Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Pakistan's ODI Batting Problem

This post is in many ways a follow-up of a study done two years ago on general scoring patterns in ODI cricket. Previously, due to data constraints, only Pakistan, India, Australia, and South Africa were considered. This time however, owing to the extremely resourceful Shahan Shahid and the rest of his team at LUMS' Technology for People Initiative, we have player-versus-player data for all teams for all ODIs played starting with the 2001 NatWest Series. And well if you're a Pakistan fan, the data especially over the last few years doesn't present a pretty picture.

The data has been split into four different groups that correspond to major changes in fielding rules. They are defined as follows:

  • 2001-05 - Covers the period June 7, 2001, the date from which complete player versus player data first started becoming available, up till July 2, 2005. This period had the standard 'two fielders outside the 30-yard circle in the first 15, four in the circle after that'.
  • 2005-08 - Corresponds to July 7, 2005, when Powerplays were first introduced, till September 6, 2008.
  • 2008-12 - From October 9, 2008 to September 5, 2012. Batting teams were given a say as to when to take one of the two Powerplays after 10 overs.
  • 2012- From November 4, 2012 to present, which is ODI cricket under modern rules with one batting Powerplay and only four fielders allowed outside the circle in non-Powerplay overs. Most of the focus here will be on games played since late 2012.

Additionally, with due respect to Associate teams, only data for games played among the 10 Test playing nations is considered due to sample size issues.

Let's start off by taking a look at how batting strike rates have progressed for teams overall from 2001 onwards.

Just by eyeballing the graph, we can see the general trend is upwards. Most recently, New Zealand and Australia lead the way, being the first two teams to break the 90% strike rate mark, with the majority of the others coming in above 80%. Contrast that with 2001-05 when the only team above 80% was Australia.

Pakistan come in second from the bottom. While it may not be easy to spot, Pakistan in fact are the only team in this era of increasing strike rates with a lower strike rate today than they had in 2001-05.

India and South Africa seem almost inseparable the whole way through, even to the extent that they are the only two teams that see a decrease in strike rates since the new rules came into effect in late 2012.

For a more detailed look at strike rates, let's break them down by position. One by one, we'll look at the top seven in the batting order, and we'll stop there as they account for over 90% of all balls faced.

First up: openers.

Other than New Zealand, Australia, and the West Indies, every other team sees their openers' strike rates decrease under new rules. Part of it has to do with the rule of two new balls from each end that was introduced in 2011. Teams opt to be more watchful at the start in order to take full advantage of the relaxed rules later on. In India's case the drop from around 93 in 2008-12 to 87 from 2012 onwards is the effect of losing Virender Sehwag, who had a world-leading strike rate of close to 120 in the period prior.

For Pakistan, this isn't happy reading. The team has experienced two periods of continuous decline from 2008 onwards. Same as the overall trend, their openers now score more slowly than they did in 2001-05.

Here's the data on individual openers from 2012 onwards (all tables shown below cover only the period November 2012 - present, and have a minimum qualification of 300 balls faced).

Opening batsmen; Nov 2012 - present; min qualification: 300 balls faced

The default sort for all tables presented here is in descending order of scoring shot percentage (SS), which is calculated as (balls faced - dots)/balls faced. However, feel free to play around with the sorting filters as you wish by clicking on the dropdowns in the header row.

First let's look at the aggregate row. The average opener under the new rules scores at a strike rate of a shade under 82; roughly 33 runs off 40 balls, indicated by the RPI (runs per innings) and BPI (balls per innings) columns on the right. Over 57% of the balls faced are dots. So this is a basic yardstick to measure openers against. (The aggregate row by the way includes all openers, not just the ones that meet the 300 ball threshold.)

Hashim Amla is the only opener to score off more than half the balls that he faces (SS of 50.40). He hits fewer 4s and 6s than average (8.36 and 0.53 versus 8.92 and 1.24, respectively) but his rate of taking singles (34.72) is the best in the business, and he ends up with an above-average strike rate.

Below him, Brendon McCullum shows that there are many different ways of skinning the ODI cow. A staggering strike rate of close to 150 (the only player above 100 incidentally) is achieved by eschewing singles (he's the lowest at 17.85) in favor of the long ball. Over 26% of the balls he faces go for a 4 or a 6, comfortably higher than anyone else. While his innings are much shorter than average (25 balls versus 40) he sure makes them count, and is a big reason why New Zealand buck the trend in the graph above of openers having lower strike rates under new rules.

