The Friday column June 17, 2005

Inzi the matchwinner, and super sweepers

Why Inzamam-ul-Haq is among the best in the world, and an analysis of the sweep stroke

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:

Inzamam-ul-Haq: another hundred, this one at Kingston, and another Pakistan win © Getty Images

Talk about the best batsmen going in world cricket today, and the usual names crop up - Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara, Ricky Ponting, Jacques Kallis ... The above-mentioned players are all batsmen of considerable merit, but there's another name which deserves to be up there but is often missed out. Inzamam-ul-Haq may lack the charisma that some of the others possess, but with willow in hand, there is little doubt that he belongs in the top bracket.

His unbeaten 117 against West Indies in the second Test in Jamaica once again underlined just how vital a cog he is for Pakistan. There are other batsmen who play key roles for their sides, but Inzamam is truly talismanic - when he does well, Pakistan have almost always gone on to win. The century at Kingston was Inzamam's 22nd in Tests, and 17 of them have led to Pakistani wins. In fact, the last time Inzamam reached three figures and the result was anything other than a team victory was way back in March 2001, when his 130 against New Zealand at Christchurch only led to a draw. Since then, Pakistan have played 30 Tests, Inzamam has scored nine centuries (three of them in the second innings), and each has been in a winning cause. In the last 11 Pakistan wins, Inzamam has contributed hundreds seven times. Dig out the list of most prolific batsmen in wins, and Inzamam's name stands proud at No. 2, next only to the man who would come out on top in just about any analysis on batting. (Javed Miandad, widely recognised as Pakistan's best batsman, averaged 59.65 in wins and 61.75 in draws.)

Tests Runs Average 100s
Don Bradman 30 4813 130.08 23
Inzamam-ul-Haq 43 4284 80.83 17
Rahul Dravid 28 2926 79.08 9
Garry Sobers 31 3097 77.43 12
Graeme Smith 20 1896 72.92 9
Greg Chappell 38 3595 70.49 14
Wally Hammond 29 2584 69.84 10
Jimmy Adams 21 1534 69.73 4
Hashan Tillakaratne 24 1534 69.73 5
Steve Waugh 86 6460 69.46 25

(Qualification: batsmen who've played in at least 20 Test wins)

Unlike many batsmen, Inzamam has performed almost as well in the second innings as in the first. His overall second-innings average stands at a healthy 47.22, but those numbers look even better over the last five years. Since 2000, his second-innings average is an outstanding 58.42, much better than Sachin Tendulkar's (41.43) and Brian Lara's (36.36, against a first-innings average of 73.60). Among batsmen with at least 500 second-innings runs since 2000, only three batsmen have done better than Inzamam.

Highest 2nd inng. ave since 2000 Tests Runs Average 100s
Jacques Kallis 61 1928 66.48 4
Rahul Dravid 55 1707 58.86 3
Andy Flower 24 822 58.71 2
Inzamam-ul-Haq 43 1402 58.42 4
Graham Thorpe 43 1122 56.10 3
Matthew Hayden 60 1924 54.97 7
VVS Laxman 48 1300 54.17 3
Damien Martyn 49 1102 52.48 4
Ricky Ponting 55 1146 49.83 1
Michael Vaughan 55 1727 47.97 7
(Qualification: at least 500 second-innings runs since 2000)

And here's more reason to celebrate Inzamam. Usman Muhammad, one of the readers of the column, points out that among captains who have led their teams in at least 50 one-day internationals, no-one averages more than Inzamam's 48.85. There have been murmurs recently about the captaincy crown not sitting easy on Inzamam's head, but one thing is certain - it surely hasn't diminished Inzamam the batsman.

Best ODI ave as captain ODIs Average
Inzamam-ul-Haq 56 48.85
Ricky Ponting 91 43.65
Javed Miandad 61 40.58
Clive Lloyd 84 39.91
Sourav Ganguly 142 39.58
(Qualification: captained the side in at least 50 ODIs)

Super sweepers
The sweep shot has been an especially effective weapon for the overseas players to counter the spinners in the subcontinent. Among players who have scored at least 100 runs off sweeps, and for whom those runs constitute at least 5% of their Test aggregate since September 2001, the player who has executed the stroke most effectively is Herschelle Gibbs, with an average only marginally short of 200. Not surprisingly, there are only two names from the subcontinent in the top ten, and one of them is Sachin Tendulkar, for whom this shot seems to be a far safer option than front-of-the-wicket drives - his average runs per dismissal when sweeping is almost 110. The paddle sweep, particularly, has been an especially effective stroke for him, bringing him 74 runs and no dismissal.

The top ten list has a few other unlikely names as well, including, quite unusually, two wicketkeepers, neither of whom answers to the name Adam Gilchrist. Brian Lara, who used the stroke so successfully to master Muttiah Muralitharan in Sri Lanka in 2002-03, has an impressive aggregate of 260, but only manages eighth place due to his three dismissals.

As with the pull, the sweep has also brought the Australians plenty of runs, but it has also resulted in their downfall several times: Hayden's 376 runs from the sweep have been offset by seven dismissals (average 53.71), and the story is similar for Langer (322 runs, six outs), Gilchrist (178, 5) and Martyn (188, 6).

When there is talk of the sweep shot, it's impossible to leave Andy Flower out of the discussion. Flower doesn't make it into the top 10 - his average of 55.50 puts him in 11th place, just behind Kallis - but 41 of his 111 runs off sweeps came courtesy the reverse sweep, which Flower developed into a fine art. Flower also scored 12.53 per cent of his total runs through the sweep and reverse sweep; only Lou Vincent, with 14.29, has a higher percentage.

Runs/ Dismissals Ave Scoring rate % of total runs
Herschelle Gibbs 194/ 1 194.00 132.88 5.29
Mark Boucher 148/ 1 148.00 117.46 9.44
Jacob Oram 111/ 1 111.00 106.73 11.08
Sachin Tendulkar 219/ 2 109.50 127.33 6.81
Tatenda Taibu 103/ 1 103.00 109.57 10.20
Graham Thorpe 200/ 2 100.00 125.00 9.35
Younis Khan 175/ 2 87.50 138.89 9.94
Brian Lara 260/ 3 86.67 117.65 6.58
Lou Vincent 170/ 2 85.00 129.77 14.29
Jacques Kallis 245/ 3 81.67 122.50 5.59
(Qualification: at least 100 sweep runs, and constituting at least 5% of total runs, since September 2001)

Let us know what you think

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.