ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features

Johnson v Smith, and other such contests

The case of left-handed batsmen against left-arm fast bowlers, and New Zealand's batting high this season

S Rajesh

February 21, 2014

Comments: 6 | Text size: A | A

Mitchell Johnson removed Graeme Smith again, but this time it was all about the catch, South Africa v Australia, 1st Test, Centurion, 4th day, February 15, 2014
Despite being dismissed by Mitchell Johnson and Zaheer Khan several times, Graeme Smith still averages a reasonably healthy 40.37 against all left-arm seamers in Tests © AFP
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Much of the talk on the eve of the second Test between South Africa and Australia was about Graeme Smith and Mitchell Johnson. Smith clearly wasn't too taken in by all the Johnson hype, and the fact that the two had some history between them made things even spicier. But there was also Smith's perceived weakness against left-arm pace that came into the picture: he has often been described as Zaheer Khan's bunny, and the fact that Zaheer has dismissed him 14 times in all international matches lends some credence to that theory; no other bowler has dismissed him more than ten times. In Centurion, Johnson bowled four deliveries to Smith and dismissed him twice, which set more tongues wagging about Smith's weakness against left-arm pace.

So how bad is Smith against this type of bowling? Are his stats against left-arm pace significantly poorer than against other types of bowling? Are there left-arm fast bowlers he hasn't fallen to that often? Here's a look at what the numbers say.

The overall Test numbers for Smith suggest that he is weaker against left-arm pace than other types of bowling, but not by that much: his overall average against them is 40.37; against right-arm spin it's 43.80, while it's more than 50 against right-arm pace and left-arm spin.

Given that right-arm spinners are more often than not offspinners, whose stock balls turn away from the left-hander, it's understandable that Smith's average against them is lower than his career average. However, his relatively low average against left-arm pace suggests a technical flaw, which in his case is a tendency to play across the line and look for runs on the leg side.

What does stand out, though, is his scoring rate against them: it's 3.89 runs per over, which is more than his rate against all other types of bowling. That suggests he is able to work the bowlers away for runs, but in the process it also leaves him more vulnerable to dismissals. Of his 29 dismissals against this type of bowling, 11 have been bowled or lbw, and the others caught, often in the slips, which indicates there's been more than one way for the bowlers to nail him.

Graeme Smith in Tests versus different bowler types
  Balls faced Dismissals Average Run rate
Right-arm pace 8926 104 53.01 3.70
Left-arm pace 1805 29 40.37 3.89
Right-arm spin 3070 36 43.80 3.08
Left-arm spin 1552 15 58.73 3.40

Getting down to his stats against specific bowlers, it's clear that Johnson and Zaheer have been dominant against Smith. Smith's Test average against Zaheer is reasonable - 32.71, despite seven dismissals - but in ODIs he has struggled: six dismissals in 98 balls, for 50 runs, an average of 8.33. In Tests, Zaheer has had to work much harder to get Smith out. Johnson has had more success against Smith in South Africa (four dismissals at an average of 22) than in Australia (three dismissals at 34), but Smith has scored his runs pretty quickly against him, at 4.65 runs per over.

While Johnson and Zaheer have dismissed him plenty of times, there are other left-arm seamers against whom Smith has good records. Among them are Mohammad Irfan, Trent Boult and Junaid Khan, three high-quality bowlers. Boult and Junaid haven't dismissed him once in 219 balls, with Smith scoring 125 off those deliveries.

The other aspect that stands out is Smith's scoring rate against most of these bowlers. Only Chaminda Vaas, Junaid and Ryan Sidebottom have kept him down to less than three runs per over; the others have gone at more than three, with the other Mitchell - Starc - going at more than eight an over, and RP Singh going for 53 off 51 balls.

