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Life after Murali, and batting in Sri Lanka

Since Muttiah Muralitharan's retirement, overseas batsmen have found it easier in Sri Lanka, a country where openers have fared better than the rest

S Rajesh

September 2, 2011

Comments: 12 | Text size: A | A

The Galle crowd watch with anticipation as Muttiah Muralitharan searches for wicket number 800, Sri Lanka v India, 1st Test, Galle, 5th day, July 22, 2010
Since 2005, opposition batsmen have averaged more than 10 runs higher in Sri Lanka in Tests that Murali hasn't played in © AFP
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For overseas teams, batting in Sri Lanka has surely been one of the more challenging assignments of recent years. Battling an army of spinners in conditions suited perfectly to slow bowling is an examination that several competent batsmen have failed to pass, but things just might be getting easier for them now, with Muttiah Muralitharan no longer around to torment them.

It's been a little more than a year since Murali retired, and Sri Lanka are still searching for their first Test win post Murali. They won the last Test he played, thrashing India by 10 wickets in Galle, with Murali himself taking eight to reach the 800-wicket milestone, but since then things haven't been as rosy. After managing 614 runs in two innings of that Galle Test, India scored 707 in a single innings in the second Test, and then won the third to level the series.

After that series, Sri Lanka drew a three-Test series at home against West Indies, which was admittedly seriously affected by the weather, but in the first Test the lack of bowling fire power was evident, as West Indies racked up 580 for 9 and forced Sri Lanka to follow on. Since then Sri Lanka have only played an away series in England, where they conceded more than 56 runs per wicket. Just as India have struggled without their best bowler, Zaheer Khan, so Sri Lanka have been finding it tough to dismiss opponents cheaply after Murali. In eight Tests since Murali retired (and excluding the ongoing Galle Test), Sri Lanka have lost two and drawn six, and conceded 50.39 runs per wicket.

These are still early days for Sri Lanka without Murali, though, and any team would struggle to cope with the loss of as pivotal a player. Looking at home Tests that Sri Lanka have played since the beginning of 2005, their stats with and without Murali present a huge contrast: with Murali, they've won 15 out of 20 Tests and lost only two - to Pakistan in 2006 and India in 2008. In these 20 matches, Sri Lanka's bowling average was 24.53. In the nine home Tests that he didn't play in during this period, though, Sri Lanka's bowling average went up to more than 35, and they won only two of those matches.

Sri Lanka at home since Jan 2005, with and without Murali
  Tests W/L/D Bowling average Run rate
With Murali 20 15/2/3 24.53 3.09
Without Murali 9 1/2/5 35.03 3.33

The tables below, though, also show that the rate of scoring in Sri Lanka has gone up over the last few years. Between 2000 and 2004, the average run rate in Sri Lanka was 2.93 runs per over, with overseas teams scoring at 2.67, easily the slowest among all host countries.

However, since 2005 the run rate in Sri Lanka has gone up to 3.36, an improvement of 15%. For overseas batsmen, the improvement is about 18%, though the average runs-per-wicket figure hasn't improved much. With Murali not around, though, the average too will almost certainly go up over the next few years.

The two tables below also show the overall increase in scoring rates the world over - since 2005 the run rate in every country is greater than three, whereas in the five-year period before that, the rates were below three in four countries. West Indies, though, continues to be the most difficult place to score quickly in, which is an indication of the sluggish quality of pitches in the region.

Stats by host country in Tests since Jan 2005 (Qual: 15 Tests)
Host country Tests Average Run rate Hosts - ave/ RR Visitors - Ave/ RR
Pakistan 13 44.60 3.51 49.14/ 3.50 40.41/ 3.52
England 50 34.01 3.50 40.84/ 3.67 29.04/ 3.34
Sri Lanka 29 34.16 3.36 44.41/ 3.55 27.22/ 3.17
Australia 35 36.10 3.33 42.51/ 3.55 30.88/ 3.12
South Africa 34 31.15 3.30 35.34/ 3.38 27.70/ 3.22
India 31 39.89 3.29 44.04/ 3.50 36.22/ 3.10
Bangladesh 18 33.81 3.26 26.11/ 3.11 45.05/ 3.39
New Zealand 28 33.18 3.20 31.82/ 3.27 34.55/ 3.14
West Indies 30 34.83 3.13 31.22/ 3.07 38.95/ 3.19

