Sadeera’s spin game—how he finds strength in his weakness

Sadeera Samarwickrama
Courtesy: ANI

A casual look at the way Sadeera Samarawickrama operates in ODIs should tell you where his strength lies, which is in the ease with which he plays spin and the numbers shore it up. In 2023, he averaged 60.13 against spin in ODIs while striking at 96.98 in contrast to 36.9 at 95.84 against pace. Even though his strike rates against pace and spin are on par, his strike rate of 88.73 against pace at an average of 31.5 in the 2023 World Cup as opposed to 110.76 at 82.33 against spin should throw into stark relief the huge gulf between his game against spin and pace.

Sadeera’s average of 82.33 against spin during the World Cup shouldn’t raise eyebrows, but his strike rate of 110.76 should. Strike rates above 100 in ODIs are usually associated with power hitters, but he managed it despite hitting just 3 sixes. So, how does he counterbalance his inability to clear the field?

Well, considering the runs scored on average off 100 balls against spin in the World Cup, Sadeera scored 8.1 runs in sixes, 43 runs in fours, and 59.6 runs by running. His 59.6 runs by turning the strike over was only bettered by Rachin Ravindra’s 61.09 among those who struck faster than 100. Consequently, his transcendental ability of milking spin for ones and twos plays a big part in allowing him to score fast against spin, a fact that is reinforced by his dot-ball percentage of 39.46% and a non-boundary strike rate of 83.66.

However, strike rotation is only a part of the answer. He also hit the joint second-highest number of fours of 24 against spin. His average of 43 runs in fours off 100 balls is the fourth-highest. All told he scored 102.7 runs by hitting fours and running alone, the highest in the World Cup. The four fielders outside the ring during the middle overs in ODIs are more enough for him to drop the ball into gaps and run, and less enough to hit fours. A byproduct of this workaround is the low risk this method of operation involves as his average of 82.33, which is the third highest among those who strike at 100 plus would explain. Sadeera has conjured a low-risk, high-reward strategy to play spin, finding strength in his weakness.

He also averaged more than 50 and struck faster than 100 against all types of spin in the World Cup, which shows that he is Sri Lanka’s most reliable player of spin given his rate of scoring and its sustainability. Given that Sadeera’s strength is playing spin and he relies on running and fours, are Sri Lanka making optimal use of him and how can they maximize his skillset further?

An analysis of data since the 2019 World Cup shows that spin is bowled more than 50 percent of the time between the 15th and 37th overs. Therefore, this is the phase during which you would want Sadeera to face most of his balls.

But which batting position allows a batsman to enter around the 15th over in an ODI? A look at the average entry points of batsmen from top teams since the 2019 World Cup shows it’s the number 4 that walks in around the 15th over mark and Sadeera’s average entry point was around the 13th over this year, vindicating his batting position. It is further substantiated by the fact that Sadeera faced 61.75% of his balls in 2023 between the 15th and 37th overs.

He has also scored heavily during this phase, plundering 508 runs at an average of 50.8 and a strike rate of 93.38. His performance after the 37th over may seem better, but the sample size is small and his numbers are distorted heavily by his 60 off 38 against Bangladesh and 44 off 27 against UAE. Considering his weakness against pace, we are less likely to see repeats of such performances. However, in contrast, an average of 25.17 during the first 15 overs points toward shortcomings against the new ball, which is underscored by his average dropping to a paltry 12.5 whenever he entered the crease during the first 5 overs.

Accordingly, we can say that number 4 is the best position for him. However, there are a few caveats. For starters, he has been in during the first powerplay 12 times out of the 22 times he batted in 2023. In fact, despite his average entry over being the 13th, his median entry point has been around the 10th. By exposing Sadeera to the new ball, Sri Lanka are risking losing an additional wicket while not maximizing the middle-over period.

Besides, 56.3% of the balls Sadeera faced in 2023 were from spinners whereas an average of 59.32% of balls bowled between the 15th and 37th overs are spin. While it may seem pedantic to complain about a difference of 3%, by having him face more than just the present 61.75% of his balls between the 5th and 37th overs, Sri Lanka will be able to milk more out of him.

To shield him from the new ball and to get him to face more overs during the middle overs, Sri Lanka can push him down the order in case of early wickets and send him at 3 if there is a big opening partnership. Tying him to number 4 has worked, but by being flexible with his batting position, Sri Lanka can maximize Sadeera’s ability further.

At the same time, Sadeera has to work on his weaknesses because bowlers can work him out with time, and flexibility with his batting position demands versatility in batsmen around him, an impractical demand in Sri Lanka. But as of now, while his method against spin might not make him a popular T20 choice, it has made him Sri Lanka’s best and most reliable player of spin in ODIs.