Before I continue, here are some terms you need to know. Rotation Rate is the number of non boundary runs scored every non boundary ball, higher the rotation rate the better batsman is rotating the strike, the lower it is the worse he is. Boundary Index (Bix) is the % of boundary balls multiplied by the number of runs scored per boundary ball (this takes into account the number of 4s and 6s a batsman hits and gives us a better picture of his boundary scoring abilities).
Since the 2015 World Cup the top 7 batsman scores 1 run for 2 non boundary balls he faces, while he scores 41.37 boundary runs per 100 balls.
As it can be seen the rotation rate increases slightly for the top 6 position, and the boundary index is 45+ for the openers, understandable given that they score boundaries in the powerplay overs and if they bat deep they end up scoring more boundaries, but from the number 3 position the boundary index steadily increases which shows that as the numbers of balls left for the batsman decreases the more boundaries are needed to be scored which is reflected well in this.
So ideally you would want a batsman who scores more boundaries in the death overs and a batsman who is able to rotate the strike well in the middle overs. By rotating the strike well, the batsman can keep the run rate close to 6 an over with no risks whatsoever and thus building a platform where a batsman who can clear the ropes with ease.
A look at Pakistan’s numbers and they show us something unique. For one, only the 2nd opener is doing the bulk of the boundary hitting scoring 63.93 runs in boundaries per 100 balls and this largely due to Sharjeel Khan.
But after the lofty heights of 63.93 runs, Pakistani batsmen end up scoring a run less in boundary among the top 7 than the global average, not bad but not great either. But on the positive side, all Pakistani batsmen rotate the strike better than average and this shows given that Pakistan score 3.6 more runs running between the wicket than the average side.
But it is the numbers 6 & 7 where Pakistan have an issue, yes they rotate the strike well but they do not score many runs in boundaries at number 6 Pakistan score 38.8 versus the average of 41.14 and at number 7 Pakistan score 31.42 versus the average of 43.59. These low amount of runs in boundaries is worrying especially when this is the stage you need to be scoring more runs in boundaries.
During this period Pakistan lacked some big hitters, but now they have batsmen who can do that in Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez, both score 42+ boundary runs per 100 balls, Mohammad Hafeez (44.4) and Shoaib Malik (49.17), both these batsmen are scoring at rates better than the average number 5,6 or 7 batsman. So it would make sense if Pakistan could slot Shoaib Malik at 5 who for Pakistani batsman who have scored more than 1000 runs since the 2015 WC is the 2nd best strike rotator in the team and the best boundary scorer. While Hafeez at 6 has to just come in and score boundaries, a role which he did with ease in the Champions Trophy final where he sent the ball to all parts of the park.
So who bats at 4?
Well this is where I will make my case for why Sarfraz Ahmed, Pakistan’s captain should bat at 4 and why this will help Pakistan.
Among all the batsman to have score more than 1000 runs since the 2015 World Cup, Sarfraz is the 3rd best when it comes to rotating the strike, scoring 0.649 runs per non boundary ball, in 100 balls that converts to 64.9 runs for context on how good that number is just consider the fact that Ahmed Shehzad scores 73 runs every 100 balls and this is with boundaries as well, just 8 runs better than a Sarfraz Ahmed whose only way to score runs is running between the wickets. That’s impressive numbers.
But what Sarfraz does well by running between the wickets he lacks in boundary scoring, Sarfraz has the 3rd worst boundary index scoring in the world behind Dinesh Chandimal and George Bailey. The global average for a top 7 batsman is 41.17 runs per 100 balls. Sarfraz Ahmed is behind this number by close to 11 runs.
So now we know that Sarfraz isn’t a good boundary scorer, but what he does well is that he can rotate the strike. So there has to be a position where he can use his strike rotation skills and help the side, but also a position where his boundary scoring isn’t that big of an issue.
Batting at 6 & 7 is out of question given the fact that you need players who score boundaries, number 5 as well is a spot which could be given to him but his boundary rate is not upto the standard which Shoaib Malik provides. So what is left is the number 4 spot.
While Sarfraz scores the most boundaries when he is at 6, the rate is below what other Pakistani batsmen score at, but it’s at number 4 where his limited boundary hitting is on par with the boundary hitting levels of the position.
But when it comes to strike rotation, there is no one better than Sarfraz, at number 4 he scores 11.3 runs more per 100 balls than the average Pakistani number 4 batsman. His strike rotation though is better than the average in all positions for Pakistan, it’s at 4 where he contributes a lot more than the average.
Sarfraz Ahmed is one of the best players of spin for Pakistan, he rotates strikes at a rate which is among the best in the world, so it only makes sense for him to play the middle overs where he comes around rotates strike keeps the scoreboard ticking for Pakistan and with close to 207 balls left to play with he can build his innings and score some crucial runs. When Sarfraz has scored more than 60 runs in an innings it has come at a time when Pakistan has more than half the innings left to bat be it his 77 versus Sri Lanka in Colombo, 61 versus Sri Lanka at Cardiff, 90 versus England in Cardiff ‘15 or his century versus England at Lord’s in 2015. What all these innings have in common is that Sarfraz has walked out to bat with more than half the innings left or even more than 35 overs left to bat and he has played some of his best knocks since the 2015 World Cup during such stages and he did it by rotating strike and keeping risks to the bare minimum.
So for now it’s a no brainer, for Pakistan to maximise their batting options and make sure they use their resources to the maximum they will need to play to their strengths and minimize weaknesses while batting, bowling and fielding. Sarfraz’s strength is to rotate strike which he can do best at 4 and minimise his boundary hitting ability which is best hidden at 4. It’s time Sarfraz bat at 4 and embrace his strength.