September 7, 2012

The Sehwag issue

Is he trying to score too quickly, especially in bowler-friendly conditions? A look at how his stats have changed over the last four and a half years

If Virender Sehwag stays fit through the next couple of months, the second Test of the series against England, in Mumbai, will be his 100th. It'll be a fine landmark for a batsman who has thrilled the senses more than most players in world cricket over the last decade with his aggressive brand of batting at the top of the order. He will become the ninth Indian player to reach the mark, and it'll be a well-deserved reward for his longevity.

Over the last few years, though, whispers have gradually been growing louder about Sehwag's skewed record - superb in subcontinental conditions, where fast bowlers don't get too much assistance, but not so flash in other countries, where fast bowlers get more help from the conditions. He has himself expressed the desire to bat in the middle order, but so far there seems to be nothing to suggest that his wish will be granted.

However, over the first six and a half years of his international career, Sehwag constantly defied the odds, and critics who gave his technique no chance in seamer-friendly conditions: he scored Test hundreds in South Africa, England and Australia. Till the 2007-08 tour of Australia, there was very little to choose between his home and away averages. He consistently scored hundreds away from home as well, even in conditions that were supposedly not suited to his style of batting: he averaged 59.50 in seven Tests in Australia, and 39.50 in four Tests in England. He was less successful in South Africa, averaging 26.44 in nine innings, but his overall average in Australia, England, New Zealand and South Africa was a respectable 40.84 in 18 Tests, with four hundreds.

His last successful tour to one of these countries was in Australia in 2007-08, when he scored 286 runs in four innings at 71.50. Since February 2008, though, Sehwag's consistency, and his reputation of being able to score runs in all sorts of conditions has taken a beating, which is reflected in his numbers. There is nothing to choose between his overall averages during these two periods - 50.46 in 54 Tests till January 2008, and 50.85 in 44 Tests since then. However, delve deeper and the differences are significant: in the latter period, Sehwag has depended on home Tests to rack up the runs - he averages more than 62 at home and 38 away. Then there's the small matter of Tests outside the subcontinent: in 12 Tests in Australia, England, New Zealand and South Africa, his average has dropped to 22.73, with only three fifties - and a highest of 67 - in 23 innings.

There are a couple of differences apart from that in his averages outside the subcontinent. In the first period he converted half of his 50-plus scores into hundreds - he had 13 hundreds and as many fifties. Since then, though, his conversion rate has dropped - only nine hundreds out of 28 scores of 50-plus. Since he scored his last century, 173 against New Zealand in November 2010, he has scored nine fifties in 30 innings without converting a single one into a hundred.

And then's the matter of his strike rates. Sehwag has always been an aggressive batsman, regardless of the bowlers, the match situation or the conditions, but over the last four years and a bit, his strike rate has increased to 92.50, from 75 in the first part of his career. Despite struggling for runs outside the subcontinent, he has still scored at a rate that's 11% faster than it used to be when he was more successful in seamer-friendly conditions.

Overall numbers in Tests for Virender Sehwag
  Tests Runs Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s
Home 46 4376 57.57 83.38 12/ 19
Away 52 3930 44.65 80.86 10/ 13
Overall 98 8306 50.64 82.17 22/ 32
Sehwag in Tests till Jan 31, 2008
  Tests Runs Average Strike rate 100/ 50s
Home 22 1879 52.19 71.47 6/ 7
Away 32 2562 49.26 77.61 7/ 6
In Aus, Eng, NZ, SA 18 1348 40.84 70.98 4/ 4
Overall 54 4441 50.46 74.89 13/ 13
Sehwag in Tests from Feb 1, 2008
  Tests Runs Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s
Home 24 2497 62.42 95.34 6/ 12
Away 20 1368 38.00 87.74 3/ 7
In Aus, Eng, NZ, SA 12 523 22.73 79.00 0/ 3
Overall 44 3865 50.85 92.50 9/ 19

Let's further drill down his numbers in Australia, England, New Zealand and South Africa, and check how he has fared against pace and spin over these two periods. Before February 2008, Sehwag's average against pace in these countries was marginally over 46. He had notable successes against fast bowling during this period: against Brett Lee he scored 190 runs and was dismissed twice; against Jason Gillespie he scored 70 for one dismissal; against Andrew Flintoff he scored 54 runs without being dismissed; Makhaya Ntini dismissed him just once, conceding 62. The quick bowlers who did well against him were Shaun Pollock (3 for 43 in 81 balls) and Shane Bond (3 for 16 in 28 balls).

Against spin, though, his average was much lower, generally paying the price for his urge to dominate slow bowlers from the start. Stuart MacGill, for example, conceded 73 off 81 balls to Sehwag but dismissed him three times.

Since February 2008, though, Sehwag's numbers against both pace and spin have plunged. Ben Hilfenhaus (3 for 64 in 117 balls) and Dale Steyn (3 for 49 in 91) have dismissed him most often, while James Anderson, James Pattinson and Peter Siddle have dismissed him twice each in these four countries.

Against spin, though, his stats are even more shocking, especially given that the matches in question have mostly been played in conditions that don't assist spinners. In 47 balls he has been dismissed five times by spinners, even though he has scored at more than seven an over against them. Here are his stats against some spinners: 1 for 13 off 19 balls against Graeme Swann; 1 for 30 off 16 balls against Nathan Lyon; I for 7 off three balls against Daniel Vettori; 1 for 4 from two balls off Jeetan Patel. (That tendency to dominate from the first ball was again on display against Patel in the recently concluded Bangalore Test, when he hit a six and a four, and was then bowled.)

It's also noticeable that his scoring rates against both spin and pace have gone up, even though his averages have dropped.

Sehwag against pace and spin in Aus, Eng, NZ, SA till Jan 31, 2008
Bowling type Runs Balls Dismissals Average Run rate
Pace 1106 1640 24 46.08 4.04
Spin 189 182 7 27.00 6.23
Sehwag against pace and spin in Aus, Eng, NZ, SA since Feb 1, 2008
Bowling type Runs Balls Dismissals Average Run rate
Pace 466 615 17 27.41 4.54
Spin 57 47 5 11.40 7.27

A common criticism of the latter-day Sehwag is to do with his tendency to attempt extravagant strokes early in his innings, especially in conditions that are favourable for seam bowling. Here's a look at his stats in the first 15 overs of an innings over those two time periods, in Tests in Australia, England, New Zealand and South Africa.

His average in the first 15 has dropped to 28.81 in these countries since February 2008; in the earlier period it was 35.67. His rate of scoring boundaries is a good indicator of his aggressive intent: though he has scored almost the same number of fours and sixes in the two periods, he faced 232 more deliveries in the first period. Thus, his frequency of scoring a boundary - a four or a six - has increased from one every 9.5 balls to one every 6.8. That has led to him taking more chances, and increased his frequency of dismissals as well.

Sehwag in the first 15 overs of an innings in Tests in Aus, Eng, NZ and SA
Period Runs Balls Dismissals Average Run rate 4s/ 6s
Till Jan 31, 2008 535 784 15 35.67 4.09 79/ 3
Since Feb 1, 2008 461 552 16 28.81 5.01 78/ 3

While none of this may be a factor over the home season - though both England and Australia have fast bowlers who could trouble him if the pitches have some pace and movement - it will again be one when India begin their next sequence of overseas tours in 2013-14.

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