Stats by host country in Tests between Jan 2000 and Dec 2004 (Qual: 15 Tests)
Host country Tests Average Run rate Hosts - Ave/ RR Visitors - Ave-RR
Australia 31 36.27 3.38 49.34/ 3.82 27.55/ 2.98
England 35 34.77 3.36 36.73/ 3.35 32.95/ 3.38
South Africa 25 34.76 3.26 44.53/ 3.41 28.05/ 3.11
New Zealand 19 31.30 3.11 32.48/ 3.08 30.19/ 3.13
Pakistan 19 33.08 3.08 35.32/ 3.09 31.05/ 3.07
Bangladesh 15 29.25 3.04 19.09/ 2.77 49.42/ 3.29
Zimbabwe 18 34.02 2.95 29.90/ 2.76 39.30/ 3.16
Sri Lanka 32 32.41 2.93 39.86/ 3.22 27.11/ 2.67
India 23 34.54 2.92 36.53/ 2.92 32.87/ 2.91
West Indies 29 32.59 2.84 32.59/ 2.91 32.60/ 2.78

Coming back to the task of batting in Sri Lanka, it's often been said that the best time to bat there for overseas batsmen is against the new ball, when run-scoring is easier and before the spinners begin their strangulating act. The numbers support this argument too: a position-wise look at the averages of overseas batsmen shows that the difference between the averages of openers and Nos. 3, 4 and 5 is more than 25%. In 110 innings, openers have scored seven centuries in 110 innings, with Virender Sehwag leading the way, scoring three in 11 innings.

The No. 3 batsmen, on the other hand, seem to have had the biggest problems, with no centuries in 55 innings. Younis Khan (247 runs in 10 innings) and Rahul Dravid (233 in 10) are among the batsmen who've struggled to make a success of the No. 3 spot in Sri Lanka. The one exception has been West Indies' Darren Bravo, who averaged 68.66 in the three-Test series in 2010.

The No. 4 batsmen have done only slightly better, with Sachin Tendulkar's 203 last year the only century in 55 innings. Among the disappointments at this spot are Younis again, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Kevin Pietersen. The No. 5s have managed only one century too - Mohammad Yousuf's 112 in 2009.

The No. 6 batsmen, on the other hand, have done much better, with four centuries in 52 innings and an average of more than 33. VVS Laxman, Shoaib Malik, Suresh Raina and Mohammad Ashraful have all achieved three-figure scores at No. 6. In the ongoing series, Usman Khawaja has taken up that slot, and if he can add to that tally, Australia will be well served.

Overseas batsmen in Sri Lanka since Jan 2005, by batting position
Position Innings Runs Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s
Openers 110 3938 36.46 55.57 7/ 21
No.3 55 1393 26.28 48.57 0/ 11
No.4 55 1555 29.90 47.50 1/ 10
No.5 53 1544 30.27 43.92 1/ 9
No.6 52 1577 33.55 53.96 4/ 8

All stats updated till the end of the second day of the first Test between Sri Lanka and Australia in Galle.

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo

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Posted by   on (September 4, 2011, 17:57 GMT)

Don Bradman cannot play Cricket forever, right? Everything in this world is mortal including the planet. So let's stop talking about "If"s & "But"s. Murali is a legend & how he'll be remembered in times to count. Can a woman give birth to identical children in terms of character? Its time to move on. When Murali came in to the scene, it took so many years to become the venomous bowler he was when he hung his boots. He was taken apart by Novjot Sidhu, Azharuddin, Michael Slater, etc. But with the experience, he innovated ways to without being hit & to take wickets. So will the new bowlers. Just give them a break. They'll come good with experience. Life feels good when there are changes. You don't wanna see Sanath Jayasuriya coming to batch on a wheel chair at the age of 80? or do you want to see Brett Lee crawling to the ground to bowl at 25kmph?

