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Bowlers win you matches – Is Australia proving this wrong?

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The Australian cricket team's aura has faded and they look like a team that can be bullied when playing away.

Australia v South Africa - 3rd Test: Day 1 : News Photo
Mitchell Starc is Australia’s No.1 fast bowler

They say, cricket is a batsman’s game. The batsman gets the benefit of doubt and also have rules stacked in his favour. With the advent of T20 cricket, the batsman has virtually turned into the bowler’s nightmare with big bats and shorter grounds not helping things.

But despite all that, Test cricket, in particular, is still the last bastion of the bowlers. That is because, at the end of the day, you need to take 20 wickets to win matches.

True, there will be the odd scenario where a couple of sterling innings can turn the match head over heels for you. But, at the end of the day, every great team of each era, every Invincible team, whether it was Bradman’s men or Clive Lloyd’s or Steve Waugh’s, was built on the strong shoulders of bowlers.

Also Read: Are modern day batsmen not as good as their predecessors?

Australia is one such team that, unlike teams like India or Sri Lanka, have won the world because of their bowlers. Their stable of fast bowlers was literally unending and they produced arguably the world’s greatest leg-spinner. While Australia’s cabinet of spinners is threadbare and their fast bowlers, although very good and very impressive, aren’t all world-beaters, their bowling attack is still strong.

However, what is now vulnerable is their batting which isn’t being covered up by extraordinary bowling anymore. Suddenly, you wonder, if bowling alone can really win teams matches, when batsmen collapse like a stack of cards on any surface that does anything remotely different from what a cement road is capable of.  

The numbers clearly tell you a story. Australia’s bowlers haven’t lost their quality all of a sudden. They sorely miss pathbreakers like Shane Warne or Glenn McGrath, who made things happen, but otherwise, they have competent bowlers.

Yet, their aura has faded and they look like a team that can be bullied when playing away. India showed it by beating them 4-0 and then recently, an inexperienced Sri Lankan side, ripped them apart. A look at the Australian bowling numbers and team performances shows how the team’s ammunition with the ball isn’t really as bad. Batting is a different story though.

Bowling averages of teams

When we compare bowling averages of teams over the last two years, Australia isn’t really at the top. With an average of 30.63, Australia is No.3 on the list behind South Africa (27.22) and India (28.2).

When we compare bowling averages of teams over the last 12 months, Australia comes down from third to fourth position with an average of 29.41 across the 11 Tests it has played. Bangladesh (23.52 in 2 Tests), India (23.78 in 11 Tests) and South Africa (27.9 in 10 Tests) are ahead of Australia’s 29.41 in 11 Tests.

To show how Australia is slipping, we could take a look at bowling averages over the last five years. Australia’s 30.57 in 58 Tests is next only to South Africa’s 28.50 even though Australia has won 29 Tests. South Africa has lost only 9 Tests to Australia’s 20, showing how bowlers can take your win percentage much higher.

South Africa proves that bowlers win you matches with a win percentage of 2.238 matching with its low bowling average of 29.05 in 90 Tests over the last 10 years. Australia has a bowling average of 31.7 in 111 Tests and a win percentage of 1.628.

Individual bowling performances

That Australia aren’t losing because of their bowlers is obvious from their bowling performances. Considering the last couple of years in away games, Mitchell Starc is third on the list of highest wicket-takers with 52 in only 10 Tests behind Ashwin’s 55 in 11 and Yasir Shah’s 93 in 16 Tests.

Nathan Lyon is 5th with 50 wickets in 12 Tests and Josh Hazlewood is in 6th position with 44 wickets in 11 Tests. All  matches considered over 2 years, Lyon, Hazlewood and Starc are 3rd, 6th and 8th on the list of wicket-takers with 98, 88 and 80 wickets.

Batting averages of teams

Just like the bowling averages of Australia tell a story – slipping couple of notches over the last 5 years – their batting too tells a story. Unlike in the case of bowling, Australia’s batting fortunes have faded a lot more drastically explaining their recent spate of unimpressive results.

Over the last 3 years, Australia tops the list of batting averages with 39.36 in 33 matches, ahead of Pakistan’s 39.03 in 26 matches.

  • Josh Hazlewood
    Hazlewood is an important figure in the Australian bowling lineup 

However, the bad news for Australia is over the last 12 months, Australia drops down to 34.28 from 11 matches behind England’s 35.3 in 15 matches and India’s 40.47 in 11 matches. During this time, Australia has won 5 and lost 5.

Over the last 3 years, Australia is fifth on batting averages in away games with 32.98 in 17 matches. Pakistan is first on the list with 39.03 in 26 matches but these stats include matches in UAE, which are a virtual home to Pakistan.

The pattern of bad away performances continues as Australia averages only 31.19 in 29 matches away over the last 5 years. They are fifth behind Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka and India.

The bad news continues as Australia averages just 29.63 away from home in the last 12 months in 5 Tests, occupying the 5th position and only marginally ahead of Sri Lanka who average 29.35 with the bat.

Team wins and losses

So, there is a powerful case for the fact that bowlers alone don’t win matches. Australia’s dip in batting fortunes has brought down their win percentage dimming the aura of invincibility that they so unabashedly carried for over a decade.

Over 3 years, Australia are 4th with a W/L ratio of 1.157 in 47 Tests behind South Africa, India and England. Over two years, Australia are 2nd with a W/L ratio of 1.5 behind India’s 3.666.

Also Read: All you need to know about Australia's three new Test debutants

Playing away from home, Australia are 3rd with a W/L ratio of 0.888 behind Pakistan (UAE included in neutral venues explaining why Pakistan are first on this list) and South Africa which has a W/L ratio of 1.333.

Over 5 years, Australia are 3rd with W/L ratio of 1.450 behind South Africa and India. Australia remain in third position but with a much lower W/L ratio of 0.625 if only games played away from home are considered.

Conclusion

Australia doesn’t really have the best bowling attack in the world. However, they have a good bowling attack with a steady spinner and probably the world’s best short-format pace bowler in Mitchell Starc.

Despite that, Australia don’t top the win charts anymore and are abysmal away from home. Bowlers could win matches but only if the batsmen offer them some pabulum and at the moment Australian bowlers would be sore of the contributions from their batsmen, especially away from home!


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