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December 14, 2013

Epic head-to-head confrontations in a Test series

Anantha Narayanan
Kumar Sangakkara has held his own against Saeed Ajmal  © AFP
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After a tumultuous three-week period, I now return to analyses that are not centred on an individual. No one is going to get worked over these tables. Life may be less exciting but also less exacting.

One of the jewels in the database crown of mine is the Test ball-by-ball data, expertly mined by Milind. The reason why I come back to this data every time is my realisation that without Milind's path-breaking work, this important segment of data would have been still-born. I had done an all-encompassing analysis of the 500-odd Tests, I had done a single-Test-based analysis and I had covered a current series or two. But the one major lacuna in my coverage is a look at all the Test series for which we have the ball-by-ball data available. This article fills that gap.

Around 210 Test series have complete ball-by-ball data. Many of these are three-Test series, quite a few are two-Test series, some are longer series with four and five Tests and about ten comprise of one-off Tests. I initially thought that I would restrict the analysis to Test series in which three or more Tests were played. But that would have meant that about 100 series would have been excluded. It clearly seemed wrong to me, especially as there were some notable performances in two-Test series. For instance Amit Mishra bowled 326 balls to Hashim Amla in a two-Test series. So I decided that I would set up stiff cut-off criteria and let this natural process take care of the matter: a decision that has worked very well.

With this simple preamble, let us delve into the tables.

For the "Balls bowled" analysis I have taken 180 balls as the cut-off. This ensures that significant performances in the two-Test series have a chance of getting in. A player-to-player duel with 30 overs of bowling is something very significant. This is justified by the presence of two such contests in the featured table.

Ordered by balls bowled (300+ balls featured)
SeriesNoYear Home Away # Bowler Batsman Balls Runs
4562001 Slk Win 3 M Muralitharan BC Lara 527 286
6392012 Ind Eng 4 R Ashwin AN Cook 510 221
4952003 Aus Ind 4 A Kumble RT Ponting 398 204
6182011 Pak Slk 3 Saeed Ajmal KC Sangakkara 368 141
4952003 Aus Ind 4 SCG MacGill R Dravid 346 218
5162004 Saf Eng 5 SM Pollock AJ Strauss 336 121
4832003 Slk Nzl 2 M Muralitharan SP Fleming 329 131
5162004 Saf Eng 5 M Ntini AJ Strauss 328 156
5952010 Ind Saf 2 A Mishra HM Amla 326 99
5192005 Ind Pak 3 A Kumble Younis Khan 325 170
5592007 Ind Pak 3 A Kumble Misbah-ul-Haq 320 125
6392012 Ind Eng 4 PP Ojha AN Cook 317 147
5952010 Ind Saf 2 Harbhajan Singh HM Amla 316 139
6332012 Slk Pak 3 Saeed Ajmal KC Sangakkara 312 147
4662002 Win Ind 5 Z Khan S Chanderpaul 309 123
5462006 Slk Saf 2 N Boje DPMD Jayawardene 301 183
4662002 Win Ind 5 J Srinath S Chanderpaul 300 110

At the top is what I believe one of the greatest contests in the history of Test matches. A fading team, West Indies, visit Sri Lanka, who are almost invincible at home, with their five-star bowler in great form. Brian Lara gets some support from Ramnaresh Sarwan and from no one else. The inevitable follows: a 3-0 win for Sri Lanka. However, in this gloom for West Indies is a bright star - Lara's 688 runs in the three Tests, made in 1226 balls. Lara faced 36% of the balls faced by West Indies and scored 40% of runs. Nearly half the balls faced by Lara were bowled by the other giant, Muttiah Muralitharan. Lara's strike rate was a healthy 54.3, resulting in an amazing accumulation of runs. How can anyone not get moved by these numbers? Two Goliaths have an almost fight-until-death contest and one emerges a clear winner. However, to give the other genial giant his credit, his team won the series 3-0 and he played no mean part in this win with 24 wickets. The only higher aggregate in a three-Test series has been Graham Gooch's 752 runs in the 1990 home series against the Indian tooth-less attack. There is simply no comparison.

