Top innings bowler in Tests

Cricket has quirks. Look at it through another lens; learn something new. Today’s angle is wicket-taking. What kinds of bowlers are the leading wicket takers in a particular innings, and what implications does that have?

Since 2010. First five bowlers used only

No surprises here. Let’s go deeper.

Pace bowlers by innings and by position

Since 2010. First five bowlers used only

Opening bowlers are the best pace bowlers. They also get a boost in the first morning on a fresh pitch. In later innings, they are still favourites among pace bowlers (though the spinners start to get a look-in).

First change bowlers are about two-thirds as likely to be leading wicket taker in an innings. Probably two factors – they aren’t quite as good as openers, and (more significantly), they don’t get the new ball, or first crack at the tail. In later innings their chances improve, probably because those innings are shorter, squeezing out the part time bowlers.

The fourth bowler is just as good as the third, until the second half of the match. The fifth bowler gets a reasonable go in the first innings, but not much action in the second. They are surprisingly unlikely to take the most wickets in an innings – it’s kind of a four horse race.

Pace bowlers by Ground

We haven’t the data to do much by ground, but one stadium gets two Tests a year: Lord’s.

Lord’s since 2010. First five bowlers used only

There’s a 75% chance one of the two openers is leading wicket taker in the first innings at Lord’s – batting is hard in that first hour. The change bowlers don’t really get a look in.

Until models are seriously good, they won’t always beat local knowledge. To get that I need domestic stats. Must build that database at some point.

Spin bowlers by Country by innings

Never cut a spinner. Or back one to be leading wicket taker in the first innings in the SENA countries (South africa, England, New Zealand, Australia). The general trend of a gentle increase in top-wicket-taker probability from 19% in the first innings to 26% in the last is not seen worldwide. In India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, a front line spinner should rarely be available at longer odds than 3-1 in any innings.

(Also a reminder that spinners go from pointless to prized over the course of five days in England).

Individual players

If ye grind yer [gunpowder] too fine, it’ll blow yer bloody head off, then nobody’ll know who’s best shot; thee or me

Sharpe’s Siege

Do bowlers have preferred grounds? Almost certainly. Does it show up objectively in the data? Maybe, if you know what to look for. I’ve checked just one example: Stuart Broad. Using the data since 2010, Old Trafford was clearly his favourite ground, while The Oval was a graveyard. However, look just outside this horizon, and in Broad’s only previous Old Trafford Test he took 0-79, while in his earlier Oval Tests returned 11 wickets at 19. Regression to the mean? Maybe.

What have we learned?

Nothing earth shattering – hints at how bowling position impacts performance, a reminder that grounds can have peculiar characteristics, another reminder that the usefulness of spin through a match varies by country, and my squeamishness about small sample sizes was reinforced when looking at Broad’s record.

Call this one “knowledge consolidation” – kicking the tyres of what I think I know, and nodding approvingly at the result.

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