Bowling Back To Being In Priority In Batsman’s Game

February 20, 2019

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In 2019, cricket is very much a batsman’s game. With boundaries shortening, bouncers restricted and free hits enabled, the sport has come a long way since the blood-seeking, headhunting West Indian quicks of the 1970s.

Everything in the game seems to be aligned in favour of the willow wielders these days. Bowlers have slowly, yet surely lost grip in the game since the marauding 50s and 70s, but is it too early to say the game is forever a batsman’s haven?

Maybe. Insight into batting and bowling data over the decades makes for interesting analysis and also shows how the game has changed over the years, see-sawing in control from the batsman to the bowler.

The formative years

In the 1870s when the game began to take form in a professional way, the bowling average was 18.18 whereas the batting average stood at 17.49, a clear indication that bowlers ruled over batsmen. Batting averages remained under 20 till the 1890s when the average rose a bi to 24.18 and the bowling average too consequently saw a spike to 25.19.

The early years before World War I mostly belonged to the bowlers and with the exception of one decade, the bowlers slowly began losing grip with each passing decade

Till the 1940s, the bowling average kept rising, indicating that the balance of the game was shifting towards the batsmen. Bowling averages always stood over batting averages because of the way they are calculated. Still, the clear trend of numbers shifting towards the batsmen was unmistakable.

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The aberration decade

With the 50s came a wave of change. The likes of Richie Benaud, Jim Laker, Hugh Tayfield, Brian Statham, Alec Bedser Ray Lindwall, Subhash Gupte and Fred Trueman ruled the roost and bowling suddenly gained unprecedented importance. Bowling and batting averages dropped from the 30s back into the 20s and it seemed like the menacing force of the ball was finally winning over the batsmen.

The averages dropped to 28.54 (bowling) and 27.38 (batting). But it was only an aberration taking into account that the numbers started to soar again from the 1960s.

From an average of 28.54, the bowling average gained a spike to 32.1 and nearly remained at the same level until the 1990s. Batting averages too remained around the 31 mark for three consecutive decades before the 1990s brought about another minor change with the advent of reverse swing, the menacing Pakistanis, the meticulous Australians and the forever underrated South Africans who were back after their Apartheid years and ready to own the cricketing world.

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The change in 1990s

If the introduction of penalties to no-balls and wides to the bowling team, the bowling averages had increased slightly in the 1980s but by the 90s, batting numbers fell down a touch. There is no real downward curve for the bowlers but batsmen struggled to notch up similar numbers and the averages fell below 30 for the first time since the 1950s.

But like the 50s, the 90s was a minor aberration to the numbers. In 2000 came the Dravids, Kallis’, Ponting’s, Sangakkara’s, Laxman’s and Jayawardene’s. Batting averages jumped back into the 30s (32.02 to be precise) in the 2000s as bowling averages went to 34.10, the highest since 1940s. The worrying trend led to the sport being dubbed the “batsman’s game”.

The 2010 – 2017 period saw bowling averages still around the 34 mark (33.71) and the batting averages at 32.27. The advent of T20 cricket and batsmen coping better with pressure situations and counter-attacking more often meant that run-rate also soared during this period.

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The recent change and a small hope for the bowlers

Since 2017, though, the numbers are changing to offer a bit of hope for the bowlers. The batting average has downgraded to 28.37, the first dip below 30s in batting averages since 1990s. The bowling numbers have also improved by leaps and bounds with the average sitting at a pretty 29.51.

The year-wise progress is also quite interesting for batting and bowling numbers.

The bowling averages have gone down from 31.97 in 2017 to 27.37 in 2018 with a minor spike in the ongoing year, although it is too early to judge 2019.

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The above graph shows the progress of bowling averages and strike rate from 1877 to 2019 and as you see the curve is coming down again after a long period of rise.

The batting averages are meanwhile going down too with batsmen finding it tougher to deal with the increasingly bowler-friendly wickets and more rigorous bowlers.

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The decade numbers might still go even but the last three years have shown that the game is no longer dominated by batsmen and their massive willows. The metamorphosis, even if minor, offers a glimpse into the future where the weary bowlers can finally say “payback time”.

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Author: Rohit Sankar

Rohit Sankar is a cricket enthusiast striving to convey the finer details of the game in a capsule. He hopes to present a bird's eye view of the game, as he sees it, to the readers.

Twitter @imRohit_SN

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