With Pakistan and India about to face off for the first time in two years at the Champions Trophy, I decided to take a look at the pace attacks of both teams. For much of the past few decades, Pakistan’s pace bowlers have been renowned the world over while India’s have been routinely dismissed. But has the situation changed over the past few years?
In order to measure this, I decided to create a metric for comparing each bowler on how their average, economy and strike-rate performed vis-a-vis the averaged numbers for each metric reached by pace bowlers in that match. In other words, I looked at the average economy, strike rate and average for all pacers in a given match, and then compared it to the individual numbers for a bowler in that match. If the bowler performed above average, his score was over 1, while a below average performance meant his score was below 1. This method was then extended across three years of matches.
Now, before we get into the numbers, let’s take a look at how both sides use their bowlers. Since the end of 2015 World Cup, Indian pacers have taken 53.1% of the total wickets picked up by Indian bowlers while conceding 6.48 RPO. Their primary role has been to take wickets whenever they come on. In contrast, Indian spinners have taken 46.9% of the wickets at 5.24 RPO. This shows that India uses spinners to control the game, something which ex-captain MS Dhoni loved doing. During the same period, Pakistan’s pacers picked up 70% of the total wickets at 5.98 RPO, while the spinners picked up 30% of the wickets at 5.66 RPO.
The numbers show that both bowling attacks like using their pacers for picking wickets while using their spinners to control the game, similar to how most teams now bowl across world cricket. While showing the tables, we will show only bowlers who have bowled in more than 6 innings so as to not clutter the data and give false positives.
In matches involving Pakistan, both sides concede 35.89 runs for each wicket they take. In those matches, Pakistan’s pacers gave away 40.24 runs for each wicket they took while the opposition’s pacers conceded 32.29 runs. Only two Pakistani pacers - Hasan Ali & Mohammad Amir outperformed the opposition on average, with Mohammad Irfan finishing with an index above 1.
India overall conceded more runs per wicket than Pakistan and also more more runs than the average pacer in their games. There were only two pacers who managed to have an average lower than the opposition, Jasprit Bumrah & Hardik Pandya.
The strike-rate measures the numbers of balls taken for each wicket, and in games involving Pakistan a wicket is picked up every 38.65 balls. Pakistan’s pacers picked up wickets every 40.40 balls, which was two balls more than the opposition’s rate of once every 37.21 balls. Hasan Ali’s small sample size has him ahead of the pack, while Rahat Ali’s brief stay also has him doing well. The numbers for the rest are all much closer to the mean, and there are four bowlers behind the match average.
In matches involving India over the past three years, a wicket falls every 37.46 balls, with Indian pacers picking up a wicket every 40.09 balls while the opposition takes 4.3 balls lesser than India (a wicket every 35.79 balls) Two Indian bowlers picked up wickets more regularly than the opposition and once again, they were Bumrah & Pandya. Apart from them, Umesh Yadav was just better than the average pacer in the India series.
ODI games are won by the side which scores more runs, so a good bowler is one who concedes fewer RPO than the average. Economical bowlers might not get wickets, but they are essentially saving runs for their side.
The economy rate in games involving Pakistan is 5.57 RPO, with Pakistani pacers going at 5.98 RPO. Here the Pakistani pacers suffered most, as they were all worse than the opposition, and only Irfan and Amir outperformed the overall average i.e. scored above 1.
In games involving India, the average runs conceded by pacers are 6.15 RPO with Indian pacers being worse than the average again, conceding 6.48 RPO. Bumrah once again led the charts, followed by Hardik Pandya once more, who were the only two who had better scores than the opposition.
Now that we have gotten all the relevant numbers we can multiply them and create a singular bowling index which shows how each of the pacers compared to the opposition across the last two years.
The opposition’s index against Pakistan is 1.15 while it is 1.18 against India. India’s pacers have been poor with only Bumrah & Pandya being better than the opposition, Umesh being better than the average Indian pacer and Bhuvaneshwar far worse than the rest.
The numbers show us that the Pakistani pace attack is better than India, but by a hair breadth.
In the past, Pakistan’s pace bowling had often compensated for a weaker batting line-up. In recent years, India has continued to dominate with the bat while Pakistan’s batting has increasingly atrophied and become dated.
With India focusing on improvement in all departments, it might not be long before India overtakes Pakistan in the pace department. More pressingly, on Sunday’s match India’s batting strength will mean that the Indian attack does not have to be at it’s best. But with Pakistan’s batting, the pace attack has to be at its best, something it has failed to do since the World Cup.