The next highest entry is of recent vintage, but no less valuable. R Ashwin v Alastair Cook during the England tour of India in 2012 had the counter standing at 510, just a few balls short. This was a more even contest since Ashwin dismissed Cook four times. However, we have to say that Cook probably won the contest since the bowler strike rate was a somewhat-high 127 balls. That England won the series 2-1 was in no measure owing to this mastery by their premier batsman over India's premier bowler. Let us not forget that this was also an away contest for Cook. Then after a gap of well over 100 balls comes the Kumble-Ponting contest in Australia. We have to say Ponting was on top in this contest.

Note the presence of 13 spinners in this table of 17 entries. Readers should not forget that these are only featured entries and the complete tables are in the downloadable file.

Ordered by balls per wicket (High-250+ featured)
SeriesNoYear Home Away # Bowler Batsman Balls Wkts BpW
6182011 Pak Slk 3 Saeed Ajmal KC Sangakkara 368 1 368.0
6392012 Ind Eng 4 PP Ojha AN Cook 317 1 317.0
6332012 Slk Pak 3 Saeed Ajmal KC Sangakkara 312 1 312.0
5462006 Slk Saf 2 N Boje DPMD Jayawardene 301 1 301.0
5482006 Aus Eng 5 SK Warne PD Collingwood 287 1 287.0
5592007 Ind Pak 3 Danish Kaneria SC Ganguly 281 1 281.0
6142011 Eng Ind 4 SCJ Broad R Dravid 265 1 265.0
5452006 Eng Pak 4 Danish Kaneria AN Cook 265 1 265.0
4562001 Slk Win 3 M Muralitharan BC Lara 527 2 263.5
6182011 Pak Slk 3 HMRKB Herath Azhar Ali 259 1 259.0
4952003 Aus Ind 4 AB Agarkar RT Ponting 254 1 254.0
5602007 Slk Eng 3 MS Panesar DPMD Jayawardene 252 1 252.0
5262005 Eng Aus 5 B Lee ME Trescothick 250 1 250.0

Since this an analysis of balls bowled, I have also created a table ordered by the bowler strike rate: the high ones. To say that Kumar Sangakkara mastered Saeed Ajmal is an understatement: 368 balls for one wicket clearly tells the story. Pragyan Ojha toiled similarly in the England series. He was the supporting bowler to Ashwin and could not make much of an impression on Cook: 317 balls and a single dismissal. A year later, now at home, Sangakkara repeated his mastery over Ajmal. That makes it 680 balls in two years that Ajmal bowled to Sangakkara and only two of these deliveries resulted in dismissals.

For the Runs scored tables, I have 100 runs as the cut-off.

Ordered by runs scored (160+ runs featured)
SeriesNoYear Home Away # Bowler Batsman Balls Runs
4562001 Slk Win 3 M Muralitharan BC Lara 527 286
6392012 Ind Eng 4 R Ashwin AN Cook 510 221
4952003 Aus Ind 4 SCG MacGill R Dravid 346 218
4952003 Aus Ind 4 A Kumble RT Ponting 398 204
5462006 Slk Saf 2 N Boje DPMD Jayawardene 301 183
4872003 Eng Saf 5 M Ntini ME Trescothick 255 179
5592007 Ind Pak 3 Danish Kaneria SC Ganguly 281 177
6262011 Aus Ind 4 R Ashwin MJ Clarke 249 173
4962003 Saf Win 4 FH Edwards HH Gibbs 230 172
5192005 Ind Pak 3 A Kumble Younis Khan 325 170
6082010 Aus Eng 5 GP Swann MEK Hussey 295 168
6142011 Eng Ind 4 I Sharma KP Pietersen 206 166
6042010 Ind Aus 2 NM Hauritz SR Tendulkar 225 161

