Ben Jones analyses a modern-day classic.
Everything is worse than it used to be, you know. The modern day greats aren’t quite as great as those of the 90s, the 80s, the 70s. Sure, Virat Kohli’s a great ODI batsman, but he’s doing it in era of the bat dominating ball. If Viv could have faced today’s bowling, he’d have had a field day.
If Wasim and Waqar had been bowling at these loose modern batsmen they’d have taken more wickets than even they managed. “Just bowl a yorker – I know it’s old fashioned, but it works“.
It’s understandable. There are plenty of people who don’t want their heroes – and friends – dethroned. There is resistance to younger talent coming through in cricket like there is in any walk of life, but we pay more attention to cricket. It matters more.
Yet ultimately, it doesn’t matter what people say about the old days; Mitchell Starc is one of the great yorker bowlers the game has seen.
The match was on the line when Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes were batting together. Australia knew they should win, but there was no swagger in the steps of the fielders. It wasn’t England’s to lose, or anything close, but it was shifting. They had taken Pat Cummins – Pat Cummins – for 22 in his last two overs, and were on the charge. They were attacking, they were middling it, and they were scoring runs. On commentary, Michael Slater was prompted to say that he wasn’t sure where Australia’s next wicket was coming from.
Then Starc came out swinging. He ran in, and unleashed an absolute weapons-grade yorker of the like we only really see coming out of his hand, these days. It flew down to Stokes, set and certain at the crease even while cramping up in the humid London weather, hammering his bat down, unable to stop it zinging the bails across the outfield.
It swung 1.9° back into Stokes. All day, he only faced seven balls that swung more. The magnitude of the movement alone was vicious.
It was full. Only one delivery Stokes faced all day was fuller; this was out of nowhere, Australia’s attack taking a gamble on England’s linchpin that they had been too nervous to take before. Outrageous, really.
It was 144kph. Hurtling at Stokes’ feet, inherently in the slot but charging towards it too quickly for that to be an issue. You can see from the graph below – not many balls match that pace, with that degree of swing. This was an outlier.
It felt like the perfect delivery. And that’s because it basically was.
CricViz’s Wicket Probability Model uses historical ball-tracking and shot-type data to calculate the likelihood that any given delivery will take a wicket. It considers the swing, the pace, the release point, the seam movement, and basically any metric you can think of that might affect whether a ball will dismiss a batsman, and then gives each delivery a percentage chance.
The yorker to Ben Stokes had a wicket probability – according to the ball-tracking data, nothing else – of 22%. That’s the second highest value for any delivery bowled at this World Cup.
If you’re playing a computer game, you might have a bonus move up your sleeve, some turbo-charging effect you could apply to get out of a sticky situation. You would use it sparingly, saving it for the moment when you really needed it. This was that moment, and that ball was Starc’s secret weapon.
Dismissing the opposition’s crucial player?
A player you have personal history with?
To secure the win?
The win that takes you through to the semi-final?
Yes, when you think about it, that really would be the perfect time to send down such a ball.
And yet, even that does Starc an injustice. The conceit there is that he has a limited number of these deliveries – there’s no evidence that, bowled from Starc’s hand, these balls are in short supply. According to Wicket Probability, of the eight most dangerous deliveries in this World Cup, four have been bowled by Starc. That is astonishing.
Starc has a well deserved reputation as a man capable of doing what other dream of, exploring the outer reaches of what your normal performers think is possible.Here is a man capable of sending down the most attacking deliveries in the world, of dismissing the very best with the very best he can offer. Starc is a player who receives criticism well beyond what he deserves. He is more than many realise, better than many are willing to admit.
And yet, this mercurial quality is met with an ability to bring his A-Game when it matters. Starc is wonderfully capable of delivering on the biggest stage of all. Nobody in history with 25 wickets in World Cup cricket has taken them at a better rate than Starc.
England will be hurting this evening. Partly, that hurt will be the easy to understand pain of having let yourself down in an important situation, the feeling of embarrassment that’s inevitable after high-profile errors.
Alongside that is the altogether more existential pain of having been beaten by some moments of utter brilliance. Sometimes, the difficult thing you have to process is that your actions actually didn’t matter very much at all, and that the opposition were simply able to find a gear that you were not. It’s a grubby, humble pain, but it’s one England will be experiencing right now. Vince got Behrendorffed. Root and Stokes got Starcd. It happens. The latter happens a great deal.
We are lucky to be watching peak Starc. He is a modern great who, in years to come, we’ll all swear was quicker than he looked on telly, swung it more than you can see on a screen, had an aura that cannot be conveyed in mere words and numbers. He’ll become one of the Sacred Cows that we don’t dare question, of the type he now threatens with his brilliance. We should cherish him while he’s still around, and fear him while he’s still fearsome. England will be hurting, but today, cricket was given a gift. Build a plinth, and place that yorker on it.
Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.