The Friday column August 26, 2005

Home truths, and the greatest fast-bowling pairs

Which teams enjoy home conditions the most, and the best partnerships among fast bowlers

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:

Zaheer Abbas: a batting giant at home, but couldn't always replicate that form overseas © Getty Images

Last week's column had mentioned that Stephen Fleming became the slowest batsman, in terms of innings, to reach 6000 Test runs, and that his stats showed an unusual feature: his overseas average was 12.45 runs higher than his home average. One of the readers pointed out that commentators in New Zealand often explain the lower averages of their batsmen by suggesting that it's because of the bowler-friendly tracks found there, and wanted to know if there was any truth to that argument.

The following stats tend to suggest that, like most teams, New Zealand's batsmen too prefer batting at home, but not as much as some of their Asian counterparts. The methodology used for the analysis is this: the averages of the top ten run-getters from each team were broken up into home and away components (minimum qualification: overall average of 30), and the difference in their averages was calculated and added up to arrive at one composite figure for each team.

These numbers only reflect the way the top players from each team have performed, but they offer an indication of which teams relish playing overseas and which ones don't. The top ten batsmen from Sri Lanka and Pakistan clearly enjoy home advantage: they aggregate 101 more (sum of the difference of their home and away averages) when batting in the comforts of their pitches than when batting overseas. Both teams have a couple of stalwarts who contribute nearly 50% of these numbers - Zaheer Abbas averaged 58.19 in Pakistan and 36.87 elsewhere, while the corresponding numbers for Mudassar Nazar were 53.63 and 26.56. For Sri Lanka, the home heroes are Mahela Jayawardene (57.56 at home, 35.33 abroad) and Hashan Tillakaratne (54.83; 33.72). West Indies' major contributor is Desmond Haynes, whose rate of 56.06 at home dropped to a disappointing 33.51 when touring. The difference of 22.55 is one-quarter of West Indies' top-ten grand total of 89.29.

At the other end of the spectrum are England and Australia, whose cumulative numbers show that their batsmen actually prefer playing overseas. Ken Barrington, for instance, averaged 50.71 at home and 69.18 abroad; for Wally Hammond, those figures were 50.07 and 66.33. Australia's Allan Border had a similar preference for touring - his average of 45.94 at home went up to 56.67 when he played outside Australia.

Home and away difference for each team
Team Home ave Away ave Difference
England 464.11 483.74 -19.63
Australia 534.24 537.05 -2.81
South Africa 457.13 442.69 14.44
India 466.54 442.94 23.60
New Zealand 399.70 373.52 26.18
West Indies 521.42 432.13 89.29
Pakistan 504.33 403.16 101.17
Sri Lanka 469.26 367.55 101.71
New Zealand, along with India and South Africa, fall somewhere in the middle of the pack - on the whole, their numbers read better at home, but the stats aren't as skewed as they are for Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Fleming's difference in home and away numbers is -12.46, bettered among New Zealanders only by John Reid (-13.51). However, there are a slew of other batsmen - among them Craig McMillan (16.75), John Wright (8.63), Martin Crowe (7.76) and Chris Cairns (7.40) - who haven't found conditions in their home country so difficult to counter. For the Indians, the overseas preference for Mohinder Amarnath (-21.42) and Rahul Dravid (-12.58) are offset by Dilip Vengsarkar (22.86), Mohammad Azharuddin (19.53), Gundappa Viswanath (11.01) and Kapil Dev (10.75). And among the South Africans, Mark Boucher (12.28) has the highest home and away difference, while Graeme Smith (-6.45) relishes playing abroad the most.

Hunting in pairs
The Australians have suffered several reverses on their current Ashes tour, but perhaps the most unexpected was the sudden loss of form of Jason Gillespie. Along with Glenn McGrath, Gillespie has formed one of the most potent fast-bowling combinations in Test history: in the 45 matches in which they have opened the bowling, McGrath and Gillespie have taken a combined total of 376 wickets at a fantastic average of 23.15. In terms of wickets, only two pairs, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, and Curtley Ambrose and Courtney Walsh, have done better.

Sorting them by averages, the McGrath-Gillespie duo drops down to No. 8, but there's no shame in that, considering the luminaries who figure in the list, on top of which is Ambrose and Ian Bishop, a bowler who seemed destined for greatness till regular injuries disrupted his career. Among Australian pairs, this one is trumped only by Meckiff-Davidson, and, more surprisingly, by McGrath and Damien Fleming, another highly under-rated bowler whose career was blighted by fitness concerns. Interestingly, the Lillee-Thomson combination is only 14th in the list (among pairs who have shared the new ball in at least 15 Tests) with 148 wickets in 16 games at 26.71, while England's current pair of Steve Harmison and Matthew Hoggard miss out on the top ten by just one spot with 193 wickets from 22 Tests at 25.66.

Among some of the other renowned pairs who miss the cut are Imran Khan and Sarfraz Nawaz (228 wickets in 27 Tests at 27.30), Andy Caddick and Darren Gough (196, 26, 27.80), Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad (151, 18, 28.48), Richard Hadlee and Ewen Chatfield (135, 17, 29.00) and Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith (120, 17, 29.70).

Best fast-bowling pairs in terms of averages
Tests Wickets Average Strike-rate
Ambrose & Bishop 23 201 18.87 46.93
Marshall & Garner 23 231 20.09 44.61
Davidson & Meckiff 15 127 21.00 62.53
Donald & Pollock 43 364 21.42 50.82
Ambrose & Walsh 49 421 21.73 54.65
Akram & Waqar 53 497 21.92 45.46
McGrath & Fleming 16 133 23.05 52.62
McGrath & Gillespie 45 376 23.15 53.30
Imran & Akram 25 190 23.94 55.12
Lindwall & Miller 33 243 24.22 62.18

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.