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A matter of stats: Two reasons Pakistan lags far behind other teams

Updated Apr 27, 2015 06:46pm

Last week, during a discussion on the Facebook Group 'Boys in Green' regarding the ability, or rather the lack of, of Pakistan's batsmen in ODIs, a fellow member Aoun Jafarey brought up the ‘rotation rate’ and used it to assess how Pakistan's batsmen are lagging far behind all other ODI batsmen playing the game today. In a similar discussion with another friend, we brought up the ‘boundary rate’ to explain the same issue of why Pakistan's ODI batting is suffering.

Let me first explain what the ‘rotation rate’ and ‘boundary rate’ are.

The rotation rate (RR) is the number of runs a batsman scores off the deliveries that are not hit for a boundary. The RR basically signifies how well a batsman rotates strike, which is an essential component of building a partnership and easing the pressure, particularly in ODIs. Smashing fours and sixes is all well and good, but what batsmen manage on deliveries that are not pummeled to the boundary goes a long way in defining their innings.

The boundary rate (BR) is the number of deliveries a batsman faces before he hits a four or a six. The BR demonstrates how quickly a batsman scores boundaries, which has become the way of ‘modern’ ODI batting, a term used frequently by new captain Azhar Ali since taking charge.

Let us take a look at a recent instance: Azhar Ali's maiden ODI century in the third ODI against Bangladesh. Azhar scored 101 off 112 deliveries with 10 fours, meaning that if you take out the 40 runs he scored in 10 deliveries, Azhar managed 61 runs off the other 102 deliveries that he faced - a rotation rate of 59.8. He had a boundary rate of 11.2, implying that he hit every 11th delivery for a four.

Is that good or not? How does that compare with other batsmen of this era? What is the benchmark for RR and BR for ODI batsmen? Here is what we discovered.

For a historical perspective, here are the rotation and boundary rates of batsmen with over 10,000 runs in ODIs. The average RR for these batsmen is 47.6, essentially meaning that they rotate the strike on average every two (and a bit) deliveries. The average BR is 12.5, implying that that they hit a four or six after every 12 deliveries on average.

We all know that the ODI game has changed significantly over the years. Rule changes regarding power-plays and fielding restrictions, batting friendly pitches, and better bats have all contributed towards inflated scores, averages, and strike rates. Similarly, the Rotation and Boundary Rates of leading run scorers in ODIs over the past 5 years have improved as well.

Based on the top 10 run scorers of the past five years, the average RR is 53.2 and the average BR is 11.1. Players like Virat Kohli, Hashim Amla, Suresh Raina, and AB De Villiers have rotation and boundary rates that are significantly above average.

It is no surprise that Pakistani batsmen featuring in this list are at the bottom end of the table, demonstrating their lack of ability to rotate strike and hit boundaries. The problem is exacerbated when one considers the case of Misbah-ul-Haq, who has an extremely depressing boundary rate, and combines that with someone like Mohammad Hafeez who has the lowest rotation rate among these batsmen. Can you imagine what it is like when these two are out there in the middle in an ODI? Of course you can, we have all been through this torture.

We have seen the difference in RR and BR for batsmen. Now we look at how this extrapolates to a difference among ODI teams. In the table below, it is quite evident that not only does Pakistan have a poor rotation rate compared to other teams, they have quite a poor boundary rate as well. In fact, Pakistan's BR is the worst among all teams barring England. While West Indies has the worst RR among all teams, they do make up for it by being big boundary hitters and they have the best BR in the business, alongside New Zealand.

(For a more current situation analysis, the comparison includes ODIs played since 1 Jan 2014 with each team's top 8 batsmen with at least 250 runs in this period used as proxies)
(For a more current situation analysis, the comparison includes ODIs played since 1 Jan 2014 with each team's top 8 batsmen with at least 250 runs in this period used as proxies)

What the above table shows is that South Africa on average hit 32 boundaries in every ODI and score 153 runs off the remaining 268 deliveries. If we assume that the 32 boundaries include 8 sixes then that gives you an average total of 297. Similarly, the average totals for New Zealand and Australia are 299 and 287 respectively. The same for Pakistan is 258, which is the worst among all teams barring England, who are worse off by only 2 runs.

At a time when ODI batsmen are scoring consistently at a strike rate of 90, hitting boundaries on average every 9th delivery, and turning strike over more frequently than every 2nd delivery, Pakistan's batsmen are scoring at strike rates of less than 80, hitting boundaries on average every 11th delivery, and turning strike over less frequently than every 2nd delivery.

Those two extra deliveries that Pakistani batsmen take to hit a boundary leads to a difference of 4-5 less boundaries than teams like India, South Africa, and Australia in a 50 over game. The low rotation rate leads to a difference of 7-17 runs. This range of 23 to 37 runs is the difference between Pakistan and world class ODI cricket at the moment.

A look at the rotation and boundary rates of Pakistani batsmen in ODIs since 1st January 2010 paints a very depressing picture.

While batsmen like Sarfraz Ahmed, Fawad Alam, Umar Akmal, Younis Khan, and Haris Sohail do have rotation rates that are around the current benchmark for ODI batsmen, their boundary rates are appalling. Batsmen that have good boundary rates, Hafeez and Kamran Akmal, have atrocious rotation rates. Only two batsmen in that list have RR and BR at par with ODI batsmen around the world - Umar Akmal and Sohaib Maqsood. While one has run out of favor with the management, the other has not been utilized to his full potential and is currently out injured.

Shahid Afridi is at the top of the table. He has rotation and boundary rates that are not only well above the world average but also among the best in the business. However, his volume of runs is too low to make a regular impact. Any batting comparison that results in Shahid Afridi at the top of the pile for Pakistan shows how depleted our batting stocks are at the moment.

While a 3-0 loss to Bangladesh is a cause for worry for Pakistan cricket, a deeper assessment of batting woes shows that at the end of the day it is a matter of 20-30 runs that can make a difference in the current environment. However, this improvement requires significant work and effort on both the physical and mental aspects of Pakistani batsmen. Improved fitness can help batsmen rotate strike more efficiently, while enhanced mental strength is required in order to have some degree of confidence against the oppositions bowling.

Additionally, a better use of the resources available will also go a long way in improving Pakistan's batting in ODIs. Using Fawad Alam at number 6 is completely unjustified and I fail to understand how the best minds in cricket in Pakistan don't understand that.

Umar Akmal can't be left discarded for too long because he is one of the few batsmen that Pakistan have who matches world class batsmen in terms of strike rate, rotation rate, and boundary rate.

Sohaib Maqsood started his ODI career at number 3 and his first two innings resulted in fifty plus scores. However, after that he was utilized at number 6 or 7 for reasons best known to the team management. Sarfraz Ahmed has shown what he can do as an opener, yet after failing to score in two innings at that position, he was dropped.

Constantly changing the batting order doesn't help any team. Pakistan has witnessed significant success at the Test level and the primary reason for this is the fact that they have a stable top 6, which has performed commendably over the past five years. The same cannot be said for the ODI team, which has seen a high number of changes in not only the personnel but also the way they are used.

Pakistan will be better served if the management can identify the right batsmen for each position and provide them with enough confidence to play at those positions without fear. Only then can further improvement be sought in terms of other physical and mental aspects.


Umair Qazi is the founder of wellpitched.com, co-founder of the popular facebook group 'Boys in Green', and he tweets @wellpitched