February 22, 2013

Clarke's overseas challenge

The Australian captain's batting stats at home are outstanding, but the India series gives him an opportunity to boost his away numbers as well

The year 2012 was an outstanding one for Michael Clarke: he became the first batsman to score four double-centuries in Tests in a calendar year, and averaged a phenomenal 106.33 from 11 Tests, scoring 1595 runs along the way. In a single year, his career average jumped up by almost seven runs: at the end of the Boxing Day Test in 2011, his Test average was 45.81; exactly 12 months later, after the Boxing Day Test of 2012, his career average was 52.74.

In most parameters, Clarke's stats looked much better at the end of 2012 than they had at the beginning of the year. In one aspect, though, there was no improvement; in fact there was a marginal decline: his overseas average at the end of 2011 was 41.98; a year later, it was 41.05. That's because his only series abroad in 2012 was in the West Indies, where he scored 188 in six innings at 31.33. (In the home Tests that year he averaged 156.33, which is the highest ever by any batsman who has played at least six home Tests in a calendar year.)

Clarke's stunning 2012 has lifted him in stature as one of the batsmen going around today, but there're still a few boxes he needs to tick. There's little doubt that he has the skills to succeed against all types of bowling attacks, in all types of conditions: his debut century in India - 151 against an attack which included Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh - was a masterclass in how to use footwork and judgment against high-quality spin bowling. Seven years later, in Cape Town, Clarke was arguably even more authoritative in making exactly the same score, but this time against top-class swing and pace, subduing Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel in helpful seam-bowling conditions in a Test match which only lasted three days. Surely, someone who's conquered such high-class pace and spin in overseas conditions should similarly be able to conquer everything else, no matter the conditions.

However, in between those 151s (and even after the Cape Town performance), Clarke has been plagued by inconsistency abroad. For example, though he scored 151 in his first Test innings in India, his overall average in the country is only 38.11 in ten Tests, with the 151 accounting for 22% of the runs he has scored there. Omit the 151, and his average in India drops to 31.47. In his last six innings in India he has aggregated 65 runs. Similarly, his overall average in South Africa, despite that Cape Town effort, is 34.11 from ten innings, with that 151 accounting for 49% of his total Test tally there. Excluding his 151, Clarke's Test average in nine innings in South Africa is 19.50.

In terms of the home-away contrast, Clarke's numbers are very similar to another Australian batsman, also named Michael, who recently announced his retirement: Hussey finished his 79-Test career with a highly respectable overall average of 51.52, but his home average was 48% better than his away average. Clarke has plenty of cricket left in him, but at this stage of his career, his stats are remarkably identical to Hussey's.

Michael Clarke's home and away record in Tests
  Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Home 47 4156 64.93 14/ 13
Away (incl neutral) 42 2833 41.05 8/ 12
Career 89 6989 52.54 22/ 25
Michael Hussey's Test career
  Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Home 45 3794 61.19 14/ 14
Away (incl neutral) 34 2441 41.37 5/ 15
Career 79 6235 51.52 19/ 29

While Clarke's numbers suggest he is one of the best batsmen in home conditions, his overseas stats need to improve. Since the beginning of 2004, Clarke's home average of 64.93 is bettered only by Kumar Sangakkara's 68.17, with Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Mahela Jayawardene and Hussey being the others who average more than 60 (with a 2000-run cut-off). (Click here for the full list.)

However, away from home (and excluding Tests played in Zimbabwe and Bangladesh), Clarke's average is among the lower ones. With a 2000-run cut-off in Tests since 2004, only four batsmen have a lower average than Clarke's 41.52. Jayawardene and Hussey are the others who, like Clarke, have a very high home average and much overseas one. The difference between the home and averages is more than 20 for each of them - 24.57 for Jayawardene, 23.41 for Clarke and 21.93 for Hussey.

On the other hand, the three batsmen with the highest overseas averages during this period are all South Africans: Jacques Kallis (62.47), Hashim Amla (59.16) and AB de Villiers (59.12), which is a huge factor in South Africa's outstanding overseas record in these last nine years.

Lowest overseas* averages for batsmen since 2004 (Qual: 2000 runs)
Batsman Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Ian Bell 37 2315 36.74 5/ 16
Mahela Jayawardene 35 2433 36.86 6/ 8
Michael Hussey 32 2199 39.26 4/ 15
Ricky Ponting 43 3136 40.20 7/ 16
Michael Clarke 40 2782 41.52 8/ 12
VVS Laxman 44 3013 42.43 5/ 22
Kevin Pietersen 42 3015 42.46 8/ 12
Andrew Strauss 39 2992 42.74 11/ 8
* Excluding Tests in Bangladesh and Zimbabwe

Over his entire career, Clarke has pretty even stats against pace and spin, which isn't surprising given that his technique and footwork are pretty solid against both: he averages 52.92 against pace and medium pace, and 56.25 against spin.

Somewhat surprisingly, though, in India Clarke has a poorer average against pace than against spin. He has been dismissed seven times by seamers India, at a rate of 31.71 runs per dismissal; against spin, though he has been dismissed 11 times, his average is much better - 42.18.

The bowler who has troubled him the most in India is Ishant Sharma. Ishant has dismissed Clarke seven times in all, the joint-highest along with Dale Steyn. But while each of his three dismissals in Australia has cost Ishant 60.33 runs, in India he has dismissed Clarke four times conceding just 47 runs, an average of 11.75 runs per dismissal. While the focus during Australia's tour to India is largely on how the visiting batsmen tackle the Indian spinners, one of the interesting mini-battles could also be Ishant's attempt to extend his domination over Clarke in home conditions.

For Clarke, though, the focus will probably be more on collectively tackling the entire Indian attack, than focussing on any one bowler. It's almost inconceivable that the current Australian batting line-up will do well without substantial contributions from Clarke. If he consistently gets runs, the rest of the Australian middle-order can bat around him, post bigger totals, and make things more difficult for an Indian team which is already under pressure. Along the way, Clarke's overseas batting stats will improve as well.

Clarke against pace and spin in Tests in each country
Host country Pace-runs Dismissals Average Spin-runs Dismissals Average
Australia 2665 43 61.97 1481 20 74.05
England 685 17 40.29 242 2 121.00
South Africa 235 7 33.57 72 2 36.00
West Indies 233 3 77.67 123 5 24.60
India 222 7 31.71 464 11 42.18
New Zealand 200 3 66.67 97 2 48.50
Sri Lanka 67 2 33.50 147 3 49.00
Clarke against each bowler in Tests in India
Bowler Runs Balls Dismissals Average
Ishant Sharma 47 96 4 11.75
Harbhajan Singh 132 308 3 44.00
Zaheer Khan 120 236 3 40.00
Anil Kumble 195 327 3 65.00
Amit Mishra 52 121 3 17.33
Murali Kartik 30 68 1 30.00
Pragyan Ojha 6 32 1 6.00

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