July 10, 2015

Has fourth-innings batting become easier?

Are teams finding it easier to score big runs in the last innings, or was Pakistan's outstanding run-chase in Pallekele a one-off?
49

Out of the 49 instances in Test history when teams have scored 350-plus in the fourth innings, 21 have comes since the beginning of 2006 © AFP

All kinds of records were set by Pakistan during their incredible fourth-innings chase against Sri Lanka in Pallekele. Younis Khan was magnificent in getting his fifth century in the fourth innings - a record in Test cricket - while Shan Masood's 242-run stand with Younis is the sixth-highest ever in the fourth innings of a Test. In the first three innings of the Test, the teams scored 278, 215 and 313 - an average of 26.86 runs per wicket; in the fourth innings, Pakistan scored 382 for 3, averaging 127.33 runs per dismissal. For the only the second time in Sri Lanka, the highest total of a Test match came in the fourth innings.

Batting in the fourth innings is still considered tough, but targets of 300 or 350 are no longer in the "impossible", or even "improbable" category. With Test matches moving faster due to higher scoring rates, teams are starting their fourth innings in a Test match earlier than before, while more and more pitches are tending to stay true throughout the Test instead of crumbling on the final day. The result has been a slew of 350-plus fourth-innings totals in the last ten years: out of 49 such scores in the entire history of Test cricket, 21 have been scored since the beginning of 2006. There have only been nine such totals in wins, and four of those have been in the last ten years - Sri Lanka's 352 for 9 against South Africa, India's 387 for 4 versus England, South Africa's 414 for 4 against Australia, and Pakistan's 382 for 3 against Sri Lanka. Add West Indies' record chase of 418 in 2003, and there have been five such successful chases in the last 12 years. In contrast, there were none in over 20 years between May 1978 and October 1999.

The table below shows the increased frequencies of 300-plus totals and centuries in the fourth innings in the last ten years, compared to earlier ten-year periods. There has been a 300-plus total every seven innings (by a team), and a century every 38 innings (by a batsman) in the last decade; in the previous decade (between 1996 and 2005), there was a total of 300 or more every 16 innings, while a batsman reached a hundred every 51 innings.

However, the batting averages haven't gone up quite as significantly as those ratios, suggesting that big scores have been interspersed with low totals as well. The average runs per wicket (excluding runs from extras) in the fourth innings in the last ten years is 29.67, which is about 10% up from the average of 26.88 in the previous ten years. The overall batting average has also gone up during this period - to 32.90, from 30.57, an increase of about 7.5%. However, the fourth-innings average has increased about 36% more than the overall average.

Fourth-innings stats in ten-year periods since 1966
Period Average 300+totals Inngs* per 300+ Inngs^ per 100 Overall ave
 2006-2015  29.67  42  6.8  38  32.90
 1996-2005  26.88  19  16.0  51  30.57
 1986-1995  25.62  16  11.1  53  30.09
 1976-1985  26.72  16  10.5  39  29.95
 1966-1975  27.57  7  17.4  51  30.90
* Team innings
^ Batsman innings

A further break-up into five-year intervals reveals that while the last ten years as a whole have been pretty good for fourth-innings batting, the bulk of those runs came in the five-year period between 2006 and 2010. Pakistan's chase in Pallekele was incredible, while West Indies made 350 for 7 in a drawn game against England in North South earlier this year as well, but those are two of only five instances of teams scoring 350 or more in the fourth innings of Tests since the start of 2011.

Between 2006 and 2010, though, there were 16 such totals - there were five in 2008 alone, and five more in 2009. In 2008 itself, there were two instances of successful chases of 350 or more within a week of each other: India against England in Chennai, and South Africa versus Australia in Perth; in all of Test history this has occurred nine times. Not surprisingly, the fourth-innings batting average during these five years was 31.60, almost four runs higher than the average in the last five years.

More interestingly, the period between 2006 and 2010 was when the fourth innings batting average came closest to the overall average - it was 94% of the overall average during this period. In other periods over the last 20 years, it has been around 85-90% of the overall average.

Fourth-innings stats in five-year periods since 1991
Period 4th inngs ave Inngs per 100 Overall ave Ratio*
 Jan 2011-2015  27.68  45.6  32.29  0.86
 Jan 2006 - Dec 2010  31.60  33.1  33.46  0.94
 Jan 2001 - Dec 2005  28.11  51.1  32.05  0.88
 Jan 1996 - Dec 2000  25.52  50.1  28.74  0.89
 Jan 1991 - Dec 1995  24.63  55.3  29.82  0.83
* 4th-inngs ave to overall ave

The team with the best fourth-innings batting average over the last ten years is Sri Lanka - they've averaged 34.58, which is very close to their overall average of 35.48. South Africa is the other team with a 34-plus average. Australia, India and Pakistan are bunched together at around 30, while the others all average in the 20s. Australia and England are the two teams with the poorest ratio of fourth-innings average to overall average, while Bangladesh have the unusual stat of having a better fourth-innings batting average to an overall one.

Team batting stats, fourth innings and overall, since Jan 2006
Team Inns 4th inngs ave Overall ave Ratio
 Sri Lanka  159  34.58  35.48  0.97
 South Africa  226  34.31  36.78  0.93
 Australia  237  31.01  36.78  0.84
 India  293  30.57  35.29  0.87
 Pakistan  290  30.16  32.99  0.91
 West Indies  279  28.34  28.44  1.00
 England  308  28.34  34.28  0.83
 New Zealand  222  26.86  29.21  0.92
 Bangladesh  154  26.68  25.89  1.03
 Zimbabwe  55  21.22  23.49  0.90

And finally, a look at the batsmen with the best fourth-innings averages in the last ten years. Younis stands well above everyone else with an incredible average of 80.86, while Graeme Smith is the only other batsman on this list to have 1000-plus runs in the last innings during this period. Alastair Cook has more than 1000 too - 1212 - but he has played 39 innings to get those runs, and averages 37.87. Tendulkar averages 39.63 (753 runs in 31 innings), Jacques Kallis 36.94 (628 in 26) and Kevin Pietersen 36.20 (869 in 33). Younis Khan is the rare gem who averages 32% more in the fourth innings than he does overall (despite an overall average of more than 61). Scoring runs in the last innings has become relatively easier in the last decade, but surely not as easy as Younis makes it look. His series in Sri Lanka has elevated him to the levels of Javed Miandad and Inzamam-ul-Haq, among the truly great Pakistan batsmen.

Batsmen with highest 4th-inngs averages since Jan 2006 (Min 600 runs)
Player Inns NO Runs Average 100s Overall ave*
 Younis Khan  25  10  1213  80.86  5  61.11
 Virat Kohli  13  3  666  66.60  2  45.73
 Misbah-ul-Haq  20  10  651  65.10  0  52.43
 VVS Laxman  21  9  678  56.50  1  48.67
 Kumar Sangakkara  20  4  891  55.68  2  65.25
 Graeme Smith  27  6  1144  54.47  3  45.97
 Ricky Ponting  16  3  661  50.84  2  46.44
 Ross Taylor  19  4  723  48.20  1  44.99
 Shivnarine Chanderpaul  22  5  794  46.70  1  58.87
 AB de Villiers  23  4  865  45.52  2  52.33
* Since Jan 2006

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Sunil on July 13, 2015, 15:16 GMT

    @2477: And that was a good thing. Umpires were conservative and giving batsmen the benefit of the doubt which they deserve because they get no second chances. But like we saw from the two Shane Watson dismissals recently, umpires are now ruling in favor of the bowler even when there is doubt, because they are apprehensive about being overruled by DRS. Do you see the obvious problem there?

  • Ibrahim on July 13, 2015, 11:34 GMT

    First of fall during wasim and waqars time there was no DRS. Secondly the approach of the umpires was different at that time hardly giving any lbw on front foot.So please don't compare two different players from different times

  • Sunil on July 12, 2015, 15:34 GMT

    @AH_USA: Not sure what you're on about. If you watch Wasim Akram on day 5 at Chepauk stadium (footage is free, go check it out), you'd probably change your mind. He was at his peak skill wise. The over in which he beat Dravid consistently with prodigious late swing before comprehensively bowling him with an absolute peach of a delivery kissing the top of off was stuff of legend. It was quintessential Wasim Akram at the height of his skills on the 5th day of a Test match. He was 13 years into his career. Slowed down a bit maybe from the raw, young Wasim, but peaked skill-wise, something he himself claims. On the other end of Waqar was bowling his toe crushers. And then you had Saqlain, the inventor of the doosra. It couldn't get more difficult than that on the subcontinent. I certainly rate that as one of the best Test knocks I've ever witnessed.

