Lara's theme: a caribbean rhapsody
I cannot think of a better title for this article than the wonderful music of Maurice Jarre which has stood tall for 50 years. Brian Charles Lara entertained millions across the world for many years, exasperated his followers often, but there was never a dull moment while he was at the crease. He has alternated broken notes and the greatest of symphonies in his exciting career. His followers go far beyond the shores of Trinidad. I may be wrong, but Lara, amongst all modern players, must have had the greatest number of followers from outside his own country. I am sure Freddie Mercury would not mind my borrowing part of the title of another classic: to embellish this one.
This, I confess, comes from someone, who thinks Lara is the most exciting cricketer ever. I may not have Lara bat for me if my life depended on a batsman, am I sure about this? (Sri Lanka 2001!!!), but at all other times, it will be Lara all the way. But as my enthusiastic set of readers would have noted, analysis is different from admiration and I have never allowed my heart to rule over my mind in analytical matters. So this tribute will be as much a look into the numerous successes of Lara as his failures.
I have also used this tribute to strengthen my single player analysis program. There are newer insights and analysis areas. Such insights do not require graphs.
Matches: 131 Innings: 232 Not Outs: 6 (2.6%) Runs: 11953 Average: 52.89 100-50: 34-48 Frequency of 100s: 6.8 Inns/100 Avge value of 100s: 173.2. Form-dips : 3
Just a recap of well-known facts. Lara is the only batsman to reach 400 in Tests. Also the only batsman to reach 500 in First Class cricket. One of four players to have crossed 300 twice in their Test careers. Only player to have gained the Test high-score record, lost it and regained it, all within the span of 10 years. Lara's nine double-hundreds are second only to Bradman's tally of 12 double-hundreds. Finally a query from Arijit Dasgupta which I have not been able to confirm but which probably is true. "Does Lara have the highest number of 20-plus overs? I can recall three straightaway: 28 off Peterson (2003), 26 off Kaneria (2006) and 22 off Adam Dale (1999)".
The eye-catcher is the average value of 100 which is a very high 173.2, indicating that Lara is a big-hundred player. He is fourth in this table, behind Bradman, Zaheer Abbas and Sehwag. The frequency of hundreds is a reasonable 6.8: nothing great. Quite a few batsmen have better frequency values.
But the real eye-opener is the Not out percentage. This stands at an incredibly low 2.6% and explains why Lara's average is on the lower side. This value of 2.6 is the lowest amongst the batsmen who have crossed 5000 runs: a list of 100 top batsmen. It is indicative of the way Lara played. His not out innings are 400*, 153*, 80*, 48*, 14* and 13*. Two historic innings lead this list.
I have developed a new measure called Form-dip. A form-dip is a sequence of 4 consecutive single-digit dismissals. Not outs break the sequence. I am sure readers would agree with me that this represents a real dip in form since it represents non-contribution for a minimum of 2 Tests. I also tightened the rules in deciding that a sequence of 4, 8, 0, 5, 1 will convert to two form-dips and so on. This is understandable since the form moves down alarmingly with each failure past 4.
What do we have here? A real surprise. I have done this work only for about 20 odd top batsmen. But the patterns are clear. The Form-dip table is headed by the two batsmen competing for the best contemporary batsman tag. Tendulkar has had 4 such failure streaks and Lara, 3. Most of the older batsmen, and Kallis/Jayawardene/Sangakkara do not appear in the list whereas Ponting, Dravid, Laxman and Sehwag all have a single instance. Some unexpected names here.
Balls faced information
Balls faced: 19753 Scoring rate: 60.5 Balls faced per inns: 85.1.
Amongst the top batsmen, only Sehwag, Richards and Pietersen are ahead of Lara in the scoring rate measure. The average balls faced per innings is, as expected, on the lower side.
Top 5 innings analysis
Top 5 inns (Runs) : 400 375 277 226 221 Total: 1499 Avge: 299.8
These small analytical segments bring new insights. The first is the average of the top-5 innings played by the concerned batsman. Lara's average of almost 300 is the highest of all batsmen. Next comes Bradman with 292.2 and then comes Sehwag, with 275.2. This confirms Lara's penchant for playing huge innings.
Top 5 inns (Balls): 582 538 372 360 354 Total: 2206 Avge: 441.2The next one is to look at the top 5 innings in terms of balls faced. The balls played data is available even for many older players. But this is not a complete analysis. Notwithstanding his attacking play, Lara has genuinely played many long innings. His average for the top-5 innings is a huge 441. The leader in this regards is Hutton with 588, followed by Hammond, with 566. Amongst modern batsmen, Jayawardene leads with 463 and Lara comes next. Dravid's average is 438.
Lara as the highest scorer
HS Inns: 65 % of inns: 28.0 HS Runs total: 7613 HS Next Best: 3623 % of Lara's total: 47.6
This is a new piece of analysis. I have determined the number of innings in which Lara was the leading scorer in the innings and worked out this as a % of total innings. More importantly, to get a handle on the level of support, I have added the next highest scores and determined this total as a % of the total of Lara's innings. The numbers are very illuminative.
Lara has top-scored in 28.0% of the innings he played in. His is the highest amongst modern batsmen. Only Gavaskar matches this number. Of course, many old timers have figures in excess of 30, Bradman leading with 37.5%. The matching with Gavaskar indicates how often Lara carried his team.
The next one is an even more enlightening one. This defines the support received. Lara received the least support amongst all batsmen. The next best batsmen have totalled 47.6% of Lara's aggregate, below even half-way stage. He is the only batsman to have received below 50% support. Sehwag is next with 53.5% and then comes Hutton with 53.7%. Just as a comparison, the number for Tendulkar is 65.4% and for Ponting, 64.9%. This is a clear confirmation of how often Lara carried the burden.
Sub-10 innings: No- 62 % of total-26.7% Sub-25 innings: No-100 % of total-43.1% Sub-50 innings: No-147 % of total-63.4%
In this new analysis I look at the pattern of low scores. Lara has had 26.7% of single-digit scores, 43% of scores below 25 and a huge 63.4% of sub-50 scores. This indicates that Lara was not a great starter. I have not looked at all batsmen but Michael Clarke (27.5%) has a higher single-digit component. The older batsmen all have figures below 15%. Sangakkara has a below-20% tally.
Team runs/balls analysis
Runs added with late order batsmen (7-11) : 1487 (25) Avge runs added with late order batsmen : 59.5 Team runs while at crease : 21448 Batsman's % Runs contribution : 55.7% Team balls while at crease : 38562 % of balls faced while at crease: 51.2% Total team runs : 63049 Batsman Runs % : 19.0%
The runs added with late order batsmen are not very high. Lara's average is around 60. Tendulkar is much higher at 69.6. But let me say that 100% data is not available for the batsmen who started the career before 1992 or so.
Lara's overall runs contribution to his team total is a reasonably high 19%. Bradman has contributed 25%. Most batsmen contribute between 15 and 17%. It is understandable that Lara scores 55% of runs while at crease. He outscored his fellow batsmen often.
Description T I N Runs Avge 100 50 Freq Team-Runs %
Inns 1 58 1 4000 70.18 12 12 4.8 18111 22.1% Inns 2 72 0 4249 59.01 13 21 5.5 23053 18.4% Inns 3 56 0 2264 40.43 7 8 8.0 12704 17.8% Inns 4 46 5 1440 35.12 2 7 23.0 9181 15.7%
The innings runs and averages follow a similar pattern. Most batsmen have high-first, high-second, reasonable-third and average-fourth innings values. Lara is no exception. There are many other top batsmen who have better third and fourth innings figures. Kallis has a third innings average of 68.8 and Gavaskar, a fourth innings average of 58.7.
Home 65 111 5 6217 58.65 17 26 6.5 32020 19.4% Away 66 121 1 5736 47.80 17 22 7.1 31029 18.5%
This again has the same pattern as most batsmen. Lara has averaged 20% better at home. There are batsmen who have done 30-40% better at home. On the flip side, Cook averages 43.5 at home and 54.3 away. Dravid also averages better away. However no one can beat Barrington who averages 51.2 and 68.9. It is clear that Lara has not set the foreign grounds alight, barring probably Sri Lankan.
Result based analysis
Won 32 52 4 2929 61.02 8 16 6.5 15645 18.7% Drawn 36 54 2 3708 71.31 12 10 4.5 18400 20.2% Lost 63 126 0 5316 42.19 14 22 9.0 29004 18.3%
This is a dicey area. The common tendency is only to talk about performances in won matches only. That is very nice in strong teams. However in weaker teams it is essential to look at how the player has performed in drawn and lost matches. Anyhow when your team only has won only 25% of matches you have played in, there is no other alternative. This point was also emphasized by in a comment made recently.
Lara's average of 42 in lost matches is the highest amongst all contemporary batsmen. Similarly the % of team runs scored in lost matches is a very high 18.3%, the highest amongst all modern batsmen. His performance in drawn matches is also very good and is matched only by Kallis.
Probably the more important factor is that Lara has maintained his contributions to the team runs at an even keel whether the matches are won, drawn or lost. This is a trait most batsmen lack in and most followers do not understand and appreciate. The emphasis is on winning.
Analysis by country faced
Australia 31 58 2 2856 51.00 9 11 6.4 13963 20.5% Bangladesh 2 2 0 173 86.50 1 1 2.0 911 19.0% England 30 51 3 2983 62.15 7 11 7.3 13918 21.4% India 17 29 0 1002 34.55 2 6 14.5 8908 11.2% New Zealand 11 17 0 704 41.41 1 5 17.0 5080 13.9% Pakistan 12 22 0 1173 53.32 4 3 5.5 6109 19.2% South Africa 18 35 0 1715 49.00 4 9 8.8 9432 18.2% Sri Lanka 8 14 1 1125 86.54 5 2 2.8 3577 31.5% Zimbabwe 2 4 0 222 55.50 1 0 4.0 1151 19.3%
It is clear that Lara met his match against the Indian bowlers. Any talk about weakness against spin should be killed at birth because of his performance against Sri Lanka. New Zealand was another team which troubled him. But bring on England and Sri Lanka, he was on song. The average against Australia might not look great but let us not forget the quality of Australian bowling he faced. He played only 4 Tests against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe and probably did not care much about accumulating runs. It is amazing that Lara has scored nearly a third of the team runs scored against Sri Lanka. And over 20% of the team runs scored against Australia and England.
Batting position analysis
Bat-Pos 1 1 0 20 20.00 0 0 0.0 Bat-Pos 2 1 0 91 91.00 0 1 0.0 Bat-Pos 3 66 4 3749 60.47 9 13 7.3 Bat-Pos 4 148 1 7535 51.26 24 31 6.2 Bat-Pos 5 14 1 536 41.23 1 3 14.0 Bat-Pos 6 1 0 8 8.00 0 0 0.0 Bat-Pos 8 1 0 14 14.00 0 0 0.0 Avge Batting Position: 3.78Like Tendulkar, no.4 was his favourite batting position. However unlike his fellow not-so-tall-legend, he batted at no.3 often. He averaged over 60 at no.3 and above 50 at no.4. These were his bread-and-butter positions and he performed very well there. Incidentally the sole no.5 century was the most famous of all: the Bridgetown classic of 153*.
Analysis by year
1990 1 2 0 49 24.50 0 0 0.0 1991 0 0 0 0 0.00 0 0 0.0 1992 3 6 0 195 32.50 0 3 0.0 1993 7 10 0 586 58.60 1 3 10.0 1994 8 14 0 996 71.14 2 4 7.0 1995 12 20 2 1222 67.89 4 6 5.0 1996 5 9 0 226 25.11 0 1 0.0 1997 12 21 0 859 40.90 3 3 7.0 1998 9 15 1 608 43.43 0 5 0.0 1999 8 15 1 832 59.43 3 4 5.0 2000 9 17 0 497 29.24 2 1 8.5 2001 9 18 0 1151 63.94 3 4 6.0 2002 7 10 0 351 35.10 0 3 0.0 2003 10 19 1 1344 74.67 5 5 3.8 2004 12 21 1 1178 58.90 3 4 7.0 2005 9 17 0 1110 65.29 5 0 3.4 2006 10 18 0 749 41.61 3 2 6.0
Ignoring the starting years, Lara probably had three bad years, 1996, 2000 and 2002. The spreading of these years also was responsible for Lara comfortably maintaining averages of well over 50 over multi-year spans. He made up for his small scores with huge scores.
Peer-All-T7 232 11953 52.89 14372 523291 36.41 1.45 Peer-Team-T7 232 11953 52.89 1268 40252 31.74 1.67
Lara out-performed his peers by a margin of 45% and his team-mates by 67%. While there are others who have out-performed their peers by higher margins, Kallis by 52%, there is no one even close in the team-mates comparisons. He was head-and-shoulders above them.
The 165 to 400 progression
Charles Bannerman scored 165 on the opening day of Test cricket (okay 126 and then on to 165 on the next day). Since then the individual batting record has been improved by 9 batsmen a total of 10 times. The progression is interesting and can be seen in Cricinfo. A few interesting trivia on this progression are presented here.
The biggest move upwards happened when RE Foster scored 287 in his debut Test and went past Murdoch's 211 by 76 runs. The lowest was by Sobers' single run when he declared once he went past Hutton.
The longest standing record was Sobers' 365 which stood for 13198 days before Lara went past that mark. On the flip side, Sandham's 325 did not last for 100 days. Hayden was the undisputed king for 184 days before Lara regained his record. Bradman's 334 just fell short of 1000 days. The current record of Lara has gone past 3100 days and counting.
