October 28, 2011

Sri Lanka's over-reliance on Sanga and Mahela

As long as Sri Lanka's top two batsmen outperform the rest of the top order by around 70%, the team's fine; when they don't, there's trouble

For a while now, the batting fortunes of Sri Lanka have been linked inextricably with those of their two best batsmen, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. Not only are they the best among the current lot of batsmen in Sri Lanka - they are way ahead of competition in that regard - but they're also arguably among the best three that the island has ever produced. (Aravinda de Silva is the other name that belongs at the very top, but he didn't do his talent justice with a Test career average of 42.97. Already these two are about 2000 runs clear of their nearest competitors in terms of Test runs scored by Sri Lankan batsmen, and they're far from done yet - in fact, they're both enjoying some of their best years in international cricket.

The last six years have been outstanding ones for both. For Jayawardene, the current year has been a disappointing one despite a superb century in Galle against Australia: in eight Tests he averages 25.92, with only one century. In each of the previous five years, though, he averaged more than 50, almost touching 100 (98.20) in 2007. So far in 2011, though, he has been less than prolific, and his failures in three innings of the current series against Pakistan have been among the main reasons for Sri Lanka's problems so far.

Sangakkara has been in a rich vein of form, too, especially since he gave up wicketkeeping duties. His monumental double-hundred in Abu Dhabi allowed Sri Lanka to escape with a draw against Pakistan, and that form has carried over to the second Test as well. His last few knocks of the year have propped up his 2011 average as well, which is now almost 50 (after the first innings of the Dubai Test). Overall, in the54 Tests in which he hasn't kept wicket, Sangakkara's average is a staggering 71.91.

In fact, since the beginning of 2006, both he and Jayawardene have been among the top three in terms of Test averages (with a 3000-run cut-off). Jacques Kallis is the one batsman who squeezes in between the two, but Sangakkara's average of 67.36 is way ahead of anyone else's during this period.

Best Test averages since Jan 2006 (Qual: 3000 runs)
Batsman Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Kumar Sangakkara 49 5120 67.36 18/ 19
Jacques Kallis 50 4495 59.14 18/ 17
Mahela Jayawardene 50 4584 57.30 16/ 13
Shivnarine Chanderpaul 43 3260 56.20 9/ 20
Sachin Tendulkar 55 4642 55.26 16/ 20
Virender Sehwag 50 4415 51.33 12/ 17
Kevin Pietersen 70 5687 51.23 17/ 22
Michael Hussey 57 4518 50.76 12/ 25

Sangakkara and Jayawardene have held Sri Lanka's batting together for the last few years, and there's plenty to like about their stats. The table below, though, also shows one aspect that isn't so flattering. Both have outstanding averages at home - more than 70 since 2006 - and Sangakkara's numbers overseas have picked up as well, but the one aspect of Jayawardene's stats that has always confounded experts has been his performances outside the subcontinent. Though he possesses an excellent defensive technique and strokes all around the wicket, his average outside the subcontinent is a modest 35.98; over the last six years it has come down further, to 31.08.

Admittedly, part of the problem is also that Sri Lankan don't play that much outside the subcontinent. While India, and even Pakistan, tend to tour Australia, South Africa, England, New Zealand and West Indies reasonably regularly, Sri Lanka do so far more infrequently, and even when they do, it's often for only a two-Test series. Since January 2006, for example, India have played 27 Tests outside the subcontinent, Pakistan 24, and Sri Lanka a mere 12. The vagaries of the FTP can explain some of the discrepancy but not such a huge difference.

Even so, Jayawardene has struggled in these conditions more than a player of his class should. On the tour to England earlier in 2011, he scored 103 in six innings; he did reasonably well in Australia in 2007-08, scoring 167 in four innings, but managed only 39 in four innings on the tour to New Zealand before that. When opportunities are so scarce, these failures get magnified even more.

Sangakkara, on the other hand, had very good Tests in Australia and New Zealand, though his 2011 series in England was only salvaged somewhat by a century in his last innings. (Click here for his series-wise stats.)

Sangakkara and Jayawardene in Tests since Jan 2006
  Sangakkara - Tests Average 100s/ 50s Jayawardene - Tests Average 100s/ 50s
Home 27 79.94 11/ 9 27 72.58 10/ 12
Away (incl neutral) 22 54.78 7/ 10 23 42.75 6/ 1
In subcontinent 38 73.08 14/ 15 38 68.53 13/ 12
Outside subcontinent 11 51.35 4/ 4 12 31.08 3/ 1

Even with slightly dodgy numbers outside the subcontinent, though, Jayawardene remains way ahead of other Sri Lankan batsmen, excluding Sangakkara. In the 49 Tests in which both these batsmen have played for Sri Lanka, they've scored almost 42% of the team's top-order runs, and more than 50% of the hundreds. Together they've averaged 62.60, while the rest of the top-order has averaged less than 38.

