November 2, 2012

The home-away contrast for Gambhir-Sehwag

While the Gavaskar-Chauhan pair had solid numbers overseas, Gambhir and Sehwag have been outstanding in the subcontinent but poor abroad

Last week, Gautam Gambhir lashed out at those who suggested that India's opening combination in Tests needed a rethink after he and Virender Sehwag had failed in England and Australia. "We still average 53 as an opening pair, which I think is one of the best when it comes to opening the batting in world cricket," Gambhir told PTI. "As an opening pair, if you are giving 50 runs start in every innings, you can't do more, and if people talk about not contributing, I will suggest them to look at the stats."

The stats are indeed extremely flattering when the overall numbers are considered: Gambhir and Sehwag are one of only five opening pairs, and the only Indians, to aggregate more than 4000 partnership runs in Tests; among those pairs, their average of 52.69 runs per completed partnership is the best, marginally ahead of Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer, who average 51.88. Among Indian opening pairs in Tests, Gambhir and Sehwag have racked up 36% more runs than the next-highest pair (Sunil Gavaskar and Chetan Chauhan, who put together 3010 runs at 53.75).

However, while Gambhir has correctly pointed out that the overall numbers for India's opening pair are superb, there's also a justifiable reason for the question marks that have been raised against the pair. Given that India tour South Africa in the 2013-14 season and then also travel to New Zealand, England and Australia, one of the concerns for Indian cricket is to have an opening pair that will be ready for those challenges abroad. While Gambhir and Sehwag have been more than adequate at home, their record in countries that generally favour swing and seam bowling is far from impressive.

In 19 innings when the pair has opened the batting in Tests in South Africa, England, Australia and New Zealand, their average partnership is 27.47, with the one major highlight being the 137 they put together in the second innings in Centurion in 2010. Since that South Africa series, though, they've been in a terrible slump, putting together 136 runs in their last ten innings, with a highest partnership of 26 during this period.

The table below lists the performances of opening pairs from the subcontinent in these four countries since 2000, and it's obvious that this problem of struggling overseas isn't unique to Gambhir and Sehwag. Marvan Atapattu and Sanath Jayasuriya averaged 22.70 from 18 partnerships in these countries, with a highest of 95. The subcontinent opening pair that has impressed the most in these countries is Bangladesh's Imrul Kayes and Tamim Iqbal: in ten innings they have an average partnership of 56.90, thanks largely to an outstanding tour of England in which they had successive opening stands of 88, 185 and 126. Pakistan's Imran Farhat and Salman Butt haven't done too badly either, with an average partnership of more than 35.

Sehwag finds a place twice in the list below, and his other association, with Wasim Jaffer, wasn't much of a success either: in 11 innings they managed 230 partnership runs, at an average of less than 21. The partner with whom Sehwag flourished was his Delhi mate Aakash Chopra - on the tour to Australia in 2003-04, they averaged 57.37 in eight innings. The other Indian opening pair that deserves a mention is that of Jaffer and Dinesh Karthik: in seven partnerships, mostly in England in 2007, they averaged 67.85, with two century stands; Sehwag and Gambhir have managed one in 19 innings.

Opening pairs from the subcontinent in Aus, Eng, SA, NZ since 2000 (Qual: 10 innings)
Pair Innings Runs Ave stand 100/ 50 stands
Imrul Kayes-Tamim Iqbal 10 569 56.90 2/ 2
Imran Farhat-Salman Butt 24 855 35.62 2/ 5
Gautam Gambhir-Virender Sehwag 19 522 27.47 1/ 1
Marvan Atapattu-Sanath Jayasuriya 18 386 22.70 0/ 2
Wasim Jaffer-Virender Sehwag 11 230 20.90 0/ 2

The contrast between the Gambhir-Sehwag pair in those four countries and in the rest of the world is stark. When playing elsewhere - mainly in the subcontinent - their record is outstanding, with an average stand of 60.81 in 62 innings. They have 32 stands of 50-plus, which works out to an average of fewer than two innings for every partnership of over 50; overseas, that ratio is one every 9.5 innings. In fact, in the subcontinent, they have century stands against South Africa, England, Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. In the period since 2000, no other opening pair has achieved the kind of sustained success that the Gambhir-Sehwag combination has.

Opening pairs from the subcontinent in Asia+WI+Zim since 2000
Pair Innings Runs Ave stand 100/ 50 stands
Gautam Gambhir-Virender Sehwag 62 3588 60.81 9/ 23
Marvan Atapattu-Sanath Jayasuriya 69 3105 47.76 9/ 12
Mohammad Hafeez-Taufeeq Umar 35 1411 41.50 5/ 7
Tillakaratne Dilshan-Tharanga Paranavitana 29 1137 40.60 1/ 11
SS Das-Sadagopan Ramesh 19 836 44.00 2/ 6
Wasim Jaffer-Virender Sehwag 17 801 47.11 3/ 2
Virender Sehwag-Murali Vijay 8 713 89.12 3/ 1
Imrul Kayes-Tamim Iqbal 22 660 30.00 0/ 4
Imran Farhat-Taufeeq Umar 12 643 53.58 3/ 1
Javed Omar-Nafees Iqbal 15 552 36.80 1/ 3

In terms of overall averages, the Gavaskar-Chauhan pair is barely a run better than Gambhir-Sehwag. However, when comparing the two, what sets the former apart is their stats in matches outside the subcontinent. The table below shows they routinely got India off to decent starts even in overseas Tests. In 25 such innings, they averaged almost 48, with four century stands. Their average was higher in the subcontinent, but only by ten runs: in 34 partnerships in India and Pakistan they averaged 58.45.

Two of their highest partnerships overseas came in two memorable Tests: at The Oval in 1979, the pair added 213 as India attempted - and almost succeeded - in chasing down an improbable fourth-innings target of 438. Eighteen months later, with India trailing by 182 after the first innings of the Melbourne Test, Gavaskar and Chauhan added 165, which allowed India to score 324 and sneak a famous victory, as Kapil Dev's 5 for 28 bundled Australia out for 83. Apart from those two efforts, the pair also registered century stands in Christchurch in 1981, and at Edgbaston in 1979. Despite such solid efforts, the team was bowled out for less than 260 in both those innings.

Gambhir and Sehwag, on the other hand, have mostly flourished in the subcontinent. Overseas, their 19 partnerships have lasted a combined total of 828 deliveries - an average of 43.58 balls per dismissal, which converts to about seven overs. That means India's No. 3 batsman has come in to bat around 30 minutes into the team's innings. When India travel for their next round of overseas series, their opening combination - no matter who they are - will need to do better than that.

Openers from the subcontinent in Aus, Eng, NZ, SA and WI before 2000
Pair Innings Runs Ave stand 100/ 50 stands
Chetan Chauhan-Sunil Gavaskar 25 1198 47.92 4/ 3
Majid Khan-Sajid Mohammad 18 728 45.50 2/ 5
Mohsin Khan-Mudassar Nazar 22 607 27.59 0/ 6
Vijay Merchant-Mushtaq Ali 7 584 83.42 2/ 3
Sunil Gavaskar-Kris Srikkanth 10 565 56.50 1/ 4
Aamer Sohail-Rameez Raja 19 525 30.88 2/ 1
Aamer Sohail-Saeed Anwar 14 512 36.57 3/ 0

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