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World Cup 2023: Asian sides strongest on pace front, South Africa lag behind

Last updated on 02 Oct 2023 | 03:03 PM
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World Cup 2023: Asian sides strongest on pace front, South Africa lag behind

We dissect the pace unit of all the ten teams participating in the 2023 showpiece event

*All data is from ODI cricket since 2022 unless mentioned otherwise

The overall picture

Pakistan and India stand neck and neck, outshining the others by a distance. However, in a major shake up of dynamics, Pakistan have lost their best seamer Naseem Shah to an injury. On the contrary, India have a number of things going right for their seam attack. Jasprit Bumrah is back after an injury layoff in a roaring avatar (eight wickets in five innings since his comeback at 24.4 runs apiece), Mohammed Siraj is the number one ranked ODI bowler with Mohammed Shami, Hardik Pandya and Shardul Thakur also ticking boxes. 

While India appear rampant, the renowned pace powerhouses have mixed numbers. South Africa are leaking runs while not picking wickets frequently enough. England have a far worse average, the highest among Test-playing nations, but fare much better on economy. 

The Trans-Tasman participants, Australia and New Zealand, are right in the middle. 

Australia would like to pick more wickets alongside being economical. They have great numbers at home (average 18.9, economy 4.2) but have struggled away (average 38.7, economy 5.9). With Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc set to play their third ODI World Cup in a row, the five-time champions have the most experienced pace trio. They have played only one ODI together since 2022 but will reunite for this showpiece event. 

New Zealand could have had the most experienced duo but Tim Southee’s injury has thrown a spanner in their plans. 

Moving on, we break down these numbers according to phases - powerplay (first 10 overs), middle-overs (overs 11 to 40) and the death overs (last 10 overs) - to study these teams better.

Powerplay (overs 1 to 10)

(mean average: 29.8, mean economy: 4.9)

We begin with a surprise here. Not known for their pacers, Bangladesh have been the best powerplay pace attack in both regards - bowling average and economy. Shoriful Islam is their new ball star, pouching 12 wickets in this phase at only 18.3 runs apiece.

Yet, India and New Zealand seem to be the most threatening new ball attacks based on form and potential. Siraj and Matt Henry are the highest wicket-takers with the new ball. In fact, Siraj has single-handedly beefed up India’s new ball numbers. 

Both sides have their experienced pros back. Bumrah has been penetrative since his return and Trent Boult pouched wickets in heaps against England. 

Hence, Siraj-Bumrah for India and Henry-Boult for New Zealand form hostile new-ball bowling pairs, especially in conditions aiding lateral movement. This already marks the India-New Zealand encounter in Dharamsala one of the most mouth-watering fixtures in this World Cup.

ALSO READ: Matt Henry: underrated, under-appreciated new-ball behemoth

Pakistan carry the auro of a world-class pace attack but the 2023 Asia Cup opened a can of worms. They have lost Naseem Shah, Shaheen Shah Afridi’s new ball partner. Shaheen’s first-over legacy is legendary (16 overs, five wickets, 12.4 average, 3.9 economy) but he has ordinary numbers beyond that in the powerplay (50 overs, six wickets, 41.7 average, 5 economy). Hence, Naseem’s absence takes the sting out of Pakistan’s pace attack. 

Australia is another side with shocking numbers. Starc averages 15.1 in this phase for his 14 wickets in 12 ODIs. The next best is Hazlewood with six powerplay wickets in 18 matches, averaging 44.8. Thus, the Aussies rely heavily on their serial World Cup performer to bring them early wickets. It will be interesting to see if Australia pair Marcus Stoinis as Starc’s new ball partner, an experiment they have carried out extensively this year. 

England and South Africa are the other sides with plenty of catching up to do. Sam Curran is the only seamer on both sides to average under 30 (minimum five powerplay wickets since 2022). Chris Woakes (34.2), Reece Topley (32.1), David Willey (43.3), Marco Jansen (53.6), and Kagiso Rabada (41.6), all have underwhelming averages despite being good swing bowlers. 

Middle overs (11 to 40)

(mean average: 34.7, mean economy: 5.5)

Moving onto the middle overs, the toughest phase for pacers, India are in a league of their own. They pick wickets 10 runs/dismissal more frequently than other sides. 

Most teams have one enforcer but India have three to four such bowlers. Shardul Thakur might not have the most traditional ways of breaking partnerships but he knows the drill. He is the highest wicket-taker in this phase (23) at a decent average of 23.6. If India wants to play Shami, then he has transformed himself into averaging only 13.5 for his 12 wickets in this phase. And if India are playing three spinners, then the designated third seamer, Hardik Pandya averages only 21.8 for 14 wickets. This is where the Men in Blue are fielding their strongest pace attack in a World Cup.

