The Friday Column April 30, 2004

Capitalising on chances, and Vaas the minnow-basher

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:

Making the most of reprieves
"Sometimes you get so engrossed in watching batsmen like Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar that you lose focus on your job," Yasir Hameed stated with charming candidness after dropping Rahul Dravid in the Rawalpindi Test. It turned out to be a costly miss - one that possibly altered the course of the match - for Dravid, then on 71, went on to add a further 199 to his score, taking India to a position from which they could then force the initiative. Hameed's was a crucial lapse, but equally importantly, Dravid was good enough to cash in.

Since the start of 2003, six batsmen have been reprieved eight or more times in international matches, but what makes for an interesting analysis is the manner in which they have utilised their chances. Virender Sehwag and Ricky Ponting are among four batsmen who has been let off ten times, and importantly, both have made the opposition pay, adding, on an average, more than 50 runs to his score after being dropped. Ironically, Ponting made full use of a missed chance by Sehwag in the Adelaide Test in 2003-04. Dropped on 17, Ponting went on to make 242. Sehwag himself got a reprieve on 68 en route to his 309 at Multan in the recently concluded series against Pakistan. In contrast, Marcus Trescothick and Habibul Bashar both got an equal number of reprieves, but didn't capitalise quite as much.

Batsmen with most reprieves since 2003*
No. of chances Runs added Runs/reprieve
Sehwag 10 628 62.80
Ponting 10 517 51.70
Trescothick 10 377 37.70
Bashar 10 354 35.40
Hafeez 9 215 23.89
Gilchrist 8 248 31.00
*Doesn't include the foll. series: Aus v SL, Zim v B'desh,
WI v Eng, Zim v SL, NZ v Pak (Tests), NZ v SA (Tests)

Meanwhile, Hameed might have done well to check on Dravid's track record in making the most of let-offs. Over the last couple of years, Dravid has consistently made the opposition pay. To recount just three occasions when a reprieve to Dravid possibly turned the game around: against England in a NatWest Trophy game at Lord's, Dravid was dropped on 23, and ended up with an unbeaten 73 as India chased down the target of 272; against New Zealand during a World Cup Super Six match last year, India, chasing 147 for victory, were 22 for 3 when Brendon McCullum muffed up a regulation chance. Dravid, then on 1, remained unbeaten on 53 as India swept past the target without losing another wicket. Then, in the famous run-chase in the Adelaide Test in 2003-04, Adam Gilchrist gave Dravid a life on 9, and saw him steer India to a famous victory with an undefeated 72.

Since the start of 2003, Dravid has been given let-offs six times, and has made the opposition pay to the tune of 378 runs - that's 63 per dropped chance. Include the fact that he's remained unbeaten on two of those occasions, and the average shoots up to nearly 95.

* * *

Vaas on the rampage
Even a full-strength Zimbabwe side would have struggled to keep him at bay, so it was hardly surprising that their second-string outfit came a cropper against Chaminda Vaas, who renewed his love affair with the Zimbabweans (remember the 8 for 19 he took against them in Colombo?). In the three matches he played in the current series, he took nine wickets at a niggardly 8.88, taking his overall tally in one-dayers against Zimbabwe to 39 in 23 matches.

As the table below shows, Vaas has made it a habit of running through the batting line-ups of lesser teams - his second-best ODI figures of 6 for 25 came against Bangladesh in the 2003 World Cup. His average against the top-rung teams is superb as well, but his amazing successes against the minnows puts him in the top ten list of bowlers with the highest difference in average against the best teams and the rest.

Leading that list, however, is Vasbert Drakes, with 26 wickets in 10 games against the lesser teams - all three of his four-wicket hauls and his two five-fors have come against Bangladesh, Kenya or Canada. Unlike Vaas, his record against the top-tier teams is rather modest: 25 wickets in 24 matches at more than 40. The contrast was most stark in the 2002-03 season: in six matches against Bangladesh, Canada and Kenya, he racked up 23 wickets at a phenomenal average of 7.43. Then came a series against Australia, and Drakes suddenly found the going slightly tougher: five games fetched him just two wickets for 191 - a grand average of 95.50.

In ODIs Against minnows* Against the rest
Mats Wkts Avg Mats Wkts Avg Diff Avg
Drakes 10 26 10.77 24 25 40.52 29.75
Paul Strang 14 26 12.96 81 70 40.51 27.55
Razzaq 24 42 15.71 135 140 32.43 16.72
Odoyo 24 25 29.16 37 32 44.81 15.65
Zaheer 21 45 16.31 61 80 31.57 15.26
Afridi 32 33 29.21 147 100 42.74 13.53
Chandana 20 26 22.46 94 85 35.35 12.89
Vaas 34 60 16.43 201 241 28.85 12.42
Srinath 28 49 18.08 201 266 29.93 11.85
Kumble 36 60 20.97 215 255 32.44 11.47
* Includes Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, and all the non-Test playing teams

S Rajesh is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.