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Who is the most valuable middle-order batsman in Vitality Blast history?
Vitality Blast

Who is the most valuable middle-order batsman in Vitality Blast history?

The Vitality Blast, formerly known as the Twenty20 Cup, is the first professional T20 league in the world, established by the England and Wales Cricket Board back in 2003. Over the years, the competition has given birth to a plethora of celebrated cricketers who have decorated the tournament's repute with their glamour and exquisiteness. Apart from promising native players, hailing from local counties, who have thrived in the T20 Blast, the competition has also been graced by numerous internationally famed cricketers in its more than one-and-a-half decade-long history.

In this article, I try to analyze Vitality Blast numbers of several batsmen, both former as well as the ones currently playing, in an attempt to gauge the most valuable middle-order batsman in the acclaimed tournament's history. I will take into account different statistical parameters and metrics in order to devise a sound conclusion with no stones left unturned. As aforementioned, all statistics showcased in the article below are for players who have batted in the middle-order, i.e. players who have batted between the 4th and 7th batting positions in the tournament.

Shortlisting the players' list through statistical filtering

At the outset, we will utilize different metrics to filter through the data of middle-order batsmen we have at hand. The first such criterion for analyses is that the selected batsmen should have scored a minimum of 1,500 runs in the competition.

The second criterion is, somewhat, interlinked with the first one whereby we have to filter out all such players who have featured in less than 65 Vitality Blast matches. The idea behind this screening process is to devise an eligibility criterion in order to ensure that no exceptional cases are accommodated during analyses. Applying these filters deprives us of players like Scott Styris, James Taylor, David Hussey, Ben Cox, and Paul Nixon amongst others who have been excellent performers over the years. But it's only fair to exclude them since there are other batsmen who have similar numbers while featuring in nearly twice as many matches.

The third and final criterion applied to the dataset is that the batsman should possess a BASRA score of 155 or more. BASRA is a metric that takes the aggregate of the batsman's average and strike-rate. We will delve deeper into it later in the next section. This rules out notable names of James Hildreth and Rikki Clarke, both of whom have played over a hundred games and scored in excess of 2,000 runs, but their BASRA scores fell short of the filtering criteria.

Following this, we take a sneak peek at the filtered players and their respective stats in the competition:

BASRA of shortlisted batsmen

A quick glimpse at the matches played and the runs amassed by the selected players and we can instantly see that the Netherlands-born Ryan ten Doeschate is a mile ahead of his counterparts. However, the chart above does not say a lot about the run-scoring ability of the 13 players, rather it provides a vague overview of their batting exploits in the tournament.

For that very purpose, we make use of the BASRA (Batting Average Strike Rate Aggregate) index which effectively determines a batsman’s ability to score runs on a consistent basis as well as doing so at a brisk pace. The averages of the shortlisted players are plotted against their strike-rates in the chart below to make room for an unclogged comparison:

The Englishmen, Ravi Bopara and Jos Buttler are, by far, the only batsmen to average in excess of 30 while Alex Blake has the lowest average in the list. While players like Bopara, Patel, and Doeschate try to ply their trade in the middle-order, hard hitters of the cricket ball like Buttler and Ross Whiteley tend to do the same but at a far quicker pace.

On the strike-rate front, there is clear daylight between Buttler and Bopara or Patel, two prominent names in England cricket. Buttler, in fact, trumps everyone else with a staggering strike of 150.8 and an average of over 31 – second-highest on the list.

Eoin Morgan, England’s white-ball skipper and the World Cup-winning captain, is a rare entity on this list. He is the only player amongst the thirteen to have less than 10 not-outs across all of his Vitality Blast games, yet he averages a shade under 30 with a healthy strike-rate of 137.8.

Daniel Christian, the globe-trotting T20 mercenary hailing from Australia, has exceptional numbers, too, and is only a whisker behind Buttler and Whiteley as far as the BASRA scores are concerned.

Runs per innings & Balls per innings

The balls per innings metric is used to analyze the length of a batsman’s stay at the crease and compares it with the number of runs they score while they are out in the middle. There is not much surprise regarding the results of Buttler, Christian and even Whiteley for that matter. All three are known for strolling out with an all-guns-blazing approach and are famed for their big-hitting prowess.

The trio of Bopara, Doeschate, and Patel are more known for their ability to milk the ball around and keep the scoreboard ticking with an odd boundary here and there through calculated risks. Hence, the reason behind their, somewhat, longer stays at the crease as depicted in the figure above.

Astonishingly, though, it’s Morgan who faces the highest number of balls per innings and, thus, also scores the most amount of runs per innings, on average. In fact, he is only one of the three players who has a difference of +7 or more between RPI and BPI – the other two being Buttler and Christian with Buttler once again standing out for his difference of +7.74.

Numbers of 30’s and 50’s & Conversion Rate

In T20 cricket, the 30s-to-50s conversion rate is considered a crucial metric to determine a batsman’s efficaciousness and the potential impact he can have. The number of 30-plus scores a batsman makes is a good indication of how many starts does he get off. But it’s the number of 50-plus scores that offer a broader picture of whether the said batsman is able to carry on in his merry way and make the most of the foundation he laid.

