August 22, 2012

Laxman: the alternate word for elegance and grace

A look back at VVS Laxman's Test career analysing various aspects of his batting performance

VVS Laxman's 281 helped India come back from the brink against Australia © AFP

I had planned to publish a comprehensive analysis on Test wicket-keepers next week. I am pleased to present this interim article now. The "wicket-keepers" article will appear within the next 10 days.

To define Laxman in numbers is like defining Federer in numbers. How can numbers define the languid grace, elegance, poetry in motion and pure pleasure these two brought to their respective arenas? 17, 281, 96, 292 are ordinary numbers but acquire an aura when associated with these gentlemen. However it is necessary to do a numbers-based analysis, if only to enable us to live through those instances of fantasy we were all privileged to witness.

Let me clearly state this. Unlike Federer, Laxman's numbers are not that great. There are many others who have scored more runs, more hundreds, at much higher averages and faster. However, to say that his contributions to Indian cricket scene, especially the Test scene, are legendary, seems inadequate. There are other writers who can pen much better prose than me and I will leave it to them to do justice. If you have not already done so, please read Murali Kartik's moving and personal tribute to Laxman, in the form of a letter.

Overall summary

Mat Ins  NO  Runs   Avge 100 50 Freq Balls StRt
134 225  34  8781  45.97  17 56 13.2 17788 49.4

Team runs while at crease : 18859 Batsman's % Runs contribution : 46.6% Balls faced while at crease : 17788 Team balls while Laxman was at crease : 36133 % of balls faced while at crease: 49.2% Average balls per innings faced : 81.2 Team-Run-Share: 8781 out of 72578 - 12.1%

Batting in difficult situations most of the times prevented Laxman from having a better scoring rate than around 50. Laxman's conversion rate of 50 to 100 is quite poor: understandable since he batted often with the late order. Not a high balls per innings: again indicative of conditions batted in.

I have since done the work on runs added with late order batsmen also. This cannot be a complete analysis since quite a bit of data is unavailable. We all know when a batsman came in but "when he got out" is the information available only over the past 15-20 years. So for batsmen like Lara and Tendulkar complete data is not available. The other important factor is that I know when the sixth wicket fell. But I would not know what the concerned batsman's score was at taht time. Similarly I would know when the concerned batsman got out. But not what the other batsman's score was. So I have presented below only concrete facts, which are stated below.

These represent only the team runs added from the fall of the sixth wicket to the time the concerned batsman was dismissed. Of course, if he remained not out, there is no problem. I have given below the data for six top current batsmen. It shows clearly that Kallis and Laxman are the leaders. It is possible that Lara might have better figures. But not certain.

Batsman   Num Runs  R/P

Kallis 17 1212 71.3 Laxman 27 1876 69.5 Hussey 14 802 57.3 Dravid 23 1236 53.7 Ponting 16 828 51.8 Sangakkara 13 566 43.5

The Num colum indicates the number of such instances.

I have also uploaded the complete career data file which can be downloaded. This gives the details of these numbers also. To download/view the Career data file, please click/right-click here.

Innings analysis

I No  Runs   Avge 100  50 Freq

Inns 1 60 5 2158 39.24 6 8 10.0 Inns 2 74 9 3152 48.49 6 25 12.3 Inns 3 53 9 2376 54.00 4 16 13.2 Inns 4 38 11 1095 40.56 1 7 38.0

Laxman's best innings has been the third one, an average of 54. The mammoth 281 itself has contributed 6-plus runs to the average. The 167 another 4 more. Overall a very good team-second-innings average of 48.9.

Batting position analysis

I No  Runs   Avge 100  50 Freq

Bat-Pos 1 13 1 432 36.00 1 2 13.0 Bat-Pos 2 12 0 253 21.08 0 2 12.0 Bat-Pos 3 37 1 1611 44.75 4 8 9.2 Bat-Pos 4 11 1 500 50.00 1 4 11.0 Bat-Pos 5 74 13 2877 47.16 6 17 12.3 Bat-Pos 6 67 12 2760 50.18 5 20 13.4 Bat-Pos 7 9 5 346 86.50 0 3 9.0 Bat-Pos 10 1 0 2 2.00 0 0 Avge Batting Position: 4.59

To average nearly 50 in the difficult middle order positions of 5 and 6 shows the quality of Laxman. Unlike ODIs these positions do not normally offer higher chances of remaining unbeaten.

Result/location analysis

Desc    T   I  N  Runs  Avge 100 50 Freq TRuns   %

Home 57 91 18 3767 51.60 8 24 11.4 31688 11.9 Away 77 134 16 5014 42.49 9 32 14.9 40890 12.3

Won 47 71 10 3410 55.90 7 23 10.1 26319 13.0 Drawn 46 72 18 3380 62.59 8 22 9.0 26557 12.7 Lost 41 82 6 1991 26.20 2 11 41.0 19702 10.1

More runs away, but at a lower average.

