CricViz Analysis: The Curran Conundrum

England slumped to defeat in the final ODI in Colombo as Sri Lanka saved their best until last in the five match series. With Tom Curran having a mixed day with the ball, Patrick Noone assesses whether he has shown enough to fit into England’s ODI team on a long-term basis. 

It can be easy to dismiss matches such as today’s as ‘dead rubbers’. After all England had already won the series, the best Sri Lanka could hope for in terms of the result was a 3-1 series defeat and the fact that the visitors rested both their best batsman and bowler in the series to date gave the match something of an end of term feeling.

But for the players coming into the side, matches such as this are vital with the World Cup just over seven months away. Injuries permitting, it is hard to see any one of Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes or Liam Plunkett missing out when England take to the field for their opening game in the World Cup. So Mark Wood and the two Curran brothers – along with David Willey, who missed this series with a back injury –  would appear to be effectively battling it out for one spot in the team.

The case of Tom Curran is a particularly interesting one. England have been desperate for a genuine death bowler even since their ODI revolution following the last World Cup. In Curran, they might just have found one, but his inclusion is still far from guaranteed. That this is the case despite a match-winning spell of 3-15 during the shortened third ODI, and another three wickets at the death today is down to the fact that there are still doubts about his effectiveness across a full ODI innings.

What Curran brings to the England side at the back end of the innings has so far not been backed up by his performance in the first 40 overs of matches. Since the 2015 World Cup, he has the third best economy rate of England’s seamers during the last ten overs, but the second worst during the 40 overs prior to the last Powerplay.

What else is notable about the graphs above is that David Willey has a superior record to everyone besides Mark Wood in the last ten overs. It’s an accusation that has often been levelled at Willey that he is only effective in the first Powerplay and is something of a passenger when the white ball stops swinging. The numbers suggest that those accusations are unfair and that Willey has been able to effectively hold up an end during the death overs but, as things stand, Tom Curran’s case is weaker.

Curran is at his best when showing off his variations that have made him such a weapon in the shortest format. It is perhaps no coincidence that his best performance of the series came in the match that was essentially reduced to a T20 encounter and that he excels at the death when he reverts to T20 mode. That is, when he bowls a higher percentage of slower balls.

Comparing his slower ball percentages in ODIs and T20Is shows that there is not a great overall difference between his variation across formats. However, his distribution of slower balls across ODI innings is revealing.

His performance in today’s ODI was similarly skewed, with slower balls making up 33% of the deliveries he bowled in his first two spells (ie before the 40th over) and his economy rate up at 9.60 runs per over. In his third and most effective spell, his slower ball percentage was upped to 67% and his economy rate dropped to 8.00 runs per over.

The beehive below also shows the difference in length of those slower balls that Curran was bowling. He was progressively shorter, confident in his own ability to deceive the batsman through the change of pace. It was a tactic brought him the wickets of both Dinesh Chandimal and Thisara Perera, two dangerous batsmen that Curran was able to thwart with changes of pace.

There is no doubting that Tom Curran possesses plenty of ability, not to mention an abundance of self-belief and confidence that should be viewed as a virtue in sportsmen vying to compete at an elite level. But in his ODI career to date, he has been unable to spread that talent out with enough consistency to nail down his place in the XI. England have to make the call between whether his obvious qualities with the ball at the death are sufficient to justify his selection at the expense of his relative shortcomings earlier in the innings.

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.


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