August 17, 2012

Petersen's rise, and the Lord's jinx

A look at the rise of a South African batsman, and the fall of many batting legends at Lord's

He isn't as high-profile or flamboyant as Kevin Pietersen, but the other Petersen in the England-South Africa series has been doing a mighty fine job of top-order batting as well. Alviro was under some pressure after being the only batsman to miss out during the mauling at The Oval, but his riposte at Headingley was emphatic. His 182 wasn't as dominant as Kevin Pietersen's 149 later in that match, but it was critical in ensuring that South Africa didn't once again suffer the second-Test blues as they have so often in the last three years: since February 2009, South Africa have a 6-1 win-loss record in first Tests, but a 1-6 record in the second match of a series, with two losses each to Australia and India, plus defeats against England and Sri Lanka.

At Headingley, though, Petersen held South Africa's first innings together, when the second-highest score was Graeme Smith's 52 and no other batsman touched 50. It was the sixth-highest score by an opener at Headingley, and the second-highest there in 35 years, next only to Matthew Elliott's 199 in 1997.

Petersen is only into his third season of international cricket, but he has looked the part in his brief career so far. He is only the third South African to score a century on Test debut - he made exactly 100 against India in Kolkata in 2010 - and while he had his share of failures thereafter and was dropped for a year, he has returned stronger and more hungry for big runs. When he was dropped at the beginning of 2011, Petersen averaged only 33.64 in 17 innings, with no century after that debut innings. Since his return in January 2012, he has averaged 59.10 in 12 innings, with three hundreds, two of them being 150-plus scores. He has had his share of failures, as every opener must - he has been dismissed 12 times for less than 25 - but he has also shown an inclination to carry on and make a significant contribution once he has got a start.

Petersen is one of seven South African openers to score more than 1000 Test runs since their readmission into international cricket. So far in his fledgling career, his average is pretty impressive, and importantly, it is moving in the right direction.

Openers with 1000-plus Test runs for South Africa since 1992
Batsman Innings Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Graeme Smith 166 8030 51.80 25/ 32
Herschelle Gibbs 116 5242 47.22 14/ 21
Alviro Petersen 28 1147 42.48 4/ 3
Gary Kirsten 149 5726 41.79 14/ 28
Neil McKenzie 35 1279 39.96 3/ 3
AB de Villiers 35 1265 36.14 3/ 6
Andrew Hudson 56 1855 35.00 4/ 12

The presence of Smith in South Africa's line-up means one half of the opening combination is a certainty - and has been for a while - but recently they have had some problems in finding a reliable partner for him: Jacques Rudolph didn't perform to expectations when given an opportunity in 2011, while Petersen himself had been patchy before that. However, over the last decade and more, South Africa have generally had strong opening batsmen - think Gary Kirsten and Herschelle Gibbs.

Since the beginning of 2000, South Africa's opening batsmen average 44.82, while their partnership average is 49.43. Both compare very well with the corresponding numbers for other teams during this period: South Africa's partnership average is the highest, marginally above Australia's, while their batting average is second only to that of Australia.

Opening batting stats for all teams in Tests since Jan 2000
Team Players Tests Batting ave 100s/ 50s P'ship ave 100/ 50 stands
South Africa 14 130 44.82 54/ 77 49.43 26/ 50
Australia 13 142 47.03 65/ 98 49.27 30/ 61
India 20 132 41.12 45/ 89 45.28 30/ 44
England 13 161 42.80 65/ 104 44.91 35/ 61
Pakistan 21 109 33.48 25/ 69 37.36 16/ 39
Sri Lanka 16 119 37.35 37/ 66 35.94 14/ 38
West Indies 22 132 30.47 21/ 75 34.11 18/ 36
New Zealand 21 97 29.40 14/ 54 30.28 9/ 23
Bangladesh 14 73 23.90 7/ 35 26.02 4/ 15
Zimbabwe 17 48 23.18 4/ 27 22.75 5/ 5

Opening an innings means plenty of exposure to quick bowling, and a break-up of Petersen's stats reveals he has a very good record against the fast men: his overall average against pace and medium-pace bowling is almost 55. His bigger problem has been spin bowling, against which his average drops to less than 30. The two bowlers who have had the most success against him are both spinners: Harbhajan Singh has dismissed him four times at an average of 11.25 runs per dismissal, while Pakistan's left-arm spinner Abdur Rehman has done equally well, dismissing him three times at an average of 11.67. On the other hand, Petersen has impressive numbers against fast bowlers, averaging 106 against Chris Martin, 64 against Stuart Broad, and 41 against James Anderson.

These are still very early days for Petersen, though, and the challenge will be to keep up his stats against quick bowling, and to improve against spin. If he consistently sees off the new ball, like he has done this year, he'll surely get plenty of opportunities to work on his stats against spin as well.

Petersen versus pace and spin in Tests
Bowler type Runs Dismissals Average Run rate
Pace/ medium pace 868 16 54.25 3.28
Spin 649 10 29.40 2.71

The Lord's jinx
Jacques Kallis was done in by a poor decision in the first innings of the Lord's Test, but that continued his poor run in Lord's Tests. In four Test innings here, going all the way back to 1998, Kallis has managed scores of 0, 7, 13, and 3. His aggregate of 23 runs is the fourth-lowest for any top-order overseas batsman who has played at least four innings in the top seven at Lord's, and the lowest since 1960.

In a weird way, though, that's quite fitting, for Kallis joins most of the top names of his era in suffering from the Lord's jinx. The table below lists the top overseas batsmen who have struggled at Lord's, and the list is an illustrious one: Ricky Ponting, Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar and Kumar Sangakkara all feature prominently. Among these five, who are five of the greatest batting names since 1990, they've batted a total of 31 innings and scored 593 runs at an average of 19.77, with two half-centuries in those 31 innings. Going back a little further, there are more prominent names: Javed Miandad, Alvin Kallicharran, Zaheer Abbas and Sunil Gavaskar all had their problems at the ground, with Zaheer's 75 the highest by any of them. Miandad's highest in six innings was an unbeaten 26 - in his other knocks at Lord's he scored 9, 0, 6, 0 and 22. In all, the batsmen in the table below played 60 Test innings at Lord's and managed just five fifties, with no one scoring more than 75 in an innings. Apparently the effect of the slope was all downhill for these batsmen. (Gavaskar did finally conquer Lord's, but not in a Test match: playing for the Rest of the World against MCC in a first-class match after his retirement in 1987, he scored a monumental 188 in 404 minutes, against an attack that included Malcolm Marshall and Richard Hadlee.)

Batsmen who have struggled to conquer Lord's
Batsman Innings Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Jacques Kallis 4 23 5.75 0/ 0
Ramnaresh Sarwan 5 54 10.80 0/ 0
Javed Miandad 6 63 12.50 0/ 0
Alvin Kallicharran 4 63 15.75 0/ 0
Ricky Ponting 6 109 18.16 0/ 0
Brian Lara 6 126 21.00 0/ 1
Sachin Tendulkar 9 195 21.67 0/ 0
Kumar Sangakkara 6 140 28.00 0/ 1
Zaheer Abbas 4 117 29.25 0/ 1
Sunil Gavaskar 10 340 34.00 0/ 2

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