The Friday Column May 7, 2004

The merits of retaining Gough, and Windies on the chase

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 merits of retaining Gough
One poor game against West Indies on a flat batting track in St Lucia was enough for the knives to be sharpened against Darren Gough, with comments flying around that it was time for him to be replaced by a younger bowler. Unfair? The numbers certainly suggest so. The St Lucia match - when Gough returned unflattering figures of 1 for 67 in 8.1 overs - was only the 13th time in his career of 126 matches that his economy rate went past six, and the first time that he leaked more than eight an over. It's easy to forget, but less than a year back, in the NatWest Series in England, Gough returned figures of 1 for 29 from 10 overs and 2 for 9 in seven, in consecutive matches against South Africa.

Gough's career economy rate of 4.3 is fairly impressive, but of far greater value to England has been his wicket-taking ability - Gough averages more than 1.5 wickets per one-dayer, far and away the best by an England bowler with more than 50 ODI wickets: in second place is his long-time partner in crime, Andy Caddick, with 69 wickets from 54 games (1.28 per match). In fact, Gough's numbers compare favourably with most of the world's best: he is nearly as good as Glenn McGrath (1.54 wickets per ODI) and Waqar Younis (1.59), and better than Wasim Akram (1.41), Shaun Pollock (1.39) and Javagal Srinath (1.38).

Mats Wkts Avg S/R E/R W/M
Gough 125 191 25.38 35.38 4.30 1.53
Caddick 54 69 28.48 42.57 4.01 1.28
White 51 65 26.54 36.37 4.38 1.27
Mullally 50 63 27.43 42.84 3.84 1.26
Botham 116 145 28.54 43.25 3.96 1.25
Willis 64 80 24.60 44.94 3.28 1.25
Emburey 61 76 30.87 45.07 4.11 1.25
Lewis 53 66 29.42 39.77 4.44 1.25

If it does turn out to be Gough's farewell game, then who can England turn to for similar performances in the future? The current numbers point to James Anderson, who, like Gough, likes to keep a full length and swing the ball. The stats are impressive too: 50 wickets in a mere 31 games - that's an incredible 1.61 wickets per ODI. Now, all that's required of him is to maintain that wicket-taking ability over the small matter of another 100 matches.

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Maintaining the Test-ODI balance
The news that South Africa are likely to play only seven one-dayers and no Tests on their tour to India later this year once again raised the issue of India's lopsided international calendar - they tend to play far more one-dayers than Tests. Over the last seven years, India have played a whopping 243 ODIs and just 67 Tests, a ratio of 3.6 one-dayers per Test. Contrast that to England, for whom the corresponding figure is just 1.5. In fact, in 1998, England ended up playing more Tests (16) than one-day internationals (12); the same year, India played 40 ODIs and five Tests. Not surprisingly, India have the lowest Test-per-ODI ratio (excluding Zimbabwe and Bangladesh), with the two other subcontinent teams following closely.

Test-ODI ratio since 1997
Tests ODIs Ratio
England 85 131 0.65
West Indies 78 155 0.50
Australia 86 189 0.46
South Africa 79 195 0.41
New Zealand 60 174 0.34
Sri Lanka 68 198 0.34
Pakistan 64 224 0.29
India 67 243 0.28

What's it also means is that players from the subcontinent have missed out on the opportunity to add to their Test tally. In the seven-year period in question, Steve Waugh played 83 Tests, while Sachin Tendulkar managed 64, and Rahul Dravid 67. The table below indicates what the current Test aggregate of these players might have been (assuming they maintained their runs-per-Test figure) had their teams played as many Tests during this period as Australia. Interestingly, had Tendulkar played those 19 extra matches, he would already have gone past Allan Border's world record of 11,174 Test runs. Thanks to India's skewed itinerary, he will have to wait a bit longer.

Had they played as many Tests as Australia ...
Runs/Test Runs missed out on Total aggregate
Tendulkar 91.53 1739 11209
Dravid 89.27 1696 8551
Inzamam 76.75 1688 8587
Aravinda de Silva 82.47 1484 7845

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Windies learn the art of chasing
Their Test record might be in a shambles, but West Indies have certainly learnt the art of chasing huge totals in one-day internationals: on their tour to South Africa, they successfully went past a target of 298, while England were at the receiving end in the recently concluded series, when West Indies overhauled targets of 282 and 281 in successive games.

Since 2002, West Indies have an impressive 8-3 win-loss record in hunting down 250-plus targets. Of their three defeats, two of them were against the Australians. Contrast this with their record in 2000 and 2001, when they were unsuccessful in similar run-chases seven times out of eight. Are these, then, early signs that West Indies are finally turning the corner? (Click here for the full list of West Indian wins chasing more than 250 since 2002.)

S Rajesh is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.