The Friday column April 21, 2006

The difference between Tendulkar and Dippenaar

How averages are not so much a matter of getting starts but converting them, and the batsmen who thrive on not-outs

When Sachin Tendulkar goes past 20, he averages 90 per innings © Getty Images

Sunil Gavaskar, one of the greatest opening batsmen to play the game, has often stressed the importance of making good form count. His principle has been simple: when the ball is hitting the middle of the willow and batting appears easy, make sure the good feeling is converted into runs on the board, for a lean run might be just around the corner. It's a lesson all great batsmen have internalised, and is often the difference between an average of 50 and one which is languishing in the 30s.

Against the best bowlers in the world, it's inevitable that there'll be more than a few occasions when batsmen - even the top-class ones - will succumb before getting their eye in. In fact, the failure rate for batsmen of all types - the good ones, the ordinary ones, and the absolute masters - is not that dissimilar. What sets apart the champions is the ability, when set, to kick on and make so many that it more than compensates for the periods of drought which follow.

To elaborate further, in 206 innings (excluding those when he was not out for less than 20), Sachin Tendulkar has reached 20 or more 125 times, which in percentage terms converts into 60.68. In 55 such innings, Boeta Dippenaar has managed the same feat 33 times, that's exactly 60%. Yet, Tendulkar averages 55.39 to Dippenaar's very modest 31.36, a difference of 24 runs per innings. The reason? In innings in which Tendulkar goes past 20, he averages 90.74; Dippenaar, on the other hand, averages 52.89 when he gets a start.

Many similar examples abound, and a comparison of the stats for the some of the openers is quite revealing too. Gavaskar and Geoff Boycott were, as you'd expect, among the players who made the most of their opportunities to score when they got over the initial jitters. Mark Richardson and John Wright, two more openers from the old school, failed to maximise the opportunities when they saw off the new ball. Richardson's stats are especially remarkable, for he went past 20 every two innings in three, quite a feat for someone who throughout his career battled the perils of facing up to the new ball. However, his inability to kick on after getting a start meant he ended up with an average in the mid-40s instead of around 50, while Wright couldn't even enter the 40s.

The maximisers
Batsman % of 20+ scores Ave in 20+ innings Career Average
Jacques Kallis 64.24 92.09 56.31
Steve Waugh 58.40 91.55 51.06
Sachin Tendulkar 60.68 90.74 55.39
Jimmy Adams 48.84 90.28 41.26
Brian Lara 59.45 85.19 53.02
Mohammad Yousuf 58.33 84.36 50.55
Virender Sehwag 59.72 83.33 52.23
Sunil Gavaskar 61.43 81.64 51.12

The ones who threw it away
Batsman % of 20+ scores Ave in 20+ innings Career Average
Boeta Dippenaar 60.00 52.89 31.36
Habibul Bashar 56.69 55.96 34.75
Arjuna Ranatunga 60.26 55.99 35.69
John Wright 59.31 58.71 37.82
Hansie Cronje 57.94 59.35 36.41
Mark Richardson 66.67 62.68 44.77
Carl Hooper 55.29 63.40 36.46

The master of not-outs

The quirky manner in which the average - that most important single statistic for a batsman - is calculated ensures that there is a high premium on having the asterisk against your name when the game or the innings is done. None of the players mind the not-out, but some want it more than the others, and for a select few, it boosts up the average quite significantly.

Take the example of Jimmy Adams, the former West Indian captain. Of the 3012 runs he made, 1209 of them came in the 17 innings when he remained unbeaten, that's 40% of his total runs. Among batsmen with at least 3000 runs, no-one has a higher ratio of runs scored in unbeaten knocks.

As the table below suggests, most of the members of the not-out club consist of batsmen who bat in the lower middle order, and are often the last recognised batsman in the line-up. Jacques Kallis is the only one among them who has consistently batted in the top four and yet has nearly 30% of his runs in his 28 unbeaten innings. Include those unbeaten innings, and his average drops by almost ten points, though it's still pretty impressive at 46.98.

Most runs in not-out innings
Batsman Runs Not-out runs Percentage
Jimmy Adams 3012 1209 40.14
Shaun Pollock 3406 1217 35.73
Andy Flower 4794 1499 31.27
Steve Waugh 10,927 3337 30.54
Imran Khan 3807 1137 29.87
Hashan Tillakaratne 4545 1347 29.64
Jacques Kallis 7940 2227 28.05
Allan Border 11,174 2989 26.75

At the other end of the spectrum are batsmen - many of them openers - who hardly benefit from remaining unbeaten. With a 3000-run cut-off, two Indian openers - Navjot Singh Sidhu and Virender Sehwag - top this list. The surprise entry is Chris Cairns, who despite batting at No.6 or 7 for most of his career, only managed 123 unbeaten runs. Also interesting is the case of Brian Lara: he only got 6.27% of his runs in not-out innings, but of his 708 such runs, 400 came in a single innings, against England at Antigua when he smashed the world record for highest Test score.

Least runs in not-out innings
Batsman Runs Not-out runs Percentage
Navjot Singh Sidhu 3202 85 2.65
Virender Sehwag 3702 102 2.75
Clem Hill 3412 101 2.96
Chris Gayle 3804 118 3.10
Graeme Wood 3374 108 3.20
Colin McDonald 3107 103 3.32
Chris Cairns 3320 123 3.70
Rohan Kanhai 6227 236 3.79

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo. For some of the stats, he was helped by Travis Basevi.