Over the last decade, New Zealand have been blessed with extremely talented new-ball bowlers. They had Tim Southee and Trent Boult as their One-Day International (ODI) opening pair with the ball for quite a while before Matt Henry became the first-choice ahead of Southee.
Along with a new-ball partnership who tend to make full use of any early movement on offer, a third fast bowler who likes to bowl short of a length has often been part of the Blackcaps XI in ODIs. Earlier, Mitchell McClenaghan and Adam Milne used to take up that role before Lockie Ferguson made it his own in 2018.
This strategy has worked fabulously for New Zealand as the 2010s saw them reach two ODI World Cup finals – something they had never done before in men’s cricket – and also it was the decade in which their win/loss ratio was at its highest since the inception of one-day cricket at the international level.
Over the years, an ODI innings has often being broken down into three phases, more so after the latest Powerplay rule changes in 2015. The fact that only two fielders can be stationed outside the 30-yard circle during the first Powerplay (overs 1-10) gives enough reason for batsmen to attack during that phase. And, of course, during the third Powerplay (overs 41-50), batting teams are almost always on the offensive as it’s usually make-or-break time.
The second Powerplay (overs 11-40), on the other hand, is when the scoring rate and wicket-taking rate tended to be on the lower side when compared to the other two phases. This mindset has changed though in recent years with teams recognising that this phase is as crucial as the other two. A prime example of this change in mentality is New Zealand’s use of Ferguson in the middle overs over the last couple of years.
Excelling in the second Powerplay
No pacer since the start of 2018 has taken more ODI wickets between overs 11-40 than Ferguson (31). And the Kiwi pacer has done so at a very healthy strike rate of 34.5 with an economy rate of below five.
During the 2019 World Cup, it was interesting to note how both finalists had pacers who were excellent during the middle overs. While New Zealand had Ferguson, England had Liam Plunkett in their ranks.
Plunkett’s impact on England’s 50-over results in recent years has been immense. In ODIs since 2015, England have a win/loss ratio of 5.75 (46 wins, 8 losses) when the Middlesbrough-born cricketer has been part of the side, with the number dropping to 0.92 (24 wins, 26 losses) when he doesn’t find a place in the playing XI. This displays the importance of having a wicket-taking pace bowler operating in the middle phase of the innings.
Among the best in ODIs
The middle phase is not the only time when Ferguson is prolific. He has performed magnificently during the death overs as well – 24 wickets since 2018 at an average of 13.3, an economy rate of 6.3 and a strike rate of 12.7. Only Bangladesh’s Mustafizur Rahman (34) has accounted for more wickets after the 40th over in ODIs during this period.
In fact, if you consider only pacers, just Mustafizur (63) and Boult (60) have taken more ODI wickets than Ferguson (56) since 2018.
The Blackcaps fast bowler also tends to cause a high percentage of false shots (27.3) from batsmen. Among bowlers who have bowled at least 100 overs in ODIs since 2018, only Rashid Khan (28.2%) and Jasprit Bumrah (27.4%) have induced false shots more regularly.
Test cricket next?
Having turned 29 on Saturday, Ferguson will definitely be looking at making a breakthrough in Test cricket in the near future. On the back of being one of the premier bowlers in white-ball cricket, a solid first-class record to boast and an injury to Boult, he was handed his Test debut in December 2019. Unfortunately, he was able to bowl just 66 deliveries before suffering an injury.
In Tests, much like in ODIs, the Blackcaps’ pace attack tends to consist of two outstanding new-ball bowlers (Boult and Southee), one bowler who likes to bowl short of a length (Neil Wagner) and a pace-bowling allrounder (Colin de Grandhomme). It is a terrific fast bowling line-up and it won’t be easy for Ferguson to make his way in.
Wagner has been in splendid form recently and is, in fact, ranked second in the ICC Test bowling rankings – only behind Australia’s Pat Cummins. Wagner’s key strength is his relentless use of short deliveries, so the question arises if both Ferguson and him can fit into the same team.
There’s Kyle Jamieson in the mix as well who bowled very well in the home series against India earlier this year. In the second Test of that series, the hosts played four front-line pacers plus de Grandhomme, and this is a tactic that they might be tempted to use more regularly especially at home.
When Test cricket returns, Kane Williamson and New Zealand are likely to have a selection headache with regards to finalising their Test pace attack. But it’s always a good headache to have when you have so many superb options at your disposal. And if Ferguson gets the nod and performs as excellently as he has done in the shorter formats, then the next few years are going to be very fruitful for Williamson and co. in red-ball cricket.