Adam Gilchrist walks out to bat

Adam Gilchrist made 3.5 times as many runs in matches Australia won than in those they did not

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Stats Analysis

Which players bucked cricket's statistical trends most notably?

Meet the innings specialists, the away artists, the conversion masters, the batting-order yo-yos, and more

Anantha Narayanan  |  

In this article, I will be looking at "contra-performers" in Test cricket, or contras for short. Who is a cricketing contra? Not those who score many runs or take bucketfuls of wickets in normal situations. Contras are players who seized opportunities in counter-intuitive situations, and did so not in one Test match or series but across their careers.

Let me illustrate.

A study of career halves is interesting. It allows us to look at players at both ends of the spectrum: those who had perfectly balanced career halves and those who either took off like a rocket or sank like a stone in their second halves. Most of the players are in between these extremes - maybe around 60-40 or 40-60 in their two halves.

Another example: It is normally expected that players do better at home than away. I will look at players who did better on the road. Not many did, as we will see later.

Again, it is generally expected that batsmen perform better in the first innings rather than the second, while bowlers perform better in the second innings, as pitches wear. I will look at batsmen who fared better in the second innings than the first, and bowlers who fared better in the first than in the second.

I will also look at players who performed better in losses and draws than in wins, as well as batsmen who scored a lot more runs and bowlers who took a lot more wickets while finishing on the winning side than they did otherwise

In addition, I will look at batsmen who have scored as many or more hundreds than fifties, andfinally, at those who stayed put in a single batting position throughout their careers and those who moved up and down the order.

As performances measures, I will generally use the Weighted Batting Average (WBA) for batsmen and the traditional bowling average for bowlers.

In all cases, I will have as my base metric the ratio between the two values on the relevant parameter. A higher ratio indicates that a player did better in that aspect: for example, the ratio between the away WBA and home WBA, or between second-half career runs and first-half career runs for batting. When it comes to bowling, where a lower average indicates better performance, the ratio will be the other way around: between home average and away average. I will call these ratios the Index.

The cut-off is 3000 runs for batsmen and 100 wickets for bowlers - with due apologies to Saeed Ahmed, Glenn Turner, Graeme Pollock,George Headley, Ben Hilfenhaus, Abdur Rehman and Arthur Mailey, among others. However, Headley, giant that he was, still features in some areas. Surprisingly, 198 batsmen and 193 bowlers qualify; the symmetries in the game are amazing.

Virtually identical career halves
Let us start with those who performed almost identically in the two halves of their careers. For batsmen, I have taken the WBA as the basis for comparison here. The career splits do not lean very strongly towards either side: 107 batsmen had better first-half figures and 91 had better second-half figures. The overall mean Index value is 1.031.

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The definition of a contra here is a batsman whose first- and second-half WBAs differ by less than 5% - that is, those with Index values in the band 0.975 to 1.025. Nineteen batsmen qualify, and ten batsmen with figures very close to 1.0 are featured in the graphic above.

The closest to perfection is Colin Cowdrey, whose WBA values for the two halves differ only in the third decimal. Victor Trumper's figures differ by only 0.07 and Mike Gatting's by 0.14. Mohinder Amarnath's WBA values are apart by 0.72. Virender Sehwag shows us how reliable he was throughout his career with a differential of only 0.43, while David Gower's was 0.64 points.

Most of the top batsmen in history are well below 1.0, indicating that their careers picked up in the second half. The exceptions are Rahul Dravid, Alastair Cook, Sachin Tendulkar, Sunil Gavaskar and Ricky Ponting, who are all above 1.0, indicating a drop in performance in the second half of their careers.

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For bowlers, I have considered wickets taken as the basis for comparison. A hundred and three bowlers had more wickets in the first half of their careers and 90 had more in the second half. Again, there is nothing in it, as evidenced by the overall mean Index value of 1.057.

The definition of a contra here is a bowler whose first- and second-half wickets tallies differ by less than 5% - that is, they have Index values within the band of 0.975 to 1.025. On this basis, 20 bowlers qualify and the ten whose figures are closest to 1.0 are featured in the graphic above.

Four bowlers have taken an identical number of wickets in each career half: Dilip Doshi, Andy Caddick, Doug Wright and Malcolm Marshall. At the start of the recent India tour, Ben Stokes was also a part of this group, but his numbers have changed since.

Most of the top bowlers have Index values below 1.0, indicating that they played better in the second halves of their careers. The notable exceptions are Waqar Younis (1.47), Ian Botham (1.52), Kapil Dev (1.37) and Curtly Ambrose (1.21), whose careers dropped off steeply.

Extreme career halves
To identify batsmen who had extreme career halves, I have taken runs scored as the basis of comparison.