Pakistan are represented by Ahmed Shehzad, Mohammad Hafeez, and Nasir Jamshed. Shehzad has faced over 2,000 balls in this period, the most after Dilshan, Amla, Dhawan, and Sharma. Yet unlike the other four, who all score 45+ runs every innings at 85+ strike rates, Shehzad scores a modest 36 runs at 72. His reputation is that of a big-hitting dot-ball merchant, happy to score 4 runs an over by blocking five balls and hitting one to the boundary. However, the data shows that he isn't even that good of a boundary hitter. His rate of scoring 4s is the 4th lowest at 7.34, while 5th lowest in terms of 6s. His singles rate is slightly lower than average (25.93 versus 26.87) but his main problem is lack of boundaries. Put differently, even if Shehzad were to miraculously start scoring singles at a world class 34% rate like Hashim Amla, this would still put him at a below average strike rate.

Compare him to Hafeez, who has an above average strike rate with a scoring shot rate that dips below 40%. That is because he's an above average boundary hitter. But Hafeez's innings both in terms of runs and balls are shorter (31 off 37) than average, from which we might infer that he doesn't convert starts as often as the team would like. So one opener who stays at the crease but doesn't score quickly, while another who scores quickly but isn't as consistent.

And then there's Jamshed, whose decline is captured by the fact that he has the lowest strike rate out of all openers here. His dot ball percentage isn't the worst, but the key again is boundaries. He is the worst in scoring 4s, a good 3.2% below average, which translates to a 3.2 x 4 = 12.8 strike rate differential. That's a lot.

Next is the strike rate progression for one down batsmen. Again the overall trend is upwards. Just a quick comment, the gap between Australia and the others in 2001-05 can be called the Ricky Ponting gap, while the gap between India and the rest in 2012- is the Virat Kohli gap (though Sangakkara isn't that far behind). A measure of how much better these players are than the competition.

South Africa went from having the best strike rate in 2008-12 to 5th best from 2012 onwards, and that is the effect of losing Jacques Kallis from the number 3 spot. They have replaced him with Faf du Plessis who doesn't score as quickly.

For Pakistan, while 2008-12 saw a precipitous decline, there has been an uptick of late. A lot of that has to do with the great run Hafeez has had at this position, particularly in 2013 with the highlight being the ODI series against Sri Lanka in the UAE.

One down batsmen; Nov 2012 - present; min qualification: 300 balls faced 

The average one down batsman from 2012 till now scores 36 off 44, at a slightly higher strike rate than the openers. This incidentally is the highest runs and balls per innings for all positions, an indication that teams generally slot their most dependable, consistent batsman here.

Jonathan Trott leads the way with a scoring shot rate of close to 56% (what is it with South Africans and batting efficiency?). He's the best at scoring 1s and 2s, and very good at 3s as well, which compensates for his relatively lower boundary rate. Steve Smith is next and in his short time promoted up to three he has shown phenomenal consistency. Kohli stands out both for his efficiency as well as power, having the best strike rate out of all these players. Followed by Kane Williamson and Sangakkara who also have tremendous records.

For Pakistan, Younis Khan is the second lowest in terms of strike rate, and the worst in runs and balls faced per innings. So he provides a double whammy of not a lot of runs at not a very fast rate. Again, while Younis has a better than average rate of scoring non-boundary runs, his 4s rate is the second lowest after James Taylor, and that hurts him the most.

Hafeez by comparison is a lot better, with an above average strike rate due to decent boundary hitting. His singles rate is below average though and a better conversion here would push him even higher up the list. Overall in fact, if someone had told you that Hafeez in the new era is almost as effective at one down as du Plessis (42 off 50 versus 45 off 56) you would probably laugh at them. But that's what the numbers show. Sure, we have to take into account differences in batting conditions, but what is true is that Hafeez at one down has been a pretty good option over the past couple of years. In hindsight, his absence from Pakistan's World Cup squad was probably felt the most.

At number four, South Africa are the trendsetters of late. AB de Villiers led the world in the period 2008-12 while a combination of him and newcomer Riley Rossouw continue to do it for them. India's relative decline here is due to a couple of things. One is they have pushed Kohli up to three, and secondly they have lost Yuvraj Singh circa 2005-11. While at times they have experimented with Kohli again - with great effect - lately it has been either Ajinkya Rahane or Ambati Rayudu, neither of whom have been able to keep up with the pace set earlier.

Australia are interesting, as the line is mostly flat around the 74% mark all the way through, until a sharp increase from 2012. All of this is pretty much down to Michael Clarke. The spike shows an improvement in his own game. Clarke's strike rate up to the last period was 74, while he increased it to 87 since then. Additional help from George Bailey and Steve Smith helps Australia go over 90% for this period.

Pakistan were the best in the world at this position between 2001-05 and are now the worst by a large margin, the only team below 70% while others all exceed 75. This is largely because of Misbah-ul-Haq. Misbah has spent a fair bit of time at both four and five but he bats a lot slower at four. Granted he is more often than not required for mop-up jobs after top order failures and is Pakistan's most consistent batsman, but this dependability comes at a cost.

