ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features

The Warner effect, and Johnson v Steyn

A look at the key aspects that ensured a 2-1 series result for Australia in South Africa

S Rajesh

March 7, 2014

Comments: 51 | Text size: A | A

David Warner cuts for four, South Africa v Australia, 3rd Test, Cape Town, 4th day, March 4, 2014
David Warner was involved in eight of the ten highest partnerships for Australia in the series, plus he scored 117 runs from 94 balls off Dale Steyn © Getty Images

It was billed as the clash of the top two teams in Test cricket, and the three Tests largely lived up to the hype. The pitches didn't always behave the way they were expected to, with Port Elizabeth and Cape Town both making the bowlers toil extremely hard for wickets, but the bowling quality of both sides ensured that in each Test there was one team that was able to overcome the conditions and force a result.

In the end, South Africa were only 27 balls from ensuring a drawn series, but the overall numbers for the series clearly show that Australia were the better team. They scored more runs and hundreds, took more wickets, and forced the pace of the game more often than the hosts did. South Africa were terribly unlucky with fitness issues, especially those relating to their premier fast bowler, but Australia overcame the disadvantage of playing overseas, and ultimately showed plenty of resilience to seal the series victory, and with it the No. 2 ranking in Tests.

Here are some of the key factors that turned out to be the difference between the two teams.

David Warner
This series was expected to be an extremely tough one for batsmen - especially openers - with each team boasting a fine array of fast bowlers, in conditions which were expected to assist them. Three of the four openers who played more than one Test at the top of the order averaged less than 31 in the series: Chris Rogers scored a fine century in Port Elizabeth but scored only 74 in his other five innings; Alviro Petersen aggregated 65 from four innings, while Graeme Smith had a forgettable farewell series, eking out 45 runs from six innings.

In the midst of all this, David Warner had one of the finest three-Test series ever by an Australian opener, scoring 543 runs at 90.50, with three centuries, including one in the first innings of the Cape Town Test. Only Matthew Hayden, who made 549 in India in 2000-01, has made more in a three-match series for Australia. Admittedly he had some luck, but he made it count, and was almost always fluent, assured and aggressive at the crease. His strike rate of 86.74 further ensured that when he was making runs, he was always getting them quickly, which moved the game forward and put South Africa on the defensive.

Both teams had a couple of middle-order batsmen who stood firm and averaged more than 50 - AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla for South Africa, Steven Smith and Michael Clarke for Australia - while there wasn't too much difference between the lower orders either. Thus, Warner was largely the reason why Australia's average runs per wicket was about 12 more than South Africa's.

Australia and South Africa in the 3-Test series
Team Runs scored Wkts lost Bat ave Run rate 100s/ 50s
Australia 1946 46 42.30 3.81 7/ 4
South Africa 1651 55 30.01 2.98 3/ 6
Position-wise break-up of batting averages for both teams
  Australia South Africa
  Runs Average 100s/ 50s Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Openers 724 60.33 4/ 2 209 17.41 0/ 2
Nos. 3-7 965 40.20 3/ 2 1066 38.07 3/ 3
Nos. 8-11 150 15.00 0/ 0 274 18.26 0/ 1

Warner's presence at the top of the order also had a large hand to play in ensuring that Australia's average partnership for the top two wickets were 56 and 69, with six partnerships exceeding 50. Of the ten highest partnerships for Australia in the series, eight involved Warner, which indicates just how influential he was to Australia's batting display.

For South Africa, on the other hand, the top two wickets averaged about 11 runs per partnership, which means on average the team was two down for about 22. The partnerships for the first wicket read thus: 11, 6, 10, 20, 7, 12; and for the second wicket: 4, 6, 1, 22, 35, 0. South Africa's average stand for the first two wickets was 11.16, the second-lowest ever in their Test history (with a cut-off of ten partnerships) and the lowest in more than 100 years - their worst was in 1912, when the first two wickets averaged 10.33 per partnership in England. The middle order, led by de Villiers and Amla, helped resurrect the innings, but the difference in partnership runs for the top two wickets was a key factor, which again highlights Warner's role in the series.

Average partnerships for each wicket for Australia and South Africa
  Australia South Africa
Wicket Inngs Ave stand 100/ 50 p'ships Inngs Ave stand 100/ 50 p'ships
1 6 56.16 2/ 1 6 11.00 0/ 0
2 6 68.67 1/ 2 6 11.33 0/ 0
3 6 37.00 0/ 2 6 47.16 1/ 2
4 6 52.00 1/ 0 6 43.33 0/ 3
5 5 72.00 1/ 1 6 36.67 0/ 2
6 5 16.25 0/ 0 6 54.00 1/ 0
7 4 21.75 0/ 0 5 37.20 0/ 1
8 4 32.33 0/ 0 5 35.80 0/ 1
9 3 3.00 0/ 0 5 16.40 0/ 0
10 2 15.00 0/ 0 5 7.40 0/ 0

The pace contest
This series was always going to be a battle between the two pace attacks, and while South Africa had the better of the exchanges in Port Elizabeth, Australia won the overall contest: their fast bowlers averaged 27.42, while South Africa's conceded almost 42 runs per wicket. The difference in averages wasn't as much between the spinners of the two teams, but Australia's slow bowlers - led by Nathan Lyon - certainly gave the captain more control, going at only 2.59 per over, while South Africa's slow bowlers conceded almost four per over.

