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
February 21, 2014
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.
|Balls faced||Dismissals||Average||Run rate|
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.
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.
|Batsman||Balls faced||Runs||Dismissals||Average||Run rate|
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.
|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.
S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on TwitterFeeds: S Rajesh
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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