Laxman's second-innings average gives India hope
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