Monday, January 16, 2012

47, 43 and Other Stories

[Generally, in any post with cricket statistics, I put my words of gratitude for the website www.cricinfo.com at the end of the article. But this one is so much dependent of cricket statistics and cricket scorecards, all of which obviously came from Cricinfo, that I thought it would be apt to convey my thanks even before the start of my post. Here it goes, a big thanks and complements for providing such detail statistics for every aspect of the beautiful game. All the pictures used in this article are also from Cricinfo ]

One of the most feared fast bowlers of last 15 years, Glen McGrath played 124 test matches to take 563 test wickets at an average of 21.64. Compared to his bowling records his batting statistics are pretty modest. He proudly carries a batting average of 7.36 with just 641 career runs.
But still I would start an article regarding batting statistics, mentioning him. This may be a good indicator of the issue I want to highlight here.
Out of his 148 test innings, in 92.75% times he came to bat at number 11 and there are matches like this where Glen came to bat at 578/9. ‘Batting as tail ender is good fun’, Glen must have thought. But young Nathan Lyon would certainly disagree. In his short international career of 9 tests and just 12 innings he had experienced coming to bat when his team was reeling at 21 for 9. And without his best test score of 14 and another dozen from Peter Siddle Australia was in a position to break New Zealand’s 55 years old record of lowest test score which was 26.
And do not make the mistake of thinking this is an isolated event. In that very match on that very day in Newlands, South Africa got all out in less than 25 overs for a paltry score of 96. Obviously, it did not get highlighted much as Australia immediately scored less than half of that team total.
Even if we look a few statistics over the period of last 4 years, comparing 2008-2009 lower team scores versus the 2010-2011 same data, it clearly shows a trend.
In the 24 month’s period from 1st January 2008 to 31st December 2009 we had 4 completed team totals of less than 100, 17 completed team scores less than 150 and for less than 200 completed team total the count is 40. But the same numbers for the period of 1st January 2010 to 31st December 2011 read 8, 26 and 49 respectively. And with total number of completed innings remaining very similar for these two periods (214 in 08-09 versus 210 in 10-11), percentage wise also it shows significant increase, shown in the below chart.


If you think Bangladesh is the big contributor in these low scores then you are wrong. Actually out of those 8 below hundred team totals, Pakistan and Australia has scored 3 each, with Sri Lanka and South Africa completing the list with one each.
In fact out of the 26 team totals of 150 or less, only 2 of them was scored by Bangladesh. Where as for Pakistan this count is 6 (All in 2010) and for Australia it is 5.
For England, India and Zimbabwe, this count is one; it actually shows 3 different aspects, supremacy of England, tendency of playing test matches in home-like condition for India and less frequency of test matches for Zimbabwe.

And now after a good dosage of statistics let me make the point I am trying to express here. All these data shows a worrying decline in the quality of test match batting throughout the globe. And no, it’s not only sub continent players who are the guilty party here in the green tops of Australia and South Africa but instead significant presence of Australia and New Zealand in those lists shows a global trend where with more and more T-20 leagues has started having a severe impact on the batting techniques as well as qualities like patience, determination and grinding out tough situation. I wonder whether we will ever see another Rahul Dravid, another Steve Waugh or another Mohammad Yusuf batting at 35/3 and scoring a 120 ball 50 or a 230 ball 100 to steady the ship.
It’s very strange that a good number of very decent one day and T-20 batsmen have stamped their authority in the period of last 3 years including Virat Kohli, Upul Tharanga and Shane Watson but these same players while playing tests looks awfully out of their comfort zone.
In fact Hasim Amla and a couple of young English Batsmen like Cook and Trott are the only few players who showed consistency and played some very important innings, but again England have not made a tour of sub continent recently and the final call can only be taken once they complete their tours of UAE and Sri Lanka.
But everywhere else the picture is pretty bleak. Let me take the example for Australia. Australia last went through a slump in early and mid eighties when the invent of World Series Cricket along with the retirement of some great cricketers like Lillie and Chappell brothers converted them to a mediocre cricket team. But things started changing after the 1987 world cup in Indian sub continent, which went to Allan Border’s young team. They regained the Ashes in 1989 and post which they were a steady successful team in the first half of the Nineties and around 1999 reached its peak. They won three consecutive world cups, won every possible honours including top ranking in ICC ratings for both test matches and one day internationals. They enjoyed a run of 16 consecutive test wins which was broken in a crazy test match in Eden Gardens in 2001. They were not successful that time but in the 2004 tour they finally won their 'Final Frontier', a series in India after 35 years.
Their downwards run started in 2005, when they lost the Ashes after 18 years. That hurt their ego, they won the 2007 World Cup as much dominatingly as one can think and then their greats like Langer, Warne and McGrath bided adieu to their cricket career with a 5-0 thrashing in 2007-08 Ashes. But, more players like Hayden and Gilchrist retired in 2008-09 and Australia started trying to find their replacements.
They did find a few promising fast bowlers in Peter Siddle, Ben Hilfenhause, Pattrick Cummings and James Pattinson. They are not yet sure about their spinner which was pretty much expected but the most worrying fact was their batting. In the top order they have tried options like Phillip Hughes, Usman Khawaja and Shaun Marsh but none of them manages to get a test average of 40 after multiple chances and they are still dependent on their middle order or Ponting, Clarke and Hussey. Both Warner and Cowan started pretty well but before making the final call, they have to play a couple of away test series in places like India-Sri Lanka and England.
Similar story is for India also. From that 1996 Lords test match which announced the arrival of Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid, India slowly built themselves a strong batting line up and with the arrival of VVS Laxman in 98 and Virender Sehwag in 2001, in the first decade of 21st century Indian middle order batting looked much secured. That middle order till now has scored around 42,000 test runs and with an opener in the top who averages 51.51 with a test match strike rate close to 82, Indian team achieved many great feats in last 10 years.
And then Sourav Ganguly retired in November 2008 and the trouble started. Now it is 3 years since he has retired and India still has not find a steady replacement for him. They have tried players like Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, S Badrinath, Chetashwar Pujara and Virat Kohli, some of the very successful players in one day internationals and Indian domestic cricket but none of them could cement their place for that number six position in the Indian test batting order. Not only that, due to injuries and other reason they have to find replacements for their openers time to time. Murali Vijay has already played 12 test matches to have an average of just little above 30, where Mukund has played 5 tests to manage an average of just 21.
For India, the most worrying part is that sometimes in 2012 both Dravid and Laxman would hung their boots and we fear about their replacement who do not show any sign to make the fans feel that those guys are ready to take the mantle of Indian test middle order.
And it’s not just the low scores; it’s the manner by which the teams are surrendering meekly in difficult conditions. 27 completed test innings in 2010-2011 did not last even 50 overs, it shows how the teams are now not ready to bat out the difficult phase of an innings, they lack the patience to bat out hours, they do not believe in giving the first hours to bowlers any more. And if you are interested to know, the same count for 2008-2009 is just 18.
So, what could be the possible reasons for the drop in test match batting ability?
 Many will answer IPL. But is it only IPL? I don’t think so. Yes, IPL is one of major cause of concern. Not only it provides easy money to youngsters, it also supports a style of batting where prime objective is scoring runs quickly and not score runs with correct textbook technique. In a T-20 match, there are only 120 deliveries to score run off and hence batting for even 10 balls can give you fame and recognition if you can hit 4 of those 10 balls out of the ground. And even if you get out in the 11th ball, no one will question because you would carry a Strike rate more than 275 and which can eventually help your team to win by 10 runs. So there is nothing called getting your eye in or playing for draw in these limited over formats. More and more players are now forgetting these essential qualities of test match batting and failing dreadfully in tough test match situations.
Another key aspect for decline in test match batting, especially in overseas tours is the quality of pitches in most part of the world. Think about a youngster from Indian sub continent who plays his domestic matches in the dead and placid pitches in places like Ahmedabad, Chennai, Karachi and Pallakele, for him it would be absolutely difficult to adjust quickly when he needs to bat in places like Headingley, Perth or Durban. They could have still managed it if they had the proper application and vision to give up their ego and bat with the aim of staying in the wicket for long. But that's where the problem lies and we found scenarios like Brad Haddin getting backed away to drive inside out to a short of length delivery and got caught behind when he was on zero and his team was wobbling at 18 for 5.
The same story are for players from England and New Zealand too, who are very comfortable with the bounce and swing in their home conditions but finds their techniques awfully short of what required to play quality spin bowling in pitches like Kanpur and Delhi.
Hence, as long as countries will keep making pitches to support their team’s strength in home matches we will find more and more teams would become ‘Home bully’ and ‘Foreign laughing stocks’ at the same time.
The last thing I want to point out is the lack of time for practice for the young batsmen. Please do not think that I am questioning their dedication and talent. You have to posses certain level of talent, hard work and dedication behind you to reach international level. But a year full of test matches, one day internationals, T-20s, IPLs and Champions league gives them hardly any break. And then there are promotional events organized by the sponsors which they need to attend and it seems like the only time which they can have to improve their skills and add new weapon in their armor is the time when they get dropped from the national team. And for some even that time is not good enough.
Now I would like to share another interesting statistics which will support the case.
8 debutant bowlers have taken 5 or more wickets in their first test in 2011. It includes pace bowlers, swing bowlers and spinners of various types. Are these bowlers coming to test arena being all prepared? Many of them are failing to continue their good work for longer, what could be the reason?
In my opinion, with the decline in test match batting ability, more and more batsmen now find it extremely difficult to handle different scenario or a different bowling type. So if a new bowler offers anything new for the batsman he is getting instant success in test match cricket. And that’s why debutant bowlers in total have taken 114 wickets in 2011 tests which is highest count by a pretty big margin.
Another side of the story could have been that, with the increase in T-20 crickets batsmen have found the scoring easy but for bowlers the life has become extremely difficult and hence bowlers have become mentally very strong and invented many new weapon to add to their skill set which is finally helping them in their performance in all formats of the game. Remember, the average run per wicket in tests in 2011 is 32.31, lowest since the year 2000.
For one day internationals, the picture is in very similar line. Number of low scoring innings is increasing like test matches. For example with 125 as cut off, we can find 30 completed ODI innings below that in 2010-2011, compared to 23 in the year 2008-2009. Many of them are contribution from teams like Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Scotland and Ireland but many of the big boys are also the guilty party with Pakistan, South Africa and India all had team totals of below 100 in last two years. And Sri Lanka has already lowered the bar by scoring 43 in their first One day international of 2012.
So just to make a summary, the quality of batting is going down drastically with every passing day. I agree it is making the test matches more competitive and interesting by virtue of some really low scoring contests but overall as a test match fan we are missing the pleasure of watching classic, gritty, fighting test match batting and that is loss for the game itself.
The epic rivalries like West Indies pace quartet against Sunil Gavaskar, Lara versus McGrath or Sachin versus Akram may just have become extinct, the future Lara and Sachin may score thousands of runs in their own land but will keep finishing with a below thirty average in foreign tours. The Future does not look bright!

