How Many Overs Can A Bowler Bowl In A Cricket Match?

In some cricket matches there are limitations on how many overs that a bowler can bowl! Any of you that watch or play cricket already will know that the sport can be divided into a few main types of matches…some can last for 5 full days, and some can last for just 200 balls! Therefore, it kind of makes sense that the number of overs a bowler can bowl will differ from match to match. There are cricketing rules and practices that control all of this though. Let me take you through them and make it a bit easier to grasp!

  • In Test matches (or any other type of cricket that has multiple innings for each batting side), there is no maximum length for a batting innings. A batting side can bat for as long as they like. Therefore, the number of overs bowlers can bowl is not limited.
  • In shorter versions of cricket, where the length of a batting innings is predetermined, bowlers also have a limit on the number of overs they can bowl. No bowler is allowed to bowl more than 20% of their teams’ total deliveries. You can work out 20% of the total number of overs by dividing it by 5! This means that in ODI’s (where the maximum length of an innings is 50 overs), each bowler can bowl a maximum of 10 overs.
  • This 20% rule also applies to T20 matches. However, in this case because each batting innings lasts a maximum of 20 overs, the maximum number of overs each bowler can bowl is 4!  

These rules assume that each bowling side is comprised of 5 ‘main’ bowlers, who would each take on 20% of the total overs for their team. You will often see a team use more than 5 bowlers though! Let’s say in a 50 over match a team chooses to use 6 bowlers. You could break this down in a variety of ways, but one example could have 4 of the bowlers bowling 10 overs each, whilst the remaining 10 overs are split between the 5th and 6th bowler.

How Many Overs Can a Bowler Bowl When A Game Is Shortened?

Rain and bad weather are a cricketer’s worst nightmare, but a reality we have to deal with! Especially when you live in England like I do! Unfortunately, English summer weather isn’t always the best for allowing cricket to be played!

So, when cricket matches are affected and shortened due to rain, how does this impact how many overs a bowler can bowl? For test matches or matches that last multiple days, with multiple batting innings’, the rules are exactly the same as the previous section. No matter how much the game is cut short by, there are still no limits on the number of overs that are available to a bowler!

Limited overs matches are a bit more complicated to explain, even though they also follow the same rules as previously! Bowlers are still not allowed to bowl more than 20% of their teams’ total deliveries! For example, let’s say that an ODI match (originally 50 overs per team) is reduced to 30 overs per side. 20% of 30 overs is 6, so no bowler would be able to bowl more than 6 overs!

This becomes slightly more complex if the number of overs are reduced to an amount that doesn’t easily cooperate with the 20% rule. Imagine an ODI match that is reduced from 50 overs to 34 overs per side due to bad weather. 20% of 34 is 6.8! This is a number that doesn’t divide evenly, and we can’t have a bowler bowling 6.8 overs. This means the rule has to be altered somewhat. Some bowlers will be allowed to bowl 7 overs, and some will be allowed to bowl 6. Remember that we still have to split the 34 total overs between 5 ‘main’ bowlers! So, in this scenario, 4 bowlers would be allowed to bowl a maximum of 7 overs, with one being allowed to bowl a maximum of 6. This would combine to make the total of 34!

I’ll give another example just to make sure everyone is on board with how it works. If a 50 over match is reduced to 22 overs per team, 20% of 22 is 4.4! This is another number that doesn’t divide evenly. Because this number is between 4 & 5, we know some bowlers will be allowed to bowl a max of 5, and others a max of 4! Now it’s just a case of doing some maths to find out what combination adds up to the total of 22 overs. The answer is that 2 bowlers would be permitted to bowl a maximum of 5 overs, with the other 3 bowlers being able to bowl a maximum of 4.

As I said in the previous section, you should remember that teams can use more than 5 bowlers if they choose! Just as long as no single bowler goes over the maximum that is allowed for the innings.  