Tests that Sangakkara and Jayawardene have played together since Jan 2006
  Innings Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Kumar Sangakkara 83 5120 67.36 18/ 19
Mahela Jayawardene 82 4521 57.96 16/ 13
Together 165 9641 62.60 34/ 32
Rest of SL top order (Nos 1-7) 398 13,423 37.60 29/ 69

And here are more comparisons between the Sangakkara-Jayawardene combination and the rest of the top order. Overall in these last six years, these two have outperformed the rest of the Sri Lankan top order by around 66%. In wins that figure increases to 73%, but in defeats it drops to around 34%, and outside the subcontinent to around 38%. The message is clear: Sri Lanka bank on Sangakkara and Jayawardene to massively outperform the rest of the top order. When they do by about 70%, the team does well; when the percentage of outperformance is only about 30-40%, the team continues to struggle.

More drilldowns - Sangakkara+Jayawardene v Rest of SL's top order (since Jan 2006)
  S+J - ave 100s/ 50s Others - average 100s/ 50s
Outside subcontinent 40.71 7/ 5 29.54 6/ 17
In wins 73.03 16/ 12 42.15 14/ 26
In defeats 35.07 5/ 6 26.06 5/ 16

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on Twitter

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Kinesh on October 31, 2011, 21:02 GMT

    To be fair, every player from the sub-continent averages below 50, away from the sub-continent (Australia, England, New Zealand & South Africa), except two players, Sachin Tendulkar (52.57) and Rahul Dravid (52.32). If I was to include playing in West Indies to that list, Sunil Gavaskar (51.57) is the only other man to average over 50, including Tendulkar and Dravid.

  • Chatty on October 30, 2011, 17:51 GMT

    I think comparing these two against the rest of the top 7 is not totally accurate. SL often plays only 6 batsmen, including the wicket keeper (Prasanna is a great w/keeper, but is not really a batsman, although he has made some good runs recently). But, these findings are not too surprising - unlike India, SL does not have a billion plus people. Imagine if they did! SL for its size (and with no natural build/physique for fast bowling) has been exceptional in its achievements. Near the top in both T20 and One Day cricket. Not bad in test rankings (but a lot more to do on that front).

  • Amila on October 30, 2011, 17:38 GMT

    Sanga is not a flat track batsmen he has done better in AZ,NZ and SA wickets compare to the other batsmen in the subcontinent , he has always bring his best whenever the team is most needed him ... if you wanna see the real flat track bullies in action then just go and watch the current series between Ind and Eng

  • nalin on October 30, 2011, 13:30 GMT

    My maths teacher told me that mathematics was the study of the obvious and these statistics tells the tale of Sri Lanka's over reliance on Sanga and Mahela but it also tells that Sanga has performed well outside the country but Mahela has been disappointing outside the subcontinent and the rest of the side lot worse. The last 5 test matches have seen woeful Sri lankan batting except for the odd cameo. There is noticeable lack of confidence and technique in their batting. Sri lanka had 2 unorthodox batsmen in Jayasuriya and kaluwitharana but the other 5 were orthodox batsmen with good technique that were well coached from colombo schools who were solid. Why did they load this squad with an abundence of reserve wicketkeepers.What about Samaraweera and Tharanga. The quality of their bowling is even a bigger concern that makes their batting limitations more of a problem.

  • Anil on October 30, 2011, 13:09 GMT

    @umar-amir-fawad-Well said ,bottom is where they belong without the great Murali-not a single technically correct lankan player in sight.Sanga and Mahela are the last of the good flat track batsman and now they are batting very badly even in those pitches.Looks like even Bangladesh and Zimbabwe will also beat them.Not to forget they were not able to beat West indies in the test series last year.

  • nipo on October 30, 2011, 11:53 GMT

    SL didn't develop any young talents to replace any of them. No way they drop Mahela regardless of his recent poor showings. In fact, they don't have any test batsmen on that team besides these two. Dilshan is a sheer joke.First thing SLC should do now is relieve Dilshan from captaincy.He was a much better batsman before captaincy. He's not a born leader and how on earth can you make a 34 year old inconsistent batsman captain when you have good 4 years to develop a new captain before the next WC? Then bring in Dinesh Chandimal into the side. He's the one that has true potential as far as I have seen. My fear about SLC is they won't win any test match in near future. I actually think Bangladesh has a better bowling attack than SL right now. Lastly. only one person can set SLC into bright future, it's Arguna Ranatunga.He needs to lead the board.Only he can voice anything against ICC aka BCCI. Pak and SL cricket started going down ever since cricket became "ICC=BCCI."

  • Priyashrav on October 30, 2011, 11:00 GMT

    @johnathonjosephs Where did you find these stats,mate! According to Statsguru,Mahela averages 31.08 in 12 tests outside the subcontinent since 2006! In case of Sangakkara its true though.

  • Sandeep on October 30, 2011, 10:20 GMT

    Sanga is ok but Jayawardane is a burden now.But I wonder if there is any young Sri lankan batsman to replace them now?!All I see is good sloggers but not good technical players...lol,,honeymoon for sri lanka seems to be over,,now go back to your place guys,,bottom!!!

  • Johnathon on October 30, 2011, 6:49 GMT

    An average of 51 for the 2 batsman outside the subcontinent since 2006 should be more than enough to silence the critics saying they are flat track bullies

  • Aravind on October 29, 2011, 18:21 GMT

    Sangakkara is a terrific player.He has the ability to play in any type of pitches.He belongs to the class of Dravid,Ponting & Kallis..But Jayawardene is a flat track bully.He can score only in Srilanka..

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