faulkner
Illustration- Vasim Maner

What if we told you that Australian all-rounder, James Faulkner – who has a mere 908 runs and 80 wickets from all of 59 one-day internationals – is a higher impact all-rounder than Shane Watson, Kapil Dev, Jacques Kallis, Lance Klusener, Shaun Pollock, Sanath Jayasuriya, Shahid Afridi and Chris Cairns?

This does not sound right. Does it?

James Faulkner has a batting average of 38 and a bowling average of 31 – a good conventional record for an all-rounder. But amongst all all-rounders who have scored at least as many runs and taken as many wickets as he has, Faulkner ranks 12th by batting average and 30th by bowling average.

Nothing to suggest that he merits a place in the pantheon of all-time ODI greats.

But when we examine his performances through the Impact prism, Faulkner emerges as the sixth-highest impact player in the history of ODI cricket (min. 50 matches) – behind Vivian Richards, Adam Gilchrist, Mitchell Starc (another ongoing career), Andrew Flintoff and Imran Khan.

This also makes him the fourth-highest impact all-rounder in ODI history.

A bit outlandish?

Not quite. Faulkner has already displayed a few qualities in his burgeoning career which place him above the other, more illustrious all-rounders in the game – the most important of which is his ability to rise to the occasion and perform in big-matches.

A SENSATIONAL BIG-MATCH PLAYER

Faulkner has produced 3 series-defining performances (SDs) in just 59 ODIs (54 completed matches). His frequency of producing an SD (every 18 matches) is the best in ODI cricket history (min. 50 matches) only after Mitchell Starc (3 SDs in 53 completed matches).

His first SD came in the series-decider against England in Southampton in September, 2013 where his 3-38 in 9 overs (all top-middle order wickets) was instrumental in Australia’s 49-run win.

This started his golden run.

THE BEST IN THE WORLD

James Faulkner was the highest impact player in the world for the next 18 months (September 2013 to March 2015). He played 33 of his total 59 ODIs in this period – a period in which Australia were the best ODI team in the world winning 6 series/tournaments including the ICC World Cup. The only two series they lost were to India and South Africa, both away.

Faulkner’s two other SDs also came in this period.

Final, Carlton Tri-Series, Perth, 2015: Coming out to bat at 217 for 6 in the 44th over, Faulkner smashed an unbeaten 50 in just 24 deliveries. Australia raced past 250 and posted 278. He then picked up the wicket of Joe Root conceding just 11 runs from his 2.3 overs as Australia dismantled England for a paltry 166.

Faulkner was the highest impact player of the series and carried this momentum into the World Cup.

ICC World Cup, 2015:

Semi-Final vs India, Sydney: 21 off 12 balls (coming out at 248 for 5) helping Australia post 328 & 3-59 in 9 overs.

Final vs New Zealand, Melbourne: New Zealand were taking control after the initial setback. Taylor and Anderson had put together a century partnership before Faulkner sent both of them packing in the 36th over. New Zealand collapsed and were bundled for 183. Faulkner finished with 3-36 in 9 overs. Australia went on to win by 7 wickets.

Faulkner showed his mettle by producing two high impact performances in the semi-final and final. He was the highest impact bowler and amongst the three highest impact players of the tournament and failed in just one of the six matches he played in.

Faulkner’s low sample size of matches – 59 (we usually take 60 as the minimum which is based on a certain correlation between the number of SD performances produced and total matches played in ODI history) – does tend to skew the value of his SD performances (to a certain extent) which in turn boosts his overall impact.

But three high impact match-winning performances by a player which ultimately helped his team win three series/tournaments at such an early stage of his career also showcase a rare and special quality.

Overall, Faulkner has played 7 knockout matches (big-matches) in his career. Astonishingly, he has produced a high impact performance in 6 of these matches.

This makes Faulkner a great big-match player.

But Faulkner’s high impact is not just because of his big-match temperament.

PRODUCING HIGH IMPACT PERFORMANCES CONSISTENTLY

If we remove the big-match component from our analysis, it is remarkable that Faulkner features even higher – the fifth-highest impact player in ODI history after Imran Khan, Shakib-Al-Hasan (a great story here), Richard Hadlee and Greg Chappell (min. 50 matches).

Faulkner scores high on a number of individual parameters. His failure rate of just 17% makes him the seventh-most consistent player (non-wicketkeeper) in ODI history after Hadlee, Shaun Pollock, Kapil Dev, Shakib, Botham and Greg Chappell.

His frequency of high impact performances (18 such performances in 54 completed matches) is the fifth-best in history after Imran Khan, Richards, Flintoff and Kallis.

His Strike Rate Impact (measure of strike rate relative to match norm) is the fifth-best in Australia’s history after Glenn Maxwell, Adam Gilchrist, Andrew Symonds and Simon O’Donnell. This, along with his cool temperament makes him a dangerous lower middle-order batsman.

While conventional numbers (Batting average of 38 and Bowling average of 31) suggest that Faulkner is a better batsman, it is his bowling which has a 63% higher impact. Not a surprise then that Faulkner is the tenth-highest impact bowler in the Australia’s ODI history (min. 50 matches). This makes him a higher impact bowler than the likes of Craig McDermott, Paul Reiffel, Damien Fleming and Jason Gillespie – all specialist bowlers. Two of his three SDs have come as a bowler. In particular, his ability to pick top-middle order wickets stands out and – in this regard – he is higher impact than McGrath, McDermott, Bracken, Reiffel, Gillespie and Fleming.

While Faulkner is a genuine all-rounder in ODI cricket, he has failed miserably as a batsman in T20 cricket. Faulkner has a negative Strike Rate Impact in T20 cricket which means that he struggles to up the ante in this format and scores at a rate lower than the match norm.

Also, while he has been a terrific finisher in ODI cricket, he has struggled to repeat his exploits in T20 cricket, especially in T20Is where he has a 93% failure rate with the bat (14 failures in 15 innings). His impact is a significant 133% higher when he has come out to bat between overs 40-50 in ODI cricket as compared to between overs 16-20 in T20 cricket.

Faulkner has played 42 of his 44 ODI innings batting at number 6 and below. He has produced 9 substantial performances with the bat in ODI cricket, which considering the limited opportunity he gets batting lower down the order, is a terrific record. He is the highest impact number 8 batsman (min. 15 innings) in ODI cricket in the world in the last five years. His record in chases (11% higher than his impact batting first), in particular, has been outstanding. Three of his five highest impact batting performances have come batting second. Even conventionally, his average batting second is a whopping 77 in 20 innings- his 13 not outs do boost his average but are also an indicator that more often than not he does the job for Australia in tense chases.

Cricket pundits and teams have often got this wrong and expected Faulkner to replicate his ODI success in the T20 format too – the demands of which are very different.

Faulkner’s is a budding career. And he will find it difficult to sustain the high standards he has set. But if the qualities he has exhibited at such an early stage of his career are any indicators, then we are certainly looking at an all-time ODI great in the making.

 

 

Nikhil Narain

NOTE: This piece is up-to-date as of August 2016