April 20, 2012

Diminishing returns in the West Indies

In the 1980s, Test run rates in the West Indies used to be higher than in any other country; since 2000, it's become the lowest

Over the last couple of weeks, the two extreme forms of cricket have given the viewers a good example of just how different the two versions are. While batting teams have motored along at about seven-and-a-half to the over in the IPL (which itself is relatively slow by IPL standards), the West Indies-Australia series has produced runs at the rate of 2.69 to the over (going into the final day of the second Test in Trinidad).

There used to be a time when cricket in the West Indies used to be about quick pitches which encouraged bowlers to bowl fast and batsmen to score quickly - in the 1980s the West Indies was the only region in which the average scoring rate in Test cricket was more than three runs per over. Those were the golden days of West Indian cricket, when most of the batsmen were aggressive and bowlers bowled fast.

That, though, was more than 20 years back. Now, cricket in the West Indies is often characterised by slow pitches and slow outfields, which means batsmen don't get value for their shots, fast bowlers don't get much out of it, and bowlers in general struggle to get batsmen out quickly. In the two Tests of the ongoing series, the only innings in which a team scored at three an over or more was in the fourth innings of the first Test, when Australia had a target before them and limited time to get the runs in - they scored at 4.08 per over to get to 192 in 47. Other than that, the highest run-rate has been West Indies' 2.93 in their first innings in Barbados. In the two completed innings in Port-of-Spain, the run-rates have been 2.30 and 2.45, and most of the stats highlights have been about slow scoring or slow bowling: in the Australian innings, four bowlers bowled 15-plus overs at economy rates of less that two, the first time this had happened since 1961; when West Indies batted, Australia opened the bowling with Michael Beer, the first time since 1938 that a slow bowler had shared the new ball for Australia in the opposition first innings. This is also the first time since 2000 that Australia's run rate in a series is less than three runs per over.

The table below lists the run-rates in each country since 2000, and West Indies is right at the bottom of the list (among countries that have hosted at least 20 Tests; UAE is lower at 2.88, but they've hosted only 12). In fact, from the 1980s, when they were the only country with a three-plus run rate, they've now become the only ones with a rate of less than three. The average runs per wicket stat is similar to many of the other host countries, but the lower scoring rate means more overs used up to make those runs. That, coupled with weather interruptions, means the result percentage in the West Indies is the lowest among all countries.

Host-nation-wise batting stats in each country since 2000
Host country Tests Results Percentage Average Run-rate
England 85 66 77.65 34.32 3.44
Australia 72 62 86.11 35.62 3.36
South Africa 64 54 84.37 32.31 3.30
Pakistan 32 22 68.75 37.35 3.26
New Zealand 51 35 68.63 32.42 3.17
Bangladesh 37 32 86.49 32.27 3.17
India 57 36 63.16 37.53 3.15
Sri Lanka 65 48 73.85 33.22 3.10
Zimbabwe 25 21 84.00 33.09 3.03
West Indies 61 37 60.65 33.67 2.98

The conditions in the West Indies has made quick run-scoring tough for many batsmen, as is reflected in the table below. Among those who've faced at least 750 deliveries in the West Indies since 2000, several batsmen have much lower strike rates in the West Indies than over their entire careers. Jimmy Adams' overall strike rate in the West Indies was 36.85, only marginally below his career number, but in the five Tests since 2000, it went down to less than 28. The more surprising stat is Herschelle Gibbs's strike rate in the West Indies: 34.41, compared to a career rate of more than 50. His strike rate outside the West Indies was 52.79, which means his scoring rate dropped by about 35% when he played in the Windies. The strike rate is all the more surprising as Gibbs' average in the West Indies was reasonably good, which means he spent a fair amount of time at the crease. But as this list of innings shows, on several occasions he failed to increase his scoring rate despite spending long periods at the crease: the list includes 45 off 195 balls, 49 off 206, and 87 off 275 - numbers that you'd seldom associate with Gibbs.

A couple of slots down the table is Michael Hussey, another batsman who's played plenty of deliveries in the West Indies without quite converting them into runs. Till the end of the first innings in Trinidad, he'd played 766 balls and scored only 290; had he scored at his career strike rate of 49.49, he'd have scored 379 runs in those deliveries. Even Darren Bravo has been far more subdued at home (average 33.30, strike rate 37.58) than abroad (average 70.25, strike rate 55.17). Further down the list, the strike rates for Rahul Dravid and Shivnarine Chanderpaul are almost the same in and outside the West Indies, with similar averages too.

Batsmen in the West Indies in Tests since 2000 (Qual: 750 balls)
Batsman Tests Runs Balls faced Average Strike rate Career SR
Jimmy Adams 5 315 1130 63.00 27.87 37.57
Neil McKenzie 5 301 952 33.44 31.61 42.00
Herschelle Gibbs 9 583 1694 41.64 34.41 50.26
Darren Bravo 7 433 1152 33.30 37.58 47.87
Michael Hussey 5 290 766 32.22 37.85 49.49
Ryan Hinds 11 320 825 20.00 38.78 40.56
Ashwell Prince 6 359 905 71.80 39.66 43.70
Jacques Kallis 12 942 2369 55.41 39.76 45.59
Rahul Dravid 12 1151 2797 63.94 41.15 42.51
Marlon Samuels 15 606 1451 22.44 41.76 46.01
Shivnarine Chanderpaul 51 4173 9988 61.36 41.78 42.60

On the other hand, there're very few batsmen who've scored faster in the West Indies than in other countries during this period. The table below lists the batsmen with the highest scoring rates in the West Indies (with a 750-ball cut-off). Only three batsmen in the list below have scored significantly quicker in the West Indies, compared to their overall rates: Justin Langer, Andrew Strauss and Paul Collingwood. Clearly, quick scoring and the West Indies no longer go together, which is a pity considering the adventurous batting and boundary-hitting that the West Indies used to be famous for a few decades ago.

Batsmen with highest strike rates in the West Indies in Tests since 2000 (Qual: 750 balls)
Batsman Tests Runs Balls faced Average Strike rate Career SR
Justin Langer 4 483 788 69.00 61.29 54.22
Ricky Ponting 8 903 1542 69.46 58.56 58.98
Brian Lara 33 3177 5449 58.83 58.30 60.51
Andrew Strauss 5 541 943 67.62 57.37 49.16
Inzamam-ul-Haq 4 462 815 77.00 56.68 54.02
Paul Collingwood 5 430 780 61.42 55.12 46.44
Chris Gayle 45 2777 5225 38.56 53.14 59.10
Ridley Jacobs 25 974 1859 37.46 52.39 47.80
Graeme Smith 7 876 1728 73.00 50.69 60.39

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