October 5, 2010

Michael Jeh

Laxman's second-innings average gives India hope

Michael Jeh
VVS Laxman VVS Laxman works one to the leg side, Sri Lanka v India, 1st Test, Galle, 4th day, July 21, 2010
VVS Laxman's second-innings average is better than his first - a rarity for batsmen  © AFP
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With a fascinating final day's cricket in prospect in Mohali, it will be hugely interesting to see if India can defy the law of averages and chase down this target of 216. History suggests that chasing runs in India is not the easiest proposition, even with the greatest batsman of our time still at the crease and looking very solid. You'd think that if there was one batsman in the world who might be able to achieve this feat, Sachin Tendulkar might be the first name that springs to mind. Yet, intriguingly, if batting average is meant to be any sort of guide, India's salvation may be on the back (literally) of one of the few players I can think of whose second innings average is actually superior to his first innings one - VVS Laxman.

Tendulkar, like just about every other stellar batsman in Test cricket, has a significantly higher average in the first innings. Encouragingly for India, his recent performances in the second innings have been much improved, so this may provide some comfort for nervous Indian fans this afternoon. More encouragingly, Laxman is actually one of the very few players in history who has a higher batting average in second-innings digs so if his back spasms can be managed effectively, India can still dream of glory. And to make matters better, MS Dhoni's numbers show no significant variation between first and second-innings averages so that too augurs well. (Click here for first-innings averages for Indian batsmen who've played 40 Tests or more. Click here for second-innings averages.)

Clearly, throughout history, there has been obviously a massive advantage for batsmen in the first innings of a Test match. In the subcontinent where heat and dust and soil conditions generally result in more uneven bounce and increased 'rough', thereby assisting the slow bowlers, one can understand why this may be the case. What surprises me, though, is that elsewhere in the world, particularly in say Australia, New Zealand and England, this trend continues to manifest itself. I would have thought, perhaps, that in some countries, green, seaming decks that dry out and become better for batting would help reverse this trend.

Perhaps opening batsmen would be among those most likely to see a trend reversal between first and second-innings performances. They often have to bat first on a pitch that needs to have enough moisture in it to last five days and this must surely balance out the times when the pitch is at its best on the first day. Looking at Sehwag's numbers, though, this theory doesn't hold out at all. His average almost doubles when you compare first innings averages to second innings ones.

I haven't had time to sift through Statsguru and try to find batsmen, especially openers, who can match the Laxman phenomenon. If any reader can name some exceptions, it would then be fascinating to figure out where they played most of their cricket and whether this can be attributed to my (unproven) theory that it must be as difficult to bat on some first day pitches as it is to bat on fourth or fifth day decks. If we come up with any names, I'll take a guess that these batsmen will most probably come from places like England, New Zealand, maybe even places like Brisbane and Colombo where the morning dew might make it really tough for batsmen on a fresh pitch which flattens out as the game progresses.

Must dash now and watch the cricket to see if Tendulkar, Laxman or Dhoni can turn this game around. Looking forward to some blogger responses, especially anyone who can take us back a few decades, to see if we can identify any clear patterns for players who have performed significantly better in the second innings. Surely Laxman can't be that much of a freak, can he?

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane

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Posted by Manjala Wijenayake-Angammana on (October 9, 2010, 6:12 GMT)

Inida is the best team in the world and they will pull up. In our Light House Street Cricket Team had the same fuss but my Malwanna came with his band and solve the matter. Good chap. Laxman is a so handsome than my husband, I lose all my thinking. Hope to see Laxman in galle again. So handsome boy. I love you Laxman and Malwenna.

Posted by Manjala Wijenayake-Angammana on (October 8, 2010, 16:17 GMT)

Yes of course India is the best. I love cricket so much and Indian cricket. I am from Galle Sri lanka but love Indian cricket. Laxman is looks like my Malwenna. So handsome. I like him so much. Keep it up. I am from Light House Street Galle, perhaps you may know me by the time. I love Laxman so much, same as my Mal.

Posted by ultrasnow on (October 7, 2010, 9:56 GMT)

Why do we have suffer commentators like Manjrekar? He played at a time when our players had a defeatist attitude and tried to draw most test matches (ending up on the losing side in the process)

Posted by Vasudev.A on (October 7, 2010, 2:38 GMT)

Laxman very very specially proved you right Mr.Jeh! Your prediction was spot-on.

Posted by Sid on (October 7, 2010, 1:56 GMT)

Well done sir!

Posted by prabhu on (October 6, 2010, 16:14 GMT)

Please deliver humble pie to Sanjay Manjrekar for stating that this test was going to be dud. For once stats don't lie, and I am happy for it. Sa for Ponting and co. though. They did everything right, including a runner to VVS. They should had won this one. Just shows that when its not your time, it just is not enough. I wish this were a 5 test series, followed by Ind Aus series in Australia.

Posted by Srikanth on (October 6, 2010, 13:22 GMT)

Bang on Target :)

Posted by Deeksha on (October 6, 2010, 12:45 GMT)

An excellent prognosis. Obviously MJ is a true cricket afficionado and not just a pretender, like most of our 'expert' commentators are. Reposing faith in a man who has delivered time and again makes eminent cricket sense. Laxman has given us reason to cheer on so many occasions! it is his probably his misfortune that he was born under the same sun as a Sachin, a Sehwag and a Dravid. Else, he would have ranked right up there. But to be honest, he is not a person who 'shields' tail enders and this has been his undoing on more occasions than one.Several times he has frsutrated by taking a single off teh first ball and exposed the tail. The very fact that Ishant scored 31 runs, is testimony to this fact. True, Laxman belongs to the number 3/4 position and to ask him to bat at number 6 is not fair. In fact, he was sent even after Yuvraj Singh on some occasions!!!So this might be frustrating and he cannot be faulted for feeling that way.Nonetheless Laxman is a priceless possession for India

Posted by Arun on (October 6, 2010, 11:22 GMT)

Dear Michael,

I must admit that I was taken by surprise that someone could predict something so accurately especially in team sports game. I read this article after I listened to one of the experts (who played for the country) predicting that the game was headed to a draw.... It felt nice reading your article. Needless to say... you will now be followed very closely.... Cheers Mate..

Posted by Thomas Bangkok on (October 6, 2010, 6:38 GMT)

Michael " Paul"- that was fantasic, Great work. I just read it today, Couldn't believe it. Keep it up. Good Luck

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Jeh
Born in Colombo, educated at Oxford and now living in Brisbane, Michael Jeh (Fox) is a cricket lover with a global perspective on the game. An Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, he is a Playing Member of the MCC and still plays grade cricket. Michael now works closely with elite athletes, and is passionate about youth intervention programmes. He still chases his boyhood dream of running a wildlife safari operation called Barefoot in Africa.

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