Related Questions

Can A Bowler Bowl Consecutive Overs?

The simple answer to this question is no! A bowler cannot bowl two consecutive overs in a game of cricket, even if these two overs are spread across a break in play. For example, if a bowler were to bowl the final over before lunch, or before the end of the day, that same bowler cannot bowl the next over when play resumes.

Also, in cases where a bowler has got injured and could not bowl all 6 deliveries in their over, a different bowler will be asked to step in to complete the over for them. This replacement bowler cannot have bowled the previous over, nor can they go on to bowl the next over after the one where the bowler got injured.

Bowlers often try to gain a competitive advantage by ‘changing ends’. This basically means that they switch the end of the ground from which they are bowling. To do this, they simply have to skip an over. I’ll use a real-life example here to show you what this looks like in practice. Let’s say England are playing Australia at Lords. Lords cricket ground has two ends that bowlers can bowl from; The Pavilion End and the Nursery End. If James Anderson was bowling at the Pavilion End and Stuart Broad was bowling from the Nursery End, and both bowlers wanted to switch ends, the overs would go something like this:

  • Over 10 – James Anderson – Pavilion End
  • Over 11 – Stuart Broad – Nursery End
  • Over 12 – Mark Wood – Pavilion End
  • Over 13 – James Anderson – Nursery End
  • Over 14 – Stuart Broad – Pavilion End

You can see from this that for changes of ends to occur, other bowlers have to be introduced. In this example I used Mark Wood who took one of the intermediate overs to allow both bowlers to switch!

How Many Overs Are Typically Bowled In One Hour?

The minimum over rate for a game of test match cricket is 15 overs per hour. ODI cricket has a minimum rate of 14.28 overs per hour, and T20 international cricket has a similar required rate of 14.11 overs per hour!

If the officials determine that the fielding side has failed to achieve this over rate, then the whole team can potentially be fined, with the captain being fined twice as much as the other team members! If a captain of a team has two of these fines in a 12-month period, he will face a suspension.

Calculating the over rate is not as simple as it seems though. There are 6 hours of play in one day of a test match, so many people think that if a team manages to bow 80 overs over the course of these 6 hours, the over rate is calculated by dividing 80 by 6. This would give the fielding side a rate of 13.3 overs per hour, falling short of the minimum requirement! However, there are numerous factors that can impact the over rate of a fielding side! Things such as injuries, drinks breaks, wickets being taken, bad weather and many more! This is why the umpires must take all these factors into account before deciding whether to punish teams for falling short of the required over rates.

What Are The Most Runs A Bowler Has Ever Given Up In A Match?

There have been some horrendous performances by bowlers over the years, with batsmen smashing them all around the park. I thought that I’d put together a little list of some of the most expensive bowling spells ever to end this post! If you’re a fan of any of these teams…you may want to look away now…

  • In test matches, the record for the most runs ever conceded is held by Tommy Scott who played for the West Indies in 1930. He conceded 374 runs from the 105 overs that he bowled! Even though he conceded a shedload of runs, he managed to take 9 wickets in the match, redeeming himself slightly!
  • In 50 over cricket, the worst bowling performance ever occurred in the greatest one day game I’ve ever seen. The bowler was Mick Lewis, who was representing Australia when they were playing South Africa in 2006. The South African batsmen scored 113 runs off his 10 overs! That’s a massive run rate of 11.3 runs per over! If you get a chance I’d recommend watching the highlights of that game! If my memory serves me correctly it’s still the highest scoring ODI of all time!
  • In T20’s, BJ McCarthy is responsible for the most expensive bowling spell of all time. Representing Ireland against Afghanistan in 2017, he managed to get hit for 69 runs off just 4 overs. That’s a rate of 17.25 runs every 6 balls!

What are some of the worst bowling performances you remember watching? Feel free to leave them in the comments below! Also, if you’re new to the game and would like to browse any more of my posts covering the rules of cricket…click the link here!

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