Two down batsmen; Nov 2012 - present; min qualification: 300 balls faced 

At number four, the overall strike rate is slightly lower than at one down, with an average score of 33 off 41. Virat Kohli tops the scoring shot table. While his preferred position is quite clearly number three, he has proven equally if not more effective a spot lower. AB de Villiers is right up there with him in terms of efficiency, both score on around 60% of balls faced, which is a lot higher than average for this position.

Bangladesh also feature strongly here through Mushfiqur Rahim and Mahmudullah, who help make their team be the 3rd best in the world in terms of strike rate from the number four position. Very impressive given they were dead last between 2001-05.

For Pakistan, Misbah averages 42 off 64 balls, which is the second highest number of balls faced and sixth highest runs per innings. Much like Ahmed Shehzad discussed earlier, Misbah scores very few runs in boundaries compared to his peers, with his 4s rate the second lowest in this group. He also has the lowest percentage of 2s. Contrary to popular opinion, not scoring singles is not a major issue. Just as Shehzad, even if Misbah were to increase his singles from 34% to 44% to match de Villiers, his strike rate would still be 4% below average. It's the dots that others are scoring for boundaries that is the problem.

The other option they have tried is Sohaib Maqsood, who just hasn't shown the consistency needed to be successful at this position.

Number 5 is the spot from where the top teams are really starting to tee off. Both South Africa and New Zealand as a team bat at better than a run a ball, with Australia not far behind. If everything goes well, usually there are around 15-20 overs left, including the batting Powerplay, for the likes of de Villiers, David Miller, Brendon McCullum (before he switched to opening), Glenn Maxwell, etc. to come in and start smashing the ball around.

The highest strike rate at five in the early 2000s came from England when Andrew Flintoff and Paul Collingwood batted there. Currently they have Eoin Morgan, who has really struggled of late, England apart from Bangladesh being the only team to see a strike rate drop here since 2012.

Pakistan have played mostly Misbah, and more recently the two left-handers Haris Sohail and Fawad Alam. While the overall strike rate has increased slightly of late, this is yet another batting position where they scored faster in the early 2000s.

Three down batsmen; Nov 2012 - present; min qualification: 300 balls faced 

Number five is the first batting position where the average batsman is expected to score on more than 50% of balls faced. The average strike rate of almost 88% is also considerably higher than earlier positions.

This is a position that de Villiers has made his own recently, and we're fast running out of superlatives for his batting. He is essentially playing a T20 innings with the same innovative shotmaking every time he comes out to bat, and is scoring a boatload of runs very, very quickly. A scoring shot rate of 63.3 is as close to unstoppable as it gets.

Behind him are Miller and Maxwell, also extremely destructive though to a lesser extent. Going down the table pretty much every team has at least one guy who can strike at around 90 while scoring 30-35 runs.

Except Pakistan of course. None of their players even cross the 80 mark. Fawad Alam, Misbah, and Haris Sohail are all in the bottom five in terms of hitting 4s, the first two being worst and second-worst, respectively. Alam to his credit has the better scoring shot percentage out of the three, and has the highest rate of scoring singles out of all three down batsmen. His RPI at 58 is also the highest, pointing to his consistency in the brief time he has been given in the team.

Misbah's stats at five are much better than four, as he scores almost the same amount of runs in fewer deliveries. Sohail's numbers are pretty similar as well. Ultimately all three offer more or less the same thing, and are held back by below average boundary hitting.

Number six has also seen a power surge in recent times. While in 2001-05, teams would do well to exceed a strike rate of 85, these days almost all teams are at this level. New Zealand lead the way mainly due to the efforts of Corey Anderson. Followed by Australia, who have played Mitchell Marsh and Glenn Maxwell here. South Africa, India, and England are grouped close to each other, and a bit below them are Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh.

In the previous decade, South Africa started at the top spot, with Mark Boucher filling this role and providing a fairly rapid 20-odd runs. Pakistan were second, and while they didn't have one go-to guy, Younis Khan, Shoaib Malik, and Abdul Razzaq were all pretty effective at this position. Currently Umar Akmal plays here and while his scoring rate is quite decent, his stays at the crease have gotten briefer, which is a worrying sign.

Four down batsmen; Nov 2012 - present; min qualification: 300 balls faced

In the scoring shot table, Mushfiqur Rahim leads the way with an outstanding record. Almost twice the number of average runs at a better than average strike rate. Bangladesh's other option Nasir Hossain isn't that bad either.

For India, this is MS Dhoni's preferred position. They used to play Suresh Raina here a lot as well in 2008-12, and he had a fabulous record. These days they have opted to push Raina up to five and keep Dhoni at six. Raina scores a bit quicker but Dhoni bats longer.

