Who are the most economical bowlers in T20 leagues?

In the second article in a new series where we use Smart Stats to analyse various aspects of cricket, we look at the most economical bowler in T20 cricket since January 2019. Smart Stats is a part of Superstats, a new set of metrics by ESPNcricinfo to tell more enriching and insightful numbers-based stories. To know more about Superstats, click here.

Traditional cricketing statistics sometimes do not reveal the actual impact of a bower. ESPNcricinfo’s Smart Stats takes into account the context of players’ performances and shows just how exceptional certain bowlers were when compared to others.

Sunil Narine tops the list of most economical bowlers ESPNcricinfo Ltd

Let us first look at the top five most economical bowlers in terms of conventional economy rates, taking a minimum of 15 innings for bowlers since January 2019. Ravindra Jadeja tops the charts with an economy rate of 6.35. Jasprit Bumrah is the lone fast bowler in the list, conceding 6.63 runs per over. Shoaib Malik is third-best conceding 6.72 runs per over and Imran Tahir and Australia’s Chris Green complete the top five.

Although these are excellent numbers when seen in isolation, game context throws up a different narrative. Malik, Jadeja and Tahir have bowled 80%, 78% and 68% of their overs respectively between overs seven to 15 (the middle-overs phase), when the field is spread, the batsmen aren’t in overdrive, and boundaries are relatively tougher to score. Dive a little bit deeper and you will find that the situations the three bowlers have bowled a majority of their overs in have also not been as tough as some of the others.

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Smart Economy Rate (SER) brings out the true value of the bowlers. It takes into account not just the overs bowled and runs conceded but also the match situation, in terms of pressure on the bowler at the time, the overall match run rate, and the batsmen a bowler bowled to. Keeping a top-quality batsman quiet in a high-scoring match counts for much more than doing the same to a tailender in a low-scoring game.

Sunil Narine’s SER was the best among bowlers who bowled at least 15 overs. His conventional economy rate during this period was 7.04. It was actually worth 5.19 on the Smart Economy scale. Bumrah is easily among the best in the business and he is the only bowler in both the lists. His SER is 5.21. Jofra Archer (SER 5.57), Sohail Tanvir (5.68) and Rashid Khan(5.84) make up the top five .

Of the 72 overs that Narine bowled, 37% were in the Powerplay, in which he conceded just 4.37, and 20% were in the last five overs, where his conventional economy rate was 9.48. In 63% of the matches he played, he conceded under 7.5 runs per over. The two matches where he conceded 11 an over were games where the required run rate was more than 12 when he was bowling.

Jadeja – Best Economy Rate in T20 leagues ESPNcricinfo Ltd

Although Narine has been struggling with injuries recently, his ability to control the flow of runs is remarkable. Bumrah, Rashid and Tanvir had lower conventional economy rates than Narine, but the situations Narine has faced have been a marginally tougher. The high-scoring pitches at Eden Gardens and Port-of-Spain, where he has played a majority of his matches, have also played a role in this. Rashid is an exception, in terms of bowling more in the middle and still maintaining a good SER. Almost 65% of Rashid’s overs are in the middle but, unlike Jadeja or Malik, Rashid also bowls a fair number of his overs in the Powerplay and death, and bowls them well, conceding just 7.1 and 8.3 respectively.

Among the seamers, Bumrah is easily the standout, and he is ranked second in both conventional and smart economy rates. He bowls just 21% of his overs in the middle phase, and is the captain’s go-to bowler almost every single time the team is under pressure. In 13 out of 16 instances he has conceded less than eight runs per over on the flat tracks in Mumbai. The three instances when he did concede over nine runs per over were all in high-scoring games, in which the overall match run rate was more than nine.

Tanvir, who finished as the Purple Cap winner way back in the inaugural edition of the IPL in 2008, is still a force to reckon with. His uncanny action and his strong performances in the Powerplay and death make him a useful resource even today in T20 leagues across the world. He bowls only 9% of the overs in the middle, and usually bowls all the difficult overs. Green is in sixth place in the SER rankings and is another underrated bowler. He is a Powerplay specialist, bowling 50% of his overs in that phase. However, he still needs to be tested across other leagues, such as IPL, and in internationals, to stake his claim.