The masters of defence
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:
Last week's column examined the master exponents of the cover-drive; this week the attention shifts to a less exciting stroke, but one which is far more essential for any player's long-term survival at the Test level - the defence. Based on Cricinfo's ball-by-ball data analysis, it's possible to find out the number of defensive shots - including deliveries left alone - played by batsmen and the number of times they've been dismissed trying to defend. Divide the first number by the second, and you get the balls-per-dismissal figure (all stats since September 2001). According to these numbers, the best player of the defensive stroke is a left-handed batsman from England who made a smashing debut with a century at Lord's, and has since consistently gown in stature to be recognised as one Australia's main threats during the upcoming Ashes series.
In his one season in international cricket, Andrew Strauss has already won plenty of acclaim not only for the number of runs he's scored, but also for his organised technique. His defence is quite unfussy but extremely effective - decisive footwork, soft hands, and excellent judgement of line make him a master of the art, and the numbers show it: seven dismissals in the 1746 deliveries he's defended, that's an average of 249 deliveries per dismissal. However, these are still early days for Strauss, and he'll find it extremely difficult to maintain those numbers over a longer period of time - he'll have done an exceptional job if the stats look as good five months down the line.
The player at fifth spot is probably the one many would have expected to top these rankings. Rahul Dravid's one dismissal per 170 balls of defence is some way below Strauss's, but Dravid is one of just two batsmen to have played more than 6000 defensive strokes during this period, the other being Jacques Kallis, another giant of the run-accumulation game. The two Australians in the top ten are better known for their aggression than their defence, but both Ricky Ponting and Matthew Hayden have often been dismissed while attempting strokes, ensuring that their balls per dismissal when defending is pretty high.
|Balls defended||Dismissals||Balls per dismissal|
|AB de Villiers||1123||7||160.43|
There are some interesting names just outside the top ten too: Sanjay Bangar, the ice to Virender Sehwag's fire at the top of the order for India a few years back, is in 13th place with an average of 150 balls per defensive dismissal, while Darren Lehmann is one place lower. Sachin Tendulkar makes it into the top 20, but just, coming in at 18th (average 138.48) while Brian Lara, the cover-drive king, only manages the 22nd spot (125.47).
And what of the attacking batsmen? Quite interestingly, Sehwag, Adam Gilchrist and Sanath Jayasuriya occupy consecutive ranks - Nos. 51, 52, and 53 - with averages in the mid to high 80s. The relatively low number isn't entirely unexpected, but it's still better than what India's beleaguered captain has managed: Sourav Ganguly only has a balls-per-dismissal figure of 82.63.
Gilchrist and Sehwag also occupy the top two spots among players who least believe in the defensive stroke - Gilchrist only plays it 55% of the time, and is the only player among those who have played at least 1000 defensive shots with a sub-60% figure.
|Balls defended||Total balls||Defence %|
At the other end of the spectrum are some worthy stodgers - two of Sehwag's opening partners are in the top three, and Australia's only entry in the top 58 (Damien Martyn is at No. 59) comes in at a proud fourth place after some heroic performances as a lower-order batsman and nightwatchman.
|Balls defended||Total balls||Defence %|
S Rajesh is assistant editor of Cricinfo. For some of the data, he was helped by Arun Gopalakrishnan, the operations manager in Cricinfo's Chennai office