25. One Man Shows

Ravindra Jadeja was India's best batsman and bowler (and best fielder) in the game against New Zealand. How common is this?

Before I get to the content of today’s newsletter, let me take a moment to say “Howzzat”.

In the previous edition of Criconometrics, I wrote:

There is a rather simple formula for New Zealand to defeat India in today’s World Cup semi-final - get Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma early. […]

In 136 ODIs that Sharma and Kohli have played together for India since the end of the 2011 World Cup, there have only been 5 games in which both of them have been dismissed for less than 10 runs each. Four of those games were in 2013 or earlier. The fifth was the Champions Trophy Final in 2017, when India were comprehensively beaten by Pakistan. 

So that five goes to six now.

With the full benefit of hindsight, the fact that Sharma and Kohli hadn’t failed together for so long meant that the Indian batting lineup had gotten dependent on them, and become fragile in a sense. And when the collective failure inevitably happened (it was bound to happen sometime in such a long and high-pressure tournament), the batting lineup couldn’t cope.

India would have lost by much more had it not been for “bits and pieces player” Ravindra Jadeja. Criconometrics’s analysis of such players a couple of weeks ago had listed him among India’s bits and pieces players. On Wednesday, the bits and pieces came together, and Jadeja was easily India’s best batsman and best bowler and best fielder.

While there were significant contributions from others (Bumrah, Kumar, Dhoni), this was pretty close to being a one-man show for India. In this edition of Criconometrics we will look at how likely it is that the same player is both best batsman and bowler for his team in a particular game.

I’ll use two definitions each to define “best batsman” and “best bowler”. The best batsman is the one who either scores the most runs, or the one who scores with the highest strike rate (subject to scoring at least 30 runs). The best bowler is either the one with the most wickets (using runs conceded as a tie breaker) or the one with the best economy rate among all bowlers who have bowled 5 overs or more.

I understand that this definition is a bit arbitrary - in the cutoffs of 30 runs and 5 overs, and leaves room for two people to be called the “best batsman” or “best bowler”, but considering that ODI cricket is a multidimensional sport (teams have two resources - balls and wickets) it is not easy to do better.

In Wednesday’s game, India had one “best batsman” - Jadeja, and two “best bowlers” - Jadeja and Bhuvneshwar Kumar (who took 3 wickets). New Zealand had a clear best batsman (Ross Taylor) and two best bowlers (Matt Henry and Mitchell Santner).

How common is it that the same player is both best batsman and best bowler for his team in a particular game, according to our definition? Till date, we’ve had 8208 instances where a team both batted and bowled in a game. Of this, we have 991 occasions when the same player was both best batsman and best bowler for his team in the same game, so that’s approximately one in eight innings. That sounds far more common that we would expect.

There is really no surprise in the list of players who have been both best batsman and best bowler for their team the most times. The list is led by Shahid Afridi with 25 (partly on account of his longevity - he has batted and bowled for Pakistan in 342 games). Sanath Jayasuriya, next in line with 22, has again batted and bowled in 361 games.

Shakib Al Hasan is unsurprisingly next on the list, and he has been the best batsman and best bowler for Bangladesh in 11% of the games he has played. Shaun Pollock, who follows Shakib on the list is a bit of a surprising name, though - perhaps we don’t appreciate his batting enough.

The interesting thing to note is that this list is populated exclusively by “genuine allrounders” - players who would make it to the team on account of their batting or bowling abilities alone, and also have a strong second suit. In other words, it is not common at all that a bits and pieces player is both best batsman and bowler for his team in a game multiple times.

Coming back to Shakib, Bangladesh is the team with the highest proportion of games where the best batsman is also the best bowler. Kenya, New Zealand and Afghanistan follow. Australia seems to be the most “specialist” teams, with the least proportion of games where the best batsman is also the best bowler. England, for all their bits and pieces players, are also low down on this list.

If we restrict the list to contemporary players (those who have played at least 1 game in 2019), we find that Shakib is followed (at some distance) by Mohammad Hafeez, Angelo Mathews and Chris Gayle. Even in terms of the proportion of games where a player is both best batsman and best bowler for his team, it’s difficult to match Shakib.

The more perceptive of you might notice that there is only one Indian in this list of top contemporary players. Yesterday was the seventh occasion that Ravindra Jadeja was being both the best batsman and best bowler for India. Not bad for a bits and pieces player, I suppose?

And based on this analysis, I suppose this tweet I put out last night is also justified?