The Friday column September 2, 2005

The Gilchrist factor, and subbed out

Why Adam Gilchrist's failure has been the biggest drawback for Australia, and dismissals by substitutes

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:

A depressing sight for Aussie supporters: Adam Gilchrist walks back after yet another failure © Getty Images

Almost the entire Australian batting line-up has been going through the batting horrors in the current Ashes series, but all the problems have been magnified by the repeated failures of one player. Australia have had top-order collapses in the past, but almost every time, Adam Gilchrist had been around to do the rescue-act; this time, Gilchrist's tally with the bat has been 158 from eight innings at an average of 22.57 - only the fourth time in his career that his series average has fallen below 30 - and the dip that has caused to the team's performance has been glaring.

Gilchrist's outrageously aggressive batting style sometimes seems to suggest that he takes advantage of the fact that the bowlers have already been softened up by the batsmen who have preceded him in the line-up, but that's hardly backed up by the facts. Many times in his career, Gilchrist has been the difference between the Australians getting 450 and them being bowled out for around 150 less than that. Sample this: out of the 105 innings in his career so far, Gilchrist has come in to bat with the total reading five down for less than 250 44 times, and six down for less than 300 six times. In those 50 innings, he has scored 2314 runs at 52.59 (almost as good as his career average of 52.98), with seven hundreds and 11 half-centuries. And if you restrict the study to just the first innings, then the stats look even better - 1739 runs at nearly 60 per innings (compared to his overall first-innings average of 58.04).

Coming to Australia's rescue
Innings Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Career 1st innings 71 3599 58.04 13/ 15
1st inn: < 250 for 5 or 300 for 6 32 1739 59.97 6/ 8
Career 2nd innings 34 1011 40.44 2/ 5
2nd inn: < 250 for 5 or 300 for 6 18 575 38.33 1/ 3

The table below lists some of his most memorable performances. There are many which would get high marks for bailing his team out, but even he would be hard-pressed to better the performance in his second Test, when he, along with Justin Langer, bailed Australia out an almost hopeless situation of 126 for 5 into a matchwinning 369 for 6 against Pakistan at Hobart. There have been other spectacular performances as well - Indians will remember his swashbuckling 122 at Mumbai, which turned a 99-for-5 situation into a healthy 349, while more recently, his 162 against New Zealand turned what looked like a middling total into a formidable 570. In the 32 first-innings when he has come in to bat with his team in some bother (less than 250 for 5 or 300 for 6), Australia have gone on post a 400-plus total eight times.

Seven of his best
Versus, venue, year Total when coming in Gilchrist's score Team total Result
Pakistan, Hobart, 1999-2000 126-5 149* 369-6 Won by 4 wickets
NZ, Wellington, 2004-05 247-5 162 570 Draw
India, Mumbai, 2000-01 99-5 122 349 Won by 10 wkts
NZ, Christchurch, 2004-05 160-5 121 432 Won by 9 wkts
England, Sydney, 2002-03 150-5 133 363 Lost by 225 runs
South Africa, Cape Town, 2001-02 176-5 138* 382 Won by 4 wkts
New Zealand, Brisbane, 2004-05 222-5 126 585 Won by an innings and 156 runs

The team which has suffered the most at Gilchrist's hands is undoubtedly his neighbours from across the Tasman - in nine innings against New Zealand, he averages a Bradmanesque 99. South Africa, England and Pakistan have felt the heat of his onslaught too, but against the two other subcontinental teams, India and Sri Lanka, Gilchrist has struggled to live up to his career stats. Those teams have generally used spin to strangle Gilchrist, but it's probably the first time that he has consistently been found wanting against pace. That's a huge credit to Andrew Flintoff and co., but it might yet be risky to write off a performer as explosive as Gilchrist. An encore of some of his earlier displays, and Australia might still manage to keep their grasp on the Ashes.

Team-wise break-up*
Versus Innings Runs Average
New Zealand 9 693 99.00
South Africa 5 256 64.00
England 9 427 61.00
Pakistan 6 294 58.80
Bangladesh 1 43 43.00
India 10 350 35.00
West Indies 5 145 29.00
Sri Lanka 5 106 21.20
* only in those innings when Australia were less than 250 for 5 or 300 for 6

Sub dismissals
Ricky Ponting's outburst against England's substitute policy raises an interesting query for the stats-minded - which team has effected the most number of dismissals through substitute fielders in Tests? The results are quite revealing - in all Tests since September 2001, it turns out that England's substitutes have been the most active on the field, causing 18 dismissals (17 catches and a run-out) in 52 matches - that's slightly less than three Tests per dismissal. The Indians and West Indians aren't far behind, while Pakistan and New Zealand are next in the list, but check out Australia's numbers: in 50 games, only four times have their substitutes effected a dismissal - that's one every 12.5 matches. Perhaps Ponting does have the authority to take the moral high ground, in this issue at least.

Dismissals by substitutes
Team Catch + RO = Total Tests Tests per dismissal
England 17 + 1 = 18 52 2.89
India 13 + 1 = 14 41 2.93
West Indies 12 + 4 = 16 47 2.94
Pakistan 9 + 1 = 10 33 3.30
New Zealand 10 + 0 = 10 36 3.60
Bangladesh 8 + 0 = 8 34 4.25
Sri Lanka 6 + 1 = 7 37 5.29
Zimbabwe 5 + 0 = 5 27 5.40
South Africa 8 + 0 = 8 47 5.88
Australia 3 + 1 = 4 50 12.50

Let us know what you think

S Rajesh is assistant editor of Cricinfo. For some of the data, he was helped by Arun Gopalakrishnan, the operations manager in Cricinfo's Chennai office.