May 27, 2011

Wanted: Star batsmen for Pakistan and West Indies

Both these teams are among the weakest batting sides in Test cricket over the last few years, since the retirement of their stalwarts

In the end, a 1-1 series result was a fair one, considering the relative strengths of Pakistan and West Indies. The hosts had reason to rejoice after winning their first Test in 28 months, while Pakistan showed their fighting qualities - and a far superior spin attack - to level things and ensure they didn't go back home with a demoralising series defeat.

In all this, though, what shouldn't be lost is the relative lack of batting strength of both teams. Pakistan put up the worse of two limp batting displays in Providence, while West Indies were clueless in St Kitts. West Indies' highest total in four innings in the entire series was 230, and the top score by a batsman for them was 57, which tells the sorry tale of their batting. Pakistan were a little better, thanks to two centuries in their second innings in St Kitts.

Overall, though, both teams are still trying to come to grips with the loss of two stalwarts who held their batting together for more than a decade. West Indies lost plenty of matches even when Brian Lara was around, but he was at least one star performer to look forward to, while Inzamam-ul-Haq was the glue in Pakistan's middle order. Lara played 134 Tests, averaged 52.88, and scored 34 hundreds; Inzamam played 120, averaged 49.60, and scored 25 centuries. Without them, their teams are struggling to score runs and hundreds.

The table below shows how West Indies and Pakistan have fared in Tests since the retirements of Lara and Inzamam. Pakistan's results are better, thanks largely to their superior bowling attack; in terms of batting, the numbers are pretty similar: West Indies' average is marginally better, as is their rate of scoring centuries per Test. They've also managed more 350-plus totals as opposed to scores of less than 200.

Pakistan and West Indies without their star batsman
Team Tests W/L Runs per wkt 100s/ 50s 100s per Test 350+ totals Sub-200 totals
Pakistan since Inzamam retired 26 5/ 12 29.45 15/ 67 0.58 9 11
West Indies since Lara retired 34 4/ 17 29.91 27/ 72 0.79 13 12

A look at the team-wise batting stats of teams since Inzamam's retirement shows how poor Pakistan and West Indies have been with the bat, and the gulf between them and the most prolific sides. For a start, only Bangladesh have a lower runs-per-wicket number than them, and even New Zealand - who've been quite an ordinary batting unit during this period - have a slightly higher average. The difference between the top five and the rest is pretty significant too: Sri Lanka, India, South Africa, Australia and England all have 35-plus averages, but the next team, New Zealand, plunge to 28, while Pakistan and West Indies are marginally lower.

The major difference between Pakistan and the other major teams is the conversion rate of fifties into hundreds. Since Inzamam's retirement, Pakistan's batsmen have only managed 15 hundreds in 26 Tests, with two of those coming in the last game against West Indies - that's an average of 0.58 hundreds per Test. During the same period, they've also managed 67 fifties, which makes for a terrible conversion rate of almost four-and-a-half fifties per century; every other team, including Bangladesh, has a better conversion ratio. During the same period South Africa have scored only three more fifties, but more than three times as many hundreds, which offers a fine contrast with Pakistan's numbers.

West Indies' conversion rate isn't so bad - they're only 0.02 poorer than Australia - but they too haven't scored enough fifties or hundreds. Compared to Australia's 1.21 centuries per Test, West Indies have managed 0.83.

Team-wise batting stats in Tests since Oct 13, 2007
Team Tests Average* Strike rate 100s/ 50s 100s per Test 50s per 100
Sri Lanka 28 41.19 55.20 40/ 68 1.43 1.70
India 40 39.73 54.80 58/ 119 1.45 2.05
South Africa 36 39.63 50.51 54/ 70 1.50 1.30
Australia 43 36.56 52.92 52/ 132 1.21 2.54
England 44 35.97 51.09 52/ 106 1.18 2.04
New Zealand 32 28.15 49.99 23/ 77 0.72 3.35
West Indies 30 27.98 47.89 25/ 64 0.83 2.56
Pakistan 26 27.86 46.87 15/ 67 0.58 4.47
Bangladesh 19 23.13 49.33 9/ 36 0.47 4.00
* Only includes runs scored off the bat

Not surprisingly, the list of 34 batsmen who've scored more than 1500 Test runs since October 13, 2007, includes only three West Indians - Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Chris Gayle and Ramnaresh Sarwan - and not a single Pakistani. On the other hand, there are four from Sri Lanka (three of them in the top four, in terms of averages), six from India (four in the top 11), five from South Africa, and seven from England.

To look for more West Indian and Pakistani names, the bar needs to be lowered from the lofty heights of 1500 runs. The top few in the table below have done well, but they haven't played in all their team's matches: Gayle has played only 23 of West Indies' 30 Tests in this period, while Sarwan has played 18. Similarly, for Pakistan, Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan have superb numbers, but they've only played 18 and 12 Tests out of Pakistan's 26.

The problem for both teams has been the other batsmen in the list below, and some others who aren't in the table. (Click here for the full list.) Salman Butt, Umar Akmal and Mohammad Yousuf have all averaged in the 30s during this period, which isn't good enough for specialist batsmen. Together, they've scored three centuries in 89 innings. Azhar Ali has impressed in his brief international career so far, but is still searching for his first hundred, despite having topped 50 eight times in 23 innings. Similarly, for West Indies, Devon Smith has gone 21 innings without getting anywhere near a Test hundred - his highest during this period is 55.

Stats of West Indies and Pakistan batsmen since Oct 13, 2007 (Qual: 800 runs)
Batsman Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Shivnarine Chanderpaul 26 1944 60.75 6/ 12
Chris Gayle 23 1894 52.61 6/ 6
Ramnaresh Sarwan 18 1510 48.70 6/ 5
Misbah-ul-Haq 18 1433 57.32 3/ 11
Brendon Nash 20 1093 35.25 2/ 8
Younis Khan 12 1061 58.94 3/ 4
Salman Butt 17 1039 32.46 1/ 6
Umar Akmal 15 988 36.59 1/ 6
Kamran Akmal 18 953 30.74 2/ 5
Mohammad Yousuf 14 889 34.19 1/ 5

Sticky Bravo

Darren Bravo scored only 107 runs in the two Tests against Pakistan, but he made sure he spent plenty of time at the crease, facing 343 deliveries in the series, the highest by far for West Indies. (The second-highest, incidentally, was Kemar Roach with 238.) In all series from the beginning of 2005, only 10 West Indian batsmen have faced more balls in a series in which they played two Tests.

Bravo's problem, though, was his inability to score: his strike rate for the series was 31 runs per 100 balls, which ensures his final numbers for the series don't do justice to the amount of time he spent at the crease. However, he was one of only two half-centurions for West Indies in the series, and his start to his Test career has been mighty impressive - four half-centuries in five Tests, and an average of almost 45. Hopefully, with more experience and confidence, his ability to score runs against all bowlers in all conditions will only improve. Clearly, he's a rare jewel that West Indies can't afford to waste.

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo