The Friday Column September 7, 2007

How important is the No. 7 batsman?

The sixth ODI between England and India at The Oval underscored the value of the No. 7 batsman. The Numbers Game looks at the best in the trade



Robin Uthappa proved once again the value of a specialist batsman at No. 7 © Getty Images

Seven specialist batsmen or five specialist bowlers? It has been a vexing question for India, especially in the last year, during which Irfan Pathan's stock as a bowler has nosedived alarmingly. "If six batsmen can't do it, then seven can't either," is an often-used argument against the policy of playing one bowler fewer, but there have been numerous instances where the seventh batsman has come up with match-winning contributions. One of the most famous for India was in the NatWest Series final in 2002, when Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif rescued them from a perilous 146 for 5 and put them on course for the 326-run target. More recently, of course, Robin Uthappa did the job for them with aplomb at The Oval on Wednesday - his unbeaten 47 off 33 balls derailed England after they seemed on course to seal the series, having amassed 316, in which England's No. 7, debutant Luke Wright, had a vital role to play with a 39-ball 50.

Over the years the No. 7 spot has been a tough act to master, or even occupy with a fair degree of success. Since 1990 only 25 batsmen have scored more than 500 runs at that position in ODIs, and just seven have managed more than 1000.

Taking the 500-run cut-off, though, one player stands head and shoulders above everyone else: Michael Hussey hasn't batted at that position since October 2006, and is unlikely to bat there in the current Australian set-up, but in the 20 innings in which he came in when the team was five down, Hussey plundered his runs at an average of 117.67, and at a strike-rate of very nearly a run a ball. The high average owes a lot to the number of not-outs, though - only on six occasions has he been dismissed. His runs-per-innings stat is a more earthy 35.30.

No. 7 batsmen in ODIs since 1990 (at least 500 runs)
Batsman Innings Runs Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s
Michael Hussey 20 706 117.67 99.85 0/ 5
Justin Kemp 24 579 36.18 82.01 1/ 3
Elton Chigumbura 25 682 34.10 85.78 0/ 5
Mohammad Kaif 30 667 33.35 88.34 1/ 2
Hashan Tillakaratne 24 520 32.50 69.70 1/ 1
Abdul Razzaq 79 1848 31.86 89.01 0/ 9
Chris Harris 104 2130 31.32 66.98 0/ 9
Heath Streak 40 864 30.85 73.53 0/ 4
Shaun Pollock 74 1515 30.30 89.91 1/ 6
Russel Arnold 36 707 29.45 71.84 0/ 4
Chris Cairns 27 660 28.69 97.34 0/ 5
Geraint Jones 28 546 26.00 80.64 0/ 3
Khaled Mashud 52 1073 25.54 57.78 0/ 5

Justin Kemp's big hitting is ideally suited to the position - India found that out when he clobbered 100 off 89 balls to turn a precarious 71 for 5 into a match-winning 274 at Cape Town last year - but the Indians themselves have a reasonable candidate for that number. Mohammad Kaif's 667 runs have come at a handy average and a scoring-rate of nearly 90 runs per 100 balls. Mahendra Singh Dhoni has only scored 434 runs at that position and hence misses the cut, but he averages a healthy 36.16, and the last time he batted there he creamed an unbeaten 139 off 97 balls against Africa XI at Chennai.

In the last six and a half years, the two teams that have had the maximum firepower at No. 7 are Australia and South Africa, which is hardly surprising considering the names that constitute the list above. The Australians are the only team whose No. 7s have scored at a strike-rate of more than 90, but South Africa aren't far behind, and, thanks to Kemp, are one of only two teams to have a century at that position (excluding hundreds by Pollock and Dhoni, which were scored for Africa XI and Asia XI). Both India and England don't have impressive numbers, with England only marginally better than bottom-placed West Indies.

Cumulative stats for No.7 batsmen for each team in ODIs since 2002
Team Innings Runs Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s
Australia 119 2582 34.89 91.01 0/ 10
South Africa 107 2191 32.70 88.13 1/ 9
New Zealand 118 2437 27.38 79.14 0/ 12
Pakistan 127 2551 26.57 87.66 0/ 10
Zimbabwe 101 2138 25.45 73.39 0/ 12
Bangladesh 101 1905 22.41 62.03 0/ 5
India 132 2039 21.02 78.30 1/ 8
Sri Lanka 132 2112 20.70 72.85 0/ 8
England 114 1747 18.58 73.77 0/ 6
West Indies 103 1349 17.51 82.30 0/ 3

How critical is the performance of the No. 7 in wins? The table below suggests it's pretty significant - in wins they average more than 30; in defeat the average drops by more than ten. The more important stat is probably the strike-rate: in wins it's more than 93 per 100 balls, but in defeats it plunges to less than 70. Uthappa's display has probably ensured he will bat at that position in the series decider at Lord's, though Dravid will have to work on getting a better bowler than Yuvraj Singh to bowl the final over of the innings.

No.7s in wins and defeat since 2002
Result Innings Runs Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s
Wins 528 9864 31.61 93.75 3/ 37
Losses 783 14,063 20.47 68.42 1/ 50

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo