September 8, 2013

What effect does average have on a batsman?

Aaron Finch's contrasting figures in limited-overs and first-class cricket suggest he needs to bring his T20 mindset to the longer format

Having been asked many times what made Don Bradman so much better than the rest, I came to the conclusion it was his unique ability to replicate the more relaxed thought process of a net session while batting in the middle.

I reached this point of view after watching footage of Bradman bat to save the 1938 Trent Bridge Test. On that occasion, his footwork, normally positive and precise, looked like any other batsman's, as he shuffled in the crease, defending doggedly to stave off defeat. This drastic change in mindset was brought on because he was desperate to save a match in which Stan McCabe had played a memorable innings. As McCabe flayed the English attack, Bradman had famously said to the Australian players in the dressing room: "Come and look at this, you'll never see its like again."

Despite McCabe's brilliance, Australia was forced to follow on, and for once Bradman must have felt the external pressures that he was obviously able to eradicate from most of his other innings. Maybe he also experienced that same feeling in his final Test innings when he made a duck, needing only four runs for a career average of a hundred.

And that prompts the question: "What effect does batting average have on players?"

While he smote the English attack in scoring a record-breaking 156 off just 63 balls in the T20, Aaron Finch didn't seem to have a care in the world. Contrast that onslaught with his miserable last two Sheffield Shield seasons, where he has accumulated a minuscule 300 runs in 19 innings at the pedestrian strike rate of 58 runs per hundred balls.

In T20, your strike rate is the dominant statistic and the batting average takes a back seat. Most players are not so bothered about sacrificing their wicket in the format, because "that's the nature of the game".

However, in Test and first-class cricket very few players are willing to embrace equally the disparate ambitions of personal success and entertaining the crowd. After such a brutal display of hitting, it's natural to wonder: why can't Finch do better in longer forms of the game?

Finch is acknowledging that average counts by playing differently at first-class level to try to maintain a place in the side. Average is one of the measures selectors use to judge a batsman.

One commentator described Finch's T20 knock as a great innings. While there's no doubting the entertainment value, I would argue the lack of a contest - the bowlers appeared powerless to stop Finch - made it more of an exhibition of exceptional hitting.

Part of the enjoyment of a memorable innings is to witness a batsman overcome everything the bowlers produce in the contest. Consequently, the great Test knocks are readily remembered many years later. Bradman's 300 in a day at Headingley and McCabe's brilliance at Trent Bridge are still regarded as classic innings despite being played early last century. Brian Lara's record-breaking 400 and VVS Laxman's exquisite 281 at Eden Gardens were compiled years ago but are still recalled fondly.

Even some of the shorter-form knocks such as Sachin Tendulkar's epic 200 to become the first player to reach that level in an ODI will be talked about for years. Chris Gayle's blazing century in the inaugural World Twenty20 is still recalled as the first of its kind. And Garry Sobers' feat in achieving six sixes in a first-class over is still talked about in awe.

Players like Sobers, Tendulkar and Gayle have a huge advantage over Finch in a cricket fan's memory. Those three will long be revered as all-round batsmen because of their highly successful Test careers. Finch, on the other hand, unless he can find a way to play the longer form successfully, is in danger of being remembered simply as a bowler bully whose brutish hitting was discounted by shortened boundaries, enlarged bats and flat pitches.

In order to elevate his status as a batsman, perhaps Finch needs to take a leaf out of Bradman's book. He could try emulating the thought process in first-class cricket, not so much of his net sessions but of the T20 arena.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator for Channel 9, and a columnist

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Christopher on September 12, 2013, 14:43 GMT

    I have a different take on Bradman & Finch. It is possible that through his golf ball cricket against the water tank, he developed a far greater mental picture of options with which to combat any given ball. There is also a kind of Zen meditation developed in the total concentration it engenders, particularly with the determination required for the small surface area of the ball and stump. There was also the golf ball's unique behavior when bouncing encouraging an earlier mental response than a cricket ball. He most probably hit more balls before playing cricket, than anyone in history, through this method. He unquestionably had a peerless acumen. Allied to this was endless stamina. I deem stamina to be the least well considered element of modern cricket & a key behind Watson's constant failures.Test & Shield fields and the bowlers ability to bowl long spells make comparisons between 20/20 and any serious format, fanciful. They are two different sports & should be viewed as such.

