Selecting a fourth bowler
Russell Degnan

Stuart MacGill's supporters are a disbelieving lot. Not only can't they believe he isn't playing, they can't believe the selectors might have good reasons for it. Personally, I approve; MacGill isn't accurate enough; goes for too many runs, and is a one-dimensional cricketer with nothing to offer if he isn't getting wickets.

It is often said that this draws unfair comparisons with Warne, and that leg-spinners shouldn't be expected to bowl with such unerring accuracy. It is precisely for this reason that leg-spinners were on the way out -- expect for a few one-off tests -- until Warne revived the art a decade ago. An innacurate and expensive bowler is a liability. But just how big a liability is worth considering.

There are two aspects to this. The first is to consider the affect on the "team" bowling performance. Whether it better to keep things tight and force the batsmen to play bad shots, or to bowl a heady mixture of unplayable deliveries and complete rubbish [1]. Measuring how each approach effects the bowling at the other end is difficult though, and will have to wait until I can see a nice (inexpensive) way of doing it.

The second measure is to consider it as a selection problem between two bowlers, all other factors being equal. For this, a simple though experiment will suffice.

Suppose we have two bowlers, each of whom bowl 30 overs. One takes 5/150 (MacGill), the other 3/90 (Bracken) [2]. Who is the better option to select?

At first glance you might take MacGill for his five wickets and superior strike-rate. But it really depends on how the bowling at the other end performed. In the case of Australia, the other end is likely to be Warne and McGrath, each of whom average in the low 20s. If those two bowlers combined to take the two remaining wickets at a cost of 50 runs, then the combined figures would be 5/150 for MacGill versus 5/140 for Bracken and co. Given those initial conditions, MacGill would need to average 28 to Bracken's 30 to be as good an option.

If you have the situation that occured during the Ashes, when one player (Warne) is getting wickets at close to 20, then a player who can hold up one end, regardless of his average, is very valuable indeed. This is why MacGill is a worse bet than Bracken [3]. His strike-rate might be better, but their averages are close enough that Bracken's ability to slow the scoring effectively gives Warne and McGrath more runs to play with.

[1] As we always said in the juniors, and for that matter, the fours: "shit gets wickets"
[2] I've marginally exaggerated the difference between what you'd expect from MacGill and Bracken, but the general principle still holds.
[3] Except in Sydney, where MacGill's average is substantially lower and he is one of the strike bowlers.

Cricket - Analysis 3rd November, 2005 19:39:06   [#] 


Selecting a fourth bowler
To further scare you. Imagine a side that due to some circumstance has MacGill and Lee bowling in tandem??

The horror! The horror.
Bruce  4th November, 2005 14:17:26  

That'd be India 2003-04
Let's see: 366, 286, 7/705 and 2/211

The best part of that series was when MacGill was bowling to Sehwag in Melbourne, and someone yelled "hit him for six".

And he did.
Russ  4th November, 2005 22:42:28  

Lee vs. McGill
But Russ, that argument doesn't hold up when the selectors are picking a bloke who a) isn't taking a lot of wickets, and b) is going for plenty of runs - Brett Lee. Much and all as one has to admire his gumption, his figures have been very average.

Then again, he did average 26 with the bat in England; when you combine that with Warne averaging 27 there's your all-rounder problem solved.
Rob Merkel  5th November, 2005 00:15:12  

Re: Lee v MacGill
I am making an a apriori assumption here that as you are picking a fourth bowler, he will have a worse average than the other three bowlers. Otherwise we would be considering Lee v Bracken, or even Lee and MacGill v Bracken and Gillespie.

Nevertheless I still have hopes for Lee. His selection or not should be assessed against what he's done since he returned to the test side during the Ashes (which admittedly is not much). But time is running out.
Russ  5th November, 2005 08:24:29