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The return of fast bowling all-rounders

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All-rounder_Cricket_Test_ODI_T20IAll-rounders in cricket – most famously the quartet of Richard Hadlee, Kapil Dev, Imran Khan and Ian Botham in the 1980s and the great Sir Garry Sobers before them – have once again gained prominence with the advent of T20 leagues around the globe. Moving away from the tactic of having 6 batsmen and 5 bowlers in their ranks, teams always are on the lookout for players who can contribute in more than one department.

With the increase in demand for all-rounders, cricketers often have started chipping in with 5-6 overs whilst scoring some quickfire runs to increase their chances of selection. However, more often than not, these players can be termed as “bits and pieces” cricketers, who do not fit into the conventional definition of an all-rounder.

An all-rounder is traditionally a cricketer who can win games with both their batting AND bowling; a player who can get into the team solely based on his abilities with either bat or ball. He can not only make tough tons across all conditions, but also has the skill to regularly take wickets in a game, similar to what the likes of Jacques Kallis, Ian Botham, Tony Greig, Andrew Flintoff, Abdul Razzaq or Shaun Pollock managed to do well over the years.

The quality of genuine all-rounders has definitely declined after these stalwarts retired. Even more worrying was the failure of teams to produce seaming all-rounders on a consistent basis. With most batsmen capable of bowling slower deliveries - they either learn the art during throw downs in the nets or have bowled them during their childhood - batsmen who can bowl a few overs of spin were still around. The batsmen who could bowl fast dwindled.

Pace bowling is not only more exhausting on the body but also more challenging. Being a world-class seamer requires special training, and if a player chooses to bat as well, the efforts and dedication required increase manifold. Hence, in the age of T20 cricket, most athletes choose to learn the basics of bowling 2-3 overs of spin, which can be enough to warrant selection in the format.

 

With hectic schedules, most players refrain from exerting too much pressure on their body, which is one of the many reasons why the number of seam bowling all-rounders has massively declined in Tests and ODIs in the last few years. The fact that a player like Dale Steyn, who has a Test batting average of 13.84 with two fifties, made it to the top ten of the ICC all-rounders rankings in 2014 signifies the sorry plight after the departure of the Kallises and the Flintoffs.

 

In the first decade of the new millennium, only Ryan ten Doeschate had a difference of more than 40 between his batting and bowling averages (a good all-rounder always has a batting average higher than his bowling average; the bigger the difference between them, the better). However, with Netherland’s ‘Tendo’ played most of his games against teams that offered little competition, so one can remove him from the list. Hence, from 2000-2010, the seaming all-rounder’s club was headed by Kallis, who averaged 47.05 in ODIs with the bat and 32.58 with the ball, leaving him with a difference of 14.47.

Shane Watson (batting average - 40.64; bowling - 28.96), Flintoff (batting 32.94; bowling 24.03), Lance Klusener (37.16 and 33.73) and Heath Streak (32.57 and 29.71) were other players who made an impact with both pace-bowling and batting in the first ten years of the new century.

The retirement of the South African great saw the downfall of seaming all-rounders who could pitch in with consistent performances in the international circuit. From 2012 to 2015, only James Faulkner (average difference of 12.59) and Corey Anderson (batting average - 35.30 and bowling, 24.82) who ruled the roost in the category, with Josh Davey from Scotland, India’s Stuart Binny, Sri Lanka’s Angelo Mathews, Irfan Pathan, Dhammika Prasad and Mitchell Marsh being the only others who picked up more than 18 wickets and had a batting-bowling average difference of more than 1.50.

 

Player name

Batting average

Bowling average

Difference in average

Faulkner

42.84

30.25

12.59

Anderson

35.30

24.82

10.48

Davey

28.10

20.73

7.36

Binny

28.75

21.95

6.80

Mathews

42.43

37.05

5.37

Pathan

34.40

29.15

5.24

Prasad

37.33

32.54

4.78

Marsh

32.66

31.05

1.61

 

Glancing at this list, it strikes us that none of these players, barring Faulkner and Anderson, were consistent match-winners, with either their batting or bowling in the given period. Inconsistencies, injury concerns and the inability to gauge the importance of a seaming all-rounder in the side led to a phase where “bits and pieces” cricketers were called upon, with the rare few talents like Andre Russell and Dwayne Bravo choosing instead to turn out for the T20 leagues more than for their national teams.

However, the last few months have suddenly seen an influx of seaming all-rounders in international cricket. The year began with New Zealand’s Jimmy Neesham and Sri Lanka’s Thisara Perera stealing the limelight in the series between the two countries. The former, who was recalled to the side, came in with the scorecard reading 316 for 5 after the 47th over, and went on to strike a 13-ball 47. He finished with 3/38 with the ball, and continued in the second ODI too, making 64 in just 34 deliveries.

The game was remembered for Perera’s phenomenal knock of 140 off only 74 deliveries after his side had collapsed to 128 for 7. The good showing comes after a successful 2018, where Perera averaged around 20 with the ball and 34.58 with the bat.

Perera and Neesham are not the only cricketers to attract attention with their all-round skills since 2016. Tom Curran, Chris Woakes, Hasan Ali, Angelo Mathews, John Hastings, Mohammad Nabi, Ben Stokes, Marcus Stoinis, Andile Phehlukwayo, Hardik Pandya in ODIs and Jason Holder and Sam Curran in Tests are all part of a sudden increase in players who can never be counted out from the game at any moment.

With increasing fitness levels and immense competition, cricketers are busy polishing and expanding their skill-sets. This is why most teams now have at least one player who can win the game with either his medium pace bowling or his batting.



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