The Friday Column July 30, 2004

Gayle turns it on, and India's nemesis

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:

Gayle the walloper
When he first came into international cricket, many predicted a short shelf life for Chris Gayle the Test cricketer. After all, he cared little for technique and had no footwork to speak of: the basic tenet of his batting was to stand tall and hit through the line of the ball. That could work spectacularly against the lesser bowlers in perfect batting conditions, but how would he cope against more proficient new-ball bowlers in less batsman-friendly conditions? As events in the last few years have proved, he hasn't done too badly at all.

In his last 16 Test innings, including series against South Africa (away) and England (both home and away), Gayle has amassed 882 runs at nearly 59, with three hundreds and nine innings of fifty or more. Not that it has helped his team's fortunes much - West Indies lost five of those nine games - but Gayle's raw aggression, often in backs-to-the-wall situations, has at least ensured that West Indian fans have someone other than Brian Lara to look forward to.

His innings of 66 and 81 against England in the first Test at Lord's - made off 82 and 88 balls - was only the latest additions to the Gayle show. And often, it does become a one-man show when he is at the crease - for his partner, it is often a case of standing at the other end and enjoying the fun. The table below lists the most skewed opening partnerships over the last three years (from August 2001), and heading the table is Gayle's stand with Daren Ganga in Cape Town earlier this year. Gayle smashed 101 out of 118 bat runs in that stand, a percentage of more than 85, while the becalmed Ganga made just 17 in what was the most one-sided partnership by a long way.

Gayle's approach to opening the innings has often been likened to that of Virender Sehwag and, not surprisingly, Sehwag turns up in the next two slots, with suitably defensive partners for company. (If the experiment to open with Yuvraj Singh comes up trumps, Sehwag might struggle to break into the list again.)

P'ship (only bat runs) Players Contribution % contribution
118 Gayle-Ganga 101-17 85.59-14.41
153 Sehwag-Chopra 111-42 72.55-27.45
192 Sehwag-Bangar 137-55 71.35-28.65
138 Hafeez-Taufeeq 95-43 68.64-31.16
101 Das-Ramesh 68-33 67.33-32.67
109 Smith-Kirsten 73-36 66.97-33.03

In fact, Sehwag is in second spot in terms of contribution to partnerships among all batsmen with at least 1000 Test runs. His 59.74% contribution far exceeds Gayle's 53%, and is even higher than Don Bradman (57.09), Adam Gilchrist and Viv Richards (56.30 each) and Sanath Jayasuriya (56.19). That, of course, is partially explained by the partners that each of these batsmen have generally batted with - Bradman, Gilchrist and Richards had to share the limelight with other aggressive players; Sehwag has normally had the advantage of playing much of the time with Sanjay Bangar and Aakash Chopra for company.

And in case you're wondering about the bloke heading the list - and by a clear four percentage points as well - he is Roy McLean, an aggressive middle-order batsman who played 40 Tests for South Africa in the 1950s and early `60s. It helped that McLean was a rare attacking batsman in an era in most South African batsmen - Trevor Goddard and Jackie McGlew, to mention just two - were plodders.

The most dominant partners Runs scored Total runs % contribution
Roy McLean 2120 3343 63.42
Sehwag 1951 3266 59.74
Kapil Dev 5248 8843 59.35
Graeme Pollock 2256 3870 58.29
Ian Smith 1815 3126 58.06
Kaluwitharana 1808 3129 57.78
Flintoff 1689 2928 57.68

... and the most dominated Runs scored Total runs % contribution
Alec Bannerman 1108 3267 33.91
Tavare 1755 5029 34.90
Bob Taylor 1156 3139 36.83
Yashpal Sharma 1606 4262 37.68
C Kelleway 1422 3769 37.73
Hathurusinghe 1274 3350 38.03
Ganga 1230 3184 38.63

India's nemesis
So how much of a factor will Sanath Jayasuriya be when Sri Lanka take on India in the Asia Cup final on Sunday? A pretty huge one, if you go by historical data. Tournament finals, the R Premadasa Stadium, and the Indians as opponents make for a pretty potent combination: in 18 ODIs at that venue against India, Jayasuriya averages a healthy 53.62, with half those innings fetching him at least a half-century. And Sri Lanka's four-run loss a couple of days back was only the second time they had lost to India in this ground despite Jayasuriya going past 50.

In finals against India at this venue - of which there have been five - Jayasuriya has scored fifties three times, and Sri Lanka haven't lost any of those games. (They won twice, while the third, the ICC Champions Trophy final in 2002-03, was rained off.) The Indians can take succour from the last time they played a final against Sri Lanka at this venue - Zaheer Khan clean bowled Jayasuriya off the first ball of the replay of the Champions Trophy final, and Sri Lanka managed just 222 before rain came to their rescue again. (Click here for a detailed list of Jayasuriya's performances against India at the R Premadasa Stadium, and here for Jayasuriya v India in all finals.)

`Every batsman is susceptible early in his innings' is an oft-repeated saying, but that's particularly true of Jayasuriya, and even more so, it would seem, when he plays India. As the table below shows, when he scores more than 50, his average soars to 108, but the average of all his sub-50 scores slumps to less than 14 (which accounts for his overall average against India being only 39). Against all the other teams, those numbers are slightly less skewed: 84.28 and 23.79.

Jayasuriya in ODIs ... Matches Runs Ave
v India, scoring > 50 15 1406 108.15
v India, scoring < 50 36 482 13.77
v other teams, scoring > 50 58 4467 84.28
v other teams, scoring < 50 202 3211 23.79

You'd expect India's best chance to lie in nailing Jayasuriya early; however, going by past data, India tend to win more games when Jayasuriya scores between 21 and 50. India's win percentage then - 63.6 - is much higher than when Jayasuriya falls for less than 20 (54.17%). Of course, when he tops 50, India's chances of winning drops to a mere 20%.

Jayasuriya in ODIs v India Matches Lost Loss %
Scores <=20 24 13 54.17
Scores 21-49 11 7 63.64
Scores >=50 15 3 20

S Rajesh is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.