July 2, 2010

Michael Clarke's go-slow approach to ODIs

As a Test batsman, Michael Clarke's career has been going from strength to strength, but in the limited-overs versions he has been strangely subdued

Michael Clarke's unbeaten 99 in the fourth ODI against England showed he can still pack a punch as an ODI batsman, but over the two-and-a-half years before that, his stats in this format went down significantly. This week's column looks at this slump, with all stats updated till the third ODI between England and Australia on June 27.

Michael Clarke's career as a Test batsman has been going from strength to strength, but in the limited-overs versions the going has been much rougher. His problems in Twenty20 have been well documented - it's something he has admitted himself - but even in the 50-over game his rate has considerably slackened recently compared to his early years.

It's not as if the top-quality one-day innings have dried up completely: in the first match of the ongoing five-ODI series against England, Clarke made a fine unbeaten 87 in the first match at the Rose Bowl. Against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi last year, he cracked an unbeaten 100 off 122 as Australia easily chased down 198. However, in between there have been several iffy knocks, in which Clarke has spent a substantial amount of time at the crease without ever looking like he could dominate the attack. For example, in the third ODI of the Abu Dhabi series, Clarke came in at 93 for 2 after 18 overs, after the openers had given Australia an excellent start, putting together 75 in less than 14 overs, but by the time he became the fifth victim, after scoring a boundary-less 33 from 54 balls, Australia had only progressed to 169 in the 39th.

It wasn't all Clarke's fault, of course, but over the last two-and-a-half years he seems to have been increasingly playing within himself. In his first four years and more, he was a far more free-flowing batsman, willing to take chances, willing to go down the track and attack spinners, and willing to look for boundaries. In his first 119 matches he averaged almost 45, but more importantly, he scored at a strike rate of 83 runs per 100 balls; since November 2007, the average has diminished and so has the strike rate, which has reduced substantially to 68.47. His balls-per-boundary stat gives an indication of how his batting has changed - from a four every 14 balls, he now hits a four every 20 balls, while he has almost completely eschewed the six.

Michael Clarke's ODI career
Period Matches Runs Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s 4s/ 6s Balls per 4/ 6
Till Oct 31, 2007 119 3551 44.94 83.04 3/ 26 312/ 26 14/ 164
From Nov 1, 2007 58 1859 37.93 68.47 1/ 15 137/ 3 20/ 905
Career 177 5410 42.26 77.62 4/ 41 449/ 29 16/ 241

Here's further proof of how Clarke's batting has changed over the years: in the first five years of his ODI career, nearly 40% of his runs came in fours and sixes; in the last two-and-a-half years, that percentage is about 30, while the dot-ball percentage has increased marginally too. The combination of the two has resulted in the reduced strike rate.

How Clarke has scored his ODI runs
Period Runs Balls Dot ball % Boundary %
Before Nov 2007 3551 4276 50.35 39.77
Since Nov 2007 1859 2715 54.81 30.45

Clarke has always been an excellent player of spin, but recently his confidence in scoring quickly against pace seems to have dwindled. His strike rate against the fast bowlers has reduced by almost 20 runs per 100 balls, which has been the main reason for the overall reduction in his strike rate. Against spin the drop has been a lot less significant.

Clarke against pace and spin in ODIs
Period Pace - average Strike rate Spin - average Strike rate
Before Nov 2007 43.05 86.33 66.31 77.33
Since Nov 2007 38.13 67.58 39.82 70.08

The No. 4 batsman plays a vital role in shaping the tempo of the team's innings, and it's in this aspect that Clarke has perhaps let Australia down. Unquestionably, sometimes the situation has warranted a go-slow approach: for example, in the third match of the Abu Dhabi series mentioned earlier, he only scored 66 off 93 balls, but it helped Australia to 198, which turned out to be a defendable score in slow conditions. However, there have been other instances when his sedate approach hasn't suited the cause of the team. Comparing him with other No. 4 batsmen, it emerges that Clarke's strike rate is the third-lowest, but the two who are slower than him are both from minnow teams. Extending the list to all batsmen who've scored 1000 ODI runs during these two-and-a-half years, Clarke still finds his place among the slowest, with only Raqibul Hasan scoring at a lower rate.

Lowest strike rates for No. 4 batsmen since Nov 2007
Batsman Innings Runs Average Srike rate 100s/ 50s
Tatenda Taibu 23 516 24.57 63.94 0/ 3
Raqibul Hasan 27 781 33.95 65.57 0/ 5
Michael Clarke 44 1463 40.63 67.95 1/ 11
Shivnarine Chanderpaul 26 963 56.64 72.89 2/ 5
Mohammad Ashraful 22 578 28.90 74.19 0/ 4
Mahela Jayawardene 35 969 32.30 75.52 0/ 9

Among all Australian No. 4 batsmen in ODIs since 2000, Clarke's current avatar is at the bottom of the list in terms of strike rate, marginally below Michael Bevan. Clarke's previous version, though, is among the best: before November 2007, he scored at almost 83 runs per 100 balls, which is very near Michael Hussey's rate of 87.28, the best by an Australian No. 4. During that period he averaged more than 50 as well, which made him arguably one of the best ODI batsmen around. The same can hardly be said of him now.

Australian No. 4s in ODIs since 2000 (Qual: 500 runs)
Batsman Innings Runs Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s
Michael Hussey 15 666 51.23 87.28 1/ 6
Andrew Symonds 17 503 35.92 85.54 0/ 3
Clarke (before Nov 2007) 26 1111 50.50 82.91 1/ 10
Damien Martyn 97 3077 42.15 74.64 3/ 24
Michael Bevan 38 1542 53.17 69.52 2/ 11
Clarke (since Nov 2007) 44 1463 40.63 67.95 1/ 11

Compared with all his batting mates, Clarke is easily the slowest in the last two-and-a-half years. Eleven Australian batsmen have scored more than 500 runs since November 2007, and Clarke's strike rate of 68.47 is the slowest. On the other hand, seven batsmen have a scoring rate of more than 80, while Cameron White misses the mark by a whisker.

Overall, though, Australia's scoring during the last two-and-a-half years hasn't dropped much compared to the four years before that, which means the rest of the batting line-up has largely compensated for Clarke's slower scoring rate. All of them would be hoping, though, that Clarke returns to his earlier avatar and they won't have to compensate for much longer.

Australia in ODIs during Michael Clarke's time
Period Matches Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s 4s/ 6s
Jan 19, 2003 to 31 Oct, 2007 147 38.83 84.94 42/ 204 3133/ 493
From Nov 1, 2007 79 33.52 81.84 19/ 115 1540/ 222

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo