounder is that that player must be able to do one of their two skills to elite international standards. Let's assume for a moment that a First Class batting average of 50 over time is enough to justify national selection with good hopes. With bowlers, that total is slightly more vague – perhaps we can use 28 as a good average. Do any of Australia's current crop of all-rounders qualify as valid international prospects?

We can investigate by comparing each all-rounder against thenational average of efficiency. This measures each state's performance by plotting batting average against bowling average.
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 As we can see, Christian's 2011-12 was good with the bat only; he took ten wickets at an expensive 49.7. These figures make him little more than a change bowler at international level. This season's most efficient all-rounder was Victorian captain Andrew McDonald; Simon Katich – a batsman who can bowl – was the second most efficient in the deployment of both skills.

Could we extrapolate from his entire First Class career that he's worthy of a Test place?
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Unfortunately not. When compared to other potential candidates old and young, Australian selectors may be best placed employing McDonald when time and situation demand a multi-talented middle-order player; at least until Mitch Marsh and James Faulkner, who both impressed with the ball, come of age.

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