The Friday Column September 24, 2004

The toss quandary, and Gilchrist's slump

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:

Win the toss, lose the match
The Pakistan think-tank might have had their reasons, but Inzamam-ul-Haq's decision to bat first is probably among the most incomprehensible ones by captains at the toss in recent times, to rank alongside Mohammad Azharuddin's decision to put England in at Lord's in 1990 (when Graham Gooch got that monumental 333), and a similar move by Nasser Hussain in the Ashes opener at the Gabba in 2002-03. However, there have been other such mystifying instances in Pakistan cricket when captains have elected to bat and then seen that decision go horrendously wrong. Javed Miandad, Pakistan's former coach, would have understood exactly what Inzamam went through after this game: in 1992-93, West Indies were the beneficiaries again as Miandad chose to bat after winning the toss, and was then among three batsmen dismissed for a duck as Pakistan crumbled to 71 all out. West Indies cruised to victory losing just one wicket.

Total Versus Venue & Year Result
71 West Indies Brisbane, 1992-93 Lost by 9 wickets
116 India Toronto, 1997 Lost by 7 wickets
117 Australia Nairobi, 2002 Lost by 9 wickets
122 Sri Lanka Colombo, 2004 Lost by 7 wickets
131 West Indies Rose Bowl,2004 Lost by 7 wickets

Inzamam can also take solace from the fact that, since 1995, there have been 29 instances of teams winning the toss and then getting bowled out for 131 or less. You'd expect the minnows to have contributed a large chunk of those; surprisingly, their tally is only eight (five by Bangladesh, and one each by Zimbabwe, Kenya and Scotland). India have as many entries in the chart as Bangladesh, while Pakistan have four - the last one only a couple of months back, against Sri Lanka in the Asia Cup. The lowest such score to win a game was South Africa's 129 at East London in 1995-96, when they hit back to bowl England out for 115 to win by 14 runs.

Hit-or-miss Gilchrist
When in his elements, it can be quite a thrill to watch Adam Gilchrist bat, but the last season has been a rather subdued period for him. As the table below shows, Gilchrist's stats in his last ten Tests and one-day internationals are well below his career averages. In fact, in 27 innings in both forms of the game during this period, Gilchrist has been out without scoring seven times - that's once every four knocks - and only has two scores of more than 50.

Runs Ave 50s/ 100s
Gilchrist in last 10 Tests 432 27.00 1/1
Gilchrist in last 10 ODIs 187 20.78 0/0

The slump started in the second Test against Zimbabwe at Sydney last year. Coming off a hundred in the first Test, he got just 20 at the SCG, then managed a top score of 43 in six tries against India in the home series in 2003-04. He redeemed it somewhat, smashing 144 and 80 against Sri Lanka, but Gilchrist's efforts of late have typically been all-or-nothing affairs - eight of his last 17 Test innings have single-digit ones. The lean trot has meant that his career average has slipped down from 61 to a mere 52.80.

The forthcoming series against India is as great a challenge for him as it is for Australia. India is the only opposition against whom Gilchrist averages less than 30, and he'd be rather keen to wipe out the memories of his previous series there, when he followed up his 122 in the first Test with scores of 0,0, 1 and 1 in the next two.

Gilchrist in Tests Tests Runs Ave
v India 10 441 29.40
v the rest 46 3044 59.69

Harmison's bounty
It's been Stephen Harmison's year. In just about eight months, he has climbed the rungs from being an unproven talent to one of England's best. The 58 international wickets he has taken this season - 38 in Tests and 20 in one-day internationals - is the most taken by a bowler in an English season, beating by some distance Jim Laker and Terry Alderman, both of whom took 46. Admittedly, though, Harmison's tally has been boosted by the sheer number of matches England have played this season - the Champions Trophy finals against West Indies will be Harmison's 19th international match of the season, while Laker needed just five Tests for his 46 wickets during his incredible run in 1956. The table below lists the five most successful bowlers in an English season.

Bowler Matches Wickets Ave Season
Harmison 18 58 23.62 2004
Laker 5 46 9.60 1956
Alderman 9 46 17.91 1989
Alderman 8 45 21.28 1981
Anderson 16 45 25.62 2003

S Rajesh is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo in India.