April 15, 2011

Chasing glory

The best second-innings batsmen in ODIs, and those who've scored the highest percentage of team runs in an innings

If a poll were to be done asking batsmen if they prefer to bat first or second in ODIs, most will probably choose the former. Batting first, without being confronted with a target, usually frees the mind and allows batsmen to play their natural game. Plus, the pitch is usually at its best in the first half of the game. Most of the great ODI batsmen have done well in both situations, but two of the greatest have better numbers when batting first, even if the difference isn't a whole lot: Sachin Tendulkar averages more than 47 in the first innings, and 43 in the second. He's also scored 31 hundreds in the first innings, and 17 in the second. Similarly, Viv Richards averaged almost 49 and scored eight hundreds when batting first, and 44.92 with three centuries in chases. Michael Bevan had a higher average in the second innings - 56.50, to 51.66 when batting first - but that's partly because of his 30 not-outs in 81 second innings (compared with 37 in 115 when batting first). And even in his case, his strike rate in second innings (67.60) was much lower than that in the first (79.69).

There are a few, though, who genuinely enjoy a run-chase far more than they do setting a target. The batsman with the biggest contrast in numbers is Australia's Shane Watson. After that brutal unbeaten 185 in Mirpur against Bangladesh, Watson had this to say about chasing: "It's always actually easier batting second. Although you do get pretty hot from bowling first, it means I can actually get through my batting innings knowing I don't have to bowl next and don't have to use my energy. So my preferred way of playing one-day cricket is actually batting second, because you don't need the energy. If it comes off like it did today, I don't have to run too much."

His stats bear out his preference for batting second - his average of 64.30 in run-chases is almost twice his first-innings average. Five of his six ODI centuries have come in chases, which makes his conversion rate outstanding - five hundreds out of 15 scores of 50-plus; in contrast, when batting first he has scored only one century and 13 fifties.

Shane Watson, batting first and batting second in ODIs
  Innings Runs Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s
Batting first 73 2008 33.46 89.88 1/ 13
Batting second 41 1929 64.30 89.30 5/ 10
Career 114 3937 43.74 89.59 6/ 23

The table below indicates Watson has been at his most dangerous in matches in which the opposition has won the toss and chosen to bat. In 30 such innings, Watson has scored four hundreds and averages 71.80. These hundreds include the three highest scores made by Australians in run-chases. Two of his four hundreds were in back-to-back games in the semi-finals and final of the Champions Trophy in 2009.

Break-up of Watson's 114 ODI innings
  Innings Runs Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s
Won toss & batted 46 1349 33.72 89.10 1/ 9
Won toss & fielded 11 421 46.77 85.39 1/ 2
Lost toss & sent in 27 659 32.95 91.52 0/ 4
Lost toss & fielded 30 1508 71.80 90.46 4/ 8

Among batsmen who've scored at least 1500 runs batting second, Watson's average of 64.30 is easily the highest. The list is dominated by Australians, with four in the top five, which is another reason why they've been so dominant in ODI cricket over the last couple of decades.

In fact, Watson is well on course to becoming the fastest to 2000 runs - in terms of innings batted - in run-chases. Currently, he has 1929 runs in 41 innings, and is 71 short of 2000. The best currently - in terms of fewest innings - is 49 innings, by Gordon Greenidge, which means Watson has seven innings in which to score 71 runs and own the record. On current form just one might be sufficient.

Best averages in second innings in ODIs (Qual: 1500 runs)
Batsman Innings Runs Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s Inngs to reach 2000
Shane Watson 41 1929 64.30 89.30 5/ 10 -
Michael Bevan 81 2882 56.50 67.60 3/ 19 57
Michael Clarke 59 2055 55.54 75.19 3/ 16 59
MS Dhoni 81 2750 50.92 83.45 2/ 19 56
Matthew Hayden 62 2450 50.00 79.15 1/ 20 51
Gautam Gambhir 58 2418 49.34 86.91 5/ 15 51
Gordon Greenidge 73 2996 49.11 64.83 7/ 16 49
Sunil Gavaskar 48 1905 48.84 61.45 1/ 18 -
AB de Villiers 60 2262 48.12 88.46 3/ 16 55
Tillakaratne Dilshan 58 1919 47.97 91.68 5/ 5 -

Watson's second-innings average is about 92% better than his first-innings one - the difference is the highest among batsmen who've scored at least 1500 runs each in first and second innings. The list below is dominated by openers, which suggests that batting second is a good option for those who have the entire quota of overs to plan their chase. One opener who misses out despite having similar numbers is Sunil Gavaskar - he averaged 24.22 in the first innings and 48.84 in the second, a percentage difference of 101.65. That would have put him on top of the list, except he scored only 1187 runs in first innings, which keeps him out of the 1500-run cut-off.

Batsmen with high second-innings and relatively low first-innings averages
Batsman 1st inng - runs Average 2nd inng - runs Average Difference % diff
Shane Watson 2008 33.46 1929 64.30 30.84 92.17
Gautam Gambhir 1655 32.45 2418 49.34 16.89 52.05
Tillakaratne Dilshan 3537 32.44 1919 47.97 15.53 47.87
Michael Clarke 4254 40.90 2055 55.54 14.64 35.79
Andrew Strauss 1962 31.14 2243 40.78 9.64 30.96

Watson's stunner in Mirpur shattered a number of records, but one of the less publicised ones was the percentage of the team's runs he scored. His 185 was almost 80% of Australia's total of 232: the highest in ODIs among team scores of at least 100. Richards is still on top of the table on this page, but that's only for completed innings (i.e, either the team was bowled out, or it played its entire quota of scheduled overs). In this case Australia batted just 26 overs, which, thanks to Watson, was enough for them to chase down the target of 230.

Watson's percentage of 79.74 is significantly better than Desmond Haynes' 72.65 when he scored 85 out of 117 against New Zealand. Ramiz Raja's unbeaten 119 out of 167 came in a World Cup match against New Zealand, and it sits at third place, though Ramiz's strike rate in that innings was only 76.77. However, Pakistan were chasing a low total, and Ramiz was helped by the fact that Javed Miandad, with whom he shared a partnership of 115, scored 30 from 85 balls.

Graeme Smith's unbeaten 134 came in an utter rout of India in Kolkata, when South Africa chased down 189 with all 10 wickets in hand and more than 14 overs to spare. Richards' unbeaten 189 out of 272 comes in next, and is the only one among the six that was a first-innings effort, and one in which the batting team played its full quota of overs.

Highest percentage of team scores in ODIs (Qual: team score at least 100)
Batsman Runs Team score Percentage Opp, venue, year
Shane Watson 185 232 79.74 Bangladesh, Mirpur, 2011
Desmond Haynes 85 117 72.65 New Zealand, Port of Spain, 1985
Rameez Raja 119 167 71.26 New Zealand, Christchurch, 1992
Graeme Smith 134 189 70.90 India, Kolkata, 2005
Viv Richards 189 272 69.49 England, Old Trafford, 1984
Gordon Greenidge 133 192 69.27 New Zealand, Christchurch, 1987

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Maduwantha on April 17, 2011, 18:09 GMT

    Aravinda, Arjuna, Insumam, Javed Miendad are also great chases.

  • Harsh on April 17, 2011, 4:33 GMT

    My ultimate batsman for the run chases were Javed Miandad,Allan Lamb,Michael Bevan and Yuvraj Singh who simply displayed ice-cool nerves in finishes in addition to the great ability to improvise.They could brilliantly pierce the impregnable gaps and launch a calculated assault.Viv Richards and Tendulkar were hardly tested in the finishes,but I am sure that had they come at round no 5 or 6 they may have been the best chasing batsman.At his best Zaheer Abbas would champion a chasing cause but lacked consistency and it is the same case with Brian Lara,Azharrudin or Salim Malik.

  • Dummy4 on April 16, 2011, 19:37 GMT

    Regarding the batting first vs chasing stats for Sachin Tendulkar and Viv Richards; there is definitely more than what numbers tell. For most of 90s Sachin had to carry the weight of the entire team without any support from others and a collapse looming as soon as he got out. Additionally, the Indian bowling allowed the opposition to pile up huge scores putting additional pressure on Sachin to succeed. On the other hand the West Indies, for most of Richards career were a superb bowling unit that restricted the opposition to a paltry score more often than not. Also in a team of prolific scorers such as Greenidge and Haynes among others Richards perhaps did not much to do in the chases on several occasions. how about stats that have been weighted for these factors (bowling strength, average scores on the ground, runs contributed relative to the rest of the batsmen...).

  • Manoj on April 16, 2011, 18:40 GMT

    I think Australian domination in this list and the high number of not out second Innings by Australian batsmen is indicative of the balling strength they had in the 2000's. Shane Warne-Lee-McGrath et al, made it often easy for the chasing batsmen to be tension free.

  • sachin on April 16, 2011, 16:02 GMT

    @Sanjeev_Talwani, what you're saying is totally irrelevant to the point I've made. I just meant to point out that the generalisation that second-innings-runs are somehow worth more is completely fallacious & the pressures faced by the batsmen while batting first are equivalent to those faced while batting second. As for scoring runs against Bangladesh is concerned, whether you score them in the first or the second innings, they're not going to be worth much anyways.

  • Sanjeev on April 16, 2011, 14:13 GMT

    @enigma77543, "in the same manner a batsman is under pressure to put a potentially match-winning score on the board batting first", I don't think that's the case when you're playing against a team like Bangladesh. I mean, what score do people regard as a "potentially match-winning score" against Bangladesh? :)

  • Dummy4 on April 16, 2011, 10:18 GMT

    Watto is far better than Tendulkar atleast team wins if he score runs....

  • sachin on April 16, 2011, 9:07 GMT

    It is ridiculous to say that runs scored batting first aren't worth as much as those scored batting second. Just like a batsman is under pressure with the scoreboard while chasing, in the same manner a batsman is under pressure to put a potentially match-winning score on the board batting first & assessing what's a good score, how much risks should one take at any point during the innings, etc are all equivalent to pressures faced while chasing. Often teams get bundled out on a low score in an effort to put up too big a score because their batsmen couldn't pace their innings properly & couldn't discern what's a score which can be a difficult task so one may even argue that batting second is easier from that POV as at least batsmen know exactly how much to get, not to mention, sometimes there can be some life in the pitch in the first innings or it may be slower in the first innings & it may quicken in the second innings with the dew coming in & batting becoming a lot easier.

  • soumyas on April 16, 2011, 5:42 GMT

    batsmen who have better second innings averages are the best batsmen, it shows they play to win the game, not just scoring runs for themselves... :)

  • Dummy4 on April 16, 2011, 5:21 GMT

    @ hanskishore your wrong in saying that openers get better chance of staying not out than middle order batsmen. Actually its other way around. Openers will have to last something like 150 balls to stay not out. Middle order batsman get better chance as they get much less balls to face. You want proof check not outs of Tendulkar against the likes of dhoni, hussey and Beven. Your correct when pointing out that they get less but middle order batsman are much more likely to average better than openers. This fact actually shows Watson's ODI abilities. Him being able to guide so many successful run chases and to stay there till the winning shot

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