  • Andrew on September 10, 2013, 21:55 GMT

    Ian, you touch on some good points, but i think that Bradman's genius comes down to two words- compartmentalisation and temperament.

  • Mark on September 10, 2013, 0:08 GMT

    @mondotv - I agree with you. One of the reasons why I mentioned guys like shiv chanderpaul and others is to dispel the notion a few posters have alluded to, which is that there is a proper "technique" for test cricket, and because Finch doesn't possess such a technique, he will not be successful in test cricket. One of the joys of our great game is that it has room for individual expression.

    @Sandeep.M.J.D - The term "see ball, hit ball" is often used as a cliche these days for players that flay at everything without much thought. I disagree with this interpretation. The great Graeme Pollock once said that batting in its most simple form is a "see ball hit ball" game - watching the ball and reacting accordingly to it. Players like chanderpaul, sehwag, etc. excel in this regard. They have developed their own unique techniques and are masters at it, but ultimately their success lies in their ability watch the ball closely, and react quickly to what they see.

  • ian on September 9, 2013, 18:17 GMT

    Quite right, Ian. An innings can only be called great if it is made in a Test. That doesn't mean that any Test century is a great inninings, far from it. Some of the greatest Test innings have been well short of 100. An innings such as' Finch's monster' is what it is: a great t20 innings. What that really means, the history of the game will ultimately decide, but whilst Test cricket is played, my best guess is that in a very few years it will scarcely be remembered - as is the case with the ephemeral nature of the t20 product. As the article makes clear, for Finch to be remembered beyond his own cricketing career, he will need to make his mark in Test cricket, when his Test record (should there be one) can carry (as a footnote) his exploits at Southampton in the late summer of 2013. Test cricket, in a world that bandies words like 'great' around far too often, remains the gold standard, even if more money is to be made amid fireworks, gyrating girls & snatches of pop music.

  • Android on September 9, 2013, 11:20 GMT

    everyone has a point to say something or the other thing when a batsmen as already created a havoc in between. at some point when we talk about foot work we can see that dhoni and sehwag they both never had any proper cricketing shot or foot work. but they have proved themselves well enough. i was dissapointed that chappell never took name of indian wall rahul dravid. i guess he has played expectional innings. there are pros and cons to every write up. we shouldnt judge a batsmen ability let him decide and play. as it is australia is facing problem with its batting line up. and players like finch with there one inning can motivate the whole unit.

  • Rahul on September 9, 2013, 11:15 GMT

    Barnsey444 would be great to see you make one comment without mentioning your man Hughes in it. I am a big fan of the likes of Hughes, Khawaja, Warner who will be our future batting stars but this article is about Finch, my view on Finch is that he cannot be considered for tests unless he scores shield runs, best of luck to him.

  • Dummy4 on September 9, 2013, 10:39 GMT

    @Bilal Nasir: Shahid Afridi will be remembered as someone who perhaps retired from Test cricket too early and thus failed to build on his decent record with bat or ball. Despite his lack of consistency, his attacking style brought him enough runs in Tests to be successful - if he mellowed and became a bit more responsible with age he might have got that average up to around 42 or something like that.

  • John on September 9, 2013, 8:44 GMT

    @ Jimmy787 - All those guys are technicians in their own way. They may not have techniques straight out of the coaching manual but Chanderpaul for example has his technique down to a fine art. More importantly, as Chappelli points out, they all had the right mental attitude to batting. But interestingly not the same mental process. Perhaps the bit Chappeli didn't specifically explain is a batter has to find out what works for him/her. What works for Chanderpaul won't necessarily work for Sehwag and vica-versa. What works for Aaron Finch is being aggressive and dominating the bowling. Not slogging but power hitting.

  • Daniel on September 9, 2013, 7:35 GMT

    @jimmy787: You are absolutely right, but I would call all of them chanderpaul, richie richardson, chris gayle, virender sehwag as technically savvy, they possess a different technique which we wrongly perceive as "See ball, hit ball". Cheers.

  • James on September 9, 2013, 6:48 GMT

    Do you guys even READ!!!!???? Chappelli isn't saying finch should t20 slog but play with the freedom that ENABLES him to slog, two totally different things. @Partha19, @Laeeq Ahmed, Barnsey, @Krisha all missed the point.