Lara leads this table with his historic duel against Murali. He scored 286 runs off Murali. Let us look at this number again. If a batsman scored 286 runs in a three-Test series, we would conclude that he has had a pretty good series, with 96 runs per Test and probably over 50 in average. These runs were scored off a single bowler, that too the best bowler in the side. Cook follows next with his series-winning runs against Ashwin last year. The 221 runs were the important cog in the successful wheel that was England. During the 2003 away series Rahul Dravid scored 218 runs off Stuart MacGill. In this table there are a few pace bowlers off whom quite a few runs were scored, Makhaya Ntini leading the group of three.

Ordered by batting average (High-140+ runs featured)
SeriesNoYear Home Away # Bowler Batsman Balls Runs Wkts Avge
5462006 Slk Saf 2 N Boje DPMD Jayawardene 301 183 1 183.0
5592007 Ind Pak 3 Danish Kaneria SC Ganguly 281 177 1 177.0
6142011 Eng Ind 4 I Sharma KP Pietersen 206 166 1 166.0
5812009 Pak Slk 2 Danish Kaneria TT Samaraweera 246 159 1 159.0
4872003 Eng Saf 5 JM Anderson GC Smith 174 157 1 157.0
5262005 Eng Aus 5 B Lee ME Trescothick 250 154 1 154.0
6372012 Aus Saf 3 M Morkel MJ Clarke 164 154 1 154.0
5482006 Aus Eng 5 SK Warne PD Collingwood 287 151 1 151.0
4952003 Aus Ind 4 AB Agarkar RT Ponting 254 148 1 148.0
4562001 Slk Win 3 WPUJC Vaas BC Lara 242 148 1 148.0
6392012 Ind Eng 4 PP Ojha AN Cook 317 147 1 147.0
6332012 Slk Pak 3 Saeed Ajmal KC Sangakkara 312 147 1 147.0
6262011 Aus Ind 4 I Sharma MJ Clarke 186 144 1 144.0
4562001 Slk Win 3 M Muralitharan BC Lara 527 286 2 143.0
5452006 Eng Pak 4 Danish Kaneria KP Pietersen 172 143 1 143.0
5192005 Ind Pak 3 Danish Kaneria V Sehwag 195 142 1 142.0
6182011 Pak Slk 3 Saeed Ajmal KC Sangakkara 368 141 1 141.0

This table is ordered by the batting average. Mahela Jayawardene leads with an average of 183 n his confrontation against Nicky Boje. I have talked about this extensively in the single-Test analysis. Danish Kaneria is in this table quite a few times, indicating his possible lack of penetration against top batsmen. The only appearance of Shane Warne in this table is against the unassuming Paul Collingwood, who, during the historic 0-5 Ashes loss away, scored 151 runs off the master and gave his wicket away only once.

