Saturday, October 25, 2008

A swing to the left?

A quick glance at the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings for Test cricket shows that Shivnarine Chanderpaul leads the way – albeit narrowly – from Kumar Sangakkara and Michael Hussey. Other than appearing in the current top three of the World Batting Ratings, these batsmen share another characteristic – they are all left-handed.

In fact, there are a total of eleven left-handers in the top thirty batsmen which equates to nearly 37%. If we examine the top thirty in the Rankings at ten-year intervals and analyse how many are right-handed and how many are left-handed, over the past sixty years we obtain the following figures:

Date RH bat LH bat Leftie % RH bowl LH bowl Leftie %
Oct 2008 19 11 36.7 23 7 23.3
Oct 1998 19 11 36.7 24 6 20.0
Oct 1988 23 7 23.3 24 6 20.0
Oct 1978 23 7 23.3 23 7 23.3
Oct 1968 22 8 26.7 21 9 30.0
Oct 1958 24 6 20.0 22 8 26.7
Oct 1948 27 3 10.0 26 4 13.3

Whereas there has been an increase in the proportion of left-handed batsmen playing Test cricket over time, the percentage of left-handed bowlers over time has stayed pretty constant.

In all Test cricket since the Second World War – which equates to the majority of the playing time incorporated in the figures above – left-handed batsmen have had a clear advantage. They average 34.61 whereas their right-handed counterparts average 29.15. Furthermore, 6.1% of all innings played by left-handers over that period of time result in centuries, compared to just 4.6% by right-handers.

So – why the increase in left-handed batsmen performing at the highest level? One possible reason is that having a left-hander and right-hander batting together causes more problems for the bowling team. A typical left-hander would historically have spent most of their time batting in a left-hand / right-hand partnership, whereas right-handers would spend a greater proportion of their time batting with another right-hander.

Of the sixteen batting partnerships who have added the most runs together in Test history, four are all right-handed, one is all left-handed and the remaining eleven all feature one left-hander and one right-hander.

One other possibility is that the natural line of attack for a right-arm over the wicket bowler would make it more difficult for them to achieve LBW decisions against left-hand batsmen, given that a ball which would have hit the stumps will often have pitched outside leg-stump. Without a similar increase in left-handed bowlers utilising their angle of attack to claim more left-handers leg-before, the left-handed batsmen enjoy their slight advantage.

Over the same period, left-arm bowlers average 33.49 runs per wicket with a strike rate of a wicket every 80 deliveries. Their right-arm team-mates average 31.77 with a strike rate of 70, a difference which surely cannot be put down solely to the fact that there have been more right-hand batsmen for their fellow right-hand bowlers to dismiss lbw. So, if any youngsters are reading this and want to reach the top of the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings at some point in the future, it may just be worth your while to train yourself to bat left-handed and bowl with your other arm.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Where have all the great ODI batsmen gone?

There is little doubt that we are currently in the middle of a golden era of Test Match batting, with five batsmen from four different countries all fighting it out for the top spot in the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings. In fact, seven of the top ten current batsmen have reached the magical plateau of 900 points, a level achieved by only twenty-four batsmen in the history of the Test game.

In Test cricket, eight batsmen have reached 900 points in Test cricket since 2000. However, in the shorter form of the game, Michael Bevan's Rating of 880 achieved way back in February 2000 is the highest points total achieved by anyone playing One Day International Cricket over the same time period.

Of other batsmen, only Mike Hussey and Matthew Hayden have even reached 850 over the same period of time.

We can further analyse the Test high-achievers by examining how many matches they have each spent above the 900 point mark since 2000:

Ricky Ponting 17
Kumar Sangakkara 6
Jacques Kallis 6
Mohammad Yousuf 6
Mike Hussey 5
Matthew Hayden 4
Brian Lara 3
Kevin Pietersen 1

That makes a total of 48 matches spent in "world class" territory since the turn of the millennium. Contrast that with a grand total of zero matches spent at the same high level by any of the One Day International players and it appears that the Test batsmen are currently achieving greater things than their ODI counterparts. In fact, the last batsman to achieve 900 points in One Day International cricket was Brian Lara in January 1997.