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The definition of a contra here is a batsman whose first- and second-half WBAs differ by greater than 25% on either side: that is, those with Index values greater than 1.25 or lower than 0.75. On this basis, 38 batsmen qualify and the five batsmen at either end are featured in the graphic above.

Daniel Vettori had the biggest differential: almost 1800 runs. He went from being a competent late-order contributor to a dependable middle-order batsman, and his WBA improved from 18.5 to 35.

Many know that Navjot Sidhu transformed himself from a strokeless wonder to a very good Test batsman. His run tally nearly doubled and his WBA improved from a pedestrian 31 to a world-class 50. Clyde Walcott moved from being a wicketkeeper who could bat to a front-line batsman with a superlative WBA. Thilan Samaraweera's numbers, too, improved dramatically. Those not shown in the graphic include Simon Katich, Brendon McCullum, Ian Chappell, Andy Flower, Carl Hooper and Graham Gooch.

At the other end of the table, we have Gautam Gambhir as the batsman whose fortunes dipped the most. His run aggregate dropped by a miserable 50% and so did his WBA. Jimmy Adams follows him and he is followed by Stuart Broad, who has declined from a competent batsman to a rabbit. Neil Harvey's WBA changed from a 57.4 to 35.6.

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Coming to bowlers with extreme career halves: the definition of a contra here is a bowler whose first- and second-half wickets tallies differ significantly - with Index values greater than 1.5 or lower than 0.75. On this basis, 34 bowlers qualify and the five bowlers at either end are featured above.

I have taken the bowling average as the basis for comparison. Two 1900s stalwarts, Syd Barnes and Colin Blythe had excellent second halves; Blythe halved his average. Among post-war bowlers, Alec Bedser and Jim Laker improved drastically as their careers progressed. Bruce Reid is the other bowler in this group. Jason Holder, Pragyan Ojha and Ishant Sharma are in the top ten.

At the other end we have Johnny Briggs, who turned an average of 8 in the first half of his career to 26 in the second. Charlie Turner went from 12 to 22. The most recent entrant in the top five, Nicky Boje, converted a decent first-half average of 31 to 56.

Home and away
Of the 198 batsmen considered in this article, only 57 (28.8%) did better while playing away than at home. These batsmen are clear contras, as is also shown by the overall mean of the Index for all 198 players, which is 0.910, well below 1.0.

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Darren Bravo has done much better playing away than at home. His WBA Index is an astounding 1.75. This was higher still but was hit by his recent failures in New Zealand. Mohinder Amarnath appears on most of these contra lists. He did very well on tough away tours to the West Indies and Pakistan.

The last four batsmen are worth a second look. Wally Hammond's magnificent performances in Australia and New Zealand helped him find a place here. Ken Barrington plundered runs on the subcontinent, and also in the southern hemisphere. Graeme Smith shone in Bangladesh, Pakistan, England and the West Indies. Stephen Fleming did well in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

The Index values of Allan Border and Steve Waugh are comfortably above 1.10, while Sachin Tendulkar, Alastair Cook and Sunil Gavaskar are just above 1.0. As is Don Bradman.

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The summary figures for the bowlers are almost identical to those for the batsmen. Fifty-eight bowlers out of 193 did better away. The overall mean of the Index is well below 1.0 - 0.898 to be precise.

Irfan Pathan was a mouse at home but a tiger abroad, where he almost halved his home average. George Lohmann welcomed his visits to England and South Africa. His home average was still an astonishing 14.6, but on the road, he averaged 9! Lohmann apart, there is only one top bowler on this list: John Snow, who did very well in Australia and the West Indies, with averages either side of 20. Maybe he needed the bounce to help him.

Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne and Richard Hadlee are comfortably above 1.0 on the Index. Muttiah Muralitharan is at 0.70.

First and second innings
Only 14 batsmen (a mere 7.1%) did better in the second innings than in the first. This makes the group a special one. The mean value for the non-contras is just 0.755, a stark reminder that batting becomes really tough in the second innings. The 14 contra batsmen have been able to lift the Index for all 198 players to only 0.782.

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Basil Butcher's second-innings WBA was 50% higher than his first-innings one. Kusal Mendis is a recent entrant to this group, having just scored his 3000th Test run. Darren Bravo and Amarnath are true crisis players. They also appear in the top two positions on the home-away table, and have perhaps not been given the respect they deserve. Peter May and Vijay Manjrekar take us back to the 1950s and '60s, when they fought many second-innings battles.

Most of the top batsmen have an Index value well below 0.7. Only VVS Laxman finds himself around the 1.0 mark.

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For bowlers, I take a better first-innings performance as an outlier. Fifty-three bowlers have performed better in the first innings than in the second, and this works out to 27.5%. The overall mean of the Index is 0.899.

