With the seventh edition of the Caribbean Premier League now underway, OptaPro’s Head of Cricket Francois Vainker considers the most effective options available for bowling to St. Kitts and Nevis Patriots opening batsman, Chris Gayle.
The bowler initiates each play in cricket. While a batsman, no matter how well informed prior to the event, must react to the ball delivered to him, the bowler can dictate the line, length and speed of the delivery.
In this blog I am looking at how a bowler could use data to influence their strategy against arguably the most destructive T20 batsman of all time – Chris Gayle.
Working out how to bowl at Gayle is a question many of the world’s best bowlers have tried – and failed – to answer. So can the deep analysis of Opta data help us come up with a plan for him?
Seam or spin?
The first decision to make is which style of bowler is most likely to enjoy success against Gayle.
By looking at Gayle’s T20 career rates since 2012 against seam and spin, we can see he averages more, has a higher strike rate, hits boundaries at a lower percentage of dot balls and loses less wickets to spin than seam.
A more detailed examination of his rates, split by different bowling types, shows that Gayle’s worse (or more accurately less dominant) performance comes against fast seam and off spin.
Genuinely fast bowlers are a rare commodity, so for this blog I will look at the most effective lengths for a seam bowler against Gayle, however if I was an opposition captain I would consider partnering my fastest bowler with an off-spinner at the start of his innings.
As a seam bowler, what length to bowl?
By filtering Gayle’s rates in T20 matches since 2012: average, strike rate, dot ball % and balls per boundary; we can quickly get a picture of which lengths to target when bowling at the powerful left-hander.
Gayle averages the least, scores slowest and has the highest dot ball percentage against yorkers, so this would seem the obvious route to go down. However, the tactic of bowling yorkers carries a high level of risk – get your skill slightly off and the ball is in danger of being a full toss, the delivery that Gayle has been most brutal against over his career.
Against a player as destructive as Gayle though options are limited, so if I was a seam bowler I would identify the yorker as a tactic and devote time to perfecting the skill when preparing for the game. Good preparation breeds confidence.
That, together with the knowledge from data analysis that yorkers are the length Gayle struggles with and the clarity of thought from being armed with a plan before the heat of battle should leave the bowler in the best possible position to take on the ‘Universe Boss’.
If a plan B is required, I would go with the short ball. A strike rate of 161 shows us that Gayle attacks the short ball – but an average of 27.4 (against a career T20 average of 39 against seam bowling) suggests it may be a ploy worth pursuing.
After opening the 2018 CPL with an innings of 86, where his strike rate in the overs following the powerplay increased from 73.9 to 160, it is clear Gayle remains a destructive T20 batsman. So if you can get your tactics right and dismiss him early on, you as a captain can stop him taking the game away from you.