Note: For the sake of better understanding and balance, the bowling allrounders are considered as full-time bowlers and batting all-rounders are considered as support or additional bowlers to reinforce the attack and/or utilized by captains for completing the full quota of overs per bowler. By Arrangement
Is the Indian bowling attack of 5 full-time bowlers better equipped to stop the 5-time champions Australia’s quest for making it half a dozen trophies of the one-day international (ODI) men’s world cups?
The form of the hosts in the 2023 championship has been an all-conquering one, with a clean sweep of their 10 matches going into Sunday’s final at Ahmedabad.
However, there was a raging debate during the semi-final against New Zealand, on the non-availability of a sixth bowling option to fall back on, especially, when Kane Williamson and Daryl Mitchell were on the rampage, in the quest to overhaul the humungous target of 398. To India’s credit, Mohammad Shami stemmed the half-hour of helplessness in the middle overs and came up with an incisive spell of line and length to stop the Kiwis in their tracks.
India started the World cup campaign with 6 bowling options, having Hardik Pandya as the batting allrounder, who could bowl a full quota of 10 overs, if required. However, following Pandya’s injury, the introduction of Shami and playing an additional pure batsman, meant the team had a more potent bowling attack, with limited options to fall back on in case of a contingency.
A statistical analysis of the bowling attacks across the 13 World Cups throws up some interesting insights. Specifically, the bowling strengths of teams in the Finals of the quadrennial event reveals the winning combinations and the hits and misses.
Pure Cricket Statistician and Analyst S Naraharinath did a comprehensive study of all bowlers in the past 12 World Cup finals.
It is interesting to note that teams with five full-time bowlers had success only once in Finals of the 12 editions. The English attack in 2019 comprising of Liam Plunkett, Mark Wood, Adil Rashid, Chris Woakes, Jofra Archer and batting allrounder Ben Stokes had the best fire power in bowling compared to all the previous winners. All the other World Cups were won with three or four frontline bowlers, supported by an equal or a greater number of good bowling options of batting-allrounders.
India too in its past two victories fielded a mixed line-up of frontline bowlers, pure allrounders, bowling allrounders, and part-time batting allrounders. In 1983 India had six bowling options - two bowlers in Balwinder Sandhu and Madan Lal, Roger Binny as the bowling allrounder, Kapil Dev the pure allrounder and part-time batting allrounders in Mohinder Amarnath and Kirti Azad. Even in 2011, the MS Dhoni led team had 4 bowlers in Zaheer Khan, Sreesanth, Munaf Patel, Harbhajan Singh ably supported by batting allrounders Yuvraj Singh, Sachin Tendulkar, and Virat Kohli.
Interestingly, like the Indian team of 2023, the West Indies playing XI of the inaugural World cup final in 1975 had only 5 bowlers who bowled in the final with four frontline bowlers Bernard Julien, Andy Roberts, Keith Boyce, and Vanburn Holder, skipper CLive Lloyd was the batting allrounder who completed the quote, while Viv Richards didn't bowl in the finale. Australia's 1999 World Cup winning team too had only 5 bowlers turning their arm in the low scoring finale with Glenn McGrath, Damien Fleming, Shane Warne, bowling allrounder Paul Reiffel and batting allrounder Tom Moody.
Gladstone Small, Neil Foster, John Emburey and Eddie Hemmings. Again in 1992 England's losing final team had Derek Pringle, Phil DeFreitas, Richard Illingworth, Chris Lewis and Ian Botham as the pure all-rounder.
The 1992 champions Pakistan with six bowling options in that final, had only 5 in their 1999 loss to Australia with Wasim Akram, Shoaib Akhtar, Saqlain Mushtaq, Abdul Razzaq and Azhar Mahmood as their only 5 bowlers.
Sri Lanka too lost to India in 2011 with just 5 frontline bowling options in Lasith Malinga, Nuwan Kulasekara, Suraj Randiv, Muthiah Muralitharan and Thisara Perera, however they had a weak 6th bowling option in Tillakaratne Dilshan.
India’s bowling on Sunday will be spearheaded by the seamers Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammad Siraj and Mohammad Shami with Kuldeep Yadav and bowling allrounder Ravindra Jadeja completing the quintuplet. Australia will rely on their four frontline bowlers Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, skipper Pat Cummins, spinner Adam Zampa and their part-time batting allrounders Glenn Maxwell and Travis Head.
Naraharinath adds "While historically, statistics imply that teams with only five bowling options in World Cup finals have won 20% or just one game as against 80% losses, but Indian bowling, in supreme form in this edition, will look to emulate the English team of 2019 to restore parity."
All eyes on Narendra Modi stadium, Ahmedabad on Sunday with 1.3 lakh spectators and over a billion fans across the country anticipate the third trophy.
- Venkat Parthasarathy
The author writes for PureCricket.in and is on X.com as @Venkrek