The Friday Column December 3, 2004

Tendulkar's diminishing returns, and McGrath the batsman

Perhaps numbers never do reveal the full story, but they tell a large part of it

Perhaps numbers never do reveal the full story, but they tell a large part of it. Every Friday, The Numbers Game will take a look at statistics from the present and the past, busting myths and revealing hidden truths:

Erratic Tendulkar
Is Sachin Tendulkar a lesser batsman than he was a few years back? It's the question which has dominated the sports pages of Indian newspapers for a while now, and elicits passionate opinions after his every failure. And there have been an unusually high number of low scores from his bat of late - in his last 26 innings, 15 have been sub-10 scores. The spark of genius still comes through occasionally - less than a month back, he crafted a superb 55 against the Australians at Mumbai that went a long way in winning India the Test - but unlike in the past, the consistency has gone down a few notches. In the first half of his career, he was seldom dismissed for single-digit scores; over the last 20 months, it's become commonplace.

Sachin Tendulkar in ... Innings Single-digit scores Percentage
... his first 103 Tests 165 38 23.03
... his last 15 Tests 26 15 57.69

Critics have been pointing out Tendulkar's penchant for leg-side play, and the stats bear this out: over the last three years, Tendulkar has increasingly favoured the on side - in 2004 so far, almost 63% of his runs have come in that region, considerably more than in the last couple of years. It's also interesting to analyse where most of those on-side runs have come from - midwicket has always been a productive region, but in 2004, his percentage of runs in the fine-leg area went up significantly.

Tendulkar's wagon-wheel 2002 2003 2004
Thirdman 9.27 13.07 9.51
Point & cover 33.12 25.49 22.98
Mid-off 5.89 7.19 4.60
Total off side 48.28 45.75 37.08
Mid-on 6.47 10.46 9.83
Midwicket & sq. leg 35.35 33.99 38.67
Fine leg 9.91 9.80 14.42
Total on side 51.72 54.25 62.92

The tendency to play across the line reflects in his mode of dismissal too: 11 times bowled or lbw in his last 22 dismissals - not great stats for a player who was once known for his impregnable technique. Tendulkar has often talked about his game evolving gradually over the years, and the numbers tell a story: in 2004 so far, he has scored at a rate of 52.7 runs per 100 balls, but his boundary percent is only 47.54; in the two preceding years, he scored 57.6% of his runs in boundaries, but his scoring rate was only 52.4. The numbers only confirm what many experts have noticed - Tendulkar has become more cautious, less flashy, and more leg-side oriented. The consistency has dropped, the sheer spontaneity has been replaced by a far more studious approach, but at the end of the day, the stats still look good - despite his poor recent run, Tendulkar averages 70 for the year, and with a couple of Tests against Bangladesh coming up, that figure could go even higher before the year is done.

India's leading matchwinner
Anil Kumble began his Test career only nine months after Tendulkar, and 14 years later, is probably bowling better than he ever has - in Test matches at least. When he dismissed Makhaya Ntini in the second innings at Kolkata, Kumble joined Kapil Dev as India's highest wicket-taker in Tests. Kumble's 434 wickets came in just 90 matches, 41 fewer than it took Kapil to reach that landmark, but the striking aspect of his career has been his contribution to Indian victories - there's been no-one who has been a bigger matchwinner. The table below shows just wide the gulf is - Kumble has 199 wickets in Indian wins, 101 more than BS Chandrasekhar, who is in second place, and more than Chandra and Bishan Bedi put together. It's also interesting to note what his spin partner Harbhajan Singh has achieved in such a short period of time - he is already in second place among India's most successful bowlers in home wins, with an amazing 83 wickets from 11 victorious matches.

Matches won Wkts in matches won Matches won
at home
Wkts in home wins
Kumble 28 199 23 165
Chandrasekhar 14 98 9 56
Bedi 17 97 9 65
Harbhajan 15 94 11 83
Kapil 24 90 20 74
Prasanna 15 81 8 39
Srinath 17 68 13 52

McGrath's batting prowess
Glenn McGrath is well on his way to becoming an allrounder. His 61 against New Zealand at the Gabba catapulted his batting average from 6.53 to 7.27 - a phenomenal jump of 0.74 in just one innings. It also increased the difference between his aggregate runs and wickets to 75: there was once the fond hope that he might end up with more Test wickets than runs - before that innings, the difference was only 23 - but that looks almost impossible now. McGrath is still some way from becoming the best No. 11, though. Among those with at least 25 Tests, he is only tenth in the list. Bill Johnston, a left-arm bowler who played for Australia in the 1940s and `50s, leading the way with an average of 14.

Best No. 11 batsmen
(at least 25 Tests)
Tests Runs Ave
Johnston 30 159 14.45
Statham 44 348 13.91
Donald 25 204 13.59
Muralitharan 62 526 13.15
Willis 60 452 12.91

S Rajesh is assistant editor of Cricinfo.