January 23, 2009

Sri Lanka's bogey team, and boundaryless Jayawardene

Sri Lanka have done reasonably well against most teams, but Pakistan have brought out the worst in them

Sanath Jayasuriya averages less than 21 against Pakistan in ODIs in the last six years, but more than 37 against other teams © AFP

When Sri Lanka swept to a convincing 129-run win in the second ODI in Karachi, they not only levelled the three-match series but also showed that they might finally be coming to terms with handling the team that has been their most troublesome opponent recently. All teams have struggled against Australia over the last decade and more, but Pakistan's blow-hot, blow-cold approach has allowed most teams to sneak up a fair number of wins against them. For Sri Lanka, though, Pakistan have been a tough mystery to unravel over the last six years. They have won three of their last four ODIs against them, but before that, nine out of 12 decisive results went Pakistan's way, giving them one of the best win-loss ratios against any opposition.

Sri Lanka have often been on the losing end in their battles against Pakistan, but that wasn't always the case. In fact, a closer look at the historical stats between the two reveals interesting numbers - in the first 48 matches that they played, Pakistan's domination was complete, as they won more than four times as many matches as they lost. Under Arjuna Ranatunga, though, Sri Lanka became a far more confident outfit, and in the next 48 games against Pakistan they won almost three times as many as they had before 1995. In the last six years, though, the numbers have slipped again.

Sri Lanka's ODI record against Pakistan
Period Played Won Lost W/L ratio
Before 1995 48 9 38 0.23
1995-2002 48 26 20 1.30
Since Jan 1 2003 17 6 10 0.60
Overall 113 41 68 0.60

Sri Lanka's recent record against Pakistan is all the more surprising because they've done much better against other strong sides - against South Africa the win-loss record is 7-4, against New Zealand it's 8-7, and while they've lost more than they've won against India, the ratio is still better than it is against Pakistan.

Sri Lanka v each team in ODIs since 2003
Opponent ODIs Won Lost W/L ratio
Zimbabwe 16 15 1 15.00
Other non-Test teams* 9 8 1 8.00
Bangladesh 17 15 2 7.50
England 15 10 5 2.00
South Africa 12 7 4 1.75
West Indies 11 6 4 1.50
New Zealand 16 8 7 1.14
India 31 12 16 0.75
Pakistan 17 6 10 0.60
Australia 23 6 17 0.35
All teams 167 93 67 1.39
All minus zim, B'desh + other non-Test teams 125 55 63 0.87
* includes Kenya, Bermuda, Netherlands, Canada, UAE and Ireland

All Sri Lanka's matches against Pakistan in these six years have been played in the subcontinent, where you'd normally expect higher scores and more runs for batsmen. Sri Lanka's batsmen, however, have had a tough time turning it on against the Pakistan attack: they average fewer than 25 runs per wicket, at an ordinary rate of 4.31 per over. Both numbers are higher for them against other sides.

SL batsmen v Pak and other teams in ODIs since 2003
Versus Matches Runs Average Strike rate (RPO) 100s/ 50s  
Pakistan 17 3301 24.63 4.31 3/ 11  
Other teams 150 29,372 28.10 4.56 36/ 157  

A break-up of individual stats indicates that the most experienced Sri Lankan batsman is the biggest culprit: Sanath Jayasuriya has averaged more than 37 during this period against other teams, with 14 hundreds and 15 half-centuries in 126 games; against Pakistan, though, he has managed a solitary half-century in 13 matches. To be fair to him, Jayasuriya looked in ominous form in both games in Karachi but failed to convert the starts into substantial scores. That might just change in the last match, in Lahore on Saturday. Jayasuriya's overall record against Pakistan is similar to his career stats, which makes his recent slump against them somewhat surprising.

Sri Lanka's current captain hasn't distinguished himself recently against Pakistan either, with just two half-centuries in his last 16 games against them. Mahela Jayawardene's recent batting slump has meant, though, that his overall record in the last six years has come down significantly as well.

Kumar Sangakkara and Tillakaratne Dilshan have the highest positive difference in average: Sangakkara has four 50-plus scores in 14 games, while Dilshan has performed reasonably consistently despite batting down the order in most matches.

Sri Lankan batsmen, v Pak and in all ODIs, since 2003
Batsman v Pak-ODIs Average 100s/ 50s Other teams -ODIs Average 100s/ 50s Ave diff
Kumar Sangakkara 14 52.18 2/ 2 149 38.54 8/ 31 13.64
Tillakaratne Dilshan 15 39.40 0/ 1 122 29.00 1/ 12 10.40
Chamara Kapugedera 8 28.50 0/ 1 45 21.48 0/ 4 7.02
Marvan Atapattu 9 40.75 1/ 1 84 36.53 3/ 15 4.22
Upul Tharanga 7 30.83 0/ 0 69 30.50 6/ 9 0.33
Mahela Jayawardene 16 28.85 0/ 2 146 31.78 3/ 28 -2.93
Sanath Jayasuriya 13 20.76 0/ 1 126 37.45 14/ 15 -16.69

The bowlers have maintained a decent economy-rate, but they haven't taken wickets as regularly as against other sides.

SL bowlers v Pak and other teams in ODIs since 2003
Versus Matches Wickets Average Economy rate Strike rate  
Pakistan 17 49 34.63 4.51 45.9  
Other teams 150 1047 27.64 4.51 36.7  

Among the bowlers, Chaminda Vaas and Lasith Malinga have struggled the most, with their averages against Pakistan much worse than those against other teams. Muttiah Muralitharan has, as you'd expect, maintained his high standards. (Ajantha Mendis doesn't figure in the table as he hasn't played five games against Pakistan.)

Sri Lankan bowlers, v Pak and v other teams, in ODIs since 2003 (at least 5 games v Pak)
Bowler v Pak-ODIs Average Economy rate Overall-ODIs Average Economy rate Ave diff
Dilhara Fernando 6 29.37 5.09 82 31.82 5.14 2.45
Muttiah Muralitharan 11 20.27 3.48 105 21.45 3.96 1.18
Sanath Jayasuriya 13 37.36 5.08 126 37.65 4.47 0.29
Farveez Maharoof 12 28.06 4.91 73 24.36 4.63 -3.70
Chaminda Vaas 8 42.00 4.33 108 26.01 4.11 -15.99
Lasith Malinga 6 76.33 4.58 47 23.57 4.83 -52.76

Boundaryless Jayawardene
The last five months have been a wretched time for Sri Lanka's captain. A batsman used to knocking off centuries for fun has scored exactly 100 runs in his last 11 ODI outings, giving him a dismal batting average of 9.09.

For many batsmen, an option to break out of a slump is to go hell for leather at the bowling, hoping a few strokes come off and spark a return to form, but Jayawardene hasn't gone that route: in these 11 innings, his scoring-rate is 48.54 per 100 balls. More surprisingly, he didn't find the boundary even once in 196 deliveries during this period, till Shoaib Malik served him a short ball outside off that was late-cut for four. Jayawardene's previous boundary had come during the course of an outstanding 94 against India in Colombo in August 2008, an innings in which he struck six fours and a six. Little would he have imagined that his next boundary would be such a long time coming.

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo