Do right-left pairings score faster in ODIs?

Let’s start with the superficial (Boo! Hiss!) – a right-left pair score 0.8 runs per hundred balls faster than a right-right duo.

ODI partnership summary – min 120 balls, top nine teams only, up to 18 June 2020.

But right-left pairings aren’t something exotic. They are the normal state of affairs. 48% of ODI runs are scored by this combination. No bowler should be phased by normality.

Jarrod Kimber, while concluding that “it’s complicated”, suggested the quicker left-right scoring is a combination of additional wides and ensuring unfavourable spin matchups for the fielding team.

But what about taking into account how quickly players usually score? Gayle, Munro, Morgan are quick scoring left handers, who will be involved in fast scoring partnerships.

I’ve taken each ODI pairing of the last five years and looked at how quickly they should score together – which is the mean of their strike rates. For instance, Sikhar Dhawan (98) and Rohit Sharma (96) would be expected to score 97 runs per hundred balls. Actually, they favoured setting a base, and scored at 86 per hundred balls. No right-left benefit there. However, the Dhawan-Sharma point is anecdotal – the real story is in the general case.

Two ways we can look at this – firstly, excess runs per hundred balls (ie. take all the right-left pairings, compare the runs they scored against expectation based on individual strike rates, and divide by the number of balls bowled). Right-left combinations are weaker than right-right pairs on this metric by 0.2 runs per hundred balls.

Next, because the first method is weighted towards players that batted together lots (Roy-Bairstow’s blitzes have a big impact), we take the raw average of each pairing. For example, Dhawan-Sharma’s impact score is 86 minus 97, being -11 runs per hundred balls. Taking the average for all right-left pairs, they come out 0.4 runs slower per hundred balls than right-right partnerships.

That’s 2-0 to the right-right pairings. Right-left combinations look slower than right-right pairings, once you adjust for who is batting.

But could it be impacted by time of the innings? For instance, do lots of right-left pairs open the batting, so score more slowly at that stage of the innings? Let’s repeat those same two calculations, but just for openers.

Darn it. We have three measures saying right-left pairings are of no benefit, against one saying that they are.

We need more data.

The good news – I’ve finally found a use for all those meaningless T20Is: to test right-left supremacy.

Running the same methodology for 2015-20, it’s nice to see some familiar faces. Dharwan and Sharma top the list, with 1,663 runs together. This time their collective strike rate of 141 is much closer to what we’d expect. And the general case:

Conclusion & Discussion: If anything your team will score faster with two right-handers batting together. Why should that be? One thought: with a left-right combination, the bowler must have a different approach for each batsman, and adopt the optimum lines and lengths for the player on strike. However, with two right handers that isn’t necessary. Is there a risk that a bowler tries to apply the same plan to two quite different right-handed players? I’ve no idea, but it kinda feels possible.


This has all been a bit dry, so let’s have some fun. Firstly, the Campbell-Hope award for the pairings who added up to more than the sum of their parts:

Min 300 runs. Top nine teams only.

And the same for slow scoring – where two batsmen either don’t gel or happen to have come together to consolidate not dominate:

Min 300 runs. Top nine teams only.

PS. That was supposed to be some harmless trivia. But Angelo had to spoil it. Did you see him in four of the twelve pairings? Another hypothesis to test: “Is Angelo Mathews better with some players than others”?

Further readingCricinfo analysis of ODI partnership averages. Concluded no advantage to left-right partnerships. Doesn’t cover strike rates though – so I may have done something original here.

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