The Moneyball Big Bash
Some interesting statistics have been thrown up by both the women's and men's Big Bash
Isabelle Westbury is a writer for cricket.com.au. She has worked as a freelance cricket and politics writer for The Telegraph, The Independent, The Age and The Guardian. She is also the captain of Middlesex CCC.
Everyone loves a stat, and none more so than the cricket connoisseur.
While statistics are not the be all and end all, they’ve a role to play not just in measuring performance but also in understanding trends and identifying areas for improvement in the game.
With that in mind, we’ve gone all moneyball on the KFC Big Bash League and Rebel Women’s Big Bash League, with some interesting patterns emerging.
One of the most remarkable observations in this year’s BBL is the importance of which discipline a team pursues first. In a year in which the English County Championship has scrapped the mandatory coin toss, it appears to have become more important than ever in the shorter form of the game in Australia.
Wednesday night’s win by the Adelaide Strikers tipped the scales over the 60 per cent mark for the proportion of wins for a team bowling first. If a team in the BBL bats first, they are just 39.3 per cent likely to win. In a newspaper column last week, the former Australian international, Dean Jones, asserted that it doesn’t matter who bats first or second. A margin of 20 per cent however, is significant.
The Melbourne Renegades, for example, have a 100 per cent winning record bowling first, and a 100 per cent losing record batting first. It’s a compelling stat, and one which makes Mike Hussey’s decision to bat first when the Sydney Thunder played the Renegades earlier this week all the more intriguing.
Mike Hussey's decision to bat first caused Sydney Thunder a few problems // Getty
Conditions, it would appear, are redundant to a side whose explosive batting repertoire can chase anything, compared to a relatively weak bowling unit who appear unable to defend anything.
Compare this to the WBBL, coupled with the increasingly common opinion that the balance of bat versus ball in the men’s game is skewed significantly in favour of bat, and the stats become even more telling.
In the women’s game, widely regarded as having a far finer balance between bat and ball, the scale is tipped the other way - but only marginally. More than half of teams (53.3 per cent) batting first in the WBBL win - the opposite trend to men, but with a difference that is barely significant enough to even ponder.
Toss of the coin: percentage wins of batting v bowling first
One reason for the finer balance is the longstanding observation that women don’t hit the ball quite as far, so the dominance of bat recedes in comparison to the men’s game. True, the average number of sixes per innings in a WBBL match rounds to just one compared to the men’s game, which boast more than five per innings in the BBL on average.
However the difference between the number of fours per innings in the men’s and women’s game is marginal; there are just over 12 fours per innings in the men’s game compared to more than 11 per innings in the WBBL. The strength and power may be inferior, but the timing and finesse appear to make up the difference.
WATCH: Ellyse Perry's Master Class: Fast bowling
While the women’s game is fast becoming a force and spectacle in itself with the rapid rise of the WBBL, there are still plenty of reminders that this is still a game in the nascent stages of professionalism.
One such indicator of this is the dot ball percentage. While the men average 35 dot balls per innings in the BBL, in the WBBL there are more than 43 per innings. That’s not to say that there are some incredibly busy players at the crease in the women’s game, but the ability to turn dots into singles and create those opportunities is still statistically inferior in comparison.
Dotted up: contrasting percentage of dot balls per innings in the BBL and WBBL
It’s a different aspect of the game than the ‘see-ball, hit-ball’ exterior that so many assume defines Twenty20 cricket, but is one that, with more time for the women to devote to the finer intricacies of cricket, should improve in time.
ABC Grandstand commentator Jim Maxwell noted during the recent women’s Ashes Test that the running between the wickets by the women, compared to the men, was inferior. It wasn’t a criticism, more an observation. And he was right. There are a number of plausible explanations but the most likely perhaps is the amount of time afforded to the women to focus on the finer aspects of the game.
Without the luxury of professionalism, training is akin to any club side – nets, a bit of fielding, maybe some tactics talk, but not much. The amount of time the women are able to spend as a team, working together on the small margins is negligible. With professionalism however, and more time and resources to improve the unseen aspects of the game, there’s no reason these numbers shouldn’t improve.
Any cricketer playing in today’s WBBL will have grown up under the influence of a whole host of cricketing icons. With a handful of exceptions however, these role models will have exclusively been men. They will have watched the likes of Michael Clarke to learn how to bat against spin, learnt how to play the pull shot like Ricky Ponting and practiced endlessly to try and bowl consistently fast like Glenn McGrath.
With the rising visibility of women’s cricket however, not only can aspiring girls – and boys – look up to the Meg Lannings, Ellyse Perrys and Jess Jonassens of the world, but so too can the men look to the women’s game for a few tips of their own.
WATCH: Grace Harris powers her way to the first WBBL ton
The men’s game is getting to grips with the notion that spin bowling, previously a hit-or-miss discipline which either got wickets or got hit for runs (never both at the same time), is becoming an art like no other. For the first time in the five-year history of the BBL, the leading wicket taker is a spinner. Not only that, but it’s only over the last two seasons that spinners have topped the charts for the best bowling averages too.
“We thought T20 would be the death of spin bowling,” commented Adam Gilchrist following another man-of-the-match performance by Adelaide Strikers import Adil Rashid.
“Instead - they’re thriving,” replied Damien Fleming. “Spinners can be match-winners.”
For the women, in a game in which the difference between seam and spin isn’t as pronounced (female seamers rely more on swing than sheer pace), spin has been pivotal far longer than it has in the men’s game. What this means for the men’s game is for each coach to work out for themselves, but one thing that is fast becoming evident is that the women’s game is worth keeping tabs on.
The women play the same game but some aspects of it in a vastly different manner. Other aspects are closer to the men’s version. There’s no reason however, why both the men and women can’t feed off each other in the search for continual progression in a sport whose evolution is rapid, dynamic and continually looking for ways to surpass previous records.