One of the most high pressure moments for a bowler in a T20 game is delivering a free-hit.
With games frequently coming down to the wire, a free-hit potentially has game-changing consequences both for the bowler who concedes it – and for the batsman who fails to capitalise.
This article analyses bowler tendencies and success rates on free-hits, providing information that could prove vital if applied in a match situation.
Under pressure, players often revert to the skills with which they are most comfortable and the plans with which they are most familiar. While we are focusing on cricket in this scenario, this can be applied across almost all sports.
We can use data to identify which lengths different bowlers revert to when the pressure is on. Taking Opta data from the last six IPL editions, we are able to break down every no ball, analysing the the bowler and grouping the deliveries into categories based on eight different lengths: beamer, full toss, yorker, half volley, length, back of a length, short and half-tracker.
Case Study: Jasprit Bumrah
Mumbai Indians' Bumrah is the bowler who has conceded the highest number of free hits in the IPL, delivering 13 career no-balls.
Most IPL career no-balls (2010-present)
Below is a pitch map of where Bumrah has bowled his free hit deliveries, arranged by length:
It is probably safe to assume that the full tosses and half volleys were intended to be yorkers (a notoriously hard ball to perfect, but also to score off), so if we merge these three lengths together we see that Bumrah has attempted to bowl a yorker on 11 out of 13 occasions.
With this knowledge a batsman can be reasonably confident when facing a free-hit from Bumrah that the bowler will be targeting a yorker and can counter this by setting themselves deep in the crease and premeditating either a hit down the ground, or, if the field placement is favourable and fine-leg is in the ring – a lap sweep or ‘Dilshan’ shot.
Is the yorker a bowler’s go-to free hit tactic?
In the table below, we have compared Bumrah’s tactics alongside the next three bowlers who have delivered the most no-balls in the IPL. As we can see, Ishant Sharma also looks to target a yorker, whilst in contrast, Morne Morkel mixes things up between full and short deliveries. Morkel is the only bowler in the quartet who appears to regularly contemplate bowling back of a length or short.
More than half of Mitchell McClenaghan's deliveries have been a fuller length too, which means that across the four players, at least 50% of their free-hit deliveries are likely to be attempted yorkers.
Interestingly, only two slower balls have been delivered between them, which challenges the preconception that bowlers frequently adopt this tactic when defending a free hit.
Breakdown of IPL free hit deliveries by length: 2013-present
As a batsman, having this knowledge prior to the actual event allows for clearer thought, informed decision making and hopefully, better execution of skills.