New Zealand's Dick Motz leads the table, with a second-innings average nearly twice that of the first innings. Colin Croft found the going tough in the second innings. Maybe the way pitches typically slowed down was not to his liking. Fidel Edwards, too, perhaps for the same reason. But the most important bowler here is Syd Barnes. His first and second innings averages were 13.4 and 19.8. Why I cannot tell. Could it be that as the wickets crumbled in those days, the spinners took the bulk of the second-innings spoils?

Peter Siddle is a modern bowler who bucked the tide. Among the top bowlers, only Stuart Broad and Shaun Pollock are in the contra half.

Muralitharan's Index is 0.88, Shane Warne's 0.81 and Anil Kumble's 0.82. James Anderson and Glenn McGrath are just below 1.0.

Stars in non-wins
Only 18 batsmen (9.1%) performed better in non-wins than in wins. The overall mean for this parameter is a low 0.8. Even among these 18, six batsmen scored fewer than 1000 runs.

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This is one classification that has me puzzled. Not the numbers per se but why some batsmen should have done well in losses and draws compared to others. Sunil Gavaskar is the only one I can understand: he played in teams that were not going for wins; a draw was not a bad result for them. Does Peter May fit in that category? How does Shane Watson, often part of successful Australian teams, find himself here? Could Shaun Pollock be here because he was primarily a bowling allrounder? All in all, a real puzzle. Maybe the readers can come up with their explanations.

The Index values of most top batsmen are below 0.75, indicating that they did much better in wins. Steve Waugh's Index is a very low 0.59. Still lower is Bradman, with WBA values of 114 and 60 in wins and non-wins.

The bowlers' analysis threw up some unexpected results. Only one bowler, Alan Connolly of Australia, has a better average in non-wins than in wins, but with an Index value of 1.005 and a second-decimal-point difference in the bowling average. One other bowler, Bruce Taylor, had a better average in non-wins, but he took only three wickets in New Zealand victories, so he can be safely ignored. Since there is only one qualifying bowler, no graph is presented. Connolly's is a freak case. His career ran between 1963 and 1971, when Australia were not a very strong team; they won only 11 of the 29 Tests Connolly played in, and his contributions were not exactly impressive. This is not exactly a contra situation.

No top bowler has an Index value in excess of 0.7. Muralitharan's is 0.53, Anil Kumble's 0.48 and Dale Steyn's 0.44, indicating how important they were to their team's successes.

Stars in wins
Here I will take a look at those players whose contributions in victories, in terms of runs scored or wickets taken, is way ahead of their performances when their team lost. In other words, their contributions can be said to have been directly instrumental in their teams' successes. It can be safely inferred that we should expect these players to be part of those teams that won quite frequently.

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Fifty-three of the 198 batsmen (26.8%) have scored more runs in wins than in non-wins. The first nine batsmen are Australians. They are followed by Cheteshwar Pujara.

Adam Gilchrist is at the top, ahead of Matthew Hayden by a mile. The runs Gilchrist scored when Australia won are a mind-boggling 3.5 times the runs he scored when Australia did not. Damien Martyn comes in with an Index value of 2.26, followed by Bradman, who has an Index value of 2.2. Then come three recent batsmen, and Clem Hill from over a century ago. Michael Hussey clocks 1.76.

For the record, Lindsay Hassett, Ajinkya Rahane and Steve Smith come next, followed by Gordon Greenidge. Tendulkar has a very low Index of 0.59. Brian Lara has an even lower one at 0.32, indicating the tough times they played in and the lack of support for them.

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Among bowlers who did better in wins than not, George Lohmann has an Index value of 5.2, but one can temper this with the fact that he took only 112 wickets. Stuart MacGill's Index is 3.83, far ahead of any other Australian bowler. It is likely that he was often selected in only those Tests where the pitches were quite favourable to him. The real surprise is Pragyan Ojha, who has an Index of 3.35. He took 87 wickets in wins as compared to 26 otherwise. How did that happen? Very simple. Ojha played only in the subcontinent - 20 Tests in India, three in Sri Lanka and one in Bangladesh. India won 16 of the Tests he played in and he averaged over five wickets per game.

Jason Gillespie, McGrath, Brett Lee and Warne were part of successful Australian teams, irrespective of the pitch conditions. That explains their presence here. McGrath and Warne alone took 924 wickets in wins between them. Ravindra Jadeja's case is like that of Ojha: 34 out of 50 Tests won, the majority of them in India. (Okay, I hear the murmurs at the back - the last one was at the MCG.)

As expected, most of the top bowlers are at levels well above 1.0. Among the exceptions are a few Indian bowlers - Kapil Dev at 0.256, and most spinners, barring Kumble, at levels below 0.6. The wins were few and far between.

