(This was written with one hand, so I apologise for all the errors).
Sam Curran bowls really full. His lengths are more like a club bowler than a test seamer. Part of this is swing, hard to get the ball to swing back of a length. But he’s also short, when he bowls back of a length he can’t do much.
He’s clearly a clever cricketer, he has all-round skills, but all his talents are quite specific and limited.
The thing is, not long ago his skills would have been completely in vogue. England have been desperate for a left-arm bowler for a long time, the rest of cricket finds them far easier.
England is one of those places that hasn’t. And so Curran is important.
On top of that he’s not bowling junk left-arm pace, he swings it in, as you’d like. He’s not quick, but he’s also not a medium pacer.
This is a very handy player, but, cricket isn’t played the same way. Swing is no longer king, left-arm is still handy, but not as in vogue.
Right now the ability to hit the pitch on a length at 85MPH + with height and a wobble seam is what almost all successful bowlers have.
Curran can bowl the wobble ball, but because he bowls so full, it doesn’t have the impact. That’s why even as the global pace bowling pandemic has hit, Curran’s average is just fine. 35, is maybe even too high for this era.
There is extra that he brings when Moeen Ali plays, as he creates footmarks. But, he’s not a heavy stepper. He’s not digging the pitch up, just gently displacing.
But there are matchups. Ravi Jadeja has been averting 17 against left-arm seam over the last 4 years. There are plenty of players like him around. That just can’t handle left-arm pace.
And so you might just want someone like Curran around. And that’s really what
Curran is, an endlessly handy player because we’ve not even mentioned his batting.
His batting is patchy. At its current level, it’s hard to see him even hold down number 7. He’s going to play good, fun innings, and he’ll change some matches, but he’s not a top 7 batter, especially not for a team where only one player averages 40+ in.
Perhaps in New Zealand’s order you could roll the dice with him, but England need 7 front line batters, when Jos Buttler came back into the team it was as a specialist number 7, such has been England poor batting.
So as an all rounder, this gets tricky. I have said many times, that all rounders are unfairly treated, their records are usually deflated in one or both metrics that we use, and we don’t have a great way of judging them. So they usually fall into one of two categories, great or shit. I call this the Botham Pringle continuum.
You’re either a legend who will be talked about and obsessed over for decades, or a consistent punching bag of fans.
after 100 years of ignoring them, Baseball is currently getting this. After dissuading players from using their around skills to flat out legislating against them, an all rounder, or two-way player as they’d call them, came into game by accident. And baseball has completely lost their shot with Shohei Ohtani because of course they have. All rounders are completely awesome.
Ohtani is the biggest story in US sports despite being Japanese and not speaking English publicly. And that’s because he’s in the top ten of batters and pitchers at the same time. Which is incredible. He’s done this for less than a full season though. We know what the impact of doing this for a long time is. Imran Khan did this for almost a decade.
After a decade of being an above-average bowler and handy batter.
Imran Khan transformed into the most dominant cricketer since Bradman, better than peak Sobers and for way longer. For ten years from 82-92, he averaged over 50 with the bat and under 20 with the ball.
Yes. This happened.
He had the best bowling average for that period, better than a Richard Hadlee end Malcolm Marshall, arguably the two best seamers ever. Which is nuts.
But then he had the fifth-best batting average. Comfortably over 50, and behind names like Miandad and Border. This means that statistically, he was worth two great players for a decade, Sobers and Kallis couldn’t do that. They represented one great and one average or handy player.
Only Bradman was worth two greats in one team. And Imran, for a decade.
And his batting was more on paper than dominating. But he was still outstanding for a number 6/7.
And mostly he just didn’t go out. 15 single figure outs in 65 innings - his not out record was strong, but mostly it was his ability to make runs every innings that really helped his batting. He batted like a great tail player and his consistency gave him a 50+ plus average for a decade.
I’ve already put bets on Ohtani to be Prime Minister of Japan by the way.
But what Imran or Ohtani is doing is almost impossible.
And most all rounders are laughed at because they look like less than one good player compared to a man who is two greats in one.
But there are handy all rounders who despite average numbers allow teams to not lose much at the six or seven batting position, and add rest or wickets to the bowling attack.
That’s Curran’s best-case scenario. He’s never going to be a frontline bowler, for Surrey he takes less than 3 wickets a game, that’s good but it’s not frontline. Compare him to Ollie Robinson and it’s clear he’s not a specialist bowler.
And England use him that way too. He’s quite clearly a fifth option most of the time. Curran bowls around 21 overs a Test, that’s similar to Stokes and Kallis, but Jimmy Anderson delivers 35.
As a batter England have used him as a number 7 four times, he’s batted at 9 far more. And is usually a number 8. Where his record is far better.
Curran has asked repeatedly to bat higher for Surrey to develop his batting. But through team makeup it hasn’t happened much, meaning he bats at 7.
And averages 27 there. That really suggests that he’s not a test 7. And when Surrey bat him at 8, which is rare, he’s been much better.
What all this means is that right now, Sam Curran is a Test eight and fifth bowler. As a Test all rounder that’s on the lowest end of usefulness. And it only really works if Ben Stokes or Moeen Ali is in the team. Or both. That allows England to have bowling at the fifth and seventh batting spots, with a batting back up at 8. And Stokes offers extra pace that Curran can’t, and Curran can assist Moeen with his footmarks.
When it’s neither Curran has to play as the fourth bowler and he’s not one, while making the batting slightly longer. He can also field, he’s a legit three-way cricketer, and the package is alluring, but the fit is often awkward.
If you’re thinking but he’s awesome for Chennai. This is also true. His batting is really good for smoking down the order, and he takes wickets, even if they go for runs.
But part of the reason he works at Chennai is they also have a lot of all rounders, meaning they can use him when it suits him. Curran is such a unique player, that what he really does is make teams with other all-round options better, but can’t really add much on his own.
And he’s still very young. 23 isn’t old for an all rounder, as they tend to come on later because speciality can develop their games quicker. The player that Curran is now may not be the one he is in the future.
He may develop into a better batter by moving counties and going up the order. He could work on his pace or find better ways to be more penetrating with the older ball.
Chances are he’ll never have an Imran transformation.
That’s ok. What Curran currently does is quite interesting, he’s a full bowling swing dependent match up bowler with footmarks that helps off-spin batting that works at number eight and he can field.
It’s odd, but it’s handy.