Today for the umpteenth time in recent history, Australia’s tail wagged and wagged and wagged. Most notably Ryan Harris made the easiest 74 you will see from a number 9. And for the third time this series, a struggling Indian team looked short of a fifth bowling option. In short, both teams learned the utility of all-rounders.
The usefulness of a genuine all-rounder cannot be understated. Unless you have a bowling attack full of McGraths and Warnes, most teams need a 5th bowling option; to keep their frontline bowlers fresh and at their destructive best during those long days in the field. Most teams also like to have 7 batsmen.
Doing some rudimentary maths, 5+7=12, you will see we have bit of a problem. If memory serves me correctly, a cricket team is made up of only 11 players. This means that if you want 5 genuine bowlers and 7 genuine batsmen you better start searching for the mythical ‘all-rounder’. Or at least that’s what the Australian selectors have taken out of it. The problem is, genuine all-rounders are as rare as hen’s teeth, or holy grails or centaurs. No matter how hard you try, you probably won’t find one. So what to do?
Fact is, if you pick a human all-rounder, you are going to be sacrificing either batting or bowling or both at either 6 or 7, or 3 if you are Australia. A player like Flintoff, one of the best all-rounders of his generation, wasn’t good enough to bat at 6, but he did because he bowled really well. A player like Watson is pretty decent with bat and ball, but arguably hasn’t deserved his spot in the Australian side as either a batsman or bowler at most points in his career. Like life most of the time finding a perfect solution isn’t going to happen. Life sucks and fairy-tales almost never come true.
Which brings me to bowlers who bat a bit. Bowlers who bat a bit are becoming an increasingly important part of the modern test side. You see the thing is that bowlers that bat a bit allow you to get away with carrying a guy in the top 6 who isn’t a great batsman but bowls as well as Flintoff. They allow Shane Watson to be a valuable contributor by being pretty good at everything but not very good at anything. Heck they allow you to carry Shaun Marsh and still win test matches…
Bowlers who bat a bit have been a key part in Australia’s resurgence as a team that wins test matches in the last year. They were a key part of our paddling of England during the Ashes, of our triumph over South Africa in South Africa and of course they helped us win the second test against India. Without bowlers who bat a bit, India win that test match. And of course, they took Australia from a handy total to a dominant one today.
You may not call Mitch Johnson a genuine all-rounder but he has contributed a lot of valuable runs with bat in hand over the years. He averages 23 with the bat and has a test century. That’s more than handy. Mitchell Starc averages 30. Ryan Harris averages 19 and put on over 100 today with his captain. James Pattinson averages 30. Even Lyon and Siddle, two of the lesser lights with the bat average 14; they are no bunnies. All these guys have been doing an important job with bat for Australia over the last year. Together they are an all-rounder or two in their own right and make up for the fact Australia only has three consistent batsmen (Smith, Warner and Clarke).
In fact bowlers who bat a bit have been a big part of the last few top test teams. From Philander (27), Peterson (27) and Steyn (14) to Swann (22), Broad (24), Bresnan (26) and Flintoff (31). Bowlers that bat a bit can turn good sides into great ones and turn average sides into decent ones. Bowlers who bat a bit help a side carry all-rounders, helping a side make up for the “loss” of runs that can happen when doing so. Bowlers who bat a bit are an underappreciated part of the modern test team. Bowlers who bat a bit are an important part of a balanced breakfast.
Looking forward to Australia’s test team in times to come, the batting talent available to us looks pretty weak. As Jesse Hogan has pointed out, only 4 first class players who haven’t played tests average over 40 at first class level (it was 5 before Joe Burns debuted). That’s pretty abysmal. However, we do have promising bowlers who bat a bit.
Starc will only get better with the ball and is already very handy with the bat, Pattinson could become quite the batsman, and he definitely looks technically proficient. Cummins and Hazlewood also have some potential and with a bit of work may be able to average in the teens. So while our batting may not reach great heights, we may be able to compensate for that somewhat with bowlers who bat a bit. With players like Johnson, Starc and Pattinson, you can afford to carry Mitchell Marsh while he matures. You can carry five bowlers if you want, especially if the fifth is an all-rounder like Faulkner, who is a bowler who bats a bit better than most bowlers who bat a bit. You could probably even carry Maxwell as a specialist fielder/entertainer if you wanted to (this should definitely happen) – Editor’s note: No it shouldn’t.
Bowlers who bat a bit might just be able to give Australia the time they need to manufacture a functional batting order, something they haven’t had since Ponting retired. In fact they have been helping do just that over the last year. Having bowlers who bat a bit also means you don’t need to find a centaur or holy grail to be a good cricket side.
They mean you can manufacture one purely out of humans who are much easier to find. At the very least bowlers who bat a bit will keep Australia in a few more tests. All hail the bowler who bats a bit.
The stats: just so you know this isn’t all bullshit.
Firstly, we’ve dubbed this stat the sum team average (STA). It’s the sum of a teams average. Pretty simple stuff. When comparing teams, its useful to actually have a stat that encapsulates the “team” rather than just looking at individuals. In this case we are going to talk about batting, but it is equally important when talking about bowling and we will return to that in later posts.
In this case, we think it’s instructive to compare the 2005 Ashes side, the peak Ponting side, Australia at the height of the Ponting era, to the current side, in this case the team that played the first test in Adelaide. This is the side that includes Siddle and Lyon, not Starc. Comparing both sides the sum of averages for the 2005 ashes side (Hayden, Langer, Ponting, Martyn, Clarke, Katich, Gilchrist, Warne, Lee, Gillespie and McGrath) is 406.2. Of those the top 7 scored 347.6, averaging 49.7 per batsman. The bottom 4 scored 58.6 averaging 14.7 per batsman.
Compare that to the side that faced India in the Adelaide test (Warner, Rogers, Watson, Clarke, Smith, Marsh, Haddin, Johnson, Harris, Siddle and Lyon). As a team they average 362.6. The top 7 score 292.4 of those, averaging 41.7 per batsman. The bottom 4 score 70.2, averaging 17.6 per batsman.
Overall the Ashes side scored 58.6 more runs per innings. Thats a lot more runs. Their top 7 scored 55.2 more than the current top 7. That is where Australia’s batting has massively declined. On the flip side, the bottom 4 batsmen from the 2005 ashes scored 11.6 runs per innings less than the current bottom 4 (including Starc or Pattinson blows this out to ~24).
Basically, the current bottom 4 have been busy trying to make up for the loss of quality that has happened up the order. Their contribution has kept us in tests and has help us win tests. It may not seem like many runs, but if our current bottom 4 were returning the same numbers as the 2005 version, it would equate to a difference of 66.8 runs per innings between the teams. That’s a big enough difference to change the course of test matches.