Ordered by strike rate (100 runs minimum)
SeriesNoYear Home Away # Bowler Batsman Balls Runs S/R
4642002 Saf Aus 3 PR Adams AC Gilchrist 74 104 140.5
4962003 Saf Win 4 A Nel CH Gayle 85 111 130.6
4482001 Eng Aus 5 AR Caddick RT Ponting 96 122 127.1
6442013 Ind Aus 4 NM Lyon MS Dhoni 109 127 116.5
4652002 Nzl Eng 3 MJ Hoggard NJ Astle 94 109 116.0
5072004 Eng Win 4 SJ Harmison CH Gayle 93 106 114.0
4482001 Eng Aus 5 D Gough AC Gilchrist 108 118 109.3
5892009 Ind Slk 3 M Muralitharan V Sehwag 122 132 108.2
5892009 Ind Slk 3 HMRKB Herath V Sehwag 100 108 108.0
5712008 Slk Ind 3 WPUJC Vaas V Sehwag 99 104 105.1
5242005 Win Pak 2 Danish Kaneria BC Lara 133 135 101.5
4932003 Zim Win 2 RW Price BC Lara 100 101 101.0
5672008 Ind Saf 3 PL Harris V Sehwag 111 112 100.9
4902003 Aus Zim 2 HH Streak ML Hayden 119 119 100.0
5812009 Pak Slk 2 Yasir Arafat TT Samaraweera 103 103 100.0
...
4942003 Slk Eng 3 AF Giles DPMD Jayawardene 286 114 39.9
4662002 Win Ind 5 Z Khan S Chanderpaul 309 123 39.8
4832003 Slk Nzl 2 M Muralitharan SP Fleming 329 131 39.8
6142011 Eng Ind 4 SCJ Broad R Dravid 265 105 39.6
4662002 Win Ind 5 Z Khan CL Hooper 279 110 39.4
5592007 Ind Pak 3 A Kumble Misbah-ul-Haq 320 125 39.1
5162004 Saf Eng 5 A Flintoff JH Kallis 257 100 38.9
6182011 Pak Slk 3 Saeed Ajmal KC Sangakkara 368 141 38.3
4662002 Win Ind 5 J Srinath S Chanderpaul 300 110 36.7
5162004 Saf Eng 5 SM Pollock AJ Strauss 336 121 36.0

Adam Gilchrist, during the away series against South Africa during 2002, scored 104 runs at the magnificent scoring rate of 140. The next year, Chris Gayle almost did the same against Andre Nel. Ricky Ponting scored at 127 off Andy Caddick during the away tour in 2001. MS Dhoni's clinical dismembering of Nathan Lyon, almost totally done in a single Test, was achieved this year. A very important entry in this table is that of Virender Sehwag against Murali during his magnificent tour in 2008. He had a strike rate of greater than 100. Sehwag has had three such 100-plus series, all against spinners.

At the other end of the table there are a few confrontations at around the 38-mark. Most of these batsmen are the steady type.

For the "Wickets captured" analysis, I have four wickets as the minimum requirement. If a bowler effected all four dismissals of a batsman in a two-Test series, as happened with Chris Martin v Phillip Hughes, well, this confrontation deserves to come in.

Ordered by wickets captured
SeriesNoYear Home Away # Bowler Batsman WktsBallsRunsAvgeBpW
6502013 Eng Aus 5 JM Anderson PM Siddle 6 57 24 4.0 9.5
5262005 Eng Aus 5 SK Warne AF Giles 6 118 34 5.7 19.7
4962003 Saf Win 4 M Ntini D Ganga 6 171 50 8.3 28.5
5392006 Saf Aus 3 M Ntini ML Hayden 6 131 74 12.3 21.8
6502013 Eng Aus 5 GP Swann CJL Rogers 6 230 79 13.2 38.3
4482001 Eng Aus 5 GD McGrath MA Atherton 6 210 86 14.3 35.0
5262005 Eng Aus 5 SK Warne AJ Strauss 6 192124 20.7 32.0
5262005 Eng Aus 5 SK Warne SJ Harmison 5 32 16 3.2 6.4
5862009 Eng Aus 5 BW Hilfenhaus RS Bopara 5 56 16 3.2 11.2
5612007 Aus Ind 4 B Lee W Jaffer 5 93 18 3.6 18.6
4562001 Slk Win 3 M Muralitharan MN Samuels 5 94 20 4.0 18.8
4562001 Slk Win 3 WPUJC Vaas CH Gayle 5 49 23 4.6 9.8
6132011 Win Ind 3 R Rampaul M Vijay 5 75 27 5.4 15.0
4812003 Win Aus 4 JN Gillespie DS Smith 5 109 38 7.6 21.8
5592007 Ind Pak 3 A Kumble Yasir Hameed 5 53 39 7.8 10.6
6442013 Ind Aus 4 R Ashwin PJ Hughes 5 179 39 7.8 35.8
5712008 Slk Ind 3 M Muralitharan SC Ganguly 5 90 51 10.2 18.0
4942003 Slk Eng 3 M Muralitharan GP Thorpe 5 266 51 10.2 53.2
5612007 Aus Ind 4 B Lee VVS Laxman 5 138 52 10.4 27.6
5342005 Aus Saf 3 SK Warne AG Prince 5 225 63 12.6 45.0
6442013 Ind Aus 4 RA Jadeja MJ Clarke 5 190 72 14.4 38.0
4482001 Eng Aus 5 D Gough RT Ponting 5 103 75 15.0 20.6
5712008 Slk Ind 3 BAW Mendis VVS Laxman 5 176 81 16.2 35.2
6502013 Eng Aus 5 SCJ Broad MJ Clarke 5 161 84 16.8 32.2
5602007 Slk Eng 3 M Muralitharan IR Bell 5 238 84 16.8 47.6
5262005 Eng Aus 5 SK Warne ME Trescothick 5 112 85 17.0 22.4

I have shown in this table the list of bowlers who dismissed the specific batsman six times and a few of the economical dismissals of the five-wicket captures. During this period no bowler has dismissed a batsman seven times in a series. Warne and Ntini are the only bowlers to have dismissed a batsman six times on two occasions. Since many of these confrontations are between bowler and bowler, let us look only at the significant combinations. Possibly the most significant one is Ntini's dismissal of Matthew Hayden six times in the 2006 home series, incidentally all six dismissals, making this a very unique one. Similarly Swann's conquering of Chris Rogers during the 2013 Ashes series and Glenn McGrath's six against Mike Atherton during 2001. Warne dismissed Steve Harmison five times in the unforgettable 2005 Ashes series. In the famous Lara series in 2001 in Sri Lanka, Chaminda Vaas dismissed Gayle five times and Murali dismissed Marlon Samuels five times. Look at the number of times Murali has dismissed top batsmen like Samuels, Sourav Ganguly, Graham Thorpe and Ian Bell five times, all occurrences in three-Test series.

Ordered by batting average (4 wkts minimum)
SeriesNoYear Home Away # Bowler BatsmanBallsRuns Wkts Avge
5542007 Slk Bng 3 M Muralitharan Shahadat Hossain24 1 4 0.2
5672008 Ind Saf 3 DW Steyn Harbhajan Singh 9 3 4 0.8
5072004 Eng Win 4 MJ Hoggard RD Jacobs22 4 4 1.0
4662002 Win Ind 5 Harbhajan Singh A Sanford24 5 4 1.2
6432013 Saf Pak 3 DW Steyn Mohammad Hafeez38 5 4 1.2
5622007 Saf Win 3 A Nel FH Edwards20 7 4 1.8
6272012 Pak Eng 3 GP Swann Abdur Rehman15 8 4 2.0
6262011 Aus Ind 4 BW Hilfenhaus Z Khan26 9 4 2.2
5522007 Eng Win 4 MS Panesar CD Collymore33 9 4 2.2
5542007 Slk Bng 3 M Muralitharan Mashrafe Mortaza25 10 4 2.5
5152004 Aus Pak 3 GD McGrath Shoaib Akhtar42 10 4 2.5
5872009 Win Bng 2 Mahmudullah FL Reifer42 10 4 2.5
6142011 Eng Ind 4 SCJ Broad P Kumar19 11 4 2.8
4862003 Aus Bng 2 SCG MacGill Alok Kapali27 11 4 2.8
6232011 Aus Nzl 2 CS Martin PJ Hughes41 11 4 2.8
4562001 Slk Win 3 WPUJC Vaas M Dillon35 12 4 3.0
6262011 Aus Ind 4 BW Hilfenhaus I Sharma56 12 4 3.0
...
5162004 Saf Eng 5 M Ntini ME Trescothick291124 4 31.0
4482001 Eng Aus 5 JN Gillespie ME Trescothick208157 5 31.4
5922009 Saf Eng 4 GP Swann MV Boucher193130 4 32.5
4752002 Aus Eng 5 AR Caddick ML Hayden206130 4 32.5
4752002 Aus Eng 5 GD McGrath MP Vaughan222132 4 33.0
5432006 Eng Slk 3 M Muralitharan KP Pietersen157134 4 33.5
5262005 Eng Aus 5 B Lee KP Pietersen156135 4 33.8
4752002 Aus Eng 5 AR Caddick JL Langer196140 4 35.0
4872003 Eng Saf 5 M Ntini ME Trescothick255179 5 35.8
4992004 Slk Aus 3 M Muralitharan DS Lehmann248148 4 37.0
5262005 Eng Aus 5 SK Warne A Flintoff251156 4 39.0
5162004 Saf Eng 5 M Ntini AJ Strauss328156 4 39.0
6392012 Ind Eng 4 R Ashwin AN Cook510221 4 55.2

These are again based on the batting average. However unlike the earlier table, this has a cut-off of four wickets. As such these are very significant entries. It is obvious that most of these entries are of bowlers v bowlers. So let us look specifically for the genuine batsmen. The most significant one is Dale Steyn destroying Mohammad Hafeez a few weeks back. He dismissed Hafeez four times conceding only five runs, an average of 1.25. Martin's four dismissals of Hughes during 2011 cost a mere 2.75 runs apiece. The only other presence of a recognised batsman is Ridley Jacobs against Matthew Hoggard: four wickets at one run each. Finally let us spare a moment for Murali against Shahadat Hossain: four wickets at 0.25 run per wicket. And for Steyn, who needed just nine balls to dismiss Harbhajan Singh four times.

At the other end, the most expensive four-wicket capture has been that of Ashwin against Cook: at 55 runs apiece.

To download/view the documents containing the seven complete tables, please CLICK HERE. My take is that many of the questions can be answered if you download this 1000-line file and view the contents. Instead of asking me obvious questions for which the answers are already there in the tables, you could download the file and view the tables.

One of Milind's first suggestions was for me to look at the ball-by-ball data from the point of view of the bowler types and batsman types. In other words, how have left-hand batsmen fared against the three types of spinners? Is it really true that legspinners trouble right-handers more? That right-arm pacemen find it easier to bowl against right-hand batsmen, and so on. That will be the next analysis using the ball-by-ball data: some time in the future.

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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Posted by Rohan1 on (December 25, 2013, 10:13 GMT)

Comments by other individuals , though perhaps caustically worded,also ring true. Fleming did as well as Lara in the lions den. Unfortunately we do not have Hth data before 2001. The fact that Fleming completely dominated Murali over not one but 2 series separated by a few years makes his achievement even better and of greater depth- in my opinion. Re. your caustic comment about Tendulkar and an arbitrary 500 runs in a series- Series averages are a better guide given the difference in matches in a series and the number of innings actually played in a series. Other batsmen have had more inn. per series. One may use any arbitrary benchmark to run down any player this way. If you use say 350 or 400 runs you may get some another result. Tendulkar played very few long series or many inn. in a series at his peak.

Re. Murali. As far as fast scoring is concerned Sehwag merits a special mention - 132 in 122 balls in 2009 with 2 dismissals . Perhaps the worst battering Murali ever received.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Anantha Narayanan
Anantha spent the first half of his four-decade working career with corporates like IBM, Shaw Wallace, NCR, Sime Darby and the Spinneys group in IT-related positions. In the second half, he has worked on cricket simulation, ratings, data mining, analysis and writing, amongst other things. He was the creator of the Wisden 100 lists, released in 2001. He has written for ESPNcricinfo and CastrolCricket, and worked extensively with Maruti Motors, Idea Cellular and Castrol on their performance ratings-related systems. He is an armchair connoisseur of most sports. His other passion is tennis, and he thinks Roger Federer is the greatest sportsman to have walked on earth.

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