October 7, 2010

Michael Jeh

An attempt to understand second-innings stalwarts

Michael Jeh
Jacques Kallis drives through the off side, West Indies v South Africa, 2nd Test, St Kitts, 1st day, June 18, 2010
Jacques Kallis: doughty and dependable  © Associated Press
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In my most recent post, I 'fluked' the Laxman prediction and it opened up some dialogue that deserves a follow-up piece. The raison d'etre behind writing the original story wasn't really meant to be a prediction; rather, it was intended to explore the unusual phenomenon of batsmen who buck the overwhelming trend and average more in the second innings of Test cricket. The sheer luck involved in predicting Laxman's great innings was almost accidental. A few tongue-in-cheek comments suggested I must be part of the match-fixing mafia and I smiled at the suggestion, all the more since this was one of the few times I had no wager riding on it!

Today's article is about following up on my promise to a few bloggers who were keen to explore the question of which great batsmen average more in the second innings than the first. More importantly, can we suggest any reasons why that may be the case? Thankfully, S Rajesh, in his customary style, ended up doing my homework for me by writing an insightful piece which listed the top 8 batsmen of all time in that category. So let's check that list out again.

Best batting averages in second innings (Qual: 2500 runs)
Batsman Innings Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Jacques Kallis 97 4086 58.37 8/ 26
Garry Sobers 67 2923 55.15 8/ 15
Allan Border 111 4371 54.63 11/ 24
Kumar Sangakkara 61 2894 53.59 9/ 12
Matthew Hayden 81 3472 51.82 11/ 13
Sunil Gavaskar 90 3963 51.46 11/ 22
Geoff Boycott 85 3319 51.06 9/ 17
VVS Laxman 74 2877 50.47 5/ 17

My initial hypothesis was that I figured a few of the players in this list were likely to be opening batsmen, especially players who played a lot of cricket on pitches that would have been difficult to bat on the first day of a Test match, thereby creating a situation where their second innings average, on slightly flatter, drier surfaces, was likely to be inflated in comparison. I think it may be fair to extend that to include openers and No. 3 batsmen because they tend to be in pretty early on 'fresh' pitches that need enough moisture to last five days. Looking at those eight players listed, most of them batted in the top 3, even Laxman at the start of his career. So that theory may have some substance to it then?

What strikes me as curious though is that the two greatest batting allrounders of the game are right at the top of that list. Yes, Jacques Kallis has batted at 3 for most of his Test career so that is in line with my first theory, but when you consider that both Kallis and Garry Sobers would already have done some bowling in the match (and in Kumar Sangakkara’s case, wicketkeeping), their improved performances in the second innings is a great credit to their fitness levels.

Kallis, especially, is worthy of mention because he so often gets unfairly shaded when compared to the peerless Sobers. Looking at Kallis' numbers in all aspects of the game, including ODIs, I think we'll look back on his career and retrospectively realise that he was one of the genuine 'greats' of the game. I just hope that the cricketing world, not just the South Africans, savour the twilight of his career because I doubt we'll see a player of his calibre (and durability) again in the modern era.

Back to the original theme, it seems then that Kallis' place at the top of that list can be attributed in part to his resilient and unflinching style of batting, rarely flamboyant, but utterly dependable and risk-free. Well, in Test cricket anyway. He can shift gears seamlessly when necessary but I think it is a fair comment to say that his game is built around a rock-solid foundation of eliminating risk. I never saw Sobers bat but the legend around him paints a picture of a very different kind of batsman, much more carefree and flowing. For those who remember his batting, was that really the case or are they over-romanticising the aura around the great man?

No surprises that Allan Border is somewhere in that list. His entire reputation (perhaps unfairly) was built around his tenacity and courage with his back to the wall, and with a fair bit of his career played in a relatively weak Australian team, it's no surprise that rearguard efforts in second innings have boosted his average. What may surprise some people, though, is that AB was a fabulous attacking player in his own right. I played club cricket with him at Valleys CC in Brisbane for many years and at that level, free of the burden of responsibility (and not having to deal with Ambrose, Walsh, Holding, Marshall etc), AB's ferocity in attack was awesome to watch. Had he played in the modern era, behind a dominant top order, we might have seen another dimension to his batting. He was that good!

Matthew Hayden's inclusion on that list just proves that you don't need to be the traditional style of opening batsman to feature in this analysis of second-innings champions. Both Sunil Gavaskar and Geoff Boycott were from a different era and a different tempo, much less Haydenesque in technique and strike-rate. Boycott certainly would have batted on many pitches that were 'unfriendly' on the first morning of a Test match, hence it is no surprise that he cashed in heavily when he got a second chance. Gavaskar would probably have played many back-to-the-wall innings for India early in his career, again creating opportunity for long second innings that might even have left him carrying his bat. Again, while my boyhood memories of Gavaskar were those of a brave and courageous grafter, friends of mine who played with him at the Ranji level speak in awe at his ability to rip into attacks with savage intent.

Sangakkara's presence in the list is another surprise to me, only because I would have expected a wicketkeeper to be fatigued by the time he bats in the second innings. The only valid reason I can come up with is that he must have had a good look at the bounce and movement off the pitch by the time he batted in the second dig and this must surely have helped, along with lashings of talent!

Another theory I had for this second innings phenomenon was that it might feature players who batted a lot in venues that are traditionally tougher to bat on first thing in the morning, hence the second innings was likely to be more productive because it could happen at any time of the day. The dew in Sri Lanka is a known factor, Brisbane (and many Australian pitches) are notoriously hard work until lunch on the first day and I'm assuming South Africa is very similar to explain Kallis' average. I suppose, even in India, going back to Gavaskar's days, the new ball on a fresh pitch might have been the biggest threat, especially for someone like Gavaskar who was a fabulous player of spin bowling.

Enough guessing – I am keen to hear your opinions on these theories. What would also be interesting would be to see what the comparison of second innings aggregates and centuries are for these batsmen. Is their average inflated slightly by not-outs in the second innings (less likely in the first innings for obvious reasons) or have they genuinely churned out big runs batting last? Not that it's meant to be a criticism. It's hardly Laxman's fault that his last 7 second-innings efforts have been 124*, 61, 51*, 69*, 69, 103*, and 73*. Perhaps we can convince Rajesh to do his magic on Statsguru and give us another brilliant insight into this fascinating picture.

As for the greatest batsman of all time, Sir Donald Bradman? He did not make the list since he narrowly missed the 2500 runs cut-off but, for the record, he probably has the biggest gap between first and second innings averages of all. 97.85 in the first dig, 104.50 in the second. So that lays waste to any suggestion that the truly great players score heavily in the first innings, setting up the victory. Mind you, an average of 97 in the first innings is always a handy start!

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 Tamaal on (November 3, 2010, 1:27 GMT)

Completely off the topic but I remeber seeing Gavaskar batting against New Zealand's Ewen Chatfield. Regularly partnered with Richard Hadlee, Chats was renowned for unflagging accuracy which kept batsmen tied down - perhaps it was their understandable frustration which helped our most famous cricketer to a (then-) world record wicket haul and a knighthood.

Anyway, they were playing in Tasmania in a World Cup match and, to me, it was memorable for seeing Chatfield pummelled all around the park (admittedly, close boundaries) and then, when he finally got him out, altogether losing his rag - a sight I, al least have never seen.

Posted by Sam on (October 20, 2010, 20:47 GMT)

Sangakara's presence in this list baffles me. To further tweak this list can we ensure that his innings against minnows BD and Zim are eeked out.

His is a bulged average for the sheer amount of cricket he plays against weaker teams. He is not a great batsmen as he has not scored in Australia, Africa and India.

Posted by sagar chatterjee on (October 13, 2010, 7:45 GMT)

and that is what separates the men from the boys. i would still rate kallis a lot higher than others due to the sheer fact that he bowls a hell lot of overs in every test match that sa play and also picks up a lot of wickets. thats a behemoth effort. he's the last of his kind. i don't see another jacques kallis taking birth ever.

Posted by Anonymous on (October 13, 2010, 7:39 GMT)

Cumulative averages Mat Inns NO Runs HS Ave BF SR 100 50 0 4s 6s Opposition Start DateAscending 1 1 0 101 101 101.00 279 36.20 1 0 0 6 0 v Australia 26 Dec 1997 Test # 1392 2 2 0 146 101 73.00 389 37.53 1 0 0 10 0 v Australia 2 Jan 1998 Test # 1393 3 3 0 161 101 53.66 432 37.26 1 0 0 13 0 v Australia 30 Jan 1998 Test # 1397 3 3 0 161 101 53.66 432 37.26 1 0 0 13 0 v England 4 Jun 1998 Test # 1417 4 3 0 161 101 53.66 432 37.26 1 0 0 13 0 v England 18 Jun 1998 Test # 1419 4 3 0 161 101 53.66 432 37.26 1 0 0 13 0 v England 2 Jul 1998 Test # 1420 5 4 0 172 101 43.00 465 36.98 1 0 0 15 0 v England 23 Jul 1998 Test # 1421 6 5 0 175 101 35.00 480 36.45 1 0 0 15 0 v England 6 Aug 1998 Test # 1422 6 5 0 175 101 35.00 480 36.45 1 0 0 15 0 v New Zealand 27 Feb 1999 Test # 1446 6 5 0 175 101 35.00 480 36.45 1 0

Posted by Muhammad Adnan Riaz on (October 11, 2010, 7:20 GMT)

A really good article this, however I do not agree with the reasoning provided; not in its fullest.

I think some players perform better when they are put to real pressure. VVS, Kallis, Sanga are all modern day supreme class batsmen with their own styles, however one thing common in them is the level of calmness when put to pressure. The understanding of responsibility and the willingness to fight more than the others is one thing that separates these players.

Posted by R Giridharan on (October 9, 2010, 6:06 GMT)

All the batsmen mentioned are excellent players of spin and also adept at working the ball around. Driving in the fourth innings is hazardous due to possible double pace. Sachin has not been able to resist his tempation to drive in the second innings and maybe that is why he does not figure in the list.Hayden's average is not a true reflection because most of his second innings were played in the backdrop of a huge first innings lead for Australia and an opposition on the run.

Posted by Bhavesh on (October 9, 2010, 5:21 GMT)

The overseas umpires like Ian Gould, mark benson, David shepherd, Daryl Hare... used to get the Poms and the Aussies to win the test matches, and they used to let this batsman play not giving them out.

Posted by Michael Jeh on (October 8, 2010, 22:06 GMT)

A few bloggers seem to (mistakenly) think that this article was about an argument that second innings runs were inherently more valuable than first innings runs. That was never the intention. It was triggered initially by VVS' special innings on Tuesday and it then grew into a friendly discussion about some of the other great 2nd innings performers and some theories as to why that might be the case. No one is suggesting that 1st innings runs are not as valuable or that prolific scorers in first innings are lesser players. This was merely an analysis of the second innings phenomenom. Just a bit of fun on a rainy day.

Posted by sangeeth on (October 8, 2010, 14:54 GMT)

As you can see that all of the 7 batsmen except laxman were top order players.hayden,gavaskar,boycott were openers..kallis ,sangakara,border and sobers batted either in the 3rd or 4th position.even if sachin was included in this list,he is also a top order player..laxman bats low down the order.he had to bat with the lower order .so in any case,he looks more efficient than the others..

Posted by Binu Thomas on (October 8, 2010, 11:09 GMT)

Take Steve Waugh: His 4th innings record is very bad for a man with 10K+ test runs. Are you guys telling me that he lacked mental toughness?

Take Sehwag: His 4th innings record is pathetic compared to the 1st innings. Are you guys telling me that Sehwag plays differently in the 2nd innings as compared to the 1st?

The thing is stats in Cricket are sometimes so much overrated. Sometimes they dont mean anything.

I agree to the point that Sachin plays differently in the 2nd innings as compared to the 1st. For example, in the Mohali test, he manufactured a shot and got out. But thinking that he does that because he lacks something is nonsense. He plays very differently in different situations in different innings, whether 1st or 2nd innings, whether ODI or T20. He tries to adapt to the situation(and sometimes fails). Sehwag doesnt adapt at all(and sometimes fails). It has nothing to do with mental toughness. I think it has nothing to do with anything. Things just happen.

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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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