Bowl That Maiden Over: Part I

It is always said that, especially in test cricket, the bowling team needs to build the pressure for wickets to fall. More maiden overs are sent down, the batsmen come under the pressure and feel the need to be a little more adventurous to get the scoreboard moving. This could lead to the batsman providing opportunities for the bowlers to claim that prized wicket.

Disciplined bowlers and bowling attack, as is common sense, in the long run, should enjoy more success, and more frequently. Glenn McGrath and Shaun Pollock were that type of bowlers that kept pegging away at one line, with immaculate length, which constantly tested the temperament of the batsmen, and eventually led to their dismissal.

The recent past has seen the resurgence of bowlers and has brought about a semblance of balance with that breed of cricketers, that seem to have almost all the rules made for their benefit, batsmen. This could be due the increase in the number of good quality fast bowlers or decline in the batsmen’s technique, but Test cricket still remains a lot harder than it looks.

The bowlers still need to be accurate and consistent, over a spell, sessions, and days to reap their rewards. One good indicator of a bowler’s consistency is his ability to send down maidens. I have looked at the data for the last 2 years (Starting June 7, 2010 to June 7, 2012) to find out this very aspect about the bowlers of the current test arena.

In the last two years, 181 players have sent down at least one delivery in test cricket. Using the qualification of at least having bowled in 10 innings and bowled more than 100 overs in the last two years, it prunes the list to 51 bowlers. The following table lists the top 20 bowlers who bowled the highest number of maiden overs, as a percentage of all the overs they bowled in the period of interest. The top 20 features 4 bowlers each from England, Pakistan, Australia, and South Africa, 2 from India, and 1 each from West Indies and New Zealand.

(Click here for the entire list and here for the 51 that qualify). Note: It also features a few players that no longer are playing test cricket actively, such as the two M.A.’s (Amir and Asif) and Paul Harris.

It is remarkable to see that, of the 51 bowlers who bowled at least 100 overs and in 10 innings, Jimmy Anderson who has taken the most number of wickets in the last 2 years (102 wickets at an average of 23.24 runs, striking every 52.5 deliveries) is also the bowler that has sent down the highest percentage of his overs as maidens. Anderson bowls more than 28% of his overs for maidens while the average maiden percentage for all the qualifying bowlers is just 19%.

Following table provides information on the top 10 wicket takers of the last 2 years. In the last 2 years, (Team performances in the last 2 years). It is quite easy to see why England has risen to the top of the test rankings and India has declined to a precarious 4th. In spite of playing most number of tests than any other nation in the last 2 years (25), India features only one bowler in the top 10 listing of the highest wicket takers – Ishant Sharma, who bowls only 18% of his overs for maidens, which is below average.

For those pointing to Australia’s position at #3 in the rankings without a top 10 wicket taker, Peter Siddle (11), Ben Hilfenhaus (12) and Nathan Lyon (20) feature in the top 20, with percentage of maidens above average. Other Indians featuring in the top 20 on the list of wicket takers are Harbhajan Singh (14), Pragyan Ojha (16) and Zaheer Khan (17) with only Ojha having maiden percentage higher than the average (21%). It is important be cognizant of the direction of movement through the rankings that Australia and Pakistan have been making recently, and contrast it with India’s.

These numbers put in to question the role of the team management in devising bowling plans and emphasizing the importance of discipline to their wards. England and Australia have gained significantly under their bowling coaches while Indian bowlers had regressed under Eric Simons, who has now been replaced by Queenslander Joe Dawes. What was baffling as the Indian team was reeling from the body blows down under than even more than the intransigence of the team management to blood youngsters in the batting order was the team management sticking with Ashwin as their lead spinner while keeping Ojha on the bench, and not giving him a look in even at traditionally slower wickets that aid spin bowling at Sydney and Adelaide. The choice of India’s lead spinner should be a lot more obvious from the following table.

(Click to enlarge table)

In the next installment, I will be providing information on the bowlers from the nations ranked in the top half of the ICC Test Rankings, with correlation to teams’ performances. I have also analyzed the data for bowling performances under various situations, including: Home and Away, In Wins, Losses and Draws, In Sub-continental conditions and Outside the Sub-continent, Bowling First and Second.

I will also consider the ability of a team to not only bowl maidens and be disciplined when they are in ascendancy, but while they are faced with a challenge of a big partnership. Some of the results are quite intuitive but there are some surprises too.

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4 Responses to Bowl That Maiden Over: Part I

  1. greyblazer says:

    Nice article. It does show how England tend to bowl in tests. It doesn’t surprise me that Anderson leads the pack as his control over swing and seam has been exemplary. At present he can bowl say outswing, outswing, inswing, outswing, inswing and outswing without losing control and unlike most of them he doesn’t lose his outswinger.

    In recent times the only time Anderson lost his OS because of trying too many of those inswingers was in the Safferland in 09/10

    Paul Harris in the second slot shows he is more of a negative bowler but a bit surprised to see Watson up there in the top 10. I thought of him more as a wicket-taker.

    If you look at the first and the second list it also tells you that Ando gets his wickets by building pressure and Steyn relies on his extra yard of pace.

    As far as Sharma is concerned he is a confused man. All those bowling coaches seem to have talked about so many theories that he is just confused about whether he should bowl from slightly wide of the crease, close to the stumps, should he look for the outswinger. In simple words he has lost his action and still doesn’t have a good wrist position to work with.

    Just keep it simple of angling it into the RHB and the natural variation of the one that straightens a bit. Hi, suddenly bowling doesn’t seem to be rocket science!

  2. Ajit. says:

    Nice read Subash!
    I was wondering if it would be better to correlate wkts per inning bowled to % maidens as opposed to total no. of wickets.

    In that case, folks like Ryan Harris would go down significantly in table 1 while Ajmal would (probably) be no. 1 in table 2.

    Also, have you considered the ‘strike rate’ for these bowlers. I completely agree that bowling maidens increases pressure. However, I’d imagine that at the end of the day, someone with the best ‘strike rate’ would be preferred.

    Thanks. Nice to see statistics based posts!

    Ajit (@ajit_bhaskar)

    • thecricketcouch says:

      Ajit,

      I actually did a bit of work on normalizing all the wickets taken to number of overs bowled and related it to maiden %. It does give numbers. But numbers that we are not used to saying as cricket fans. So, as a starting point, i wanted to keep other numbers we are used to seeing in a cricket stat sheet, for now. Will publish the rest as we go forward.

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