Smith's Test stats v left-arm fast bowlers*
Bowler Balls Runs Dismissals Average Run rate
Mitchell Johnson 245 190 7 27.14 4.65
Zaheer Khan 364 229 7 32.71 3.77
James Franklin 83 60 3 20.00 4.33
Nathan Bracken 15 11 2 5.50 4.40
Pedro Collins 68 37 2 18.50 3.26
Mohammad Irfan 140 80 1 80.00 3.42
Ryan Sidebottom 117 47 1 47.00 2.41
Mitchell Starc 26 35 1 35.00 8.07
Chaminda Vaas 127 48 1 48.00 2.26
Neil Wagner 37 29 1 29.00 4.70
Trent Boult 90 63 0 - 4.20
Junaid Khan 129 62 0 - 2.88
RP Singh 51 53 0 - 6.23
* The list isn't a comprehensive one of all left-arm seamers who've bowled to him

Also, Smith's stats against left-arm pace aren't the worst going around; there are a few others who have fared poorer. Alastair Cook has averaged less than 35 against them, while Andrew Strauss, Michael Hussey and Stephen Fleming all have averages in the 20s against left-arm pace. All these stats are since the beginning of 2002, which means Fleming's entire career isn't covered, but even during this period, his overall average was 43.65 - significantly better than his stats against left-arm pace.

Left-hand batsmen dismissed most often by left-arm pace (in Tests since Jan 2002)
Batsman Balls faced Runs Dismissals Average Run rate
Alastair Cook 2000 1041 30 34.70 3.12
Graeme Smith 1805 1171 29 40.37 3.89
Andrew Strauss 1410 655 24 27.29 2.78
Kumar Sangakkara 1485 879 18 48.83 3.55
Matthew Hayden 1374 875 17 51.47 3.82
Shivnarine Chanderpaul 1977 849 16 53.06 2.57
Chris Gayle 1258 791 16 49.43 3.77
Michael Hussey 680 393 14 28.07 3.46
Stephen Fleming 650 353 13 27.15 3.25
Justin Langer 1202 615 13 47.30 3.06
Daniel Vettori 771 543 13 41.76 4.22
Gautam Gambhir 825 453 12 37.75 3.29

The table below lists left-handed batsmen other than Smith who've had more than their share of problems against specific left-arm seamers. Cook and Matthew Hayden had reasonable averages against Johnson and Zaheer, but some of the others in the list below have really struggled. Zaheer features prominently, with several top-order left-handers doing poorly against him, which also explains why so many of them rate him so highly.

Johnson has dominated JP Duminy, dismissing him six times at an average of 19, but he has also had plenty of success against left-handers who aren't specialist batsmen, dismissing James Anderson six times (average 8.50) and Stuart Broad five times (average 19.40). Gautam Gambhir and Sourav Ganguly didn't particularly relish facing Johnson either - even when he wasn't as accurate as he is today - while Boult, who hasn't dismissed Smith once, has nailed Cook four times conceding only 62 runs.

Some of the other left-hand batsmen v specific left-arm seamers (since Jan 2002)
Batsman Bowler Balls Runs Dismissals Average Run rate
Alastair Cook Mitchell Johnson 396 279 8 34.87 4.22
Matthew Hayden Zaheer Khan 352 254 7 36.28 4.32
JP Duminy Mitchell Johnson 254 114 6 19.00 2.69
Tim McIntosh Zaheer Khan 183 52 6 8.67 1.70
Andrew Strauss Zaheer Khan 324 106 6 17.67 1.96
Chris Gayle Zaheer Khan 121 72 5 14.40 3.57
Michael Hussey Zaheer Khan 295 163 5 32.60 3.31
Kumar Sangakkara Zaheer Khan 194 103 5 20.60 3.18
Alastair Cook Trent Boult 221 62 4 15.50 1.68
Gautam Gambhir Mitchell Johnson 174 118 4 29.50 4.06
Sourav Ganguly Mitchell Johnson 136 51 4 12.75 2.25
Michael Hussey RP Singh 80 36 4 9.00 2.70
Andrew Strauss Mohammad Amir 114 39 4 9.75 2.05