Pace and spin for the two teams in the series
  Wickets Average Strike rate Econ rate
Aus pace 42 27.42 55.48 2.96
SA pace 32 41.84 69.84 3.59
Aus spin 11 38.90 89.91 2.59
SA spin 12 45.00 69.08 3.90

Johnson v Steyn
Steyn was clearly far from his best in two out of three Tests, and absolutely unstoppable in Port Elizabeth when he was fully fit. However, over the entire series Johnson bested him, taking 22 wickets at 17.36, to Steyn's 12 at 26.41.

After the Centurion Test, there was a suggestion from Smith that Johnson tended to be more effective against the tail than against top-order batsmen, but in this series Johnson took plenty of top-order wickets too - 17 of them, at 17.47.

Johnson v Steyn in the series
  Wickets Average Strike rate Econ rate
Mitchell Johnson 22 17.36 34.4 3.02
Dale Steyn 12 26.41 44.7 3.54
Johnson v SA top 7 17 17.47 35.8 2.93
Steyn v Aus top 7 9 30.00 52.2 3.44

Johnson was dominant against several South African batsmen in this series. He dismissed de Villiers and Smith four times each, with Smith being out four times in just 13 balls. Petersen fell three times scoring 15 runs off him. The only South African batsman who fared well against Johnson was Amla, who scored 63 off 128 balls and was dismissed once.

Steyn was dominant against Clarke and Haddin - though he didn't bowl much to them - but was clearly second best against the best batsman of the series: Warner scored 117 runs off Steyn at well over a run a ball, and was dismissed once.

Johnson v South African batsmen
Batsman Runs Balls Dismissals Average
AB de Villiers 77 154 4 19.25
Graeme Smith 17 13 4 4.25
Alviro Petersen 15 47 3 5.00
Hashim Amla 63 128 1 63.00
Steyn v Australian batsmen
Batsman Runs Balls Dismissals Average
Michael Clarke 7 12 2 3.50
Brad Haddin 1 17 2 0.50
Chris Rogers 49 98 2 24.50
David Warner 117 94 1 117.00

The support act
Apart from Johnson trumping Steyn, what also influenced the series result were the stats of the other fast bowlers in the two line-ups. Ryan Harris was well below par in the first two Tests, while Peter Siddle was dropped after taking five wickets in two Tests, but Harris played a key role in Cape Town, taking seven wickets in the match. Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel, on the other hand, managed only a combined haul of 13 wickets in three Tests. Morkel bowled better than his figures of 6 for 381 suggest, but his inability to mix the fierce short stuff with the pitched-up deliveries meant batsmen were struck plenty of body blows off his bowling, but he didn't actually pick up too many wickets.

Philander had his first poor home series too as a bowler, though he was more than handy with the bat and actually finished with the highest batting average among South African batsmen. Before this series, he had taken 62 wickets in ten home Tests at an average of 15.24 and an economy rate of 2.70; here, his seven wickets cost him 51.71 each, at an economy rate of 3.70 - he offered neither wicket-taking penetration, nor control over runs conceded. Australia's fast bowlers offered more control even when they weren't taking wickets. As mentioned earlier, injuries at key moments severely hampered South Africa, but Australia were good enough to take advantage of those injuries, and eventually seal the series.

The fast-bowling support act for both teams
  Wickets Average Strike rate Econ rate
Harris+Siddle+Pattinson 19 38.42 77.05 2.99
Philander+Morkel 13 57.15 93.00 3.68

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

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Comments: 51 
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Posted by Android on (March 17, 2014, 11:55 GMT)

Its funny how Graeme Smith thought Johnson was only effective against the lower order batsmen, considering Johnson got him out 4 times. I guess Graeme Smith considers himself a lower order batsmen.

Posted by Bruce on (March 12, 2014, 9:12 GMT)

@Marktc Agreed 100%, but it's swings and roundabouts and that big wheel always turns. If the Aussies hadn't lost their bowlers last time SA were there, we may not have won have the series. The Aussies were saying the same thing you are after that series. I suppose life is fair after all. It would be awesome to see these two teams at full strength more often as they produce great test cricket, and there would be far less speculation on all of our parts with all the ifs and buts.

