The Friday Column August 20, 2004

Murali-less Sri Lanka, and dominant partnerships

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:

The art of winning without Murali
For long now, Muttiah Muralitharan has been the dominant factor in Sri Lankan cricket. When he's around, and twirling those big-spinning offies, the team is usually doing fine. For long, though, Sri Lanka have struggled in his absence. Are they finally learning to cope with life without Murali?

It would seem so. In their last three Tests - all without Murali in the line-up - they have lost just once, against Australia, drawn once, and, incredibly, even achieved a victory. Their emphatic 313-run defeat of South Africa in Colombo was only the second time - since Murali made his debut on August 28, 1992 - that Sri Lanka won a Test without him. Their only other win in 16 such Tests was against much lesser opponents, when they thrashed Bangladesh by 288 runs at the SSC Stadium in Colombo.

The table below shows just how much of a difference Murali has made to Sri Lanka's fortunes in Tests. With him, they win 35% of matches; without him, it slips to 12.5%. With him in the side, opposition batsmen score less than 31 runs per wicket, with only 72 hundreds in 91 games. In Murali's absence, the runs-per-wicket figure goes up to more than 38, with 24 centuries in 16 matches - that's 1.5 per Test.

Won Lost Drawn win %
SL with Murali 32 30 29 35.16
SL without Murali 2 6 8 12.50

Tests Runs per wicket 100s per Test
Opp. when Murali is playing 91 30.91 0.79
Opp. when Murali isn't playing 16 38.06 1.50

Partners on a roll
The latest Ask Steven had a query about instances in Tests where one partnership had scored the bulk of the runs in an innings. The winners there were Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, but in Thursday's one-day match between India A and Pakistan A at Nairobi, Misbah-ul-Haq and Bazid Khan put together 190 for the third wicket - only to watch the rest of the batsmen throw it away with utter abandon. Pakistan A were ultimately bowled out for 234, which meant that Misbah and Bazid had scored 81.2% of the team's runs.

The stats for List A games (one-dayers which are not internationals) aren't available, but a look at ODI figures reveals just how high that figure is. In all one-dayers where teams have been all out, the highest contribution by a single pair has been Marcus Trescothick and Owais Shah's 170-run stand for the fourth wicket against Pakistan at Lord's in 2001. England, chasing 243, reached 196 for 3, before being bundled out for 240.

Close behind that effort was the one by Gary Kirsten and Andrew Hall, who put together 150 for the first wicket against Sri Lanka in Colombo before the team crumbled to 212. Sri Lanka themselves were at the receiving end in 1989-90, when Hashan Tillakaratne and Aravinda de Silva added 150 out of 213, as Pakistan sneaked through by six runs. The table below lists the six such most skewed instances.

Pair Against Partnership/ Total % contribution
Trescothick & Shah Pakistan 170/ 240 70.83
G Kirsten & Hall Sri Lanka 150/ 212 70.75
Tillakaratne & Aravinda Pakistan 150/ 213 70.42
Prabhakar & Azharuddin Sri Lanka 136/ 196 69.39
Jadeja & Robin Australia 141/ 205 68.78
Mahanama & Aravinda India 137/ 201 68.16

England on a roll
Rating the current England team against those of the past has become a favourite past-time with British scribes. And they have good reason too: after all, when was the last time, before Michael Vaughan and his merry men went along on their winning ways, that England won six Tests in a row?

To find the previous instance, you'd have to go back 46 years, when, as on this occasion, New Zealand and West Indies were at the receiving end of England's domination. Then, Peter May's England side won the last two matches of the six-Test home series against West Indies, and then went on to win the first four Tests at home against New Zealand the following year, before New Zealand managed to draw the final match.

If Vaughan's team pull off their seventh win in a row, at The Oval, they will achieve a feat which England haven't managed since 1928-29, when they beat West Indies 3-0 at home, and then beat Australia in the first four Tests overseas. Percy Chapman was the captain through all those wins. Interestingly, he didn't play the last Test, and Australia immediately pulled one back, winning at Melbourne by five wickets.

S Rajesh is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.