The Vitality Blast reaches its climax this weekend, with four counties vying for the 2018 title.
Finals Day is being played at Edgbaston for the sixth successive year, where three of the competing teams, Lancashire Lightning, Sussex Sharks and Somerset, can boast 14 previous appearances between them. The fourth team, Worcestershire Rapids, are making their Finals Day debut.
In the first part of this blog, we apply Opta data to analyse some of the key performers taking part in the opening match, Worcestershire vs Lancashire, and identify strategies which could to help each side come out on top.
What to look out for
- Matt Parkinson could be key in stopping Moeen Ali
- Importance of length for Patrick Brown
- Lancashire Lightning's middle order struggle against leg spin
During the 2018 Blast, Edgbaston has been a high scoring ground. The average total for a team batting first is 177, which is the second highest of all Test venues and higher than the competition average (165.14).
During the past four seasons, spin has enjoyed a better economy rate compared to seam in T20 matches at Edgbaston, with leg spin enjoying the lowest strike rate.
Bowling type breakdown: domestic and international T20 matches at Edgbaston 2015-present
Both teams' leg spinners have played a key role in getting their sides to Finals Day. Lancashire’s Matt Parkinson is the competition’s third-highest wicket taker with 22, whilst Brett D'Oliveira took 4/26 in the quarter-final victory over Gloucestershire.
Potential strategies to thwart Worcestershire’s openers
Moeen Ali and Joe Clarke both possess high strike rates at the top of the order. Clarke is also in the Blast’s top 10 for powerplay runs this season (262), averaging 20.15 per innings.
However he appears to have a weakness when facing left-arm seamers, who have dismissed him twice and have kept his strike rate down to 81.3.
Moeen also has a lower strike rate against left-arm seamers and both players also appear to be less destructive when facing leg spin. Moeen in particular has been dismissed twice to leg breaks in his seven Blast innings and 58.6% of the deliveries he has faced have either been dot balls or singles.
So to stop Moeen getting Worcestershire off to a rapid start, Lancashire may elect to open the bowling with Parkinson, who has dismissed left handers seven times in the competition this season.
Parkinson could be partnered by one of two left-arm seamers, James Faulkner or Toby Lester, targeting Clarke’s weakness to this type of bowling. However Lester is Lancashire’s most expensive powerplay bowler this season, conceding 19.9 runs per innings.
Another reason why Lancashire may elect to use one of their left-arm seamers early on is because the Rapid’s second fastest scorer, Ross Whiteley, has historically excelled against left-arm seam during the latter stages of an innings.
Whiteley’s 2018 strike rate is 164.8 and when facing left-arm seam during the last two Blast campaigns, the left handed batsman’s rate has exceeded 200. He is particularly strong at boundary scoring on the leg side, as shown by his T20 spray chart.
Ross Whiteley T20 spray chart vs left-arm fast seam: 2014-present
Whiteley also has the best death strike rate in Worcestershire’s squad (207.8) but is less destructive when facing length deliveries from seamers, where his rate drops to 134.3. That is something Lancashire’s bowlers will want to take into account at the death.
Countering the Blast’s leading wicket taker
Worcestershire have preferred to post a total when winning the toss this year (they have chosen to field on 6 out of 8 occasions), however one of their stand-out performers, 20 year-old seamer Patrick Brown, appears to relish defending totals.
Brown is the leading wicket taker in the competition this year with 27. However 17 of his wickets have come when bowling second, at a lower economy (6.77) than his average economy (8.11).
21 of his total dismissals have been caught, with a large proportion coming in front of square within the fielding circle. Lancashire’s batsmen should to be wary of driving on-the-up against him when fielding restrictions are in place.
Location of catches off the bowling of Patrick Brown: 2018 Vitality Blast
One of the secrets of Brown’s success may lie in the length he bowls. 61% of his deliveries have been on a length and he has only bowled three yorkers and four full tosses. He also uses the short ball more than any other Worcestershire seamer (3.2 per innings) and has a high dot ball percentage for short deliveries (42%).
With this in mind, the Lightning batsmen may want to counter Brown’s tactics by moving across the crease and look to score on the leg side. As illustrated by the chart below, this is where Brown has conceded the majority of his boundaries this season.
Boundaries conceded by Patrick Brown: 2018 Vitality Blast
Utilising leg spin against Lancashire’s middle order
The Rapids may want to use Brett D'Oliveira tactically during the middle overs to slow the tempo of the Lancashire innings.
D'Oliveira appears to prefer bowling at right handers, where he enjoys a better economy rate (7.78 compared to 9.31 against left handers). 7 of his 8 wickets have been right handers too.
Two of the Lightning’s middle order batsmen, Dane Vilas and Steven Croft have a been dismissed twice and have a lower strike rate against leg spin, however Keaton Jennings, a left hander, is more productive against leg breaks.
Therefore Rapids captain Moeen may want to bring D’Oliveria on when Vilas and Croft start their innings, but hang back when Jennings is at the crease.
Tactics of overseas bowlers at the death
Both sides possess international seamers who have a key role to play at the end of the innings: Wayne Parnell and James Faulkner.
When we look at their respective death bowling lengths, we can see that Faulkner looks to bowl on a length or back of a length, which given that Ross Whiteley tends to be less productive against this length could work to Lancashire’s advantage.
In contrast, Parnell looks to bowl fuller. One thing which stands out is that nearly a quarter of Parnell’s deliveries have been full tosses, suggesting that he has been targeting a yorker, but has frequently missed his length. Despite that, he has taken two wickets with full tosses and only conceded 1.76 runs per ball, which suggests that batsmen have not been able to cash in.
With this in mind, Lancashire’s lower order batsman Jordan Clark, who has a strike rate of 200 against left-arm seam this season, may consider setting himself deep in the crease when facing Parnell and look to hit the ball back down the ground.
However it is worth remembering both bowlers have good records this season. Faulkner averages 11.92 death runs per innings, whilst Parnell’s is 10.43, so if this semi-final ends up going to the wire, the performance of these two players may be key to the final outcome.
The next article will focus on the other two semi-finalists, Sussex Sharks and Somerset.