Posted by Mark on (March 12, 2014, 6:28 GMT)

This is where stats do not tell the entire story. Steyn was sick the first test and injured the second. Warner's success was mostly because of SA dropping him so many times. Granted he made the most of his lives, but his scores were due to bad play in essence. It would have been a great series if SA had all it's players well for the duration of the series..

Posted by Andrew on (March 11, 2014, 3:37 GMT)

@ No.444 on (March 10, 2014, 13:34 GMT) - I used the McGarth analogy as an example. MJ has a greater S/Rate than Dennis Lillee too. No one thinks about McGraths average - they remember a very durable pace bowler (slower end of that scale) who was amazingly accurate & just did enough to keep the batsmen guessing. I agree that the fastest by years is a selective stat - no doubts there, but what about the Strike Rate of bowlers who have played 40 tests? MJ is brilliant. the reality is - ever since cricinfo built the stat analysis - averages have become less of a benchmark compared to 20 or 30 yrs ago. Averages are almost irrelevant in short forms. You can't dismiss MJ - on the grounds of "... bowl well and influence games in the UAE and the sub continent and for the next year or two..." - then go on to say Harris is a better bowler - when he has never done any of that either (except a few tests in SL).

Posted by Bruce on (March 10, 2014, 13:34 GMT)

@Meety: The reason why most of the cricketing world regard McGrath as a great is because of his average and total number of wickets. No one bothers about his not so impressive strike rate because its of lesser importance. You cannot for one moment be talking MJ and McGrath in the same context. Maybe Steyn and McGrath in a few years, but don't denigrate McGrath. Harris has a better strike rate and is a far better bowler (with knees) than MJ. The fastest by number of years is selective stats - not everyone plays a million tests a year like the Aussies. He's also taken over 50 of his wickets in this purple patch of 3 months. This indicates that he's by far the best around at the moment, but form is temporary...McGrath is class.

Posted by Andrew on (March 10, 2014, 8:02 GMT)

@BrisVegan on (March 8, 2014, 1:29 GMT) - dont be too sure that UAE has flat pitches. That is not always the case. A great Oz side rolled Pakistan for 50-odd twice in a test series there, & the England v Paki series saw runs scored were at a premium. That is mixed with some pitches that if you were a pace bowler - you'd just about take up Baseball! So yes possibly will be some dull pitches, but there could be some less prepared pitches too. @No.444 on (March 10, 2014, 6:19 GMT) - garbage! His job has never been to be a stock/pressure bowler - he is there for dynamic results. A career strike rate of 50 is superior to McGrath. So he is not an average bowler in a purple patch - he is a mercurial bowler who at times is among the greatest of all time. 16th fastest bowler to 250 wickets in Tests (matches). 5th fastest to 250 Test wickets (in terms of years). Only 5 players who have played 50 tests or more have a better Strike Rate. NOT AN AVERAGE BOWLER!!!!

Posted by Bruce on (March 10, 2014, 6:19 GMT)

@BrisVegan No, the one "sub par" performance doesn't make MJ an average bowler. His career average makes him an average bowler. He's having a purple patch. Every bowler has them, rises temporarily to the top, all the T20 fans get hyped up, then swiftly move on to the next big thing. Test cricket is slower and more enduring - more for the patient ones among us. We look through the purple patches and have a broader view of good and great bowlers. If he can bowl well and influence games in the UAE and the sub continent and for the next year or two, I will be the first to stand up and say I was wrong. Until then, MJ will just be an average bowler having a purple patch like thousands of others before him.

Posted by Varun on (March 9, 2014, 7:13 GMT)

It was undoubtedly Warner, who was the difference between the two sides. The bowling differences are contentious considering the number of variables influencing them. Most importantly, it was only due to Warner that the SA bowling was made to look vulnerable. He not only scored quickly, he did that from the word go, unsettled the bowlers for his fellow batsmen to be relatively less troubled with the venom of a usual SA attack. If it wasn't for Warner, the series would definitely not have gone this way. Australia would never have posted such huge totals, let alone at such a rate. The partnerships would not have been as bulky either. All praise to Warner. A great series.

Posted by BrisVegan on (March 8, 2014, 22:21 GMT)

@Ryan - Over the last 12 months:

Johnson: 9 tests (18 innings), 59 wickets @ 16.25, SR 33.9, BB 7/40 Steyn: 7 tests (14 innings), 30 wickets @ 27.00, SR 53.1, BB 6/100

Johnson wickets per test: 6.55 Steyn wickets per test: 4.29

Johnson's 9 tests include Delhi where he went 0/60, then Ashes at home then this SAf series (played: 5 home, 4 away).

Steyn's 7 tests include 2 matches against PAK in UAE, 2 tests vs India at home (incl. one match haul of 1/165) and then this SAf series (played: 5 home, 2 away).

Posted by Rajdeep on (March 8, 2014, 19:49 GMT)

A man who attacks an opponent from behind should not be celebrated. It's a cowardly thing to do.

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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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