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Earning wickets with the short ball

By: Andy Cooper

Key takeaways

– Since May 2017, Pat Cummins has taken the joint-highest number wickets in Test cricket with the short ball, at a strike rate of 31 short balls per wicket.

– Three Australian seamers are in the overall top 10, however fewer than 15% of their total deliveries are short-pitched.

– Chris Woakes is vulnerable against the short ball, with over 28% of short-pitched deliveries bowled at him resulting in a false shot.


If the 2019 Ashes needed a spark to ignite the intensity seen in series from yesteryear, then Jofra Archer’s long-awaited introduction to the Test arena came equipped with several kilos of dynamite.

Often bowling in excess of 95 mph, more than 20% of the 24-year-old’s deliveries during the second Test at Lord’s were sent in short, with more than one in three resulting in a false shot from Australia’s batsmen.

However whilst Archer’s pace and hostility was grabbing headlines, he wasn’t the only bowler in the Test who used the short ball effectively. Over 23% of Pat Cummins’ deliveries were also short, which included the wickets of Rory Burns, Chris Woakes and Archer himself in England’s first innings.

The threat posed by Cummins with the short ball is reflected in the number of wickets he has taken with it in Tests since the summer of 2017. He has 25 scalps in total, with a strike rate of 31 short balls per wicket.

Although Neil Wagner has taken the same number of wickets in fewer Tests, it is worth noting that he sends down a substantially higher volume of short balls. In contrast, fewer than 15% of Cummins’ deliveries are short, which perhaps indicates there is a greater element of surprise when he chooses to do so. Very few of his short balls result in a boundary too, compared to the likes of Duanne Olivier and Kagiso Rabada, who as well as taking wickets can also be expensive.

Perhaps ominously for England, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood also appear in the top 10 of wicket takers bowling short, albeit at a lower strike rate compared to their countryman.

Which players are most vulnerable to the short ball?

Two Englishmen, Chris Woakes and Stuart Broad, are the players who have been dismissed the most by Cummins’ short ball during the last two years. Each have four dismissals apiece.

Woakes has been out to the short ball eight times during this period, more than any other international player. He averages just 13.3 short balls per dismissal, and has looked to pull or hook over 29% of the short balls he has faced.

On the Australian side, captain Tim Paine is the standout player for being vulnerable to short ball dismissals. Whilst his false shot percentage is lower than Woakes and Broad, he records very similar numbers for dot balls and balls per boundary, indicating that he likes to take the short ball on. This is backed up by the proportion of deliveries he either pulls or hooks, which stands at nearly 38%.

Whilst Archer will quite rightly be the focus of a lot of attention for the rest of the summer, he is far from being the only seamer involved in the Ashes who can unsettle the opposition with the short ball, as many international players who have faced Australia’s pacemen during the last two years will be able to attest to.