Pakistan as mentioned earlier play Umar Akmal in this spot, and overall he performs almost exactly the same as the average player. His average output, 24 off 27, is also pretty close to his last ODI innings in the World Cup quarter final versus Australia. Between 2008-12, he was averaging 31 off 37 in the same position, so his innings of late have gotten shorter. Pakistan would gladly take a few extra runs at a slightly lower strike rate from him. At present he has been dropped from the team of course, so it will be interesting to see who they replace him with.

On to our final set of results, for number seven batsmen. Once again, almost all teams have seen an increase in strike rates between 2008-12 and 2012 onwards, particularly England and New Zealand, who jump from 6th to 3rd and 8th to 2nd, respectively. Both have their wicketkeepers Jos Buttler and Luke Ronchi to thank for this increase.

Australia (very slightly) and South Africa are the two that have seen a strike rate drop. Australia have been pretty consistent at around 95 all the way through the last 10 years, playing the likes of Mike Hussey, James Hopes, Steve Smith, and more recently Brad Haddin and Matthew Wade. While South Africa have traditionally filled this position with a bowling all-rounder, starting with Shaun Pollock through the 2000s, and later on with Justin Kemp, Johan Botha, and Albie Morkel. They have tried Ryan McLaren here since 2012, but his contributions haven’t been satisfactory, and led to him not being picked for their World Cup squad.

Pakistan have traditionally always done well from the number seven spot in terms of strike rate. In the early 2000s Abdul Razzaq was slotted here. Since 2005, this position has mainly belonged to Shahid Afridi, who has consistently provided spurts of acceleration, but all too briefly.

Five down batsmen; Nov 2012 - present; min qualification: 300 balls faced

Looking at individual player data, this position has on average both the highest strike rate as well as scoring shot percentage. There usually aren’t many balls left in the innings when the number seven comes to bat, as indicated by a low 21 balls per innings, which also explains both the low dot balls and high boundary percentage as teams look to maximize scoring opportunities.

Jos Buttler leads the list in scoring shot rate and is 3rd in terms of strike rate. If you sort all players from 2001 till now, regardless of era breakdowns, Buttler has the highest scoring shot rate of all time. His 32 runs per innings is also the highest in this list, a mark that is better than the average runs even a number five batsman makes. So he provides England with not just quick runs but substantial contributions. Luke Ronchi plays a similar role for New Zealand, though his numbers see a significant skew due to his astonishing 170 off 99 against Sri Lanka.

Afridi has the highest strike rate among this group but the lowest number of balls faced. His average score at number seven is 22 off 16 balls. This should sound very familiar, because it is almost exactly the same score he put up in his last two ODI innings, versus Australia and South Africa. Since 2005 in fact, Afridi has averaged exactly 16 balls per innings and between 20-25 runs. While definitely entertaining (the highest six hitting rate of all time), Pakistan – same as with Umar Akmal at number six – would have preferred a bit more longevity in exchange for a lower strike rate. Which is a different way of saying they should probably have demoted Afridi further down the order – at eight, say, where he is much more successful compared to his peers – and played someone else at seven, but finding the right balance and personnel has been a continuous issue.

In summary, Pakistan’s challenges in ODI batting are numerous. In almost every position down the order, they are scoring slower than a decade ago, which is counter-intuitive when looked at in the context of how the rules of ODI cricket have changed. In the top and middle order there is a distinct lack of power hitting. Dot balls or lack of singles, while a problem, is not as big of an issue as the drought in boundaries. While further lower down the scoring spurts are all too brief. Generally, those that score don’t do it fast enough, while those that score quickly don’t stay around for too long.

Some of the problems can of course be traced to not playing any international cricket at home. Players don't have the luxury of rediscovering form playing on featherbeds in Karachi or Lahore. Their adopted home in the UAE, possibly due to slower pitches and bigger grounds, is also not as conducive to quick scoring as some of the other venues. Additionally, given the influence T20 cricket has had especially at the back end of ODI innings, their players not being able to participate in the IPL coupled with the absence of foreign players in the domestic T20 competition has meant that to a certain extent, modern cricket is passing them by.

Plenty of changes have been announced for the upcoming series with Bangladesh. Misbah and Afridi have retired, while Younis Khan, Ahmed Shehzad, and Umar Akmal have been dropped, justifiably so one may add. The recall of Fawad Alam is an encouraging sign. Less so Asad Shafiq, who over the last couple of years has a strike rate of 58% with a dot ball ratio of close to 60% and the lowest boundary percentage out of all their batsmen. What gap he is there to fill is unclear. The batsmen in general should find conditions in Bangladesh favorable, but looking to the future it is difficult to see where the solutions will come from.

Note: If you click on the bottom right of any of the tables, there's a link from where you can view and download the full-size workbook. It also includes data for all players since November 2012, not shown here due to space issues.

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