  • Amir on July 12, 2015, 3:27 GMT

    @YOBRO - "...I personally rate Tendulkar above them all since he started in 1989, purely on the basis of runs scored with unmatched consistency against all kinds of attacks, on all kinds of pitches...." While ST was a great batsman but he was not the greatest. He did not play the attack of Wasim and Waqar when they were at their peak. This is why Wasim is not able to judge how difficult was it bowl against him. I consider Sir. Viv as the all time great mainly because of the way he dominated all kinds of bowlers and mind you that the quality of especially fast bowling in his era was better than what ST faced.

  • Sunil on July 12, 2015, 2:58 GMT

    @anonymous: No, it isn't a silly argument by any means. You can't sit there and tell me someone making their debut in 2000 didn't have it as easy as someone in making their debug in 1989. I am certainly not belittling other legends. I was responding to people making a rush to judgment, elevating today's batsmen to the status of "legends" based on modern day stats, that's all. These type of words are thrown around too easily nowadays. There is no denying that Younis is the best when it comes to modern day 4th innings batting. The stats reveal that to us. But like the article points out, 4th innings are increasingly being played on days 3 and 4 nowadays. But to say that based on these stats, these modern batsmen are in the same league as the Laras and Tendulkars in terms of pure batsmanship, is frankly quite ridiculous. There's a good reason why you don't hear experts say that.

  • Dummy4 on July 11, 2015, 22:24 GMT

    @YOBRO: That is a silly argument and you know it. Tendulkar's career spanned 20 years. All these pacers didn't simultaneously PLAY for those 20 years let alone playing at their peak. Pacers are not batsmen and even batsmen rarely have Tendulkar's longevity, his rarest quality WAS to maintain that standard for 2o long years. Appreciate that without belittling other legends to prop him up. A man like Tendulkar doesn't deserve to be made small by this talk. If batting in the 4th innings in all the time Younis played was that easy Tendulkar could have bettered Younis. Their careers coincided for a long time. Fact is he didn't and does that make him less of a great? No it doesn't. Admire Tendulkar's longevity and Younis's resilience instead of belittling them both.

  • Asif on July 11, 2015, 19:59 GMT

    No is the answer. We are probably seeing more 300 plus scores in the 4th innings because of batting friendly pitches around the world and general decline in both pace and spin bowling (compared to the 80s for instance) since the mid 2000s. Look at Australia today. They went from 97/1 to 242 all out. Pak chased down 377 against Lanka with ease despite being reduced to 13/2 in the 4th innings but that was mainly due to some exceptional batting by both Younis Khan and Shan Masood. It is not going to happen every day for sure.

  • Abhishek on July 11, 2015, 19:13 GMT

    @Yobro- Well said. Had India won at Chennai in 1999 we might as well have seen Sachin's career taking on a slightly different trajectory. But whatever he achieved was more than sufficient for us. Whatever he could not- we got other players to do that. They sort of "stood on his shoulders"!

  • Sunil on July 11, 2015, 17:39 GMT

    Again, this is not about Tendulkar. But it has been made out to be thanks to the comments here. Regardless, Tendulkar is clearly the benchmark. Your remarks are quite ignorant. If he'd faced Akram more, he would've scored plenty. Did you see the 136 in Chennai? Did you see the ball reversing? Trying facing Wasim/Waqar and add to that Saqlain at his peak, on day 5 too. Nowadays 4th innings are played on Day 4. Have you tried playing with a bad back? Not a single life too in that innings. Go watch the footage, it is all there on Youtube. Oh, and by your own logic, if Younis and modern day greats like S'kkara, etc played real bowlers like Hadlee, McDermott, Lee, McGrath, Wasim, Waqar, Ambrose, Walsh, and the like, they would've been found out a lot more. The differences is Tendulkar has. So, please, spare us...

  • Rayhan on July 11, 2015, 14:51 GMT

    As we can see how Austraia are struggling in a similar chase, it can be concluded that these chases are still very difficult. As least that's what Gower, Nasser, Botham, Ponting and the like think! Should we take their view or your Mr Rajesh?? This was the 6th highest chase ever in tests. [;ease give credit where due. @Yobro, Sachin didn't almost win the game against Wasim, he lost it as he couldn't overcome nerves, something which was very obvious when he faced Wasim and co. Even in the 2003 WC, he was dropped by Abdul Razzak, a sitter, when he had barely scored. So please do not bring that up. Sachin has been the beneficiary of the big bat and not so good bowlers, like Wasim, Waqar, Marshall, Ambrose, etc. He clearly would've ended his career much sooner like Srikant, if had faced Akram a little more.

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