However - it hasn't always been that way. Contrast this current state of affairs with the 1980s. In that decade, only two batsmen managed to reach the 900 point mark in Test cricket - Sunil Gavaskar and Viv Richards. However, in One Day cricket, roles were reversed with six batsmen achieving the feat - Richards, Zaheer Abbas, Greg Chappell. David Gower, Javed Miandad and Desmond Haynes. Which begs the question - why the apparent decline in ODI Batting Ratings since then, given the proliferation of One Day cricket played nowadays in comparison with yesteryear? 516 ODIs were played in the 1980s whereas the 2000s have already seen 1234 matches played.

One possible example is that with the increase in scoring rates from 73.1 in the 1980s to the current level of 81.1 in the 2000s, outstanding batting achievements stood out more in the past. Viv Richards had a strike rate in ODI cricket of 90, which compares exceedingly well with any of the greats playing ODI cricket nowadays, but given his last appearance was back in 1991, it stood out even more given the reduced strike rate in all ODI matches during his career. In Richards case, the difference worked out at over one run per over over the course of his career.

Nowadays, it needs the same sustained level of excellence to reach 900 points in the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings for One Day International cricket, but with a hectic One-Day schedule worldwide, it is that much more difficult to stand out from your peers over such a greatly increased number of matches.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A tribute to the 'big four'

As the Indian ‘big four’ near the end of their Test careers, what can the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings tell us about their contributions to world cricket over the past decade or more?

In the record 76 Tests they have played together in the middle-order, they have totalled more than twenty-one thousand runs with forty-seven centuries. However, Rankings-wise, it could be argued that only two of the four realised their full potential.

One way of comparing the four greats is to calculate their ‘average’ Rating over their careers. However, only when a batsman has played forty Test innings can he obtain a full Rating. Here are the average Ratings of the ‘big four’ since they have achieved their full Ratings – in other words – since they have fully established themselves in the Indian team.

PlayerAverage Rating
Rahul Dravid791
Sachin Tendulkar783
VVS Laxman659
Sourav Ganguly592

This gives a ‘Total average Rating’ of 2825 points. We can take it one stage further and analyse at what point the Ratings of the four batsmen totalled the most points. After the Sydney Test of January 2004 when India declared at 705 for seven, the four batsmen had a combined total of 2992 Rating points distributed as follows:

Rahul Dravid833
Sachin Tendulkar781
VVS Laxman753
Sourav Ganguly575

For such a potent batting line-up, it is perhaps surprising that only once have all four featured in the top twenty of the world’s batting at the same time and that occurred earlier this year. After the Sydney Test against Australia in January, they were all tightly bunched together from Tendulkar in thirteenth to Laxman in eighteenth.

Sunil Gavaskar remains the only Indian among the 24 batsmen to have reached the magical 900-point mark in the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings, with both Tendulkar and Dravid topping out in the 890s. Back in February 1999, both had Ratings of over 850 with just Steve Waugh preventing an Indian one-two.

It is perhaps Sourav Ganguly who lets the side down a little. In his 76 matches with the others he averages 34.56 with just four centuries. This is reflected in the fact that his highest career Rating was ‘just’ 713 which placed him eighth back in December 1999.

Eighth is also the highest place achieved so far by Laxman – not surprisingly soon after his monumental 281 against Australia at Kolkata in 2001, although he did reach a peak of 753 points three years later after scoring 178 at Sydney.

As good a batting line-up as this Indian one has been over the past decade, in early 2002 the Australians had all their top seven in the top twenty batsmen, surely the greatest display of combined batting strength ever assembled in Test history:

Matthew Hayden872
Adam Gilchrist864
Damien Martyn805
Steve Waugh778
Justin Langer768
Mark Waugh690
Ricky Ponting657