Posted by muh189 on (September 4, 2011, 16:32 GMT)

its always difficult to lose a player of Muralis calibre, who has been carrying our bowling attack almost single handedly for more than a decade but thats all what the game is about; he cannot play forever. we have to learn to play without star players and hope we get another Murali!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by South_Indian on (September 4, 2011, 3:00 GMT)

Muralitharan's retirement last year is a big loss for SL, but the biggest problem is their captain, yes, Dilshan is the biggest problem. Dilshan's defensive tactics in field and lack of critical thinking is ruining the team's chances. His field placements are not as aggressive as his batting is and in the last two series against Eng and Aus we can clearly see how poor his cricket knowledge is compared with Sangakkara's and Mahela's captaincy. A ODI team with Malinga, T Perera, Randiv, Ajanta Mendis and Mathews is definitely more than an average bowling side and in tests with A Mendis, Randiv and Herath is not that bad. But Dilshan is struggling to manage his resources, lets hope he improves soon or gets replaced.

Posted by stormy16 on (September 3, 2011, 12:44 GMT)

The reality is Murali and Vaas kept SL competitive for the last 15 years and you take those two away there is ONLY Malinga who has 100 test wickets! For those of you who remember the pre-Murali/Vaas era will recall well the struggles with the bowling SL had. Unfortunatley that is not too far from where SL are now. There is promise with guys like Lakmal and Randiv and we can only hope these guys will keep SL in the game in years to come. Hearath is a decent spinner but he is 33 and I have heard alot of Pradeep but havent seen much of him. From what I have seen SL have concerns on the bolwing front in the years to come.

Posted by Balumekka on (September 3, 2011, 6:30 GMT)

Sri Lanka was so lucky to produce the best wicket taker ever played the game, just 12 years after getting the Test status. It lifted Sri Lanka's game so rapidly. With the help of few high class players like Aravinda, Jayasuriya, Snaga, Mahela, Vass, and under the leadership of one of the most authoritative captains in the history of the game, Ranatunga, Murali accelerated the evolution of Sri Lankan team to one of the top teams around merely within 15-20 years since getting the test status. Sri Lanka won a ODI world cup mere 15 years after they got the test status. If compared to the status of a team like Zimbabwe, a team with 15 years of test cricket history, Sri Lanka has achieved immensely thanks to these giants. When a giant like Murali got retied, nobody can fill that gap, and its unfair to expect similar performances from the team.

Posted by samp1988 on (September 2, 2011, 19:44 GMT)

murali is an amazing bowler.Is n't he?? I beleive his 800 test wicket record will not be broken in near future.See his test record for a minute. You will surprise how good he is with comparing to other top bowlers like share warne,wasim akram courtly ambrose etc.67 5 wicket hauls and 22 10 wicket hauls for him in test cricket. can u beleive it?? even shane warne has 10 10 wicket hauls. wonderfull.

As Don bradman is the batsman of the 20th century Murali will be the bowler for 21st century.

Posted by CricketChat on (September 2, 2011, 16:31 GMT)

Murali, more than any other SL bowler, impacted games played in SL past 15 yrs. Fans shouldn't expect similar level performance from other spinners like Randiv, Herath, Mendis who just mere mortals compared to legend Murali.

Posted by Dishanstc on (September 2, 2011, 16:01 GMT)

@Charinda, Well said man, the hay day have all gone

Posted by RohanMarkJay on (September 2, 2011, 15:54 GMT)

Yeah, Murali was an extraordinary cricketer. I hope Sri Lanka finds a bowler similar to Murali in the near future. Sri Lanka has a lot very talented cricketers Batsman and Bowlers. However its the talent scouts in Sri Lanka to make sure the talent that is undoubtedly there in Sri Lanka is not wasted we all wonder what if? They should make sure great talent is fast tracked into the Sri Lankan team. This is of course the responsibility of the selectors and Captain. However Murali was a hard act to follow. Its possible we may not see his ilk ever again. Sri Lanka were of course blessed to have his services for the last 20 years making Sri lanka near unbeatable at home. Sri Lanka's next challenge should be to create a potent battery of test match fit bowlers whether spin or medium or fast that can take 20 wickets. There is no reason given the immense cricketing talent in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka can't continue to do well in international cricket especially at home in the post Murali era.

Posted by   on (September 2, 2011, 14:13 GMT)

Just proves what a match winner murali really was... Was pretty depressing seeing him go.

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S Rajesh Stats editor Every week the Numbers Game takes a look at the story behind the stats, with an original slant on facts and figures. The column is edited by S Rajesh, ESPNcricinfo's stats editor in Bangalore. He did an MBA in marketing, and then worked for a year in advertising, before deciding to chuck it in favour of a job which would combine the pleasures of watching cricket and writing about it. The intense office cricket matches were an added bonus.

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