August 21, 2009

Dilshan goes the Sehwag way

Tillakaratne Dilshan has always preferred aggression over defence - markedly so over the last few years

"A collective sigh of relief from us! It was like seeing the back of Sehwag!" These were Iain O'Brien's words in his blog on Cricinfo after he got rid of Tillakaratne Dilshan, who had blasted 92 from 72 balls - with 50 of those coming in 31 balls off O'Brien - in the first Test in Galle.

Their birthdays are only six days apart, and increasingly the batting methods of Sehwag and Dilshan are looking more and more similar, especially in Tests. The retirement of Adam Gilchrist deprived the world stage of a high-quality aggressive batsman, but Dilshan is doing his bit to fill that gap. He has always been a batsman who prefers aggression over defence, but over the last few years that preference has become much more pronounced.

In his last 35 Tests, since the beginning of January 2005, Dilshan has done considerably better, both in terms of scoring runs and the rate of getting them, than he did in his first 21 matches. Some of his batting efforts in the last 15 months have demonstrated that urgency quite noticeably: against West Indies in Port-of-Spain in April last year, he scored 62 off 60 and 25 off 19 in his two innings. He then began 2009 in style, feasting on the Bangladesh attack with brisk hundreds in each innings in Chittagong - 162 off 165 and 143 off 175. Then, against Pakistan on that aborted tour in April, he hammered 145 off 170 in the only Test, in Lahore.

Tillakaratne Dilshan's Test career in two parts
Period Runs Average Strike-rate 100s/ 50s
First 21 Tests 951 31.70 49.19 3/ 2
Last 35 Tests 2307 48.06 71.51 5/ 11
Career (56 Tests) 3258 41.76 63.15 8/ 13

The stats for Sehwag and Dilshan are quite similar during this period - both average around 48, and while Sehwag is ahead of him on the list of batsmen with the best strike-rate, Dilshan comes in second, scoring at a rate of more than 71 runs per 100 balls. Among batsmen who've scored more than 2000 Test runs since 2005, no one else has a strike-rate of more than 64. There's one difference, though, in the manner in which Sehwag and Dilshan have scored their runs - Dilshan has been far more shy of going the aerial route, hitting just 12 sixes to Sehwag's 36.

Best strike-rates in Tests since January 2005 (Qual: 2000 runs)
Batsman Tests Runs Average Strike-rate 4s/ 6s
Virender Sehwag 38 3222 48.81 84.50 446/ 36
Tillakaratne Dilshan 35 2307 48.06 71.51 295/ 12
Kamran Akmal 34 2001 38.48 63.60 271/ 8
Kevin Pietersen 54 4647 49.96 62.76 537/ 48
Chris Gayle 35 2467 41.11 61.87 328/ 47
Graeme Smith 47 3768 48.93 61.32 486/ 10
Ricky Ponting 51 4825 58.84 61.20 533/ 27
Mohammad Yousuf 27 3026 67.24 58.57 369/ 18
Kumar Sangakkara 40 3703 61.71 57.28 457/ 7
Younis Khan 32 3273 60.61 56.26 400/ 9

Here's a more detailed look at the scoring patterns of the two - Dilshan has a significantly higher percentage of singles, which can be partially explained by the fact Sehwag usually bats during a period when there are many more attacking fielders. There isn't much difference in the percentages of twos, threes and fours, but Sehwag's percentage of sixes is more than twice that of Dilshan.

How Sehwag and Dilshan have scored their runs in Tests since Jan 2005
Batsman Total runs Singles (%) Twos (%) Threes (%) Fours (%) Sixes (%)
Sehwag 3222 22.84 10.80 3.91 55.74 6.70
Dilshan 2307 29.48 12.14 3.77 51.50 3.12

As the table below shows, Dilshan has turned on the heat against some pretty good bowlers. Umar Gul and Shakib Al Hasan have leaked more than five an over to him, while Chris Martin and Jerome Taylor have gone at more than four. Even the usually economical Anil Kumble hasn't been able to prevent Dilshan from scoring 4.19 runs per over off him.

Among bowlers who've bowled at least 40 balls to him during this period, only two have kept Dilshan down to less than three per over, and both are English fast bowlers who tend to bowl back of a length: Andrew Flintoff has given away 34 from 80 balls, while Steve Harmison has done even better, going at less than two runs per over. Overall, though, Dilshan's scoring-rate is equally good against both fast bowlers and spinners - 4.35 against pace, 4.20 against spin.

Dilshan against bowlers in Tests since Jan 2005
Bowler Runs Balls Dismissals Average Run-rate
Anil Kumble 153 219 3 51.00 4.19
Harbhajan Singh 120 196 2 60.00 3.67
Mohammad Rafique 126 165 2 63.00 4.58
Umar Gul 99 117 1 99.00 5.07
Shakib Al Hasan 97 101 2 48.50 5.76
Andrew Flintoff 34 80 1 34.00 2.55
Chris Martin 44 62 2 22.00 4.25
Jerome Taylor 41 55 3 13.66 4.47
Mohammad Asif 34 48 1 34.00 4.25
Steve Harmison 14 44 0 - 1.90

Though he has moved up the order now, most of Dilshan's Test innings during this period have come at No. 6, a position in which a healthy scoring-rate is a huge asset, as the batsmen are often left with only tailenders for company. Among No. 6 batsmen during this period, Dilshan's average is only marginally below VVS Laxman's, while his run-rate is comfortably better than everyone else's.

No. 6 batsmen in Tests since Jan 2005 (Qual: 15 innings)
Batsman Innings Runs Average Strike-rate 100s/ 50s
VVS Laxman 21 860 53.75 51.12 1/ 8
Tillakaratne Dilshan 39 1825 53.67 72.59 5/ 8
Ian Bell 19 735 49.00 55.97 4/ 2
Paul Collingwood 20 875 48.61 52.83 3/ 5
AB de Villiers 36 1517 47.40 55.22 3/ 7
Yuvraj Singh 22 781 41.10 63.49 2/ 3
Andrew Symonds 30 994 36.81 66.13 1/ 8

While Dilshan's numbers have improved dramatically during this period, it's also true that most of his big runs have come in the subcontinent, and against the weaker teams - he averages 77 against Bangladesh, but only 22 against South Africa, and less than 37 in England and New Zealand. He'll surely get more opportunities to correct that skew in the future, and in his new role as opener, to evoke futher comparisons with Sehwag. The averages over the last five years are close enough; now Dilshan will want to bridge the gap between the highest scores too - Sehwag's is 319, Dilshan hasn't gone past 168.

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo