Sehwag December 9, 2011

How much does Sehwag matter to India?

In which Andy Zaltzman swims about ecstatically in a whirlpool of numbers, wearing a Statsguru-branded bathing suit

Virender Sehwag has blasted his way into the cricketing history books often enough during his captivating career. He has written entire chapters about fast scoring. He has helped his country to the top of the Test rankings, and to World Cup glory. He has set new benchmarks in the illustrious athletic discipline of most-slowly-trudged singles. Now he has clattered the highest ever one-day international innings, becoming the second (a) human being and (b) stocky Indian wizard to score an ODI double-hundred. Of all great batsmen, he has arguably been the easiest to dismiss, but the hardest to contain. When in form, he makes scoring runs appear easier than any batsman of his, and possibly of any, generation. When out of form, he makes scoring runs appear easier than most batsmen do, but not for as long.

His latest assault on the great game’s numerical heritage was aided by a pitch that was not so much batsman-friendly as batsman-amorous, and by Darren Sammy shelling a catch so simple that the only explanation was that he was thoroughly enjoying watching the Delhi Demolisher bat. Sehwag had already scored 170, India were well on course for a trunkily elephantine total, and Sammy knew that his entire batting line-up boasted a total of three ODI hundreds (only one of which had been scored since 2007), and that his No. 4 batsman, Danza Hyatt, had passed 50 only once in any List A one-day match. In the circumstances, where the prospect of victory was almost as far-fetched as the stick that Neil Armstrong’s dog Mildred brought back from the moon, why not treat yourself to a ringside view of a batting genius in full flow? What better time to drop a player as annihilative as Sehwag than when he has already effectively won the match? As Aristotle himself would have said, had he been a cricket fan, “If you are going to be hammered in a cricket match, better to be hammered with a bit of history.”

Despite all this, it was another extraordinary innings by one of cricket’s most extraordinary players. In terms of averages, Sehwag has not always been a stellar ODI player. In his first 173 one-dayers, he averaged 31. India won 53% of those matches (excluding ties and no-results). Of the games Sehwag missed in that time, India won 52%. Since June 2008, however, he has averaged 50 in 57 ODIs ‒ India have won 37, and lost 17, a 68% winning percentage in games with a positive result. But in the games Sehwag has missed over this period, India have won 63%. Whether Sehwag is playing or not playing seems to make minimal difference to India’s success.

However, over the course of his ODI career, whether Sehwag succeeds or fails has had a major impact on his country’s fortunes. I have been on a stat hunt, readers. Stat hunts can be lonely voyages, during the course of which you may find yourself questioning what you are doing with your life, and wondering whether your parents would think all the years of nurturing care they gave you were worthwhile if they could see you hunched over a computer squinting at Gary Kirsten’s batting average in games South Africa lost away from home during the years 1996 to 2001. Thankfully, I have returned from this particular stat hunt clutching some numerical antlers that I think are worth mounting on the wall; antlers that might interest more people than just myself. Not quite Walter Raleigh returning from the Americas proudly waggling a potato in the air and announcing to Elizabeth I: “I reckon this would be awesome deep fried and slathered in vinegar, ma’am. Awesome.” But still, my wife found the stats mildly interesting, so here goes…

Forty-one of Sehwag’s 52 scores of 50 or more (including 14 of his 15 hundreds) have contributed to Indian wins – India have thus won 79% of the matches in which Sehwag has reached 50. They have won 86 of his other 188 ODIs – 46%. So, when Sehwag scores a fifty, India are 72% more likely to win than when he does not.

Of the 37 players who have 50 or more half-century-plus scores in ODIs, Sehwag has had the fifth-greatest impact on results with his fifties. Pakistan were 73% more likely to win when Saeed Anwar passed 50; West Indies had 89% more victories when Brian Lara did so; Andy Flower’s half-centuries gave Zimbabwe a 92% greater chance of triumph; and, leading the way – any guesses? no conferring… ‒ New Zealand’s Nathan Astle. The Kiwis won 70% of the 57 ODIs in which the Christchurch Clouter raised his bat to the crowd, but only 31% of the 166 games in which he did not. When Astle reached 50, New Zealand were 124% more likely to win.

Key batsmen in weaker teams tend to have a higher “Successful Innings Result Influence” (SIRI) – Arjuna Ranatunga, Chris Gayle, Stephen Fleming and Aravinda de Silva are also in the top ten ‒ and good batsmen in strong teams tend to score lower on this measurement, as they are more likely to have their failures counterbalanced by other team-mates succeeding. Australia have won 84% of the games in which Ricky Ponting has scored 50 or more, but have still won 64% when he has not, so his SIRI score is 31%. MS Dhoni’s is 30%, Adam Gilchrist’s 25%, Javed Miandad’s 16%, Viv Richards’ and Jacques Kallis’ both 13%. Sehwag and Saeed Anwar stand out for being batsmen in good teams whose successful innings have made victory considerably more likely.

(I understand that there will be millions, perhaps billions, of people reading this clamouring for a full breakdown of all the players concerned. I have therefore provided a full list at the bottom of this blog.) (Don’t just scroll down and spend the rest of your day memorising it, this blog is not finished yet.)

What can be read into all this? Frankly, I am not entirely sure. SIRI is a flawed statistic for a number of reasons. Fifty is a slightly arbitrary dividing line, because an ODI innings of 30 can prove decisive (Michael Bevan, one of the finest ODI batsmen, has the lowest SIRI of anyone in the list, 8.5%, but batted in the middle order and played many crucial 30s and 40s). It does not take into account the frequency of a player’s successful innings, nor the quality of opponents or importance of the match. And due to time constraints and the desire not to further strain the delicate balance in the ménage-a-trois involving me, Mrs Confectionery Stall and Statsguru, I did not take account of non-result matches or games in which the player concerned did not bat. SIRI is not likely to hotfoot it into a player’s career stats on ESPNcricinfo. Or ever be mentioned again after this Confectionery Stall post.

Nevertheless, it is I think a statistic that shows how Sehwag is a cricketer who defies conventional statistics. His career is not without its numerical flaws. His Test average is magnificent, his strike rate is otherworldly. But his Test and ODI records in England and South Africa are poor, and his career ODI average is a decent but unexceptional 35. But part of the thrill of watching him bat is that, aside from the simple majesty of his strokeplay and the ceaseless daring of his cricketing soul, an hour of Sehwag will probably decide a match.


One consolation for West Indies was that, when Denesh Ramdin and Sunil Narine added 64 for the tenth wicket, they too had achieved something that had never before been accomplished in the history of human endeavour – they had become the first team to post two half-century last-wicket partnerships in a single ODI series. Understandably the Indore crowd seemed a little less excited at this unprecedented milestone in cricketing history, but reports suggest that the celebrations in Kingston, Georgetown and Port-of-Spain are still raging, and look set to last until well beyond Christmas.

Kieron Pollard is still struggling to turn his unquestionable ball-striking talents into an ability to consistently score more than 4 in ODIs. He has played 18 ODI innings in 2011, and been out for less than 5 in eight of them. Given that, on occasion, he makes scoring 6 off one ball look as easy as pointing at a fish in an aquarium, this has be considered a statistical disappointment for the big-earning sporadically big-hitter.

Here, for all those clamouring for it, is that list of the Successful Innings Result Influence ratings of all players with 50 or more ODI half-century-plus scores. Read into it what you will. Then mulch it up and fertilise your flowerbeds with it.

1: NJ Astle (NZ), 124.3 2: A Flower (Zim), 91.9 3: BC Lara (ICC/WI), 89.5 4: Saeed Anwar (Pak), 73.8 5: V Sehwag (Asia/India), 72.4 6: A Ranatunga (SL), 70.6 7: CH Gayle (ICC/WI), 61.9 8: SP Fleming (NZ), 57.4 9: MS Atapattu (SL), 56.8 10: PA de Silva (SL) 55.3

11: GC Smith (SA), 51.5 12: SC Ganguly (Asia/India), 51.3 13: DM Jones (Aus), 50.6 14: G Kirsten (SA), 46.0 15: Younis Khan (Pak), 45.8 16: Yuvraj Singh (India), 44.7 17: SR Tendulkar (India), 41.9 18: ST Jayasuriya (SL), 41.6 19: ME Waugh (Aus), 38.4 20: R Dravid (Asia/India), 36.5

21: Mohammad Yousuf (Asia/Pak), 33.3 22: S Chanderpaul (WI), 31.9 23: RT Ponting (Aus/ICC), 31.3 24: MS Dhoni (Asia/India), 30.5 25: Saleem Malik (Pak), 26.0 26: AC Gilchrist (Aus), 25.5 27: Inzamam-ul-Haq (Pak), 23.7 28: HH Gibbs (SA), 22.9 29: KC Sangakkara (Asia/ICC/SL), 21.5 30: DL Haynes (WI), 20.5

31: M Azharuddin (India), 20.2 32: DPMD Jayawardene (Asia/SL), 20.0 33: MJ Clarke (Aus), 18.1 34: Javed Miandad (Pak), 15.9 35: JH Kallis (SA), 13.4 36: IVA Richards (WI), 13.1 37: MG Bevan (Aus), 8.5.

Please note that the first name I gave to the stat was the “Half-century Impact on Victory”, before I realised that this could have resulted in describing some of the greats of the modern game as HIV-positive. Which might have led to legal complications.

(For a more comprehensive method of measuring players’ impact on cricket matches, please take a look at my friend Jaideep Varma’s Impact Index, an interesting site with some interesting results (if you are a cricket fan) (if you are not a cricket fan, you are unlikely to add it to your favourites) (if you are not a cricket fan, why are you still reading this article?) (even most cricket fans probably canned it around paragraph three).

Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer