The Friday column July 29, 2005

Vaughan's batting horrors

How Michael Vaughan has struggled in both defence and attack over the last 30 months

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:

Michael Vaughan wonders what's wrong with his batting technique after being castled by Brett Lee in the second innings at Lord's © Getty Images

An exceptionally talented batsman going through a bad phase or merely a good one who lucked out for a season before being found out? Opinions will remain divided, but Michael Vaughan's numbers over the last 30 months don't make impressive reading - 1851 runs in 30 matches at 37.77. In nine series since that outstanding Ashes run, Vaughan has averaged more than 37 only three times, and two of those were against the side which has been every out-of-form batsman's dream opposition: omit those series against Bangladesh, and Vaughan's average during this period drops to a miserable 33.61. Over a year, perhaps 18 months, a batsman can be allowed a slump like this one, but when it extends over two-and-a-half years, it's time to raise questions. And Vaughan's batting technique has, of late, given rise to plenty of question-marks.

When Vaughan first made his mark in international cricket, he was seen as a batsman who was copybook correct and solid in both defence and attack. Now, both appear iffy. For someone who plays at the top of the order and whose batting is based on orthodoxy, it's critical to have a technique which can keep out good deliveries around off, for quality fast bowlers will consistently zero in on that area to exploit a chink. Vaughan has proved unequal to the task far too often, time and again making good balls appear unplayable by misreading the line and getting bowled or edging to the slip cordon. The second innings of the recent Lord's Test was the most recent example, when a Rahul Dravid would have, more likely than not, covered the line of the movement and blocked the ball; Vaughan missed, and had his off stump knocked back.

It wasn't a one-off, either - Vaughan's technique has repeatedly been found wanting, especially against fast bowlers. Since the 2002-03 Ashes series, Vaughan has fallen to a fast bowler who's pitched it on a good length in the corridor 24 times, and his balls per dismissal - 63.46 - is much lower than the corresponding figure for Dravid, Jacques Kallis or Ricky Ponting. Of the 49 times Vaughan has been dismissed during this period, 35 have been to catches, and 28 of those - that's 80% - have been the result of edges to the wicketkeeper or the slips.

Against seamers, good-length balls on or oustside off, since Jan 6, 2003 Balls/ Runs Dismissals Balls per dismissal
Jacques Kallis 2452/ 667 20 122.60
Rahul Dravid 1421/ 280 12 118.42
Ricky Ponting 1249/ 424 12 104.08
Michael Vaughan 1523/ 456 24 63.46

Two bowlers who have exploited this weakness to the hilt are Shaun Pollock and Glenn McGrath. Pollock especially, has completely dominated Vaughan, dismissing him five times - as many as McGrath - and restricting him to 91 runs from 367 balls, that's a measly 1.5 runs per over. Moreover, all ten of those dismissals - five by each bowler - were to good-length deliveries on or outside off stump.

Vaughan's defence has been iffy, but his strokeplay and his shot selection have been equally suspect. There's little doubt that Vaughan's cover-drive and the swivel-pull are among the most sumptuous sights in cricket, but have the percentages worked for him when he is playing those strokes? A batsman's most productive stroke should usually be a fairly high-percentage one, which fetches him plenty of runs without leading to too many dismissals. As the table below indicates, Dravid, Ricky Ponting and Jacques Kallis all rely on strokes which are highly productive and relatively risk free. Vaughan, on the other hand, has succumbed when playing the cover-drive five times - each time off fast bowlers, against whom his cover-drive average is only 53.60 - and to the pull four times.

Vaughan's three most productive strokes Runs Dismissals Average
Cover-drive 352 5 70.40
Turn to leg 243 4 60.75
Pull 235 4 58.75

Other batsmen's most productive strokes Runs Dismissals Average
Kallis - cover-drive 354 1 354.00
Dravid - cover-drive 202 1 202.00
Ponting - pull 260 3 86.67

Of the 49 completed innings he has played over the last two-and-a-half years, 33 have been scores of 25 or less. The team's result under his captaincy has ensured, though, that Vaughan's batting hasn't got as much flak as it might have otherwise. Among current captains who have led their teams in more than five Tests, Vaughan's average of 36.56 is only better than Habibul Bashar's. A one-off brilliant innings from Vaughan is still quite possible - he might bring one off the next time he bats against Australia, at Edgbaston - but unless he sorts out his defensive technique and his shot selection, he might struggle to score with the consistency expected from one of the critical cogs in the England batting wheel.

Captains at the crease
since August 2003
Tests Runs Average
Shivnarine Chanderpaul 7 840 93.33
Brian Lara 16 1690 60.36
Inzamam-ul-Haq 13 1180 59.00
Ricky Ponting 14 1180 56.19
Graeme Smith 28 2442 51.96
Marvan Atapattu 11 928 48.84
Sourav Ganguly 15 849 42.45
Tatenda Taibu 6 440 40.00
Stephen Fleming 19 1241 38.78
Michael Vaughan 27 1645 36.56
Habibul Bashar 10 547 28.79

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.