Country analysis

I No  Runs   Avge 100  50 Freq

Australia 29 54 5 2434 49.67 6 12 9.0 Bangladesh 3 4 1 117 39.00 0 1 England 17 28 3 766 30.64 0 6 New Zealand 10 17 3 818 58.43 2 6 8.5 Pakistan 15 25 7 775 43.06 1 6 25.0 South Africa 19 31 5 976 37.54 1 6 31.0 Sri Lanka 13 22 3 900 47.37 2 8 11.0 West Indies 22 36 6 1715 57.17 4 11 9.0 Zimbabwe 6 8 1 280 40.00 1 0 8.0

A near-50 average against Australia is the highlight of Laxman's career.

Year analysis

T   I No  Runs   Avge 100  50 Freq

1996 2 4 0 77 19.25 0 1 1997 6 9 2 212 30.29 0 2 1998 2 3 0 116 38.67 0 1 1999 6 12 0 221 18.42 0 1 2000 3 5 1 208 52.00 1 0 5.0 2001 10 16 0 869 54.31 1 5 16.0 2002 15 23 4 984 51.79 2 5 11.5 2003 5 10 3 595 85.00 2 3 5.0 2004 12 16 0 513 32.06 1 2 16.0 2005 8 12 1 508 46.18 2 3 6.0 2006 10 18 4 561 40.07 1 4 18.0 2007 8 14 5 496 55.11 1 3 14.0 2008 15 27 4 1086 47.22 2 7 13.5 2009 6 9 2 471 67.29 1 5 9.0 2010 11 18 4 939 67.07 2 7 9.0 2011 12 23 4 773 40.68 1 6 23.0 2012 3 6 0 152 25.33 0 1

The first four years and the last 14 months have been average. Otherwise Laxman has maintained a good run of 12 years.

Career slice analysis

T   I No  Runs   Avge

1- 10 10 16 2 405 28.93 11- 20 10 19 1 461 25.61 21- 30 10 15 0 850 56.67 31- 40 10 15 3 718 59.83 41- 50 10 18 4 1026 73.29 51- 60 10 14 0 326 23.29 61- 70 10 14 2 517 43.08 71- 80 10 19 3 575 35.94 81- 90 10 18 5 780 60.00 91-100 10 17 4 723 55.62 101-110 10 16 4 755 62.92 111-120 10 17 3 767 54.79 121-130 10 19 3 723 45.19 131-140 4 8 0 155 19.38

High 42- 51 1031 18 4 73.64 Low 54- 63 293 14 0 20.93

A string of 10 Tests in which Laxman accumulated above 1000 runs was during the second quartile of Laxman's career.

Peer comparisons

Peer-All-T7 45.97 15301 575547 37.61 1.22
Peer-Ind-T7 45.97  1280  52459 40.98 1.12

Laxman exceeded his contemporaries, across the world, by 22%. When compared to his own more illustrious band of colleagues, the figure drops to 12%.

Now for a selection of 12 of Laxman's best innings. My own selection, may not be complete, possibly biased, certainly subjective and done in a hurry. Also presented in a non-descriptive manner. So, if you have a better suggestion, please feel free to come in with your comments.

A selection of Laxman's best innings

Year MtId  Vs Loc R BP Runs(Balls) In at

1996 1338 Saf H W 6 51 (125) 4/ 82 2000 1481 Aus A L 1 167 (198) 0/ 0 2001 1539 Aus H W 3 66 ( 82) 1/ 18 2001 1569 Saf A D 6 89 (121) 4/ 47 2002 1599 Win A W 6 69* (123) 4/218 2003 1673 Aus A W 6 148 (282) 4/ 85 2006 1823 Saf A W 5 73 (154) 3/ 41 2008 1862 Aus A W 7 79 (156) 5/125 2010 1968 Slk A W 6 103* (149) 4/ 62 2010 1972 Aus H W 7 73* ( 79) 5/ 76 2010 1987 Saf A W 5 96 (171) 3/ 48

LaXman. The X-factor was in Laxman's name. Great in a crisis, under-rated, unsung, always with the Damocles' sword hanging above, totally unselfish purveyor of top-quality batting.

What! There are 100 comments in the first two hours ripping me to shreds. "How dare you miss the greatest innings ever by an Indian batsman". Fine, I will make amends and do a special graphical tribute to that innings.

Graph of VVS Laxman's 281
© Anantha Narayanan

Just to round off the article: Laxman scored 2338 ODI runs, almost all in the pivotal no.3 position. Probably nothing compared to the mountains of runs others have scored. But he never got a fair run despite scoring 6 hundreds in the no.3 position. He was sacrificed on the altar of mobility and utility. Players who could not hold a candle to him in batting were selected because they could run/field better or could roll the arm over for a few overs.

Are we going to see the like of him again? Certainly not in my lifetime. VVS, thank you for all what you have done. Two great Indian batsmen, both gentlemen to the core and wonderful role-models, have left the scene within a period of 6 months. Let me stop here before emotion sets in.

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

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