The Friday Column June 4, 2004

Rising to a challenge, and unlikely centurions

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 men for a crisis
Last week, The Numbers Game briefly looked at the career stats of Nasser Hussain, and the aspect that stood out was his ability to stand up and be counted when England were struggling: his average score, when his team had lost early wickets, was significantly higher than when England were comfortably placed. Which leads to an interesting query: is Hussain in the top league of batsmen under pressure, and who are the others who have similarly been able to raise their games at key moments?

As the table below indicates, very few players have actually managed to play above themselves and average higher when they have come in with their side in trouble (defined, for the purpose of this exercise, as coming in at a total equal to or less than 25 for 1, 50 for 2, 75 for 3, or 100 for 4).

Heading that list is Ricky Ponting, who has been on an astonishing runscoring spree over the last 18 months. It is perhaps a common misconception to think of Ponting as someone who dominates demoralised bowlers after Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer have already smashed them around the park, but try this - in the 23 innings when Ponting come in early, he averages a phenomenal 68.60, well above his career average of 54.72. His performances in various other batting positions slightly pull down those figures, but an improvement of five over a career average already hovering in the mid-50s is testimony to the fact that Ponting is much more than merely someone who capitalises on a good start - he is pretty adept at turning around a poor one as well.

Hussain comes in second, ahead of two batsmen for whom it was a rare luxury to come in with their teams well placed: Habibul Bashar and Andy Flower. Bashar averages nearly four runs more when he makes an early entry, while Flower scored an impressive 55 per innings when he comes in with his side in trouble. All these numbers fade, as usual, when compared to the figures of Don Bradman - he averaged more than 92 in such situations, which was still seven less than his overall average.

Ave when
batting early
Career ave Diff
Ponting 60.00 54.72 5.28
Hussain 41.32 37.19 4.13
Bashar 39.44 35.39 4.05
A Flower 55.24 51.55 3.69
Aravinda 44.06 42.98 1.08
Laxman 43.80 46.55 -2.75
Dravid 53.11 58.09 -4.98
S Waugh 44.68 51.06 -6.38

The lone crusaders
Through all of Bangladesh's travails in Test cricket, one player has consistently shored up their batting: Habibul Bashar's 113 in the first Test against West Indies in St Lucia was his third in Tests, and only the sixth for Bangladesh. (Since then, Mohammad Rafique and Khaled Mashud have helped swell the tally to eight.)

Bashar's aggregate of 1983 Test runs forms nearly 18% of all the runs scored by Bangladesh in matches in which he has played (that's excluding any extras). Among batsmen who have scored at least 1000 Test runs, Bashar's percentage puts him in seventh place in the alltime list. The Don and the Black Bradman (George Headley) are on top of the charts - no surprises there - and in third place is another batsman who has waged many a lone battle for his side: Brian Lara has scored nearly a fifth of the West Indian runs. There's a Zimbabwean in the top five as well, but it isn't Andy Flower; Murray Goodwin, who played with much distinction in a brief 19-Test career, scored more than 18% of the team runs. Flower's 16.78% only puts him in 15th place.

Runs % of team runs
Bradman 6996 24.28
Headley 2190 21.39
Lara 9710 19.16
Hutton 6971 18.13
Goodwin 1414 18.08
Hobbs 5410 17.91
Bashar 1983 17.80

The unlikely centurions
The West Indian pace attack is nowhere near as menacing as it once used to be, but despite that, it's unlikely that Mohammad Rafique would have dreamed of scoring a Test hundred against them - coming into the St Lucia match, his batting average was a measly 13.53, with a highest of 32. Then came the 111 in the first innings, which propelled his average upwards by more than six points.

In fact, only five players have had a poorer average at the time of scoring their first Test hundred (minimum qualification: nine Tests). Ajit Agarkar heads that list - he is the only player to score a century from a single-digit average - but interestingly, the next two are genuine batsmen who faltered badly at the start if their careers. Another unlikely name fairly high in the list is Andrew Flintoff, who averaged less than 14 before scoring that memorable 137 against New Zealand at Christchurch in 2001-02.

Tests before
scoring 100
Agarkar 11 7.81
Atapattu 9 10.71
Rutherford 13 11.20
Moin 11 13.00
Nasim-ul-Ghani 17 13.09
Rafique 10 13.53
Flintoff 12 13.63