13 comments:

  1. nice analysis.. I like it !! Rd has mentioned a lot of times abt d infrastructure of domestic cricket .. 2nd point is absolutely perfect .. jotodin na habit paltabe ei pitch e khelar, totodin baire giye consistency asbe na.. SG r team ind toh barbar hoy na, ar oi playergulo o barbar jonmaye na ..tai oder sathe bekar compare na kore domestic cricket tar dike nojor deyoa uchit nd one more thing.. regional politics theke jotodin na BCCI berote parbe, kichhu hobe na

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  2. bdw ektu bhalo kore copy paste korte sekho blog e :\ baje alignment :\

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  3. Thank you for your meticulous dissection and appraisal of this peculiar phenomenon we all were witnessing in the world of test cricket during recent times! Some of the points highlighted in your discussion regarding the format of T20's negatively impacting the performance of our star players are pretty evident. I feel we are starting to compromise on quality in the name of entertainment. In trying to keep up with the extremely fast paced lives of this modern era, it seems like even the magical game of cricket has not been spared.

    Some of the points you brought to the fore were simply eye opening for me as I had never thought of it from that perspective and the statistics you provided along with it just went onto cement the same.

    A man of the stature and calibre of Sourav Ganguly are born once in a lifetime and if the BCCI were able to ignore his talent when he was in one of the best forms of his life, then it just goes to reiterate that in India Impossible is Nothing! The state in which the Men in Blue find themselves in at this moment in time, I strongly believe we need a magician like DADA to come and resurrect Team India like he did back in the year 2000 after the match fixing scandal which left the team in tatters. He taught the team how to be aggressive but at the same time gut it out to start winning matches away from home. Dhoni was till now reaping the benefits which DADA had long sown. As they say a captain is as good as his team, and DADA had nurtured these talents to build his own army by then! All be it not as a player, but we need him back desperately as a coach!

    Finally, coming back to this global endemic which needs to be immediately addressed - the true passion for cricket needs to far outweigh the greed for money and fame if things are to at all change from here!

    All said and done, I just want to Thank You once again for this wonderful read - You definitely made my day!!! Keep it up mate - Looking forward to reading many such more from you in the near future:)

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  4. Thanks for your comment Shreya. It's a nice point regarding BCCI politics u have pointed out, but the scope of this article is more global. I do not have any hope on BCCI and hence do not plan to spend any time on them.
    Regarding the alignment issue, it may have been caused due to the pictures. Will be careful next time.

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  5. Thanks Ria for your detailed comment. Nice to know that you find this one useful. I know I am sounding pessimistic at places but when I hear BCCI president making comment about 'how happy they are with the home wins against these nations' makes me very very sad and helpless.

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  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  7. tapoda- I knw ur topic dsnt involve BCCi politics..it dsnt ve d scope as d scenario is totally diff bt I just mentioned abt it as I think it's a major part which dsnt allow d development of Indian cricket. anyway abt d alignment issue, well I will let u knw abt it later bt it is certainly not bcoz of d picture

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  8. Ria- I dint understand y u mentioned abt SG nd his captaincy.. i seriously dint get it

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  9. Very vivid re. Opens up a gold mine. Ebar amakeo kichhu korte hobe.

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  10. Thanks Abhida! Etae tomar comment na pele mon bhorchhilo na. Tobe England did enough to prove me right!! :-)

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  11. Thank you for any other great article. Where else may anyone get that kind of info in such a perfect manner of writing? I have a presentation next week, and I am on the search for such info.
    Iwis Timing Chain

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  12. @ Unknown

    All the statistics and data are available in cricinfo. You can pick it from there and arrange it for your presentation.

    Just do not forget to add a word of Thanks for that great website.

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