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Not the best World Cup for left-arm pacers ft. Shaheen, Boult, Starc

Last updated on 15 Nov 2023 | 01:07 AM
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Not the best World Cup for left-arm pacers ft. Shaheen, Boult, Starc

India have not missed much in the absence of a left-arm seamer in their squad

At 32.2 runs/wicket in the league stage, the left-arm pacers are undergoing their least productive World Cup campaign since 1996. Geoff Allott in 1999, Chaminda Vaas in 2003, Zaheer Khan in 2011, Mitchell Starc and Trent Boult in 2015, Starc again in 2019 were the highest wicket-takers across the last six World Cup editions. 

The 2023 edition has three left-arm pacers in the top 10 list of the highest wicket-takers. However, their impact has not been the same as the previous few World Cups. 

When you think of left-arm pace, the first image that pops up in your mind is of the ball curving late into a right-handed batter. Either it's LBW or bowled when the bowler gets it right. It is one of the most captivating sights in the game. Good swing bowlers who can swing the ball both ways are a nightmare for batters. 

There have been left-arm pacers who relied on bouncing out the batters, like Mitchell Johnson and Wahab Riaz; or those who focus on variations, like Mustafizur Rahman. But the primary skill of most left-arm pacers is to swing the ball, creating a stiff angle for the right-handed batters with the new ball.  

However, the ball has not swung much in this tournament (barring the Wankhede stadium), leading to mediocre numbers for left-arm seamers. Three of the leading left-arm quicks - Starc, Boult and Shaheen Afridi - have suffered inferior numbers in the first 10 overs due to lack of swing. 

Dilshan Madushanka and Marco Jansen are the only left-arm seamers to stamp some authority early on (more than six matches).

Madushanka is the only silver lining Sri Lanka’s sinking campaign. The 23-year-old went into the World Cup with the experience of playing only six ODIs, but became the leader of the bowling attack when the other first-choice seamers were unfit. 

We say a batter is batting on a different pitch when he is head & shoulders above the rest in a particular contest. Madushanka created his own set of conditions with his unnatural wrist position, which was discussed in the commentary box throughout the league stage. 

Nine of his 21 World Cup scalps came in the powerplay, the second most for any pacer. Seven of these wickets were credited to deliveries moving in, the joint most for any pacer. Four wickets accounted for deliveries pitched full, the most for any pacer in the powerplay. He cleaned up batters like Rohit Sharma, Steve Smith, David Warner and Babar Azam in his first spell.

Madushanka’s wicket tally came at the cost of control. He went at an economy of 6.7. However, one can also credit it to the lack of support around him. The second-highest wicket-taker in Sri Lanka’s line-up was Kasun Rajitha with eight scalps. Sri Lanka also had the worst spin bowling numbers - 86.6 runs/wicket - diminishing Madushanka's impact. 

In a similar vein, Marco Jansen had only 14 ODIs in his kitty before taking the new ball for South Africa in the World Cup. But inexperience is the only similarity between Jansen and Madushanka. Six of Jansen’s 12 wickets in the powerplay came from deliveries pitched on the shorter side. Jansen swung the ball but largely relied on extra bounce generated through his height. 

Jansen’s numbers fall after the powerplay but support from other bowlers has kept his new ball contributions relevant. Four other bowlers in the Protea attack have picked 10 wickets or more. They also have the second-best spin bowling numbers.

Onto the OG left-armers who were expected to run through top orders, Shaheen has been the biggest disappointment, averaging 50.8 for his four wickets in overs 1 to 10. The 23-year-old improved his numbers with the old ball, creating a difference of 24.1 in his overall bowling average vs powerplay bowling average comparison (aforementioned graph). However, that didn’t help Pakistan, given their dependency on his early wickets. 

Mitchell Starc and Trent Boult have fared much better in the powerplay but still average more than twice as Jansen. Boult’s average doesn’t improve drastically in any phase of the innings. However, on the upside of becoming a T20 globetrotter, he has worked on his economy. At 4.2, the Kiwi pacer has the best economy in overs 11 to 40 among all left-arm seamers. 

After picking 2/45 against Bangladesh, Boult mentioned he has finally perfected the knuckle delivery after two-and-a-half years of practice. Bowling 35 knuckle balls in this World Cup, he has pouched two wickets while conceding only 10 runs. 

In 2019, Starc averaged 40 runs/wicket in the powerplay but retrieved himself later on, picking up a wicket every 21.3 runs in overs 11 to 40. This year, he has been 5.2 runs/wicket better in the powerplay but has struck only twice in the middle overs. His average of 93.5 in this phase is the worst among all left-armers. 

In England, the Sydney-born rendered reverse swing to stage his comeback. In India, it has been as scarce as the conventional swing. The highest wicket-taker in each of the last two editions, Starc is now falling to the hypothesis hinged on his career - he struggles in the absence of any kind of lateral movement. 

A total of 11 left-arm seamers bowled during the league stage. Among the other six, only David Willey and Reece Topley had good numbers. However, they played only one match together. Willey got a consistent run only after Topley was ruled out with an injury. Averaging 23.5 for his 11 wickets at an economy of 5.1, Willey was probably England’s best bowler in a campaign to forget.

Among other Asian seamers, the Bangladeshi duo of Mustafizur Rahman and Shoriful Islam picked 15 wickets between them, averaging 79.6 and 40.9, respectively, while conceding more than 6 an over. Fazalhaq Farooqi picked up four of his six wickets in one game. Barring that player-of-the-match performance against Sri Lanka, he averaged 97 at an economy of 6.5. 

India are the only Test-playing side in this World Cup without a left-arm seamer and are topping the bowling charts, further asserting that they have not been missed much by them. 

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