The Friday Column August 13, 2004

The double-hundred experts, and first-over kings

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:

On the double
Another Test match at home for Sri Lanka, and another double-hundred from one of their batsmen. Kumar Sangakkara's 232 in the first innings of the Test in Colombo, coming on the back of Mahela Jayawardene's 237 at Galle, made it two double-centuries in two matches for Sri Lanka, carrying on their prolific run-scoring tendencies in home games. In fact, Sri Lankans are especially adept at the double-hundred game: since 1997, their batsmen have scored 16 of them in 77 matches (including the ongoing Colombo Test) - that's one every 4.8 games.

Almost 40% of those knocks have come courtesy their current captain, Marvan Atapattu. He got his first taste of a double-century at Kandy against Zimbabwe in 1997-98, and since then Pakistan, Bangladesh and England have all been at the receiving end, as well as Zimbabwe on two other occasions. Among all Test batsmen, only Don Bradman (12), Wally Hammond and Brian Lara (seven each) have more than Atapattu's six.

As you'd expect, a high percentage of Sri Lanka's double-hundreds have come on home turf, and of the five made overseas, the Queen's Club at Bulawayo has played friendly host on three occasions, while Sangakkara thrashed 230 at Lahore's Gadaffi Stadium in 2001-02. The only other overseas double-ton for Sri Lanka during this period was Sanath Jayasuriya's glorious 213 against England at The Oval in 1998, which, coupled with Muttiah Muralitharan's wizardry on a dry pitch, led to a famous Sri Lankan victory.

If Sri Lanka are the home bullies, then South Africa and Pakistan are at the other end of the spectrum: South Africa only have three from 42 home games, and seven from 43 away Tests, while for Pakistan Inzamam-ul-Haq was the only one to make more than 200 in 34 home Tests; overseas, there've been four from one less match.

Team Home Tests/200s Away Tests/200s Total Tests/200s Tests per 200
Sri Lanka 45/11 32/5 77/16 4.81
India 29/5 42/6 71/11 6.45
South Africa 42/3 43/7 85/10 8.50
Australia 45/5 47/5 92/10 9.20
West Indies 46/6 42/2 88/8 11.00
New Zealand 33/4 33/1 66/5 13.20
Pakistan 34/1 33/4 67/5 13.40
England 49/3 45/1 94/4 23.50
Zimbabwe 28/1 25/1 53/2 26.50

Making the first over count
Cricket pundits have often stressed the need for a new-ball bowler to be sufficiently warmed up when he comes out to bowl his first over - after all, the pitch is at its freshest, the ball is absolutely new and hard, and the batsmen often have little idea about the how the pitch will behave and are generally at their most circumspect. As Sunil Gavaskar, who opened in all but 11 of his 214 Test innings, says, opening batsmen like nothing better than a few friendly deliveries at the start of an innings to get used to the pitch, the conditions, and feel more comfortable with life in general.

In the ongoing series between Sri Lanka and South Africa, though, the openers from both sides had none of those luxuries, as Chaminda Vaas and Shaun Pollock gave a perfect demonstration of how to make the first over count. In all four innings of the first Test, and in the first two innings of the second, the openers were asked searching questions first up. Neither Vaas nor Pollock cranked up the speedometer, but both largely kept the ball around off stump, on a good length.

Neither Vaas nor Pollock got the rewards in their first overs at Galle, but both struck gold in Colombo: Pollock off his fourth ball, a well-pitched-up outswinger which Marvan Atapattu edged to the wicketkeeper, while Vaas pinned Herschelle Gibbs lbw off a characteristic indipper with his third ball. Interestingly, it was the seventh time that each bowler nabbed a dismissal with his first over of the innings; no other new-ball bowler has done it as many times. (All figures since August 2001.)

The caught-behind or the lbw has been the preferred way for Pollock to nail his early victim - Mark Boucher has played his part three times, while on three occasions batsmen have been trapped in front. For Vaas, the dismissals are more varied, but he has one favourite - Chris Gayle has been out to him three times, including twice, for ducks, in the same Test, at the SSC in Colombo in 2001-02. The table below lists the new-ball bowlers who have had the maximum number of first-over successes (includes a bowler taking a wicket in the first or second over of the innings).

Bowlers No. of times wicket in their 1st over
Pollock, Vaas 7
Gillespie, Tuffey 6
Waqar, McGrath, Dillon, Collins 5
Shoaib 4
Cairns, Ntini 3

S Rajesh is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.