August 22, 2008

Livewire in a graveyard

Surrounded by the subcontinental deathbeds, Dambulla has been the best ODI venue for bowlers

Sanath Jayasuriya is one of many batsmen who hasn't come to terms with the conditions in Dambulla © AFP

Quiz question: What feat has Rahul Dravid achieved in Dambulla that no one else has managed? Read on for the answer.

When Sanath Jayasuriya and Tillakaratne Dilshan came together in the second ODI of the Sri Lanka-India series in Dambulla, it seemed - very briefly - that they might conjure a repeat act of their performance in the Asia Cup final last month. On that occasion too, India had nailed four early wickets, only for Jayasuriya and Dilshan to put together 131 for the fifth wicket in less than 24 overs to completely negate India's early advantage. There were a couple of crucial differences, though: Jayasuriya had already got a start even as wickets fell at the other end, and the Asia Cup final was being played at the the most batsman-friendly ODI venue in the world since 2000, Karachi. Dambulla, on the other hand, has been a dream venue for the bowlers. As it turned out, Jayasuriya fell soon to Zaheer Khan, Dilshan followed, Sri Lanka recovered somewhat to post 142, and even that paltry target tested India fully.

Seventeen wickets for 285 is quite a shocker even by Dambulla standards, but the conditions there have consistently tested the techniques and temperament of batsmen. In 25 ODIs, 391 wickets have fallen at an average of 23.50 per dismissal and 4.06 runs per over, making it easily the lowest-scoring among venues that have hosted at least 15 matches since 2000. Only 56 sixes have been struck, which converts to a poor average of 2.24 per game. In 50 innings, only five times have teams managed to top 250, while 200 has been exceeded on 13 other occasions. On the other hand, teams batting first have been bowled out for less than 150 six times. The lowest winning total in a 50-over game since 2000 was also achieved here, when New Zealand made just 156 for 8, and then restricted Sri Lanka to 147 in 2003, with Daniel Vettori returning incredible figures of 4 for 14 from ten overs. (Click here for the list of scores in all ODIs in Dambulla.)

The numbers for Jayasuriya tell the story: in 17 innings here he has managed a solitary half-century, an average of 24.26 and a strike rate of 75.36, both of which are well below his career numbers.

Most bowler-friendly ODI venues since 2000 (at least 15 ODIs)
Venue ODIs Runs per wkt Runs per over
Rangiri Dambulla International Stadium 25 23.50 4.06
Sinhalese Sports Club, Colombo 25 26.08 4.51
Sabina Park, Kingston, Jamaica 17 28.22 4.55
Gymkhana Club Ground, Nairobi 34 26.95 4.59
Premadasa Stadium, Colombo 46 28.02 4.60
Sharjah CA Stadium 45 28.60 4.65
Queen's Park Oval, Port of Spain 27 26.55 4.66
Newlands, Cape Town 21 27.04 4.66
Harare Sports Club 54 28.87 4.71
St George's Park, Port Elizabeth 19 28.96 4.71
Edgbaston, Birmingham 15 26.20 4.72
Lord's, London 19 29.16 4.72

Mahela Jayawardene had mentioned before the first ODI of the series that playing under lights had been a significant factor for the low scores here. "When you are playing day-and-night games, the lights contribute a bit. These are day games, and the day games we have had here have been pretty much good scores," he had said. A look at the stats reveals something entirely different, though: day games have been terribly low-scoring, with an average run-rate of 3.75 per over, which converts into a 50-over total of 187.5. This is the first time in four years that the venue is hosting day games, and while the two previous matches here produced reasonable totals, those were the exceptions rather than the norm.

Day and day-night matches in Dambulla
ODIs Runs per wicket Runs per over
Day 12 21.68 3.75
Day-night 13 25.18 4.34

Which brings us to the answer to the quiz question. Against UAE in the 2004 Asia Cup, Dravid scored 104, which remains the only century in an ODI at this venue in 25 matches. Dravid's numbers here, in fact, suggest that the pitch here is one that suits the grafters rather than the flashy strokeplayers: he has scored three half-centuries and a hundred in five innings, and his average of 73 is easily the highest (his strike-rate is impressive too), while Jayawardene and Marvan Atapattu have got runs here as well. Neither of them, though, has got a three-figure score here. In Karachi, on the other hand, 19 hundreds have been scored in 21 matches since 2000.

Worst ODIs-per-century rates at venues since 2000 (at least 15 ODIs)
Venue ODIs Batsman runs per wkt Ave batsman strike rate Centuries ODIs per century
Rangiri Dambulla International Stadium 25 21.23 60.58 1 25.00
Edgbaston, Birmingham 15 23.96 71.19 2 7.50
Westpac Stadium, Wellington 15 26.77 72.98 2 7.50
Queen's Park Oval, Port of Spain 27 24.31 70.55 4 6.75
St George's Park, Port Elizabeth 19 27.35 73.51 4 4.75
Beausejour Stadium, St Lucia 16 32.76 77.07 4 4.00
Bangabandhu National Stadium, Dhaka 29 28.48 72.13 8 3.63
Eden Park, Auckland 20 25.95 72.80 6 3.33
Queens Sports Club, Bulawayo 29 32.03 77.36 9 3.22
Sinhalese Sports Cub, Colombo 25 23.76 67.72 8 3.13

It's hardly surprising that the top-order of teams have struggled here, averaging less than 24, and scoring at 60 runs per 100 balls.

Worst ODI venues for top 7 batsmen since 2000 (at least 15 ODIs at each venue)
Venue Innings Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s
Rangiri Dambulla International Stadium 336 23.42 59.98 1/ 34
Sinhalese Sports Club, Colombo 308 26.60 68.87 8/ 34
Edgbaston, Birmingham 192 27.31 71.86 2/ 25
Gymkhana Club Ground, Nairobi 438 27.65 70.73 11/ 53
Queens Park Oval, Port of Spain 352 27.79 71.77 4/ 59
St George's Park, Port Elizabeth 253 28.83 72.43 4/ 42

In both matches of the current series, teams have struggled for runs in the first 15 overs, something that has been the norm at this ground. The average runs per over in the first 15 is a meagre 3.15, which is easily the lowest among all venues.

Worst run-rates in the first 15 overs in ODIs since 2002 (at least 25 innings at each venue)
Venue Innings Wickets Average Run rate
Rangiri Dambulla International Stadium 48 110 24.28 3.15
Newlands, Cape Town 30 66 27.21 4.00
Eden Park, Auckland 28 65 26.07 4.03
Sabina Park, Kingston, Jamaica 27 58 28.44 4.07
Gymkhana Club Ground, Nairobi 38 106 21.99 4.13
Adelaide Oval 32 68 29.52 4.18
Kingsmead, Durban 35 62 33.85 4.26
St George's Park, Port Elizabeth 31 80 24.81 4.27
Queens Sports Club, Bulawayo 29 61 30.50 4.29
Bangabandhu National Stadium, Dhaka 39 78 32.43 4.32
Harare Sports Club 68 133 33.39 4.38
Lord's, London 30 63 31.39 4.39
Premadasa Stadium, Colombo 63 137 29.91 4.42
Sharjah CA Stadium 34 81 27.94 4.44
The Gabba, Brisbane 33 67 32.19 4.45

One would expect the slow nature of the pitch to assist the spinners more than the fast bowlers, but the stats show that the pace bowlers have handled the conditions well too. Pakistan's Mohammad Sami hasn't done well at most grounds he has played in, but Dambulla is an exception, where his ten wickets have cost him just 16.40 runs each.

Murali has obviously relished the conditions, but among the overseas spinners, Vettori has been a star, averaging 11.70 for his ten wickets at an economy rate of 2.43. (Click here for the stats of the fast bowlers, and here for the spinners.)

Pace and spin in Dambulla
Wickets Average Economy rate Strike rate
Pace 197 26.13 3.91 40.0
Spin 149 23.75 3.91 36.3

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo.