Usman Khawaja’s unique BBL season

I’m a Sydney Thunder fan, and I was pleased to see how well they did in 2015/16. They managed to scrape into the finals, before winning both the semi-final and the final away from home to take home the trophy. This came after the team took the wooden spoon for the first three seasons before managing second-last in 2014/15.

But something bugged me about their performance, and that was the unique role of Usman Khawaja. During the last BBL season, Khawaja popped in and out of the Sydney Thunder side depending on injury and his test duties, and when he was present the team did consistently well – winning three matches and losing a fourth narrowly.

I thought there was something unique about Khawaja’s performance, and wanted to check it out by delving into the data. Namely, that Khawaja’s total run-scoring in his innings was much higher than any other BBL player, and that the way he scored his runs was different to most other high run-scorers in the tournament.

In later posts I’m going to delve into some theories about what matters in T20 cricket when you’re a batsman. In short, while scoring at a fast pace is important, I’m going to argue that wickets are still valuable in T20 and we should also judge batsmen on their ability to stay in without losing their wicket, at least in some circumstances.

I’m judging batting performance here as the number of runs the batsman scored as a proportion of the total runs scored by his team in matches which he batted in. This metric gives you a sense of how much a player pulled their weight in the team: they may get there by consistently scoring and staying in for most of the innings, or by scoring at a breakneck speed. In either case, staying in without scoring or scoring fast and getting out within the first over won’t serve you well in this metric.


Khawaja is way ahead of the pack on this measure. Usman Khawaja scored 345 runs in his four innings, out of a total of 692 runs scored by the Thunder in those innings, a score of 49.86%. The next highest score on this metric is 29.6% by Aaron Finch of the Renegades, followed by 29.1% for Shaun Marsh of the Scorchers.

All three of these players have a similar pattern. They all are intermittently selected for Australia, thus they are available the remainder of the time to play in the BBL (no Steve Smith or Dave Warner in the list). Khawaja played four matches last season, while Marsh and Finch each played five. But Khawaja’s proportion of runs is much much higher.

Player Team Innings/Outs Runs Player runs/ Total runs
U Khawaja Thunder 4/2 345 49.86%
A Finch Renegades 5/5 246 29.6%
S Marsh Scorchers 5/3 218 29.11%
C Lynn Heat 8/7 378 27.92%
G Bailey Hurricanes 6/4 240 26.79%
A Voges Scorchers 4/2 145 26.03%
K Pietersen Stars 9/8 323 23.34%
M Henriques Sixers 3/3 114 22.85%
E Gulbis Stars 3/1 102 22.47%
M Klinger Scorchers 9/7 285 22.39%

When you rank players based on their raw numbers of runs scored in the season, Khawaja comes in second. If you rank players based on their share of their team’s total score for the season, Khawaja comes in fourth. In both of these lists, Khawaja is the only player near the top who did not bat eight, nine or ten matches (pretty much the entire season).

This performance is also unique when you look at the entire history of the Big Bash League (including six seasons of state teams preceding the current franchises) dating back to the 2005/06 season. Khawaja’s 345 runs ranks him equal-fifth for a single player in a single season. If you look just at players who batted no more than five times in a season, the second-best performance was 246 runs by Aaron Finch in 2015/16. Finch’s 2010/11 season for Victoria ranks third, with 222 runs.


So Khawaja’s performance in 2016 was unprecedented. He only batted four times for a team which played ten matches, yet scored at a level which would have been one of the highest ever scores even for players who played through an entire season. Once you compare him to others who have only played for roughly half the season, he is well off the chart.

I also wanted to look at the other way that Khawaja is unique: how he scores his runs. Twenty20 cricket is renowned for batsmen scoring a large proportion of their runs as sixes (something I’ll return to as its own post).

Khawaja is not a person to hits a lot of sixes. Instead, he hits a lot of fours.

I have a theory I plan to test, which is that we will see a relationship between six-hitting and wickets falling more quickly. Because of this, someone who can score a lot using fours rather than sixes is likely to stay in longer, thus racking up bigger scores. Hence Khawaja reaches two centuries and only loses his wicket twice in four innings, while other big hitters will hang around for a short time. Whether this is a good strategy for T20 (I suspect it is) can wait for another post.


You can see on this graph that Khawaja, with the second-highest number of runs of any player in the last BBL season, only hit ten sixes. Khawaja actually scored enough runs using just fours and running between the wickets to outscore all but four other players.

If you rank batsmen by their four-scoring, Khawaja is in the lead over Luke Wright of the Stars by five fours (20 runs). If you rank batsmen by how many runs they scored by running between the wickets, the clear leader is Michael Hussey with 154 runs between the wickets. Khawaja is third on 129. If you rank by the number of sixes, Khawaja is still impressive – ten sixes puts him behind only five other batsmen, although he is tied with five other batsmen on ten sixes each. But Khawaja is far behind Chris Lynn of the Brisbane Heat, who hit 27 sixes in the last BBL season, with Travis Head and Chris Gayle following with twenty sixes each.


This graph plots out batsmen based on what proportion of their runs are fours and sixes, just for the top twenty run-scorers of the last BBL season. Four of these batsmen predominantly scored fours, and three predominantly scored sixes. The remainder, while being confident boundary-hitters, still were more likely to score runs by running than either by hitting sixes or fours.

On the one hand, Khawaja’s tremendous performance in 2015/16 could be a good sign for the Sydney Thunder, but that’s only the case if he’s available. Test matches will likely keep him away from the BBL early in the season. At the moment he’s not playing in One Day Internationals, so that may allow him to return, but there’s no certainty about this. When a single player plays such a large role in a team’s success, his availability will be key to the Thunder’s success.

The Sydney Thunder’s second-most prolific player in 2015-16 was their captain Michael Hussey, with 306 runs. He’s now retired. The team’s new captain Shane Watson came third with 235 runs in ten innings – and he’s now been ruled out of the first two matches with a calf injury. When you add up the loss of these key players, the championship team starts to look a bit shaky.


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