The slowest amongst these innings was Hutton's 364 which consumed 847 balls. Imagine one batsman batting past 140 overs. The fastest must have been Hammond's 336 against the New Zealand part-timers. I could extrapolate to around 400 balls. My feeling is that this would be below Hayden's 437 balls. Interesting that both hit 10 and 11 sixes respectively.
The breaking of this record has happened at The Oval twice and St.John's twice. The record-breakers group comprises of 4 Australian, 4 English and 3 West Indian batsmen.
For all the difficulty in reaching 400 runs, I expect that there is a better chance of this record being broken than another 10-wicket haul. What it requires is a flat pitch, a free-scoring batsman at the top, with a penchant for big innings, a series situation which allows the captain to bat for two plus days et al. A better bet would be if such a team bats second and has dismissed the other team for a low total.
The high notes of Lara
The Bridgetown classic of 153 remains, for me, the best Test innings ever played. I watched every ball of that epic, dying a few hundred deaths, in a few hours. Against a top class bowling attack, West Indies had a formidable target of over 300 and were 78 for 3 when Lara walked in. Soon Hooper was dismissed and the score was 105 for 5. Adams stuck in admirably and Lara added 133 with him, outscoring him 2 to 1. Then McGrath struck and dismissed Adams, Jacobs and Perry. The score was 248 for 8 and suddenly the writing appeared on the wall: a 50-run loss perhaps. Ambrose played the most important 38 balls of his life and helped Lara add 54 for the ninth wicket. He was dismissed at 302 when 9 were still needed. Walsh, in turn, hung on for 5 more balls and Lara won the match with a cover-drive to reach 153 and complete one of the greatest of wins, himself playing one of the greatest innings ever. My prose is woefully short to describe this innings.
Lara himself, while referring to Wisden's top placement of 153, has anointed the 213 as his best innings. Makes a lot of sense since he was involved in both and knows the scenarios, within the match, in the team and in the series, inside out. He alone felt the impact of the disastrous 51 and knew the value of the stupendous 213. The 213 was also the technically better innings and would grace anyone's top-20 Test innings of all time. But for me, it is the second best.
The 277 announced Lara's genius to the world in no uncertain terms. It was his first hundred and showed the world that he was going to play high innings at a good pace. The 277 was scored in 372 balls. A reasonable Australian attack and a flat pitch but it was a path-breaker.
400 was an important innings. I have talked about this innings elsewhere. His record set a couple of years back was lost but Lara regained the same within a short period. The highest score amongst 70000 odd innings played cannot be dismissed as irrelevant.
The earlier 375 was equally important. A 36 year milestone was crossed and deserves the same recognition as the other momentous landmarks, such as the 10-wkt performances. When two bowlers have captured all 10 wickets in an innings in a Test history of 135 years, recognition is a must. As for the 350+ performances.
The recent 120 against India was a defensive classic. West Indies followed on 370 runs behind and Lara played a 7-hour back-to-the-wall innings which saved the Test, by the skin of the teeth. But for Lara's innings, West Indies would have lost by an innings and plenty.
91 is an innings which remains fresh in my memory. At the end of an indifferent tour to India in 1994, Lara played fluently and reached 91 when he feathered a catch to Mongia. No one, including the umpires, heard the snick (Venkat confirms this), but Lara walked. I am not sure many would have. Justice was served with a West Indian victory.
Lara's 132 at Perth in 1997 was a magnificent innings on a tough pitch, as evidenced by the two Australian totals of 243 and 194. His match-winning 132 was scored out of 208 runs added while Lara was at the crease.
The Pakistan attack in 2005 was nothing great. However Lara played one of his fastest innings to help West Indies win the Barbados Test. On the opening day, Lara scored 130 in 120 balls and Pakistan never recovered from this onslaught.
The Adelaide Test towards end of 2005 was Lara's last Test against Australia, his toughest and most favourite opponent. Against a top-class bowling attack, Lara scored an exceptional innings of 226 in 298 balls. That West Indies lost was a testament to the lack of support for Lara.
Sri Lanka scored 627 and West Indies barely managed to cross this in their two innings at SSC, Colombo in 2001. Lara scores 221 and 130 out of the 650 scored by West Indies: 55% of the team runs against a very potent Sri Lankan attack. Lara blunted Muralitharan but the rest fell prey to Vaas.