Hundreds and fifties
First, a few interesting facts. I did a casual analysis of players who had scored as many or more hundreds than fifties. To my utter surprise, no fewer than 155 batsmen qualified. But 51 of these were instances of one hundred and no fifites, and another 91 of one apiece. There were five instances of two hundreds and no fifties, and two instances of three and none. One of the latter was Ravi Bopara, who scored his three hundreds in consecutive innings. And recently, the unlucky Fawad Alam, who went nearly 11 years between Test matches, completed his third century without having made a single fifty. His highest score outside the hundreds is 45.

Andy Ganteaume's sole innings was a slow hundred in the same Test in which Frank Worrell made his debut, back in 1948. He did not bat in the second innings. He is the only batsman to have scored a hundred in his only Test innings.

Rodney Redmond made 107 and 56 in his lone Test, in 1973. Why he was replaced by John Parker in the next Test and never played again is a question for which only the New Zealand selectors of the time will have an answer. (There is a lovely article on Redmond (and Ganteaume) by Brydon Coverdale in the Cricket Monthly.)

If there were no cut-offs, the highest batting average here would be that of Kurtis Patterson, who played against Sri Lanka in 2019, and averages 144.0 after two Tests. He has made one hundred and no fifties. Looking at the problems Australia have with their middle order, one wonders what happened to him.

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Bradman converted 29 of his 42 fifties into hundreds. That is a phenomenal Hundreds/Fifties Ratio (HFR) of 2.23. In his short career of 22 Tests, Headley scored ten hundreds and five fifties, an HFR of 2.00. Then there is a big gap. Virat Kohli comes in with an HFR of 1.08 (even though he has recently scored three fifties without reaching hundred). Clyde Walcott, Mohammad Azharuddin, Michael Clarke, Matthew Hayden and Younis Khan are the others who have scored more hundreds than fifties, considering ten hundreds as a minimum.

Shikhar Dhawan has an HFR of 1.4. Bill Ponsford, Peter Parfitt and Les Ames have HRF values exceeding 1.0.

A group of seven batsmen, led by Michael Vaughan, have HFRs of 1.0. Dhananjaya De Silva was among these players until recently; unfortunately, his retirement on 79 in Centurion pushed him out.

Only nine bowlers have the unique 1:1 ratio in terms of ten wickets in a match and five wickets in an innings. Gerry Gomez, Mark Craig, Gary Troup, Tip Snooke, Chris Pringle, Michael Bevan, Mohamed Zahid, Jason Krejza and Rahkeem Cornwall are the bowlers who have achieved this unusual feat.

Needless to say, 1-0 and so on are not possible for bowlers since there cannot be a ten-wicket haul without at least one five-wicket haul. And a 1-1 would mean that a bowler has to take six-plus wickets in one innings and less than five wickets in the other.

Batting positions
Only five batsmen in the history of Test cricket have batted in the same position throughout their Test careers. All are openers, and four of them are Australian: Mark Taylor, Mathew Hayden, Michael Slater, Bill Lawry. They are joined by Conrad Hunte of West Indies. Of those outside the 198, Wasim Jaffer, Krishnamachari Srikkanth, Shikhar Dhawan and Taufeeq Umar also have batted at No. 1 throughout their careers.

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Andrew Jones is the leading middle-order batsman in this classification. His Index value stands at 0.95, since he batted at No. 3 in 70 out of 74 innings. Three late-order batsmen have higher figures than Jones. Chris Martin, the connoisseur's No. 11, batted twice in his 104-innings career at No. 10. Since Martin's many fans would wonder why he was ignominiously taken out of his No. 11 position, I looked into it. On one occasion, Vettori was injured and Martin had to be promoted. Another time, Craig Cumming was injured. Let us be happy that these aberrations were beyond Martin's control.

Finally, we come to batsmen who moved up and down the batting order like yo-yos. For this, I identified the batsman's most frequent batting position and noted the number of innings batted there. I divide that figure by the total number of innings. This ratio gives me excellent insight. If the ratio is 0.23, we are assured that this batsman batted in at least five batting positions, possibly more.

Ian Johnson batted all over the place, in seven positions. His most frequent position, No. 8, had only a 0.227 share. Craig Wishart and Salim Durani have ratios of 0.24. The interesting batsmen in this group are Frank Worrell, Colin Cowdrey and Ian Bell, who have ratios below 0.3. Most of these batsmen batted in six or seven positions. Worrell batted in eight positions: from opening the innings and carrying his bat, to coming in at No. 9.

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Anantha Narayanan has written for ESPNcricinfo and CastrolCricket and worked with a number of companies on their cricket performance ratings-related systems