With an exquisite record of 11 50-plus scores and 10 30-plus scores each, England’s premier white-ball batsmen, Buttler and Morgan, register a conversion rate in excess of 100, implying that the two build on their Vitality Blast starts more often than not.

Darren Steven has an impressive record too with 15 30’s and as many 50’s. His conversion rate accounts for an exact 100. Patel and Doeshcate have the highest number of 50-plus scores and the most 30-plus scores, respectively. However, while the former has an excellent conversion rate of 74, the Dutch has a below-par one of 0.44 with a solitary ton under his belt.

Whiteley loses the limelight here as his conversion rate of 0.29 is the second lowest on the whole list with just five fifties to his name in 89 outings. Christian, too, has a meager rate of 50 despite being the only player in the thirteen-man list to have notched up a hundred in the competition more than once.

Percentage runs per boundaries

The percentage runs accumulated per boundaries is a measure of gauging a batsman’s boundary-hitting ability and highlights the capability a batsman possesses to shift gears and make an immediate impact.

As shown in the stacked chart above, Whiteley makes the most amount of runs through boundaries, especially through lusty blows as illustrated by his 37.28 in the % Runs per Sixes column.

A surprising inference from the figure, though, is how far down does Buttler slide; someone who is esteemed for wreaking havoc on the oppositions in the shortest format. Predictably, the likes of Christian, Stevens and Mahmood are in the upper portion of the graph. There is not a lot that can be distinguished between the players based on just this model. I found it necessary to delve slightly deeper and compare their boundary-hitting ability based on how often they hit them, i.e. the Balls per Boundary parameter.

Balls per Boundary & Runs per Boundary

The scatter plot above verifies the notion that Whiteley is, in fact, the best boundary hitter amongst these players by a distance. He not only hits a boundary after every 5.37 deliveries but also scores the most amount of runs on each boundary, i.e. 5.

Unsurprisingly, Christian has the second-best number of balls per boundary (5.54) and Jos Buttler is just behind him with (5.58). However, Buttler is way down when it comes to runs accumulated per boundary as was portrayed in the previous section, too.

Bopara, on the contrary, takes 1.1 overs to score a boundary which could be suggestive of his low strike-rate. The worst performer on this metric, however, is Madsen who consumes 6.64 deliveries to make 4.33 runs per boundary – the lowest in the whole group.

Scoring Index

The penultimate metric we use in analyzing the statistics of these players is the Scoring Index. Before I embark upon the nitty-gritties of the above visualization, it is important to pen down the details of how this index is calculated. For this, we first have to compute the Boundary Index of each individual player. This is measured using the formula below:

                  Boundary Index = Boundary Ball Percentage * Runs per Boundary

The attained metric is then used to calculate the respective Scoring Index using the rubric below:

                       Scoring Index = Boundary Index * Runs per Non-Boundary

Runs per Non-Boundary is the metric that outlines a batsman’s strike rotation skills. The Scoring Index, thus, offers an in-depth view of not only the batsman’s boundary-scoring capabilities but also his maneuvering skills to milk and cream the ball around the turf.

Moving back to the chart, we can instantly make out Christian, Buttler, and Whiteley as the three batsmen with the best Scoring Index scores. In fact, apart from these, no other player in the group has a score in the 60s. Buttler, as one might have guessed, once again takes the silverware with a staggering scoring index of 68.5.

Most Valuable Player

We have now arrived at the crux of the problem in hand – determining the most valuable middle-order batsman from the group of 13 batsmen that we had originally filtered. The limelight seems to be allured towards the likes of Daniel Christian and Jos Buttler, as many of you might have already begun to anticipate. But I’d like to emphasize on the fact that there are many factors at play here and we cannot wholly dismiss any of them. This, in turn, self-explains the need for devising a separate index, one that takes into account the most vital of the metrics used above and computes a singular score for each individual player. Without such a criterion, it is immensely difficult to reach a sound conclusion to our analyses. The new metric is called the Player Score and it is calculated in the following way:

Player Score = BASRA + (Difference b/w Runs per Inns & Balls per Inns) + Scoring Index + (Conversion Rate * (No of 100s + No of 50s + No of 30s)) + (Difference b/w Balls per Boundary & Runs per Non-Boundary)

The method is formulated as such to accommodate players who did well than others in a particular metric but were sub-par in the others. For instance, Samit Patel had a total of 40 scores categorized in either 50s or 30s and, hence, he receives the second-highest score from the sub-formula: (Conversion Rate * (No of 100s + No of 50s + No of 30s)). To determine the most valuable batsman, we plot their player scores below:

Jos Buttler, the 29-year old wicketkeeper-batsman hailing from Lancashire, is the most valuable middle-order batsman in the history of Vitality Blast, objectively based on various metrics and a player score. He has a considerable lead over Darren Stevens who is then closely followed by Daniel Christian and Ross Whiteley. Whiteley stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Buttler throughout the analyses but lost the attained advantage in the conversion rate section in which he fared poorly.

 Buttler shapes up to execute a scoop shot ©Getty Images

Buttler shapes up to execute a scoop shot ©Getty Images

Momin is a freelance Cricket writer and commentator hailing from Lahore. He is a Computer Science student and loves doing data-centric analyses on the game in his pastime. You can check his Twitter profile here: @MominWrites