ALSO READ: Shami shows versatility and promise in a timely reminder

The rest of the teams form a clutter. Between Pakistan and New Zealand, there are seven teams with the bowling average ranging between 32.7 and 37. South Africa continue to be the most expensive side. Australia have the best economy and the Rajkot ODI was a testament to how they can cease runs if there is no help from the wicket. 

But how do New Zealand slide here from averaging 26.6 in the powerplay to 37 in the middle? The answer lies in Lockie Ferguson’s form. The Kiwis’ third seamer has managed only 11 wickets in this phase in 19 matches, averaging 55.3 at an economy of 6.2.

Similarly, Sri Lanka’s third seamer, Matheesha Pathirana (nearly 76% overs in middle phase) averages 36.6 at an economy of 6.6. Pathirana has also delivered 71 extras, the most by a pacer in this phase among all the World Cup teams, followed by Ferguson (44). 

England continue to suffer the worst bowling average for a Test-playing nation. However, in the middle overs, it is a consequence of not often playing their first-choice XI in this format. They will press harder with specialists for the role, i.e., Mark Wood and Gus Atkinson, the latter being brought with the experience of only three ODIs. 

Both will be swapped to keep each other fit, ensuring England have someone to hammer the pitch at full tilt. In addition, Topley averages 19.3 in the middle as compared to 32.1 in the powerplay. Thus, England have a bit of an x-factor about their middle overs’ pace bowling. 

Some other premier pacers who have better numbers with the older ball are Josh Hazlewood (bowling average in powerplay 44.8; in middle-overs 27.8) and Kagiso Rabada (average in powerplay 41.6; in middle-overs 27.3.). Rabada’s form would be vital for South Africa to cover up the loss of Anrich Nortje and support youngsters like Jansen, Gerard Coetzee and Lizaad Williams. 

Taskin Ahmed is a bonafide wicket-taker with 21 wickets in the middle-overs. His average dips from 43.2 in the powerplay to 20 in this phase. Interestingly, all the top 10 wicket-takers in this phase are Asian seamers.

Haris Rauf and Mohammad Wasim Jnr. will be critical for Pakistan to provide breakthroughs in the middle given their spinners have been ineffective. 

On the far right, the numbers suggest the Dutch will struggle in the middle. They average 63.3 with spin in the middle-overs and 60.8 with pace. 

Death overs (41 to 50)

(mean average: 21, mean economy: 7.9)

Pakistan are the best bowling side in the death overs at an unparalleled wicket-taking rate of 15.4 runs per wicket. They also have the joint best economy of 7.2 runs per over alongside England. The trio of Shaheen, Naseem and Rauf have consistently picked wickets in this phase. 

New Zealand and Sri Lanka are the most expensive sides. South Africa find their wicket-taking mojo back here. However, it is the one phase where India have struggled to strike consistently. This is where Bumrah’s return holds prime significance for India. Since his comeback, the right-arm seamer averages 14.7 at an economy of only 5.5. 

Who are the other death bowlers in this World Cup?

Australia are positioned in the middle of the above scatter plot but have three bowlers in the quadrant of bowlers picking wickets as well as saving runs: Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Cameron Green. Even Hazlewood and Sean Abbott have appreciable economy rates. 

Shaheen and Rauf, in the same quadrant, tell you about the quality of Pakistan in this regard. Lungi Ngidi has bowled most overs for South Africa at the death and will need to improve his numbers for the Proteas to breathe easy. Surprisingly, Willey emerges as the best death-over option for England. 

To Summarize 

The three Asian sides, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, are the best pace attacks, securing two green phases alongside one phase with moderate returns. Interestingly, they are green in different phases to each other. 

Sri Lanka are modest in all departments. They rely more on spin and the absence of Wanindu Hasaranga is a killer blow to their bowling fortunes. Afghanistan are not known for their pacers. They have Naveen Ul Haq and Fazalhaq Farooqui who are experienced in the global T20 circuit and will have the uphill task of supporting their spinners. 

New Zealand fizzle out after good powerplay numbers. England, on the contrary, get better as the innings progresses. Netherlands will need to strike early to make life easier for them later on. 

Australia are modest in two departments but carry a lot of potential up their sleeves. South Africa, a menacing pace attack more often than not, are heading into this World Cup with its sharpness blunted out

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