Two out of three ODI innings of Lara's which stand out are huge 150+ innings. The first is the Sharjah classic of 153 in 143 balls. Pakistan scored an imposing 284, aided by a blitz from Basit Ali of 127 in 79 balls. Lara's wonderful innings, while opening the batting, helped West Indies complete an easy win. Again Sharjah, a few years later. Lara's top-drawer 169 in 129 balls helped West Indies reach 333. Sri Lanka batted spiritedly and lost by 4 runs, increasing the value of Lara's innings. The third was a wonderfully constructed 94-ball 111 in the 1996 World Cup quarter final against South Africa. The win was a close one and it was probably the most important ODI innings played by Lara.
Two niggles cleared
Let me set two records straight. First the uninformed and biased criticism of 400 as not in the team's interest. First, the facts. West Indies are 595 for 5 and Lara is on 313, at the end of the second day. Lara continues on the third day, completes his 400 and declares at 751 for 5. The immense scoreboard pressure is on, even on the flattest of tracks. England is dismissed for 285 and follows on. The pitch continues to be as flat as a highway. They save the match, scoring 422 for 5, still in arrears. West Indies might very well have won by an innings had Lara not dropped Vaughan at 27. Let me emphasize the following points:
- Only way for West Indies to win was by batting once and winning by an innings.
- Scoreboard pressure was the only way to win. And you are not going to create the same without putting up a huge total.
- This was not Melbourne or Eden Gardens or Lord's. This was Antigua, vying with Faisalabad or Premadasa on their flatness quotients.
- West Indies came close to winning. England were still in arrears at the end of the Test.
- Finally blame Lara the fielder for not winning the match: not Lara, the captain or batsman.
If scoring 400 was a selfish act, then I would say that almost every high score is a selfish act. Be it a 200 or 300 or 400. Michael Clarke could have gone to cross 400 and still won. But he would have looked selfish if India had held on. He would certainly have needed the rest of the day to reach 400. He accounted for one day of rain and gave up a personal milestone in the process. These situations are totally different.
The second is the truth of the statement that Lara was certainly hounded out when he still had two years of Test cricket in him. His Test average during 2006 was 41, not earth-shattering but still higher than many top batsman's recent 12-month averages.
The following is the sequence of events.
- After an average WC as batsman and captain, Lara announces his retirement from ODIs. Seems the perfect time.
- He also says that he would look at his Test career after the England tour. Nothing seems to be wrong there. He has always done well against England.
- Then the West Indian selectors, prompted by vested interests, come out with a statement that there was no certainly that Lara would be selected for the England tour. This, while discussing the team's best batsman and with no great assets at their disposal.
- What does Lara do? The proud man that he is, he announces his retirement from all forms of cricket. Mission accomplished, for certain people. Who lost out in the end? West Indian Cricket certainly.
- It is surprising that the great Test player that Lara was, he played 16 ODI matches after his last Test!!!
I wait to be corrected.
In the light of what has been detailed above, maybe a more appropriate add-on to the title of the article might have been "The Unfinished Symphony": borrowed from Schubert rather than "Bohemian Rhapsody" from Queen.
Lara has never been involved in any incident on field. In this matter he is exactly like his close friend, the one who, at last measurement was three inches shorter and a few Test runs richer!!! His fracas with the WICB on payments was something he did on behalf of himself and his team-mates.
Where is Lara placed in the pantheon of batting greats? On numbers, nowhere, as do many of the other modern greats. However if we strictly rely on numbers, Lohmann and Barrington are certainties in any selection. There are many other factors. Many batsmen compete for the coveted second spot amongst Test batsmen. Sobers, Hobbs, Tendulkar, Lara, Richards, Hutton and Ponting form a reasonably populated group from which to pick one. I would not question anyone whose selection varies from mine. But as far as I am concerned, Lara is the candidate for this coveted position. If I have to justify this with numbers, a string of numbers would do: 153, 213, 688, 400, 375, 277 and 226.
If I sit down to select an all-time best eleven (or fifteen) I would immediately write down the following three names. Then go for a cup of coffee, put my feet up and think, refer to my database (why? I probably have all the relevant numbers in my head) and then fill the other names over a day. This I say, implying no disrespect to any of the other greats who would eventually find their way into the team.
Bradman Lara GilchristSir (!) Brian Lara, hope the Queen reads this, many thanks for the lovely memories. How I wish you had played for couple of more years. I am sure there was a superlative innings of 212 or 232 in the horizon. But does not matter. You have played enough masterpieces, to be savoured and treasured by all your followers.
Anantha Narayanan has written for ESPNcricinfo and CastrolCricket and worked with a number of companies on their cricket performance ratings-related systems