New Zealand's season of sunshine batting
New Zealand had a 2013-14 season to remember, beating both West Indies and India at home. Before that, they failed to beat Bangladesh in Bangladesh, drawing two Tests, but throughout the seven Tests they played, their batsmen scored plenty of runs, and hundreds. The 12 hundreds they scored is their highest in a season, while their five centuries in two Tests against India is their third-best in any series, and their best in a two-Test series. One of the two series in which they scored more hundreds was also at home against India, when three Tests in 2008-09 fetched them six centuries. The other series was in the West Indies in 1971-72 - a period when West Indies didn't have the pace battery they developed later - when five Tests brought seven centuries.

Over the entire season, New Zealand's batsmen had combined average of 40.93, numbers that they aren't used to: the last time they averaged more than 40 in a season of more than two Tests was in 1989-90, when also, coincidentally, India had toured; three Tests then brought New Zealand five hundreds. (Click here for the season-wise batting averages in seasons in which New Zealand played at least three Tests.)

The table below lists their average in each season since 2005-06, and it's easy to see that these are rare batting stats for New Zealand. Admittedly, though, the three teams they played this season all have among the friendliest bowling attacks going around. The sterner test will be when they play better bowling attacks - they are scheduled to play an away series against Pakistan later this year - but when they do, they'll at least have the confidence of having made an unusually high number of runs in the preceding home season.

New Zealand's season-wise batting average (2005-06 onwards)
Season Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
2013-14 7 4093 40.93 12/ 15
2013 2 633 15.82 0/ 3
2012-13 7 3063 26.40 6/ 15
2012 4 1855 23.18 1/ 8
2011-12 7 3065 27.36 4/ 14
2010-11 5 2534 28.47 5/ 15
2009-10 6 3253 31.89 5/ 17
2009 2 1088 27.20 1/ 5
2008-09 9 4048 29.33 7/ 18
2008 3 1292 23.92 2/ 6
2007-08 7 2987 25.52 3/ 16
2006-07 2 669 19.11 0/ 2
2005-06 6 2339 28.87 4/ 9

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on Twitter

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Comments: 6 
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Posted by murtaza on (February 21, 2014, 22:34 GMT)

Wasim akram Got jayasuria's wicket 3 time in test cricket and 9 time in ODIs. And He Got brian Lara's wicket 3 time in test cricket and 7 time in ODIs. And gilchrist's wicket 7 time in ODIs, and Andy Flower once in test cricket and 7 time in ODIs.

Posted by Dummy4 on (February 21, 2014, 17:39 GMT)

I would really like to know how many times Wasim Akram got Jayasuria's wicket.

Posted by Dummy4 on (February 21, 2014, 17:29 GMT)

@PadMarley: the stats cover from January 2002 onwards, a period in which Wasim only played one Test. Check a little further back and you find that Wasim's top LH bunny was Arjuna Ranatunga with 5 dismissals.

Posted by Pad on (February 21, 2014, 9:12 GMT)

Looks like the two biggest left arm wicket takers Wasim and Vaas, did not have a left handed bunny!

Posted by Andrew on (February 21, 2014, 5:37 GMT)

Interesting ... One would like to see how right-handers fare against the left-armers especially the likes of Akram, Johnson, Zaheer ... with the ball that cuts across them and the one that comes back into them ... Akram was very skillful at those deliveries ... he had a lot of LBWs because he managed to get the ball to straighten ... I wonder who were the right-hand bunnies ...

Posted by Dummy4 on (February 21, 2014, 2:46 GMT)

You might want to edit that sentence that suggests Hayden faced Johnson.

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S Rajesh Stats editor Every week the Numbers Game takes a look at the story behind the stats, with an original slant on facts and figures. The column is edited by S Rajesh, ESPNcricinfo's stats editor in Bangalore. He did an MBA in marketing, and then worked for a year in advertising, before deciding to chuck it in favour of a job which would combine the pleasures of watching cricket and writing about it. The intense office cricket matches were an added bonus.

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