What makes Sam Curran so good?

The all-rounder has taken T20 cricket by storm, but how does he take so many wickets?

Sam Curran
Sam Curran. (Photo Source: Twitter)
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August 2, 2018. A packed Edgbaston crowd watches in anticipation as England’s seamers toil. Anderson and Broad have been neat as ever, but to no avail, the Indian opening pair making a solid start to reach 40-0. Needing a breakthrough, captain Joe Root makes a change, chucking the ball to a fresh-faced Sam Curran. It’s only the 20-year-old’s second Test match. Curran looks to make the batters play, persistently targeting Murali Vijay’s off stump. Sam’s left arm angle and small stature make for a tricky challenge, yet India’s veteran is equal to the English assault.

After two overs of off-stump bowling, the Surrey man goes for it, delivering a booming inswinger dead on Vijay’s front pad. Expecting it around his off stump again, the right-hander is taken by surprise, a puzzled frown painting his face as England appeal. The umpire shakes his head, but Root reviews, and Murali is on his way. In his place, the in-form KL Rahul looks to steady the Indian ship. But Curran would have him too, only a couple of balls later, the ordinarily elegant number three, dragging on a full-length delivery. Remarkably, Curran would pick up the other Indian opener, Shikhar Dhawan in his next over. A full and moving outswinger drew Dhawan into a loose drive, Curran finding his edge to have India three down. Finishing the innings with 4/74, Curran’s three wickets in eight balls made world cricket sit up and take notice. England, thus, had a new weapon. 

In the four years since that day, Sam Curran has become a superstar. Although he’s earned himself an impressive 24 Test caps, it’s in the white-ball game where the left-armer has really excelled. He was named player of the tournament in the most recent edition of the T20 World Cup (2022) after taking an exceptional 13 wickets at only 11.38. Staggering numbers for a frontline T20 bowler, which included a crucial 3/12 in the final. The potent spell helped England cruise to victory over a bamboozled Pakistan as the three lions won the tournament for the first time in 12 years. Curran’s stellar campaign even tempted Punjab Kings to bid a record INR 18.50 crore to acquire his services for IPL 2023

What was particularly impressive about Curran’s tournament is the same thing that's been so impressive throughout his four-year international career. That being that, Sam Curran manages to bowl so well and take so many wickets without any ‘special’ skill. He isn't blessed with a ferocious pace or excessive seam movement. He swings the ball a fair amount, but nowhere near the amount that the likes of Bhuvneshwar Kumar can. And, his left-arm angle, while awkward, is nothing new. So, just how does Sam Curran manage to take so many wickets? What makes him so good?

Initially, Curran was deployed as an opening bowler in T20 cricket. Pitching the ball up and aiming for the batter’s front pad. He did well in this role, taking a cluster of wickets to average 26.67 after his first couple of tours to New Zealand and South Africa. He deployed these skills up top in the IPL too. At only 21, Sam jetted off to Punjab for a whopping INR 7.20 crore. Although he took a breath-taking hat-trick in his second match, the IPL wasn't kind to Curran, averaging a still good, if a little modest 31.91 after ten games.  

Then came the lean patch. Curran played five T20I’s in the 2022 English summer. Two against India, and three against South Africa. A concerning pattern appeared. Curran bowled too wide, too short, too full, and too slow. The runs flowed. 147 of them to be precise. In the space of five matches, Sam’s splendid average of 23.94 slumped to a lowly 32.00. 

Something needed to change. And it did. Beginning with England’s historic tour of Pakistan, captain Jos Buttler adapted the way he managed his mercurial all-rounder. Sam was still utilised at the top and in the middle overs, but it was his bowling at the death which proved particularly prominent. With a packed leg-side field, Curran was instructed to bowl into the pitch, varying his pace with an array of slower balls and cutters. The plan worked very well. All seven of Sam’s wickets in Pakistan were caught, often on the boundary. 

Reinvented and rejuvenated, Curran took the T20 World Cup by storm. In their opening game, he recorded the best-ever T20 figures by any England bowler in the format, registering 5/10 against Afghanistan at a staggering economy rate of just 2.73. The rest of his campaign would be picture-perfect, slower balls and death wickets in plenty, helping to secure England’s momentous victory. 

So, I ask again. What makes Sam Curran so good? And the answer is obvious. That being his stellar ability to execute his captain’s plans. Leg side field, into the pitch, slower balls, it's a very simple plan. But its tremendous success was only due to the acute precision with which it was executed. Jos Buttler set the trap and Sam reaped the rewards. This is evident in the sheer amount of Curran’s wickets that are caught. Of his 41 T20I dismissals, a whopping 27 have been caught. Comparatively, just 6 have been caught behind, 7 bowled, and only 1 lbw. 

For Jos Buttler, Curran is a tool. A bowler to be utilised to execute plans and enforce tactics. And, when called upon, Curran executes said plans and enforces said tactics with remarkable precision. That’s what makes him so good, that's why he takes so many wickets. 

In a discussion of what makes Sam Curran the excellent bowler that he is, one must also mention his most potent delivery, a brutish ball that’s served him so well in all forms of cricket. For, despite his diminutive stature, Sam Curran has a mean bouncer. 

He first unfurled the short stuff in England’s 2019 Test tour of New Zealand. On a dead wicket, Curran foxed the Kiwi captain, Kane Williamson. Having toiled away on a tight, off-stump line, Curran’s quicker, rising bumper caught Kane by surprise. Startled, Williamson could only fend the hostile delivery through to Jos Buttler behind the stumps.

This is why his bouncers are so deadly. Sam doesn't have isn’t fast, or tall for that matter. So, the likes of Williamson are rightfully taken aback by his scorching short deliveries, many batters mistiming pull shots off Curran’s bowling. As was the case in the Three Lions’ first ODI against South Africa this January. Looking to set the tone, Quinton de Kock had made a destructive start for the Proteas. He was on 37 off 40 balls when Curran aimed for his grill. Bewildered, but still seeking to attack, South Africa’s opener top-edged the ill-judged delivery through to Buttler once more. 

A world champion in the T20 format, superstar Sam will now have his eyes on the ODI World Cup. The reigning World Champions will travel to India in October to defend their crown. Although he’s a sure-fire squad member, whether the left-armer makes England’s first-choice XI remains to be seen. A smorgasbord of bowling options puts a question mark on his inclusion. 

Yet should he play, whatever the surface, however he’s instructed to bowl, Sam Curran will take wickets. He always does.

~~ Written by Will Symons